The following article was
written by Phil Burgess several years ago for his Dragster Insider
section on the NHRA website. Its brilliant and the longer you've
been involved in drag racing the more it will mean to you.
Dry hops in heaven
Buster Couch looks over as the
Funny Car approaches the staging beams and winks at the new arrival,
a tousle-haired kid with a lead foot whom he has known since
the lad was in diapers. Scott Kalitta moves forward as longtime
Kalitta crewmember Doug Dragoo peeks in to check the oil pressure.
Its rock-solid, as it always is in drag racing heaven.
In the stands, Doug Kalitta Sr.
grins as his nephew readies to squeeze the loud pedal, pulling
Scotts mom, Marianne, tight as they watch his first pass
unbound from the rules of Mother Earth.
In the other lane, Eric Medlen
does the same; "Uncle Beavs," Gene Beaver, is guiding
him in for nephew John Force, whos not ready yet to race
here. In the stands, Betty Ruth Force, mother of the 14-time
world champ, smiles proudly at her adopted grandson.
On the other side of the guardwall,
Leslie Lovett angles his Hasselblad for a perfectly composed,
perfectly lit image for the next cover of Heavenly DRAGSTER.
Theres a mini Hot Rod Magazine reunion on the starting
line as Ray Brock and Robert Petersen shoot the breeze, with
fellow early NHRA stalwart Ak Miller chiming in to share his
memories of the good old days. Theyre all wondering the
same thing: Wheres Wally?
In the tower, Busters wife,
Ann, enters Kalittas info into the race computer under
the watchful eye of competition director Jack Hart. In the media
center, Ed Dykes does the same for his online reports. In heaven,
everyone has a high-speed connection. John Raffa and Ed Sarkisian
are covering the days action for DRAGSTER, rubbing shoulders
with Shav Glick. Pete Millar has his own spot in the pressroom,
his pencil sketching the scene at 300 mph.
Kalitta and Medlen dry hop their
mounts the last few feet - yes, there are dry hops in heaven
- and the crowd, made up of every drag race fan who has "shuffled
off this mortal coil" - your relations, mine, and everyone
else who ever dug the digs - rises as the Tree goes green.
Roof-high header flames erupt
from the pipes, the Goodyears grab hard, and the front tires
dance just off the ground. Less than five seconds later, the
chutes are out, and the win light appropriately shines in both
lanes as Bernie Mather calls out the e.t.s to the crowd.
As they clamber from their cars
and grin goofily at one another, Kalitta and Medlen are greeted
by Steve Evans and camera operator Joe Rooks for a post-run interview.
As Kalitta steps away from the camera, hes greeted warmly
by Wally and Barbara Parks. Hi, champ, Wally meets
him with a hug.
"Thanks for all youve done for drag racing and the
"I think its time
for some ice cream," interjects Medlen, sending everyone
Back on the starting line, as
John Zendejas steps onto the track to spray down a little more
traction compound, action in the staging lanes and the pits is
Theres a pretty good lineup
of Top Fuel cars piling into the lanes, and because some of these
guys wouldnt be caught with that big ol beautiful
thumping mill anywhere but in their face promising them an oil
bath at the finish line, Top Fuel is divided into two classes,
the slingshots and the back-motored boys.
Suiting up and ragging his gloves
in lane 1, John "the Zookeeper" Mulligan is ready for
the push start, heading a line that includes Tony Nancy, Steve
Carbone, "Lefty" Mudersbach, Mike Sorokin, Gary Cagle,
Jim Davis, Bob Sullivan, Connie Swingle, "Terrible Ted"
Gotelli and Denny Milani, "Red" Case, Mickey Brown,
Gene Goleman, Ron Correnti, Bobby Hightower, Julius Hughes, Gary
Gabelich, Jim Hundley, Boyd Pennington, Jim Paoli, Jack Williams,
John Wenderski, "Q Ball" Wale, Glen Ward, and, still
smiling after all these years, Jimmy Nix.
"Young punks," says
Calvin Rice with a laugh. He and the real old-timers, guys such
as Leonard Harris, John Mulkey, Art Arfons, Jack and Lloyd Chrisman,
Jim "Jazzy" Nelson, Lloyd Scott, Setto Postoian, Emory
Cook, Dave Gendian, and Jim McClennan, are watching an amazing
progression of the history of their sport tow past them.
