GONE IS THE FRONT ENGINE DRAGSTER,
ITS PLAYGROUNDS AND ITS PEOPLE
San Fernando Raceway, 1969
After 15 seasons, the 'Pond' closed
John "The Zookeeper" Mulligan crashes & dies 1969
March 1970 Don Garlits' (FED) Swamp Rat 13 explodes; cut in half
Pomona 1971 - 'Sneaky Pete' Robinson crashes and dies (FED),
"The Last Drag Race" Lions Drag Strip - 1972, the 'Beach'
That's how it ended. The playgrounds
of the young and fast generation in Southern California closed.
Our hero's died; the front engine dragster had become a 230 mph
death trap; it gave way to newly designed rear engine dragsters
and new rules. For me all through the '60s and early '70s it
was every weekend at some drag strip, AHRA or NHRA, The Pond,
The Beach, Orange County, Riverside or Irwindale. Match ups or
just testing new things. We went to see our favorites, "The
Snake", "The Mongoose", "T.V.", "Big
Daddy", "The Zookeeper", "The Wolverine",
"Mr. Ed", "The Greek", "The Loner",
"Flamin' Frank", "Ol' Man", "Ridge Route
Terror". So many others without the quick handle.
Silly me, but I prefer front
engine dragsters (FED), push starts, a full length staging light
Christmas Tree, fire burnouts, cheap hotdogs and greasy hamburgers.
I like walking the pit area and seeing all the usual guys, Gene
Snow, Tony Nancy, Pete Robinson, Jim Nicoll, Sid Waterman, Roland
Leong, Steve Carbone, Don Prudhomme, Keith Black, Connie Kalitta,
Tim Beebe & John Mulligan, James Warren, Ed Pink, Mike Tingly
& Bobby Hightower, Larry Dixon and maybe, just maybe Big
Daddy Don Garlits.
It had to change, and change
it did, from the beginning the spirit of fun, experimentation
and going faster than the next guy was the rule.
These men of 'Nitro burners'
pushed it to the edge, and some didn't come back.
MARCH TO OBLIVION
Like any march, there has to
be a formal gathering of the troops. In the case of the front
engine dragster, this happened way back in the mid-fifties when
the drag race participants realized the best way to beat the
next guy to the end of the quarter mile was to deviate from the
roadster style to a more stripped down and serious rail job look
featuring just the bare bones needed to facilitate that. Thus
the dragster was born.
"The Bug", this is undisputedly the first dragster,
known then as a "rail job" Dick Kraft raced it at Santa
Ana in 1950 when the strip first opened. It got its name from
the fact that it was a stripped down model A used for spraying
Dick's family's orange groves. It was the first car to break
100 mph & eventually went 118 mph. The car now resides in
the NHRA museum in Pomona. It is [for the most part] a replica,
built by Dick Kraft & Ron Roseberry.
Originally sporting a flathead
engine with the driver seated in front of the rear axle, the
speeds that were to enable this built-from-the-ground type to
displace any other configuration of the day - mainly a full bodied
car of a known body style. From this point, ingenuity and creativity
exploded and the task of being first at the finish was the only
motivation necessary to keep the changes coming as the dragster
evolved at a rapid pace.
Calvin Rice was the
man to beat in 1955 with the big Chrysler engine and a "radical"
look where the driver actually is positioned behind the rear
Soon the V-8 engine was the norm
and the driver's cockpit was moved back behind the rear axle
and the car's wheelbase was stretched out. This would be the
engineering standard where all who wanted to be competitive started.
Modifications came quickly as
the motors became bigger and more powerful necessitating other
design modifications: more length to the car to keep those front
wheels on the ground at the launch, and pushing the driver back
even farther and housed in a cocoon of tubing and metal, and
lower. Sitting way up there was no longer comfortable. The entire
car's stance became as close to the ground as possible. Now this
is a mean looking machine!
