Prostalgia racers help get 'Bullet Bob' car ready for Baton Rouge after fiery accident
When Bob Floch’s legendary “Bullet Bob” Corvette coasted to a stop at the top end after suffering a catastrophic parts failure and bursting into flames at the Nitro Jam season opener at Palm Beach International Raceway earlier this year, Floch admits that he wasn’t quite sure how the team would survive.
“My initial thoughts were ‘I think we are finished and we didn’t even get started,’” Floch recalls.
The team was already low on funds and Floch will admit that the success or failure of the popular “Bullet Bob” team and of the blue machine itself rested solely in the hands of its performance on the track.
“We were basically banking everything on a strong start to the season and getting this team off and running with a successful first event,” said Floch. “Obviously that didn’t work out as planned.”
Floch took care of one part of the equation, hiring longtime nitro racer Jeff Diehl to pilot the machine, but the rest lay in the hands of fate.
And fate did not smile on the team that weekend.
The weekend started well enough as one moderately successful pass to open the event placed Diehl and the “Bullet Bob” machine in the first ever IHRA Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car final against Greg Jacobsmeyer after Mike McIntire, the man who was supposed to occupy the other spot in the final, broke.
Thrilled to seemingly have such luck fall in the team’s lap Diehl and the rest of the crew prepared the car with hopes of putting their names in the history books as the first ever Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car winners.
As Diehl pulled into the beams Floch admits that he was overcome with the thought of his machine being the first to light the win bulb in Nitro Jam competition, but that excitement was quickly replaced with disappointment as a flashing win light was replaced with a glowing red light as Diehl hit the throttle moments too soon.
Unaware of the mistake Diehl roared to life and launched down the Florida quarter-mile, but it didn’t take long for things to start going wrong. About halftrack the car began to run into problems before finally bursting into flames near the finish.
Diehl tried to get the car stopped, but he was unable to halt the nostalgia machine as it rolled into the sand trap at the far end still fully engulfed in flames.
IHRA’s Safety First rescue team was quickly on the scene and removed Diehl from the car and subdued the fire in a matter of moments as Diehl escaped with only minor injuries.
“The IHRA safety crew did an outstanding job getting the fire out and helping Jeff. They saved his life,” said Floch. “I hope this incident makes every racer who runs with IHRA feel confident that no matter what happens on the track they are in good hands. I can’t thank the safety team enough.”
Once Floch knew his young driver was safe the focus of the team quickly shifted to finding out what went wrong and how to rebuild the team.
“The demise of the Corvette was too much to overcome singlehandedly,” said Floch. “Initially we didn’t know what to do or where to start. We just sat around the motel and discussed our options which, at the time, weren’t a lot.”
When Floch and the team returned to the track the next day they were quickly met by Melissa Dunn, wife of Prostalgia driver John Dunn, and several teams who offered their services to help the team rebuild.
Dunn quickly set up a Fire Sale in Diehl’s pit space and drivers began encouraging fans to purchase merchandise from the “Bullet Bob” shop.
“I really couldn’t believe it. Thanks to Melissa Dunn. She can sell a fridge to an Eskimo,” said Floch. “She was out there with the sale and she was dragging people in to help raise money. She brought in a lot of cash to help us out.
“We spent that whole day walking around in shock. You put so much of yourself into these cars and at the time we truly thought we were done and Melissa just kept telling us ‘you are going to get through this with our help.’”
After the race Floch and the team packed up and headed back to their shop while Diehl traveled back to his home on the west coast to compete in a few NHRA events. Once back at the shop Floch looked the car over and was even more in shock over what caused the fire.
“It was a rookie mistake. I think that was part of the shock was looking at what we have left and thinking that a fuel shutoff lever did this and we know better,” said Floch. “It was just a fluke mistake and suddenly the whole thing is gone that quick.”
Within a couple days of returning to their shop Floch said he began receiving calls from drivers all over the country offering parts and pieces to put the team back together. At first Floch said he didn’t know what to think realizing that the task of putting the car back together in time for the next race was simply too great.
“By the time Kathy (Floch) and I got back home we had so many calls and so many people encouraging us it was hard to believe,” said Floch.
Now, a little over a month after completely destroying the car Floch, thanks to the help of fellow racers and friends, is ready to debut a brand new car later this week at the Mardi Gras Nitro Jam at State Capitol Raceway in Louisiana.
“It is unbelievable. Kathy and I both are just overwhelmed by the response. Usually I am not at a loss for words, but some of the things that have come up over the past month have left me speechless regarding the kindness of other people,” said Floch. “I really can’t believe this has happened.”
One of the big contributors to Floch’s return is Army Armstrong. Driver of the “Jungle Jim” machine, Armstrong leant Floch a brand new car for the Baton Rouge race that Armstrong was planning to debut later this year.
“Army planned on debuting this car soon and he said why don’t you take my car to Baton Rouge and I will finish your car here and after Baton Rouge you will be able to get your car back and I will take my car back,” said Floch. “This was going to be a huge thing for him to come out with this car and for him to say just take it, I don’t know what to say.
“I told him ‘haven’t you seen what we do to cars’ and he simply said not to worry about it,”
Along with the help of Armstrong several other Prostalgia teams offered to open their shop to Floch and the team to help rebuild the car.
“Mike McIntire said that anything not bolted to his car we can have. Even the guy that does our painting has offered to work night and day to get this car ready for the race. It is just amazing,” said Floch.
Even Diehl, who made just one full pass at the season opener, said he is ready to head to Baton Rouge and get behind the wheel of the “Bullet Bob” machine once again.
“Jeff has been so optimistic. After the accident he said not to worry, we will get it back together,” said Floch. “He loves racing IHRA and he is ready to go to Baton Rouge.”
From total devestation and thoughts of closing up shop to one month later hitting the road with a new car ready for another race, the story of Floch and the “Bullet Bob” team is one that won’t soon be forgotten – especially by Floch who enters his sixth decade in racing.
“We so much believe in this Prostalgia thing that we couldn’t believe this was happening to us and everyone said that this is not going to happen, we are not going to let it happen, you guys are coming back,” said Floch. “We believe in these cars, the IHRA and we believe so strongly in this new program and now, after what I have seen over the past month, I know that this is the place to be.
“What can I say – we are back in business.”
Article from - NitroJam.com 03/01/10 Recent News