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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 darn kid in the leather jacket)
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
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
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
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
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.

James Morgan
James@motorsportunderground.com
http://www.Motorsportunderground.com
(New Story, "Dial in prayer," and new photos added 11/17/00)

 

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