Through the rest of the fifties
and into the sixties, the overall look of the top fuel dragster
didn't change a lot. The "March to Oblivion" hadn't
really begun since the cars of the day could handle the increasing
speeds without a real problem. Besides, what else would you do,
put the engine behind the driver?
What a ridiculous idea.
Mickey Thompson laid it back just a little more and
this new style gave birth to the term still used today the "Slingshot".
By now, mid-sixties, the frame
of the fast cars was really long, pushing through the 200"
mark. It was necessary to build them stronger but, in doing so,
it added weight - the enemy of going fast. Coupled with the massive
horsepower created by motor minds of the day, the F.E.D. of the
day was becoming dangerous and there was no turning back.
This put the theory of the "March"
starting sometime in 1967. It was when certain milestones were
reached. These true rail jobs, now mostly frame, started to run
consistently at the 220 mph mark and getting there in under 7
seconds. The stress and strain to achieve this could not be dyno'd
like the motor. The only way to win was to reach even greater
speeds and do it quicker. At the end of 1967 the best times recorded
for that year came from the Warren, Coburn & Miller car when
it posted a top speed of 230 miles per hour. How close were they,
and any others, approaching that latest milestone, to courting
disaster at top end? The only way anyone could find out was for
that breaking point to be reached.
There were crashes and cars coming
apart then, but it wasn't seriously linked to engineering or
construction missteps. It was looked at as anywhere from driver
error to normal parts failure, and why not? Something had to
give to put a mechanical monster like this through its paces.
But here is an interesting point. If you look at the record of
top speeds and the elapsed times achieved by the top guys from
late 1967 through 1968, they did not improve much at all!
Why was that? This phenomenon
was new to this sport. In the history of drag racing the passion
to improve times by any means possible had always been Job 1.
Look at 1959 when the Worlds Record times were set seemingly
on a monthly basis. Then there are the mid-sixties when these
top class teams marched thru 190 then 200 and then 220mph like
they were in a hurry to get to 250. And now, for some reason,
early 230's was about all they could muster (save one Don Garlits
who, in 1968, was the first to 240mph). By this time they were
mere skeletons of themselves.
Did the great minds of the day
know a limit to the current car setup was around the corner,
or worse, on the front porch?
Into 1969 the beat goes on. In
January, Drag News listed the top 100 top fuel dragsters, (yes,
100, wasn't that back in the days), with their times. On the
list, the best top speed was the team car of Blair & Goldstein
at a 236 - not bad, but not any big move from the 1968 racing
year. Elapsed time honors went to McEwen & Lindley with an
OK 6.64, again no huge move. In June of '69, at the Springnationals,
the best was Don Prudhomme's 6.68 and John Wiebe's 229.
A bunch of cars were all right
there, too, but no one was separating from the pack here midway
through the year. On we go - October and December at Irwindale
races winning times were 6.74 at 231 and 6.79 at 222 respectively.
The big boys had pretty much leveled off. Had the front mounted
motor stalwart with those gigantic power plants and long ass
frames reached their potential, or more alarming, their breaking
point? As we move into 1970 we start to answer that question.
January 1970 Drag News Championship
in Orlando, the title went to Don Garlits in his Swamp Rat 13.
He not only won, he had best times of 6.82 and 229. Slippery
track, no doubt, but not impressive anyway. (He beat Steve Carbone
in the final). We know now what happened just two months later,
March 8, 1970, at Long Beach. What we didn't know was the trail
of ordinary performances that lead up to Garlits' car coming
apart at the seams on the present day top fuel dragster straining
to go faster and quicker. This was just an isolated event in
the minds of all who raced this class and not considered a turning
point by any means.
However, it was a turning point since it put Garlits on the shelf
and had him seeing R.E.D.
