How Dick Bell Once Scared the Hell Out of Me
By David Hapgood
Recent discussions here about a funny car circuit make me wonder: it's been a long time since I lived back east. I guess Nick Boninfante's funny car circuit has been gone a while?
The funniest photograph I ever saw was one my buddy John Crosby took and Nick Boninfante was the centerpiece.
It was the final round of a match back in 1983 at Lebanon Valley. I had taken an initiate down to the top end to watch the final, right beside the guardrail. Every top end photographer knows that if something happens directly in front of you, you will probably be OK, but if a car gets loose a few hundred feet up-track, watch out. I had just finished pointing out to my initiate the exact spot we did NOT want a car to get loose when the light went green and the cars came down. Dick Bell drifted over to the edge of the track not far off the start and rode the edge full throttle all the way down. This was back when many tracks had grass along the edge. And then....and then, I couldn't believe it. At precisely the EXACT SPOT I had just pointed out to my rookie companion moments earlier, Bell left the track for an instant and came back onto the asphalt, immediately going all the way up on the headers and! ,at these speeds, staying up there and taking a bead straight for us, on two wheels, left side six feet in the air.
Normally I flee at the slightest sign of trouble, but, as my initiate (female) froze, I stayed put. I can't explain it, but there we were with the lone ambulance man, watching this ton of sparking funny car on two wheels come right for us. The car had death written all over it- nobody saves a car this far crossed up.
Bell had the wheel cranked and, finally, at the last moment, it came crashing down onto all fours and then immediately back up onto the other two wheels/headers. He went sliding past and we were out of danger! It took him most of the shutdown area to bring the thing under control, we were all VERY lucky. That happened 18 years ago and to this day is the most unbelievable funny car save I have ever seen.
My buddy was taking pictures on the starting line, where Nick Boninfante and his friends often took in the runs of not only his funny car but of the others on his circuit. My friend's picture showed a huge explosion of sparks on the top end and, in the foreground, Boninfante and friends (in uniform) going spastic with distraught emotion. Hilarious.
About three nights later I began to tremble uncontrollably for a minute as the gravity of our luck hit me!