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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Badco, Ty, and the Kids Do IHRA Richmond

2001 Bill Ott

Chris, Kyle, and Shirley Muldowney at Richmond. Photo by Bill Ott
Chris, Kyle, and Shirley Muldowney at Richmond. Photo by Bill Ott

Saturday, Apr. 21, 2001 
Virginia Motorsports Park 

I would love to tour the Southland, In a traveling Minstrel show; 
Yes, I'm dying to be a star and make them laugh, 
Sound just like a record on a phonograph; 
Those days are gone forever, over a long time ago* 

Great words for a former musician turned truck driver. Question: What does a truck driver do when he gets a day off? Wrong answer... he drives two hundred and fifty miles (one way) to a Drag Race. But seriously, I haven't sniffed any NITRO since October, and that's way too long. Besides, it's been pretty chilly up here in the North Country... but today's outlook for Dinwiddie, Virginia? Partly cloudy, high around eighty, low humidity... to hell with the yard, I'm heading south for the day. 

Got lots of company this time... fellow truck drivin' pal Ty, his son Kyle, and my grandson Chris. Plenty to talk about, too. Ty and Kyle are just starting their first season running a Junior Dragster and can't seem to get it backed off enough for the eight-year-old class. Man, I coulda used one of those Junior Dragsters when I was eight! 

Ty's van has a video player between the seats and a TV screen in the back. Just load the van up with cold drinks and a few Disney videos and you forget the little guys are even back there. 

Kyle's new to NITRO, so looks like we'll have another 'convert' by the end of the day. Like I've said before, gotta get 'em hooked on this stuff while they're still young. 

After an uneventful couple of hours driving, we arrive safely at Virginia Motorsports Park just as the first round of Pro qualifying is starting. The stands look pretty full and I found out later that over seven hundred cars were in attendance. Listening to the Funny Cars burning out and making their passes made us all pick up the pace as we headed towards the gate. 

This is my first IHRA event after years of attending NHRA's "Big Show," so I can't help but make comparisons. First comparison... 'reverse' sticker shock. Forty bucks got both Chris AND myself through the gate. Maybe we can afford a hot dog now! Ticket prices seemed more than reasonable for the Saturday session. About eight dollars less than the 'other guys.' 

After loading up with soda and ice cream, we found some seats at mid-track. The seating at VMP is about as good as it gets... every seat is a good one. They'd be even better if everyone would remain seated so the little guys could see. Never could figure out why everyone has to stand when you can see just as good sitting down. 

By the time we got seated, most of the Funny cars were through, but we got to see all the Pro Mods (41 cars entered!) and Top Fuelers (nine cars entered). Speaking of Pro Mod, these cars are REALLY big here in the south, I ain't kidding. A lot of the people got up and headed for the pits to check up on their favorites as soon as Pro Mod ended, even though Top Fuel was yet to run! 

Chris finally got to see a jet car after the Top Fuel session. First up: Jimmy "Jet" Neilson's limousine and then Bob Motz and his jet powered Kenworth. If you haven't ever caught Bob's act, he puts on one of the best staging shows in all of Drag Racing, if not the best. We were all impressed. Time for lunch. 

I have never met Napoleon, but I plan to find the time; 
'Cause he looked so fine up on that hill, 
They tell me he was lonely, and he's lonely still, 
Those days are gone forever, over a long time ago* 

After a hot dog, Coke, and more ice cream (did I mention that I left Dr. Atkins back in Harrisburg?), it's time to cruise the pits. Man, there ARE a lot of race cars here! Hey, what's that big line about over there in front of Shirley Muldowney's pit? A quick check reveals it's some of her legions of fans waiting to get her autograph or just to say "Hi." 

Shirley... now THERE'S an enigma. A name as recognizable as Garlits, Prudhomme, Amato, etc. A woman who has won just about everything there is to win in this sport. She has beat just about everybody else into the ground at one time or another. This sport has almost taken her life. She has endured a long and painful rehabilitation process, only to climb right back onto the monster that tried to do her in. Any of these feats has Movie Of The Week written all over it (Heart Like a Wheel, although a good movie, was made a little too early in her career), but yet, it seems like she STILL can't get no respect. BUT... 

I've also seen her display an arrogance at times that had to be seen to be believed, i.e., calling Garlits a "marginal" driver... telling Steve Evans before a first round match-up with Lori Johns how she couldn't wait to get her out of the way so she could face some 'real' competition in the following rounds, etc. I'm sure everyone has their own Shirley story. 

In spite of all of the good and bad mentioned above, one thing goes without saying. Shirley is an absolute delight to meet and talk to in the pits. She sat all day beside her transporter, talking to people, signing autographs, selling T-shirts (ably helped by her Mom), and smiling. She stopped only to climb into the dragster for a warm up before the last session and then returned right back to her fans. And her fans love her for it. 

She was even gracious enough to pose for a photo with Chris and Kyle after she signed a handout for them. As I came to find out later, this made quite an impression on those little guys. And, at the same time, she and husband Rahn Tobler were still shaking down a new car with all of the usual new car gremlins. As a matter of fact, they still weren't in the show, with just this one session left. Definitely, the stuff enigmas are made of. 