The balance of 1970 saw more
and more "isolated events," even though they were becoming
increasingly violent in nature. When these fuel cars crashed
or exploded or otherwise failed, it was spectacular. It wasn't
recognized at the time, but looking back, these levels of about 230
mph in about mid 6's ET clobbered the engineering concept of
the motor in the front type of race car. In spite of this, no
move for safety reasons was attempted in any degree by any of
the teams fielding the fast class. But with all this going on,
all the teams were at least taking a hard look at the driver
up front idea. If nothing else, it would eliminate one of the
problems generated by this new level of motor strain and that
was flying parts and oil bouncing off the driver's goggles.
It was bad enough that these FED's came
apart due to the strain created by all that power thrown at the
flimsy frame. It was life threatening because the only place
an engine could go was in to the drivers face.
Having said that, one on track
experience definitely was responsible for even more procrastination
by anyone to go from the increasingly unsafe F.E.D. to the safer
R.E.D.. Pat Foster's never ending crash at Long Beach in August
of 1970 almost cost him his life, and was caused by all the elements contributing
to not enough car for way too much speed. However, he was driving
a rear engine car! And it was built by Woody Gilmore! What better
combination then these two for a successful race car? Obviously
they did not have it right.
When this incident made its way
through the race shops of the day, there was mass confusion.
If someone was ready to pull the trigger on making the switch
from front to rear, that effort was shelved for the moment. It
didn't look like the rear engine car was the answer after all.
Enter 1971 and all changes. And
it happened early - the first week of January to be exact. It
was, of course, the unveiling of the Garlits' Shop weird funny
looking rear engine dragster. To a man, the competitors knew
what they had to do and that was make the switch. To a man, they
also knew it was not that simple. Some had brand new F.E.D.'s
and were not about to abandon them for a lot of reasons, not
the least of them the financial burden. Others believed their
present mounts could still outrun this new thing introduced by
Garlits. A few, like McEwen, Prudhomme, and Karamesines put in
orders for their very own R.E.D.
The handwriting was on the wall
- or on draftsman paper, even on scratch pads; wherever the car
designers scribbled down their ideas as to what a R.E.D. should
Pete Robinson's 'Tinker Toy' AA/FD coming apart
prior to the crash.
This slow conversion would prove
to be costly, both in race results and devastating crashes. The
one that really rocked the race community was the coming apart
of the machine of the very popular and talented "Sneaky"
Pete Robinson. It happened at the Winter Nationals, one of the
sport's biggest shows, in Pomona, California, on February 6,
1971, during a qualifying run. It was horrific and stunned all
who were there. Something underneath the car - part of the down-force
setup newly installed - broke apart and set in motion a quick
series of front end failures that sent the car to the right and
out into the adjoining fence, instantly killing the man who was
admired by all.
Less than two weeks later at
Bee Line Dragway in Scottsdale, Arizona, Paul Pritchett also
lost his life in a front engine car. It was at the top end of
the track, also.
This short period of time was
the real turning point now for everyone. The flurry to fast-with-safety
took on wings. The teams never looked back as they had decided
to stop the madness and convert.
One top fuel team was convinced
there was no reason to toss the engine to the back of the car,
just a strategic redistribution of the weight to the F.E.D. was
all that was necessary. And they were right. Car owner Bill Schultz,
who campaigned with driver Gerry Glenn the Schultz-Glenn top
fueler, in about this same time period of February, 1971, decided
all he needed to do was push the motor forward. And he did, no
less than 50 inches!
NARROWING THE GAP (for a while)
- SUMMER 1971
It was dead serious in the race
shops all across the country, here half way through the year
1971, and crowded. Some locations had multiple projects and none
topped the efforts of the Mattel Hot Wheels stable of Prudhomme
and McEwen. Each would have at their disposal a dragster with
the engine up front, a dragster with the engine in the back and
a Funny Car. In other garages some serious tweaking was underway
on both the chassis and the motors of all who made a living in
the sport of top fuel drag racing. Garlits is getting away, but
the great minds and hands of SoCal have accepted the challenge
and will show what their collective efforts can produce.