Dickie Harrell, Malcolm Durham,
Don and Roy Gay, Dick Loehr, Gerry Schwartz, Harry Hudson, Marv
Eldridge, Jim Lutz, Dick Jesse, Art Ward, "the Flying Dutchman"
himself, Al Vander Woude, and "the Israeli Rocket",
Leroy Goldstein, are ready to go at it 60s-style in their
early floppers while mega owners such as Mickey Thompson, "Diamond
Jim" Annin, Curt "Bones" Carroll, John Keeling,
"Pa and Ma" Hoover, Sid Masters, Jim Marsh, and Dick
Mortiz are all eyeing the talent, trying to figure out who theyd
like to have shoe their machines ... of course, Mickey is just
itchin to be in charge of the whole days program.
Mazmanian has his hands doubly full; he also has Fred Stone,
Tim Woods, and Doug "Cookie" Cook waiting on him in
the pits, and theres some serious trash-talking to be done.
A few lanes over, the rear-engine
cars are lining up for as far as the eye can see, with veterans
such as Mike Snively, Marvin Schwartz, Chuck Kurzawa, Leland
Kolb, Gaines Markley, Mike Tarter, Dan Rightsell, Bruce Hagestad,
Ernie Hall, Clayton Harris, Pete Kalb, "Poncho" Rendon,
Gene Domagalski, Fred Forkner, Jim Plummer, and Satch Nottle
in one lane and the likes of Darrell Russell, Blaine Johnson,
Gary Ormsby, Keith Craig, Bob Edwards, Bobby Baldwin, Wayne Bailey,
and Richard Holcomb in the other; Lucille Lee has been reunited
with the man who tuned her to her only win, Marc Danekas. Guy
Allen has son Les suited up and ready to go, and Jim Buchers
Chevy is primed and ready to upset the Hemis.
Keith Black, Ed Donovan, and
Don "Milodon" Alderson are having their own "block
party," and theres a pretty good exchange of ideas
going on in the fuel pits, where Al Swindahl is still trying
to convince Scotty Fenn that a 300-inch wheelbase is better than
a short one, and Tony Casarez, Frank Huszar, Rod Stuckey, and
Don Tuttle are laughing their butts off. John Buttera and Nye
Frank are sitting in the corner doodling designs for "the
next big thing," and every few seconds, one of them says
something like, "Wait, Ive got an even better idea!"
Meanwhile, "Cheating Chico" Breschini is huddled in
a corner with "Sneaky Pete" Robinson discussing who
knows what, and Lou Baney is out trying to cut deals with the
racers, trying to match sponsors and drivers and owners.
"Jungle" is prowling
the fiberglass forest trying to coax his fellow flopper foes
into a high-dollar burnout contest, and the only takers seem
to be "Mr. Sit Low," Patty Foster, who has the Barry
Setzer Vega with him, and Al Hofmann. Down the row are the groovy
Stangs of Lew Arrington and Dodger Glenn, Larry Fullerton,
and Dick Custy, and down past Sam Harris and a line of his Chaparral
trailers, Texans "Big Mike" Burkhart and "Flash
Gordon" Mineo, Kosty Ivanof, Bruce Sarver, Ray Higley, Gary
Hazen, Tony McCallum, Larry Ladue, Nitro Nick Harmon,
Ray Romund, Steve Bovan, Carl Swanson, Joe Winters, Joe Clement,
Billy Grooms, Les Cassidy, Billy Holt, and "the world's
fastest hippie," Mike Mitchell, are in flip-top heaven.
Joe Pisano is reunited with Sush Matsubara, tuning the prettiest
car on the grounds with the help of his brother, Carmen, and
longtime team wrench Gary Slusser. (Tom Stratton and Ted Miller
are judging the prettiest paint job competition.)
Meanwhile, Johnny Loper and Tripp
Shumake are conferring by their car, R.C. Sherman and D.A.Santucci
are playing rock-paper-scissors to see who gets to drive the
Black Magic car, and Dave Wise finally has Paul Radici pointed
the right way.
Wrenches Don Maynard, Fat
Jack Bynum, John Hogan, Chester Garris, Jerry Verheul,
Herb Parks, Jack Muldowney, Ray Attebury, and Dan Geare are standing
nearby, comparing tune-ups throughout the decades, but all seem
to agree with the old adage "If some is good, more is better,
and too much is just right." At least thats what the
Greek always told Maynard. "Fuzzy" Carter is
still looking at his altimeter and trying to figure out how,
despite their lofty perch, no matter what day it is or how the
weather feels, the corrected altitude always reads "sea
Down by the tower, John Bandimere
Sr., Vinnie and Richard Napp, Bob Daniels, Terrell Poage, Kenny
Green, Dave Danish, Gus and Bert Leighton, Bill and Mary Hielscher,
Glenn Angel, and Marvin Miller stand listening with big grins
on their faces as C.J. "Pappy" Hart, wife Peggy, and
partner Creighton Hunter talk about the early days at Santa Ana,
then share their own tales of woe and wonder from the management
side of the quarter-mile.
