Archive for the ‘Drag Racer Essentials’ Category

Funny Car Evolution: The Sophisticated 70s

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

Courtesy Gerdes/Circus Archives

Part 2 of Drag Racer’s thrilltastic trip in the Funny Car Time Machine

By the early 1970s, Funny Car builders from coast to coast had taken cues from each other’s workmanship and began to standardize their approach to crafting the foundations for these ground-shaking, flip-top, crowd pleasers. We’ll pick up the torch where suspensions were no longer needed and where clutches took the place of over-worked (and over-exploded) automatic transmissions.

NHRA vs. the Match Traveling Circus

Little did we know (at the time) that these entertaining drag racers were actually a nitro-burning “traveling circus.” The only difference was they all went in different directions once the show was over. In 1974, there were only seven NHRA national events. The calendar included: The Winternationals, The Gatornationals, The Springnationals, Le Grand National, The Summernationals, The Nationals, and The World Finals.

The striking “Pepsi Challenger” carried Don “The Snake” Prudhomme on a memorable 5.637-second pass on September 4, 1982 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Once the dust had settled in 1974, Shirl Greer of Warner Robbins, Georgia, was crowned Funny Car champion, following a terrible fire in qualifying and a heroic overnight rebuild (by friends and crew) that saw Greer drive with bandaged hands on race day. That made for an exciting story, and the bucks-down racer proved to be a popular champion, as everyone loves an underdog. Truth be told, the sport is peppered with amazing triumphs such as that.

Referring to one of the old Winston Drag Racing Media Guides, it had a category subtitled, “Milestone Professional Performances,” and the Funny Car section lists: 5.987, Don Prudhomme, October 12, 1975, Ontario, California. “The Snake” also appeared in that same section, thanks to a stellar 5.637 blast on September 4, 1982 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

It would be impossible to count how many active Funny Cars there were nationwide, though the total would be “a bunch.” That said; most racers could travel as little or as much as they wanted for match race bookings. At the time, track promoters had different deals for different drivers. Some, like “The Snake” and “The Mongoo$e” received appearance money, as well as an escalating purse, that increased by the number of rounds won. Other racers may have attracted only the round money, but other incentives were also common, such as tow money and bonus bucks for wild burnouts or wheelstands. Every crafty promoter seemed to have his own package deal … (more…)

Funny Car Evolution: From Stone Age to Space Age

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Photo Courtesy Dave Hodgman / DoverDragStrip.com

Part 1 – The Early Years

Ever wonder how ‘funny cars’ came about and got their funny name?

This exciting breed of purpose-built drag cars was actually a byproduct of the “Factory Wars,” where match race Super Stockers were making headlines (and tire tracks) from coast to coast. In the beginning, the players included names like Landy, Sox, Strickler, Nicholson, Dyer, and Lindamood, to name a few. As the rivalries intensified, along came the experimentation. So much so, when the first altered wheelbase cars began to appear, they were classified as “Factory Experimentals.” In 1964, the A/Factory Experimentals took on a look of their own and the idea worked well – move the wheels forward creating more overhang on the rear, which increased the weight transfer dramatically. Chrysler execs ordered Plymouths and Dodges to have their rear body sections moved forward by 15 inches, while the front wheels were moved ahead by 10 inches.

Somebody said, “They look funny,” and the name Funny Car became a regular addition to the enthusiasts’ vernacular.

Once again, the Tasca Ford entry trailered all the way from Rhode Island to Pomona, California, to compete at the Winternationals in Factory Experimental. Notice the wheelbase configurations are virtually stock on the Tasca and Dyno Don entries. (Photo Courtesy Tasca Family Archive)

Steel-Bodied Crowd Pleasers

The earliest versions were cut-up steel bodies with modified chassis and K-members. Sheet metal was acid dipped to reduce weight and carburetors were soon replaced with tall injector stacks sticking through the hoods. Pick whatever class of competition you’d like, and history will prove the first versions to be, well, crude, to say the least. However, craftsmanship wasn’t far away. The altered wheelbase Factory Experimentals featured full suspensions – often using leaf springs and ladder bars in the rear, with coil-over shocks up front. Their starting line antics generally produced giant wheelstands – a practice the factories would soon disapprove of. Official memos were sent to Detroit-backed teams, basically ordering them to, “Stop the wheelstands.” Apparently, the “Brass” felt that wheelstands detracted from the actual racing, where factories relied heavily on actual race victories, in order to “one-up” the competition in showrooms and advertising campaigns across the nation.

Who was the first guy to stuff a blown & injected nitro engine into a full-bodied car? (more…)