It didn't take long. Would you
believe two weeks!
Out of nowhere, and on the same
weekend of June 25-26, two guys at two different races, both
driving front engine cars stunned the Top Fuel world - hell,
the entire drag racing world - when they BOTH broke the existing
World Record elapsed time including a back up run.
First it was Rick Ramsey driving
the Keeling-Clayton and Ramsey top fueler negotiating down the
Freemont, CA. strip with a 6.51 and then backed it up with a
6.52. Then at fabled Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, Gerry Glenn became "The fastest
fuel driver in history," per Drag News, when he recorded
an off the chart 6.41 ET, and, before the clocks could dry, ran
another 6.41 to back it up. To really legitimize the record runs
they were accomplished in different lanes.
Where did this come from? Six
forty one? The pit area housed by the Schultz & Glenn Gang
that used to be just those connected to the race car, now was
occupied by most of the race teams attending this historic race.
As the throng of go fast experts were milling around the car
one glaring difference from the standard setup of the normal
F.E.D. stood out. The engine did not seem to be in its normal
place. Oh no, they didn't throw it back behind the driver - it
was still out front - but something was not normal.
They were right. What the Schultz
& Glenn Gang did was push the motor forward towards the front
wheels a full 50 inches! This modification, executed by California
Chassis Engineering, apparently was a genius move. This time
of 6.41, twice, out of the blue, now has done something to the
playing field. Has it leveled it? But then in order to run that
quick don't the other guys have to shove their engine forward
too? It was a major moment for the fading F.E.D.'s because maybe
all they needed to run with Garlits is to move the motor forward
and keep their beloved F.E.D.
It was not that simple, and Carl
Olson explains it:
"The truth of the matter
is Bill Schultz, the car owner, started building that car some
four months before and it was built specifically to accommodate
the engine further up. The existing cars could not just move
the engine forward because structurally it would be a disaster.
One key element would be the angle of the engine. Hypothetically,
in a slingshot dragster at the time with the motor nudged up
to the driver's compartment, if you started pushing that motor
forward the existing angle of the motor would force it into ground.
And that would be long before you reached the point to where
Schultz had his motor placed in the Schultz & Glenn top fueler.
Therefore, the entire cars' frame needed to be planned way ahead
of time to arrive at the final placement and angle Schultz ended
Carl added this, "Also, the front ends of those cars were
built for the weight of the motor where it was and could not
take any big change. Therefore, one could not just move the engine
forward and expect faster times. Not to mention incorporating
a whole new frame stress situation piled on top of what they
That would put the build sometime
in February and most likely the planning of this radical concept
in January of 1971.
Hmmmm. One glaring possibility
comes to mind. We all know now when Garlits showcased his front
driver Swamp Rat 14 at the Long Beach race, the first week of
January, and all who ran Top Fuel were concerned about the future
of their front mounted ride. As pointed out earlier in this book,
all of them went to the drawing board right away. Some put it
in motion to make the switch, and now at least one - Schultz,
decided to modify the F.E.D. in a big way.
Did the Schultz & Glenn camp
try to hide this revamping of the traditional slingshot from
other competitors? Did anyone know about this? Did anyone care?
All good questions.
MARCH TO OBLIVION TIME TABLE
Major crash at Lions in Woody's
Larry Dixon, Sr.
Last F.E.D to win the NHRA Winternationals
Horrific accident at Lions that
prompted his change to a Rear Engine Dragster
First win for a Rear Engine Dragster
- NY Nationals
Successful debut of the Swamp Rat
14 at Lions
Killed at Pomona
First win for the new Swamp Rat
14 at the NHRA Winternationals.
Wins the Bakersfield March Meet
Installed wing and went to another
level, runs a 6.43
In a modified front engine car he
runs an incredible 6.41.