The alky burners are just finishing
their tune-ups in the pits, with Al DaPozzo giving a ration of
crap to everyone while "the Munchkin," Billy Williams,
watches with great amusement. The Bell Boys, brothers Dick and
Charlie, and the Idaho Kid, Jett Field, are also
there when up walks Doug Moody on two strong legs. Off in the
corner of the pits, Creedence is blasting Bad Moon Rising
as Mickey Winters and Chuck Phelps put the screws to their howling-fast
machine. Down the line, you look and see the dragster trailers
of Mike Troxel, Bill Barney, John Shoemaker, Dave Hage, Dale
Smart, Carrie Neal, and Shelly Howard, all readying their rides.
Over along the Manufacturers
Midway, Phil Weiand and Vic Edelbrock Sr. are again having the
dual-plane versus single-plane manifold discussion while Hurst
PR honcho Jack Duffy is working with Lenco founder Leonard Abbot
on a new way to shift gears. Dick Moroso, Robert Goodwin, Gene
Mooneyham, Paul Schiefer, Dean Moon, Chuck Potvin, Roy Richter,
and the Johansens -- Howard, Elizabeth, and Jerry "I tend
to eager customers with stuffed wallets and hot rod dreams."
Frank LeSueur is dispensing nitro
like water, and Ernie Hashim is checking out everyones
tires, which never seem to wear, let alone blemish their sidewall
Theres an all-out manufacturers
battle raging in the Pro Stock pits, where Dick Landy is chomping
on his cigar while trying to convince NHRA tech guru Bill "Farmer"
Dismuke that the Mopars need a better weight break while "Dyno
Don" Nicholson stumps for the Ford contingent. Chevy front-runner
Lee Shepherd is standing coolly by, taking it all in from behind
his Ray-Bans, chatting with Bowtie brother Paul Blevins. Ronnie
Sox is leaning on the fender of his red, white, and blue machine
giving pointers to "the kid," Scott Geoffrion, while
Lee Hunter, Bill Staley, and Mickey Tadlock toil on their carbs.
John Hagen pauses for a few seconds between jet changes to check
out NHRA.com to see who his protégé, Greg Anderson,
is stomping this week.
In the two-wheeled Pro Stock
pits, father and son, Dave and Brian Schultz, are prepping their
bikes to continue their amazing rivalry with John Myers, whos
certainly no less popular up there than he was on Earth. All
three of them are trying to get up the nerve to ask Elmer Trett
if they can ride his nitro Harley.
With their noses buried under
their hoods, doorslammer legends John Lingenfelter, Larry Kopp,
Al Eckstrand, Bill Lawton, Les Richey, Dave Kempton, and "Old
Reliable," Dave Strickler, are checking the jets and the
Theres also a full slate
of exhibition passes in the offing later in the day, with Wild
Willie Borsch ready to one-hand it in the appropriately
named Winged Express against Leroy Chadderton and the Magnificent
7 fuel altered, and Richard Schroeder and Bob Perry will go wheels-up
in their standers. Just down the pit lane, Dave Anderson
is readying the Pollution Packer rocket car for another four-second
hydrogen-peroxide-fueled blast; Slammin Sammy
Miller just looks up from his Oxygen machine and smiles; heck,
he has a three-second ride beneath him. Chuck Suba and the X-1,
Romeo Palamides, Russell Mendez, and Ancel Horton also are prepping
their machines, ready to wow the fans again and again. And waiting
in the wings to set the world on fire is "Flaming Frank"
Yes, its a glorious day
as they all are. Every run is low e.t., the oil stays
in the pan, the lanes are equal, and our heroes race on forever.
It's truly heaven.
About this article: Obviously,
its impossible to include the name of every person weve
lost, nor was it my intention. This is a salute to those who
raced a little ahead of the rest of us to the finish line and
left us too soon, by the hands of time, nature, or fate. I cribbed
a lot of the names for this list from Don Ewalds amazing
memorial page on We Did It For Love, which covers up to 1979,
and through stories from NHRA.com. Any omissions or oversights
are not intended as slights to the amazing people who have populated
our sport since its inception, and I know that before long Ill
be slapping my forehead remembering someone I forgot, but I tried
to also include mostly the names that will mean something to
a larger number of readers of this column.