"Nitro racing is for people who love work and hate money"—Brendan Murry
History is funny, boy. How people remember history is even funnier.
Ten or twelve years ago, I was having a conversation with Don Ratican, a tertiary partner in the Safford, Gaide and Ratican "Sour Sisters" Top Fuel race team. I was telling Don about how Jocko Johnson had taken umbrage to a feature on him that I had penned. Although I spent a good portion of ink lauding Johnson's numerous and inimitable accomplishments, when the story ran, Jocko faxed the offices of HOT ROD with threats of libel and called elements of the story "Pulp Fiction." It seems Johnson had taken umbrage with my saying that the Don Garlits' Wynns-Liner, a back-to-the-future streamliner Jocko built, had "laid an egg" at an AHRA race in Orange County International Raceway in 1973.
For the record, after a less-than-stellar unveiling at the Orange County race, with the car qualifying 31st out of 32 entries, the streamliner never got over 180 mph, and Garlits mothballed it, cut his losses and returned to campaigning in Top Fuel with a conventional design. By any other definition, the Wynns-Liner "laid an egg."
I told Don that Jocko's recollection of history was a little different than what was reported in my copies of DRAG RACING USA and what I remember sitting in the grandstands at OCIR.
Ratican responds by telling me about how drag racers remember history, particularly how they remember their own place in history. He tells me of how one of the Sour Sisters reminded him about the time they won Top Fuel at a race in Amarillo in 1966. In response, Don tells him, "I've never been to Amarillo in my life…"
Which leads us to the new Nostalgia Funny Car movement, a renaissance of car building, and the potential for a Rebirthing of the Proverbial Fiberglass Forest. Unfortunately, the split in the ranks between those who support the Nostalgia Funny Car Association and its boycott of the NHRA Heritage Series and – if history is any barometer – is a barometer of its imminent implosion.
(For those not following the shitstorm on sundry chat rooms, internet bulletin boards and forums, the NFCA has refused sanction of the Las Vegas NHRA Heritage Series because of what they consider an insufficient purse, and a too-stiff entry fee. The entry fee issue was resolved when Monaco Las Vegas stepped up and paid it. Which left the purse, which was never resolved; because of this, the NFCA is considering action against the vintage racers that ignored the work stoppage… in the interim, tales of "phone tree attacks" to car owners based on their pre-entries in Vegas sent a salvo of discord to those who want to race and not argue about it, some of whom have decided to park their entries until the sirocco of shit settles….)
With all due respect, the people who enacted this labor action/work stoppage have lost the plot. Historically speaking, back in the 1970s, drag racing and its free enterprise arm, funny car match racing, were big draws and made money. But fortunately or unfortunately, the world has moved on. But the racers haven't, and meanwhile, today's nostalgia funny car scene – which is trying to replicate the Golden Age of Plastic Fantastics -- can't decide if it's a hobby or a business… and they seem to think they are going to make a livelihood racing relatively slow racecars (at least slow, compared to their modern iterations).
The retro scene has failed to recognize that it ain't 1973 any more… and excepting the Big Show and its heroes (the Force family, the Pedregon clan, Ron Capps, Gary Scelzi, et al.), there is no real, sustainable market for independent funny cars…
First off: nobody but the zealots (of which I am one) knows who any of these racers are anymore. I mean really, the quickest guy in nostalgia funny car is Bucky Austin… who's Bucky Austin? At least to the world at large? He is arguably the biggest name in Nostalgia Funny Car. That fact underscores the reality of the biggest problems with this stuff is that there is not anybody with any box office appeal.