Indy Nationals he qualifies with
a 6.21 besting the field by almost two tenths of a second. However
in the final he was runner-up to Steve Carbone. It was no matter,
it sealed the fate of the F.E.D. forever. Orders for the new
R.E.D. chassis poured in to all chassis shops.
Five Steps to the
Death of the Slingshot Dragster
Don Garlits looks
back at the 14 in retrospect:
"It was basically a slingshot
with no cage on the back and the driver cage on the front. That's
all there was to it. Connie Swingle said it ain't a rear engine
car; it was a front driver car. He said that a hundred times."
1) We had reached the era of
semi-smokeless runs. A car with the tires stuck to the pavement
was easier to control then one spinning the tires all the time.
We finally had good tires. - Garlits
The significance of this is,
unlike the slingshot dragsters, the rear engine design was structurally
built to handle all what better tires could throw at them. The
driver closer to the front of the car provided the weight needed
to hold the front end down, and also made a stronger front half
of the race car. The slingshots had become weak at the front
and were trying to come apart at the speeds they were attaining.
The limit was reached by the front engine cars, but not so for
the R.E.D.'s. The new weight balance and distribution allowed
room for much more power and speeds - just what they were given
by the development of better tires. - M. Bryant
2) We had reached the era of
the long wheel base where the driver had some car out in front
of him where the driver could see what he was doing sitting up
front. - Garlits
As the rear engine cars became
longer, it's true, the more steering reference was provided.
However, that was not the real benefit of a longer car. Garlits
had forever been a proponent of stretching the car out. When
the Swamp Rat 14 was built, it was the same wheelbase as the
slingshots they had built, but now this mark of 220 inches became
only a starting point for the R.E.D.. They could load this thing
up with elements for going faster and quicker and there would
be no strain on it. When it became necessary, they would lengthen
the wheelbase with no fear that the car couldn't handle the change.
On the other hand, the slingshot had already peaked at that 220
inch mark. - M. Bryant
3) Slowing down the steering,
making it more controllable. - Garlits
This discovery just unlocked
the potential of the new car. Everything was there to go faster.
The driver needed to learn not to over adjust the path of this
new concept when reaching the top end. The slowing down of the
steering did that. The driver would still jerk at the wheel,
but the actual wheels would not move as much as before. Pretty
simple actually. - M. Bryant
4) The locked spool, where both
axels are locked together. - Garlits
Better traction was a friend
to the R.E.D. But it was an enemy to the traditional slingshot
with the motor in front, where keeping the front wheels on the
ground was now a full-time job. They would load up the front
end with as much as 200 lbs. of lead to facilitate this. The
distribution of weight accomplished by placing the driver in
front, all but eliminated the need to load up the front with
power stripping extra pounds. The locked spool effect played
right into the R.E.D.'s balanced and lighter overall stance and
ushered in the incredible hole shot advantage that would be the
signature of the rear engine dragster. - M. Bryant
5) The wing. The wing added down
pressure on the tires. - Garlits
The car was dying to go faster
and could handle it. Enter the down force ticket that now had
the perfect place for it opened up by this new car configuration.
It was an addition that could have happened as soon as the car
first rolled off the shop floor. It was simply built for a wing
from day one. - M. Bryant
The March had an end, but all
the troops did not arrive safely. A new dawn showed a promise
of safer days at the track and was welcomed with open arms. It
would breathe new excitement and potential into the top fuel
ranks, and they were woefully behind the man who made this happen;
thank you Don Garlits.
The traditional slingshot dragster
was gone and almost forgotten. Then this phenomenon called "Nostalgia
Drag Racing" blasted upon the scene. Discontent with the
cookie cutter look of the present day cars (not to mention missing
the good ole days) a new venue to showcase the back in the day
cars, as they were, was born. One could build, refurbish or emulate
the cars of old and race them at an event especially tailored
for these long past their prime machines.
