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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

First Annual Funny Car Reunion Thoughts

By Ted Pappacena

I was at the First Annual Funny Car Reunion Sunday, July 28, at Englishtown, New Jersey. Actually, I was there when I first heard about it in January. I just couldn't wait. This was one show I wouldn't miss. My main objective was to "come out" so to speak, to get more publicity for my website www.dragracingimagery.com, and to sell my photos. I was in touch with Steve Bell on and off during the following months as I volunteered the model car club I belong to (LIARS) to help out with the model car contest/display. At each meeting until July, I talked up the show.

Once the site was up, I visited it to see who was going to be there. With each new car and driver, the frenzy level would go up a notch. Bruce Larson's USA-1 Camaro was at the top of the list. I had just seen it at his barn in November and now after 30 years, I would see it again on the track and running. Rob Bruce's Zombie was going to be there. I had seen photos of the Zombie ‘65 GTO and with that in mind couldn't wait to see the Zombie Firebird (ex Beswick Boss Bird). Frank Jonkman's Nitromare Mustang, Rocky Pirrone's Daytona Nitro Charger, the Blue Angels Corvette, John Denski's recently completed Challenger, Jerry Smith's First Love Nova and Challenger, the Tom & Jerry Duster, Lou Sgro's ex-Kenney Goodell Challenger, and on and on. The night before, I didn't get much sleep; in addition, there was the anxiety of the possibility of inclement weather. Did you ever notice how when we make plans for something like this months in advance, the weather plays an important role (negative) right up to the last second? 

There was one slight problem to be ironed out. There is no way I could handle a vendor space without help (who can, unless you have a friend in the next space?). So I recruited my best friend and fellow drag racing enthusiast to help. "John," I said, "When the first round starts, I have to go into the stands and videotape it and you have to stay with the table, O K?" John says, "I want to see the show, too". "This is why I need you to help, so I can get the show on tape." "I don't know," says he. This went on right up until the space was set up. He actually wanted to break everything down during the rounds then reset it all up when it was over. So, I cut a deal. I take the first round, and you take the second. He agreed. So that part kinda worked out.

The space I had was right next to the model display which was right smack dab in the middle of all the funny cars. Lou Sgro was across from me as was Bruce Larson. Denski's Challenger, the WarHorse, Tom & Jerry, and the Rambunctious cars were behind me. At one point, Lou fired up the Challenger and I was in nitro Heaven. I initiated a rousing round of applause after he warmed up the car. This was waaaaaay cool!

My table was jammed all day. People did not stop coming. I made new friends and met old ones. I put faces to names seen only on my computer monitor. Occasionally I left the space to take pictures of the cars in the pits and do some networking. I have photos of racers who were racing in the ‘60s and ‘70s that were there. Some couldn't believe it when I told them. I managed to meet some drivers and get autographs for my collection. R C Sherman stopped by but the best had to be Jake Crimmins. He came by and picked up a Jungle Jim Monza shot (he was in it, I found out after 25 years) and a Swenson & Lani Mustang shot (he drove it in ‘73). To this point, I didn't know who he was so I said in conversation, "Yeah, I'd like to get that one autographed, but I don't know how I would even recognize Jake." He said, "Where do you want it signed?" I said, "Anyplace; it doesn't matter, why?" He said, "I'm Jake Crimmins!" The whole day was like that.

Then comes first round and seeing that there was no one over in the spectator side stands, I moseyed over there to shoot the video. First, there was a parade of the funnies, then the Cacklefest. Blown and injected, what a sound. I couldn't wait for the racing to begin and about an hour later, it started. It's hard to describe what it was like to see these cars run again. Performance numbers were not on my must have list. I was content to see a strong burnout and some good dry hops. Who out there that is a fan of the funny car does not miss the dry hops? I miss those the most in today's funny car racing. I wasn't disappointed. No one who raced in the first round disappointed. Jerry Smith's Nova looked strong, as did Lou Sgro's Challenger. The No Money No Funny Nova did a wheel standing dry hop. Oh yeaaaah! Then, up comes the Zombie and the Nitromare Mustang.

These two guys pitted together and they were paired off together. There should have been an award for best race pair. These two run hard. When they came up to the starting line and did their burnouts, I was back at New York National Speedway in 1971. I got chills then, I got chills when I watched the tape Monday morning, and I'm getting chills now as I write these words. They were that good. The Zombie did a fierce burnout, all smoke and you could see each exhaust pipe spewing smoke and fuel. The Nitromare looked like it would forgo the water box. He was going that fast through it, yet he laid one down! The noise when they were backing up was deafening. They were loaded for bear. The run was a little anti climactic as the Zombie struck the tires about 30 feet out and Frank ran a blistering 6.91 but no chutes! So into the sand trap he went. It was very sad to see the front end damage on the car in the pits. My hat's off to both of you. You made my day.

Another car that seemed to tip the can label and all was Rocky Pirrone in the Nitro Charger. His burnout was equal to the Zombie's and as he was backing up it sounded like each cylinder was exploding (which I guess it is, but it's the best way for me to describe it). It was about 4 PM, bright and sunny, and I could see header flames! He ran a career best 7.31 but did some engine damage along the way. Last out was Bruce Larson. His car, the USA-1 '68 Camaro, is a Senior National First place prizewinner with the Antique Automobile Club. That means it's restored to perfection and is only allowed to run 1/8 mile passes by NHRA because the roll cage is not up to today's specs. But, what a pass! Not a particularly smoky burnout, but when he backed up, he was guided by none other than Jungle Pam. Bruce launched great with the left front dangling in the air and ran a great 8.05 1/8 mile pass. Then it was over. Back to my table I went, and sticking to my part of the bargain, stayed there through round two. I won't even tell you what I missed, you all probably know.

‘Round about 7:15 p.m., we packed everything up. We had to leave because my buddy still had some family celebrating to do when he got home. I was beat. I must have lost 10 pounds just sweating. We know there will be a Second Annual Funny Car Reunion, but instead of having to wait seven months for it, we have to wait 12! Bummer.

Ted Pappacena


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