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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Were the Early Funny Car Shows Fixed?

A Conversation with Tommy McNeely 
and Flyin' Phil Elliott

Tommy McNeely with Hubert Platt at the wheel. Photographer unknown
Tommy McNeely with Hubert Platt at the wheel. Photographer unknown

Flyin' Phil Elliott: Were match races ever fixed in the old days? I don't think "fix" is a bad word and I don't believe anybody took it as if someone was pointing fingers at a fight or the World Series. Nobody wanted to lose or they didn't get paid as much or asked to go to more races.

Tommy McNeely: For me, this is a very true statement. I never learned to be comfortable with losing period. Again, for me, it was the winning more than it was for the money, but, the more you won (or stole the show), the more you were worth. However, I believe David Ray and others would agree, PRIDE IN WINNING was the biggest motivator. 

When I first started match racing in the mid-60s, some tracks would offer an extra $100 to $300 bonus to whoever won. In that situation, I have experienced the fact that if you picked the wrong place with the wrong guy, you would lose. I also had a couple of track owners at the time tell me that we could split the bonus! I guess I was stupid, because I always refused the split.

Flyin' Phil: Tact and tactics get in there tho'. After all, early FX/FC races were slightly more of a circus act than we were used to. All the extraneous stuff was FUN for the fans -- pies fights, putting on fire suits right out front, rosin, burnouts, EVEN radio and PA shouting matches. It was exciting to watch and be a part of...

Tommy: And scary too sometimes, but we were too young to know the difference. I was 19 when I got the Falcon.

Flyin' Phil: There were times when a car was outclassed by its competition so the driver threw lead or cylinder heads in the trunk and went into big wheelstands -- the spectacular action of the wheelstand drew our attention away from a better performance. The "loser" ended up being the winner 'cuz he gained more ink and fans and we all still have those haunting questions in our head -- "What would it have run if it hadn't gone into two big wheelstands and bumped into the Armco with the quarter panel?" Mystique is a huge part of my memory of these cars.

Tommy: Again, you are exactly on track. I refer to Dickie Harrell and Hubert a lot because they were probably my greatest mentors at the time. One of the first things Dickie taught me was if you know you're going to lose, load the trunk and put it on the back bumper. We didn't use wheelie bars or even wheels on the rear bumpers at the time. I have never been able to get the picture, but a guy once told me he had one with the Falcon almost straight up on the rear bumper and the rear wheels were approximately one and one-half feet off the ground. This was like pushing in the clutch and hitting the brakes. It would come down hard and bend the front axle. My brother straightened that axle nearly every week. 

You and Dickie were right. The spectators hated the winner. Hubert taught me to steal the show (control/work the crowd) at any cost. Sometimes that meant crawling over the fence into the spectators and kissing some pretty girl or anything else you could do better than the other driver. All it required was being crazier.

Flyin' Phil: While the AA/FD drivers/owners literally HATED the whole act deal, the early FX/FC deal evolved. To those too young or who just don't know, these guys like David Ray and Tommy McNeely started out in literal death traps. Unsafe, ill-handling, ungainly -- you name it. Some were none-too pretty either. 

It is difficult to make a youngster understand how several thousand fans would PAY to watch a dozen hacked-up stockers that today would NOT pass tech or qualify for Pro Gas (9.90) -- and we all loved them. I still feel that a pair of early FX cars are the best show ever BECAUSE nobody -- including the drivers -- had a clue what the cars were going to do. Get sideways, big wheelstands, hit the rail or each other, go fast, blow up, etc. It was GREAT.

Tommy: I could usually run 10 teens regularly and 9.90s when it was running well, but I usually didn't run as much nitro as others because of the parts breakage. A picture was in a magazine taken in 66 at Irwindale. It was from down the track and you could literally read the lettering on the side of the car. I ran Jess Tyree's Pontiac in the first round, got a big holeshot and the car was carrying the front wheels a couple of feet in the air. It was drifting right toward the guardrail so I short shifted it to second to get the front end down, but never let off the throttle (I was ahead of Tyree). BIG TIME MISTAKE.

The wheels didn't come down or just touched and went back up. The car made a hard left and I went across the centerline in front of Tyree. I didn't hit the left guardrail, but the car continued its 360-degree turn and I went back across the track behind him. I decided it was time to shut it off. I wasn't that crazy and besides he was gone and I had lost. No sense in tearing up the car after getting away with that. Things like that occurred on a fairly regular basis, but you're right again. GOD, it was fun.

Flyin' Phil: Where are you originally from? I of course remember when you had the ex-Hubert Platt Falcon. Some years later, I know you got into Wheelstanders. What was between? Would you mind listing the cars/years you ran?

Tommy: I raced out of the little town of Monahans, TX. I started with a '63 E/S Chevy, then the old '62 Hayden Proffitt car I bought from Therwhanger. The Falcon actually was not Hubert's ex-car. I had a 65 Chevy II 2 door sedan built which Dickie needed to borrow when he crashed his and he got me hooked up with Hubert. Hubert had already sold his car, but he had this body in his back yard. It was actually one of three Falcons Ford had built for the Lemans race. He put it together for me and I had a Marina Blue Corvette at the time, so the car was painted Blue. It was built in Hubert's basement. He nearly crashed it in his neighbor's front yard when testing it before we went to Dallas, GA, to run Beswick. 

I drove for Dickie a few times when he couldn't make it starting with his 63 Z-11, etc. I only live 140 miles from Carlsbad, NM -- Hobbs, NM, was basically our home track back then. I grew up racing with Dickie, Kelly Chadwick, Don Hardy (Don was in the Army for two years during this period), Charles Therwhanger, Brian Teal, Grady Bryant, Ken McClellan, and others. Fritz Callier and JE Kristek have always been good friends, too. I drove some for a lot of people at times, everything from fuel dragsters to stockers. 

Other later notables we raced with were Raymond Beadle, Kenny Bernstein, and others. I basically laid off for two years and then ended up in the wheelstander. However, I occasionally drove funny cars and pro stocks for various people at the same time and occasionally at the same race on the same day, as I guess we all did. Get out of the car, run to the staging lanes and strap into another one. 

I guess the one thing I regret most is Dickie did everything he could to talk me into moving to Kansas with him when he first went and had the Nickey deal. I still miss him. Later, I tried bracket racing, hated it, and built a Pro Stock Camaro. I always hated national meets, so I mostly just match raced them.

One time, Dickie called me early one morning and asked if I would fly to St Louis with him to pick up the 65 Chevy II (still had the Z-11 in it). He had burned all the wires off the week before and was going to race Petty's Outlaw Barracuda in Burlington, NC, that weekend and Sox and Martin the next weekend. We picked the car up and hauled --- to Burlington and checked into a small family style motel. We rolled the car off the truck and rewired it. Then our problems began. 

We pushed the car all the way back across the parking lot, then Dickie jumped in it, fired it and carried the front wheels all the way back to the truck (test session). The motel owner beat us back to the truck or at least it seemed that way and asked us to change motels. As I remember, he was rather assertive and it could have been perceived as even aggressive. We did change motels. 

Also, we owned the flagman that weekend. That was back when false starts didn't count and you just restaged and did it again until you got it right. We knew before each round how many false starts Dickie would make before the real race. Dickie was getting five to seven car length leaves on Petty, but to no avail. He would blow by Dickie at the lights. About the third round, he came over and told Dickie to do whatever he wanted to, but he was going to blow the doors off the Chevy II in the lights when he did. He was telling the truth!

Tommy McNeely
mcneely@lakecountry.net

Flyin' Phil Elliott
flyinphil32@earthlink.net

 

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