At the same time within this
new show was a thing called the "Cacklefest." It was
an all at one time display of the real cars firing up and standing
side by side for the fans and fellow racers to see. It was so
popular that the specially built or rebuilt cars were given their
own title: a Cackle Car. Geezers and sons of geezers clamored
to come up with one of their favorite cars of yesteryear, probably
just like the one they campaigned for a long time ago. One of
the rules was that they had to be a front engine car only. They
had to be told?
A lot of those folks concentrated
on bringing back the top fuel dragsters, either reconstructions
of one of the stars of the past or, like the lucky ones who held
onto their mounts, the actual car itself!
A few of these were the legends
of those days who had hung onto their front motored top fuelers.
They included Don Garlits with a host of his old Swamp Rats,
Art Chrisman and that beautiful Hustler 1, the famous Chizler
of Karamesines, Bill Pitts and his Magicar, Larry Dixon, Sr.
in the car he drove to many victories, and now out of oblivion,
the Howard Cam Rattler.
Long live the F.E.D.! And now
On about any weekend these days,
you can attend a Nostalgia event at a track near you and witness
what the fastest cars of their time looked and sounded like.
But you had better be satisfied with that driver's cockpit hanging
off the back of one of these priceless possessions, because it
won't be, and shouldn't be, any other way.
Oh, one last Front Engine Story
Jim Nicoll - Drag
By Todd Hutcheson © 2009
If you have seen the opening
of the ABC Wide World of Sports, 'The of Thrill Victory... and
the Agony of Defeat', then you've seen Top Fuel driver Jim Nicoll.
It was 1970 at the Indy Nationals. The final round, Nicoll vs.
Prudhomme and an explosion similar to Don Garlits' March, 1970
transmission explosion. Only this time it was the clutch at 225
Five days the competition was
as hot as the Indiana skies. 'TV' Tommy Ivo, Danny Ongais, Gerry
Glenn, Pete Robinson, Marshall Love, and Don Garlits were all
left behind the remaining two: Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme and
Jim 'Superman' Nicoll.
Prudhomme wanted his second Nationals
in a row, but Nicoll had beaten the best and was not in the mood
to just hand it over. In the fourth round he faced 'Big Daddy'
Don Garlits in his re-built #13, a red light kept Nicoll in the
fight to face the 'Snake'.
Prudhomme had low ET for the
day at 6.43. Nicoll was a Pro's-pro and to him the race is never
over until the cash was handed over. There was no fooling around,
they just staged and got to it. Maybe because it was so damn
hot outside that going 230 mph seemed like a great way of cooling
The start had Nicoll in a slight
advantage. At the 1000 foot mark it was almost even. At the timing
traps Nicoll's clutch let loose and cut the dragster in half,
reminiscent of the Garlits Lions incident earlier in March. Only
Jim Nicoll was traveling at 225 mph. Nicoll in the driver's cage,
bouncing over the guardrail into the soft grass, slowed by the
parachute, Jim was lucky he didn't lose his foot. The other half,
engine and front half with front wheels, slid around the track
in front of Prudhomme's until it hit the sand trap at the very
end. Don Prudhomme won with a 6.45 at 230.78 mph.
Don Prudhomme was emotionally
upset, and wanted to quit racing. All he could see was half of
Jim's dragster without the Jim Nicoll half. They have always
been close friends and Don was deeply hurt by the sight of only
half a dragster sliding in circles in front of him at 225 mph.
The sight stayed with him for years and years.
Jim had landed safely into the grassy area with a swollen right
foot and concussion. He was rushed to the hospital.
The most copied clutch in racing,
the original "Crowerglide" incorporates a completely
centrifugal design and is totally adjustable. It was the industries
first real slipper clutch, which is why it is so prevalent in
Jim looks back and explains it
all. "I was still in the experimental stage with a Crowerglides
(Centrifugal CrowerGlides clutches) and had some bad heat treating
in one of the stands to the clutch. It broke and came loose and
cut the car in half. There were six bolts that held the pressure
plate and the disc in; there were not enough pieces left to examine,
but that's what we calculated". Jim remembers just before
it let go, "I could feel the clutch slip a little bit, Prudhomme
and I were about side by side, so I kept my foot in it, it exploded
cutting the car in half. Lucky I had my hand on the parachute
handle and it came out. All I had was a swollen right foot and
concussion, not like Garlits had."
