Archive for July, 2010

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…)

Nitro Funny Car Vs. F-14 Tomcat

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Excerpt from 'Mongoo$e: The Life and Times of Tom McEwen

Who’s faster? The Mongoose or the Vietnam fighter jock?

Through the course of the ‘74 season, I did Navy recruiting displays almost weekly. Usually the officer would be a fighter jock who was rotating out of a tour in Vietnam.

I’d be sitting around week after week with these flyers. They were interesting guys and they all got off on the Funny Car, as most seemed to like anything that was fast and dangerous. All of ‘em wanted to make a pass, just like I wanted some seat time in a fighter plane. The pilots were quick to brag of hitting approximately 150 mph in 250 feet, but were a little sketchy on how quickly they got there.

I was positive in that sprint I could hand ‘em their heads. As these conversations continued throughout the year, I started thinking about how we could prove who was truly quicker and faster, my blown Nitro Funny Car, or a twin-engine jet Navy fighter plane. Could you imagine the press coverage and bragging rights I’d get by beating a jet fighter? My sponsors (and race track promoters) would eat it up.

So, how could we actually do it? How could I race a jet?

(more…)

Drag Racer Thrashes Parts on the Moroso Performance Dyno

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Check out our stats from 10 pulls in one day.

The original “Drag Special” front tire from Moroso Performance (http://www NULL.moroso NULL.com/) has been a “must-have” item for decades, thanks to its light weight construction and lower rolling resistance. And that’s not all the parts maker is famous for. Since 1968, Moroso has pioneered the development of deep-sump oil pans, pan evacuation systems, vacuum pumps, and countless other performance systems and accessories.

Recently, the Drag Racer team was pleased to spend a day at Moroso Performance, where its team of engineers soundly thrashed a host of parts on the company’s DTS dyno. This aggressive project showed us (in real time) how a host of products have increased horsepower over the years.

Mule Engine Basics

The mule engine selected for this exercise was a 582-inch big-block Chevy provided decent results from most of the products tested here. However, it’s difficult to baseline such a wide variety of power producing items using one mule, as different combinations respond differently when applied to engines that put out either less or more grunt.

Specs … (more…)

Inside Story: How the Mongoose Landed the Hot Wheels Deal

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

The Mongoose reveals how he scored cash to buy nitro — & changed drag racing sponsorship forever.

As the old saying goes, “Money can’t buy happiness,” but it can sure buy nitro — and snappy Coca-Cola pants to boot!

As drag racing matured, it became much more expensive to be competitive. Equipment manufacturers were building better parts, and now, the stuff was being designed specifically for drag racing. The science of nitro engine development, tuning and chassis design was making rapid advances. Crew chiefs were getting savvier. Drivers, many becoming full-time professionals, were constantly honing their skills.

All this was conspiring to radically improve the performance of Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars. This increase in performance came at a cost, though, literally. Racing was getting much more expensive. You could no longer get by on the parts deals doled out by traditional automotive-related sponsors.

This was the state of professional drag racing that brought about the “Hot Wheels Deal.” The whole deal kicked off in late ’69. I realized that if my racing career was going to continue to flourish, it was going to require a major injection of cash. To come up with the kind of money I needed, unconventional thinking (and funding) was required. After doing my homework, Mattel Toys and their highly successful Hot Wheels line of toy cars and accessories seemed like a natural target. The kids raced their cars in a straight line like we raced, and the parents, being about my age, were either already race fans, or at least potential fans. Throw in the Mongoo$e and Snake animals to use as advertising hooks, and it looked like a win-win situation.

Next: Can the Mongoose persuade the skeptical Snake to get on board with the deal? (more…)