Well, there's still a little time left before the final Pro session. We work our way through the Top Fuel pit area inhaling all the NITRO we can, moving from one car to the next. Had a quick chat with Jim Head, got him to sign a photo that's about ten years old. He looks younger and healthier now than he did ten years ago! Must be from breathing all of that NITRO. 

Time to find a place to sit. For this session, we decided to sit on the other side of the track. I guess it's called the spectator side, I don't know. But whatever you call it, there's a whole lot less people on this side. Chris and Kyle shouldn't have any trouble seeing all of the action. Found some good seats about two hundred feet down-track all the way up on the top row. Great view! 

Well I've seen him on the T.V. and the movie show; 
They say the times are changin', but I just don't know, 
These things are gone forever, over a long time ago*

After two national anthems and a l-o-o-n-n-g invocation by the IHRA Chaplain, it's time to get started. Check this out -- there were three different Sportsman category Shootouts run during the final qualifying session. One for Top Stock, one for Top Sportsman, and one for Top Dragster, each with eight cars. It took twelve minutes to run all twenty-four rounds (including one or two breakdowns). What I'm trying to say is, these folks at the IHRA know how to run a program. No dead time here. As soon as a win light came on down track, the next pair was doing their burnouts. Great, fast moving show with no oil downs or incidents until later. 

The kids were having a great time picking the winners before the race. The Top Fuel Harleys were GREAT! Mike Romine qualified #1 with a 6.52 @ 198. Mark Conner's 6.82 didn't make the show (bump was Steve Stordeur's 6.734) but his speed of 206.89 was top speed of qualifying. 

The Pro Mods are still new to me, so I'm still getting the feel for them. There were forty-two of them entered. It was cool to see the "Ironhorse" '51 Mercury. Of note was the "Undertaker" and its crew of grim reapers. Pro Stock has never impressed me so I didn't pay attention. 

Funny Car was another great show with Bob 'The Newb" Newberry qualifying on the pole with a 5.81 @ 240.98. Seems like ol' Bob's been around forever! Crowd favorite Bunny Burkett made a troubled pass, but was already in the show at #13 with a 5.98 @ 235. Tomorrow she'll face off with Laurie Cannister in the first round. Should be an interesting pairing. There were twenty-nine funny Cars entered. 

Awright, time for Top Fuel. First pair: Shirley and Tracey Howard. Shirley does her burnout and backs up into the staging area. Tracey just sits down track... no reverse. His crew rolls the car back and forth a few times... still no reverse. By now, Shirley is moving in to stage. Howard's crew decides they'd better do something quick... shut it off and move to the side? N-O-O-O. They push it back to the staging area still running. By now, at least a minute has passed and Shirley's still sitting there waiting on these guys. 

Howard was already in the show at # 7 and with only nine cars entered, he couldn't get bumped from the program. Shirley wasn't in yet and had to make a pass. By now it was obvious that Shirley's car had been sitting way too long and was building up a lot of heat in the motor and clutch. When she moved up to stage she went in deep, indicating that maybe the clutch was getting hot. Shirley's too cagey a veteran to risk losing a few hundredths on her final shot to make the show by deep staging. 

At the first hint of green, they both thundered downtrack. Shirley ran a 4.95 @ 297.16 that put her well into the show. But, not unexpectedly, the motor fireballed in the lights. The car stayed on fire all the way to the end of the shut-off area, and still appeared to be burning after it had stopped. Shirley got out OK. We couldn't see how damaged the dragster was, but man, what a job it did of lighting up the whole shutdown area! Hope they have it fixed by tomorrow's first round. Down for twenty minutes or so for track clean up. So besides an engine and clutch, this deal cost her twenty points. 

Next pair: Jim Head and Jim Bailey. Head goes up in smoke instantly. Bailey runs a respectable 4.80 @ 294. Now it's Paul Romine and Bruce Litton. Romine runs a 4.71 @ 302 to Litton's 4.75 @ 309. Great side by side pass in the dark. And finally... they saved the best for last. Clay Millican in the Werner Enterprises Top Fueler runs a 4.68 @ 306.33 on a straight as a string solo pass. Nothing like a Fueler making a solo pass in the dark when all goes well. 

Now the jets come back out again to do their stuff. Bob Motz making a pass with all the lights out on the track while fireworks were going off all along the track was too cool! 

Chris was really concerned for Shirley's safety during and after the fire. After he realized she was OK, he wanted to know why the guy in the other car just sped by her while she was on fire and didn't stop to help her. Ya know, statements like that coming from a child make you think that maybe the world isn't doomed after all. 

Oh man, now a four-hour or so drive back up north. We figure we'll get home around four AM. Ty and Kyle have to be at the track at about 9:30 with the dragster. I think I'll sleep in. Leaving the track, we put another Disney video in the player, but the guys are asleep in a matter of minutes. Bet I'll have them watching 'Decade of Thrills' the next time or maybe even 'Heart Like A Wheel." And there won't be any sleeping during the show. After all, there'll be a quiz when it's over. 

More old B.S. later. 


1974 W. Becker & D. Fagen 
MCA Music Publishing 
"Pretzel Logic"


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