When TC Lemons saw the accident
he remarked "That's why we call him Superman." At about
this same time Team Garlits was assembling the parts for the
Swamp Rat 14 between racing obligations.
Don Prudhomme on Jim Nicoll's
Prudhomme remembers, "Back
in those days we were traveling around with Jim Nicoll, the 'Mongoose'
and Garlits, the 'Greek' Karamesines - all the guys running a
lot of match races all over the country. Going to the U.S. Nationals
was the end of our season, ya know. We were all beat and wore
out at that point. It was like the last bat at the World Series."
"Jim's car was very fast
that day, at one point we were neck and neck. I would move a
little ahead of him and he would move a little ahead of me, all
of a sudden he was gone. The next thing I saw out of the corner
of my eye was this big flash of fire, then his car was spinning
out of control in front of me. I popped my chute and decelerated
as his car went out in front of me. His car had no chute because
it was only the front half with the engine sliding around in
front of my car. It touched my car at one point. The bad part
was, I thought he was dead because he wasn't with the car. Through
all the fire and flash I thought I could see parts of him or
his fire suit or something hanging on the back of his car and
because of all the sparks and fire, it went through my head that
he was dead."
"But he was OK. He went
over the guard rail into the grass and flipped around. It was
probably scarier from where I was at then for him where he was
at because he was just bouncing around and I figured he was killed.
So that kinda' shook me up. We
ended up winning it by just a nose. He may have beaten me if
he didn't explode, ya just don't know those things, it's hard
"Jim was a rough tough guy,
ya know. He was one of those Ed McCulloch kinds of guys. He was
a rough tough Texan guy. I wasn't too surprised to find out that
he walked away from the crash."
"We had lost a lot of guys
along the way up to that point with these cars and the parts
coming off and the clutches cutting out of the bell housings,
blowing up and cutting the frame in half and that's what happened
to Nicoll's car. We had what we call 'Slipper' clutches in the
cars and his got so hot that it flew apart and cut the car in
half. He had a Crowerglides, I had a Schiefer clutch. He was
one of the first guys to be real successful with the Crowerglide.
Back in those days, it was all trial and error. You build something,
you should put it on the Dyno to test it, but you think naaah,
it will be alright and you just ran it. That's the only way you
learn things in the early days, if it blowing up or somebody
gets hurt, then ya fix it."
Don continues, "Wide World
of Sports only covered maybe one or two drag races a year and
for the most part drag racing was not covered on TV at all. Keith
Jackson the broadcaster of Wide World of Sports added lots of
dramatics to the accident. That particular run stayed on Wide
World of Sports for 25 years. Their 25th Anniversary of the Wide
World of Sports showed that it was one of the pieces of footage
that they used as the most spectacular accident in motor racing
that someone wasn't killed."
Jim Nicoll built a new front
engine dragster that week and raced Prudhomme on the next weekend,
but lost again to the 'Snake'.
At the end of the year Jim Nicoll
was named Drag News Top Fuel Driver of the year 1970.
Above is the roll cage half of
Jim's dragster. It hangs in a non-assuming race shop in Garland,
Texas, out there in America's heartland. Of course, Jim is still
Below is the front half of the
Jim Nicoll Top fueler at the end of the Indy track 1970.
If you enjoyed this edited narrative
to the story in our book,
Don Garlits R.E.D., please let us know at Don
Garlits RED - the books
For the full story on this and
others stories, go to the book Don Garlits R.E.D.
By Mickey Bryant and Todd Hutcheson