Drag Racing Story of the Day!
The Rise and Fall of the
King & Marshall Funny Cars
Story and Photos by James Morgan
This is a little picture story about the life of a particular Funny Car
and the man who drove it. Long one of the top competitors in East Coast Top
Fuel, Jimmy King and partner Don Marshall decided the time was right to get
into the Funny Car business. Bookings where plenty around their region with
races held almost twice a week within a 200-mile radius of their Rhode
Island base. Maple Grove, Englishtown, Long Island, East Haddam, Lebanon
Valley, Epping, and if they ventured a little farther, York, Budds Creek,
and Aquasco were running shows.
King & Marshall 1972. Photo thanks to James Morgan (the kid in the leather jacket)
So they built a Funny, a Duster, not quite like other funnies because the
car was longer and much narrower than your average car at the time. Because
of these dimensions, the car was not legal for NHRA National event
competition. Little matter, the real money was in match racing and that's
what this Duster was for. It was 1972. The car sported a beautiful paint job
and was hauled on a state of the art ramp truck. With sponsorship from the
"New England Plymouth Dealers," racing was good.
King & Marshall 1973. Photo by James Morgan
In 1973, bookings where a plenty. So were
competitors. Every car needed a niche, something the promoters would
remember. The Duster was repainted and named "El Diablo." While
only a few years old, Funny Car technology was accelerating faster than the
cars. "El Diablo" was a little long in the tooth, and was replaced
in '74 by a new Satellite.
During the '70s, King and Marshall raced the
Satellite and a Monza quite successfully on the match race trail, but Funny
Car racing was changing. Bookings where drying up. Sponsored teams
concentrating on the National Event circuit were pushing costs higher.
Racers could no longer afford to race for the money the tracks could offer
and still show a profit. The landscape was changing. Jimmy King and Don
Marshall disappeared from the match racing scene for a year or two.
King & Marshall go retro in 1980. Photo by James Morgan
In the fall of 1980, they showed up at the New England Funny Car
Nationals with "El Diablo." Rumor had it that they were building a
new car and had pulled the Duster out of mothballs to let everyone know they
were back. For the first round of eliminations, Jimmy laid down a flawless
burnout, as if he'd never left.
King & Marshall 1980 fireball. Photo by James Morgan
Racing that warm September day quickly became a disaster for the King and
Marshall team. At about 600 feet out, the motor put out a rod and a big oil
fire ensued. Whether the fire bottles did not work, or were just overwhelmed
by the blaze, I do not know. I can tell you that in all my years of
attending Funny Car Drag races, few fires I've witnessed equaled the
incredible intensity "El Diablo" suffered that day. It burned for
what seemed like forever with the car careening into the shut down area.
King & Marshall 1980 after the fire. Photo by James Morgan
Thankfully, by the grace of God, Jimmy King survived that day. While
burned rather badly on his hands and back, Jim was alive. As you can see
from the remains being towed back from the shut down area, the fire burned
the aluminum seat right out from underneath the driver. Jimmy returned to
drag racing for awhile in the '80s, campaigning in Top Fuel. The demise of
"El Diablo" was his last Funny Car ride.
As with all my stories, these are recollections of a teenage boy to young
man, and are not meant to be taken as historical fact. You are hearing them
just the way I remembered and heard about them. Anyone who can add facts or
other opinions or observations is encouraged to do so.
(New Story, "Dial in prayer," and new photos added 11/17/00)