race reports

Funny Car Chaos at Havana, Illinois

The ‘Perfect Storm of Funny Car Shows

Words by Todd Silvey

Photos by Don Eckert and Scott Bessee

Mike Kurz in the “Chasin’ My Childhood II” and Nick Poloson driving “Bucket List.” 


In a remote corridor of cornfield-filled farmland in Illinois sits Central Illinois Dragway. The small but clean 1/8-mile 'strip may have gravel pits and grandstands for hundreds of spectators, not thousands. So, what was the incentive for Chris Graves to host his growing Funny Car event series titled Funny Car Chaos at the mild-mannered midwestern track?


"The Illinois race was my test to find out if racers located outside of the greater Texas region are interested in our format," Chris Graves, founder of the Chaos series says. "We began with one race at Northstar Dragway in Denton, Texas. We have a good base of funny car racers in the region and it made a great starting point for one race at the end of the 2017 season. Racers from the Midwest and East coast were all contacting me about hosting our Chaos events in their neck of the wood, so we did this leap in locations as a trial."


Graves' experiment turned out to be a tremendous success as 18 entries filled the C.I.D. pits with every shape, size, and combination of Funny Car. The tech/safety rules are eased when it comes to the Chaos series. As their promotional literature says, the events are "a no rules, completely outlaw, run what you brung regulations package." Ten Funny Car entries were on nitromethane and eight on methanol. One could say it's more about the backup girl than the entrant passing a perfect tech card.

Bazz Young gets a little help getting “Down-Under Thunder” backed up in the right spot. 


The entrants complete their own safety checklist and they then hand over to the race officials. "We do look at the cars ourselves, inspecting for positive fire bottle charges, diapers, belly pans, licenses and things like that," Graves explains. "If a guy's blower restraints or clutch can are out of date by a year, but look perfectly fine, we are good as long as the track okays it."


The range of Funny Cars was a spread between IHRA championship hitters like John Hale and Mike McIntire (back when IHRA had real nitro-laden events) and more sportsman-level teams. The elimination ladders are designed to accommodate the variety of entrants. Two different elimination groups are created from three general qualifying rounds. The "Funny Car A" ladder is generated from the top eight ETs while a "Funny Car B" category comes from the ranks of the number 9 to 16 qualifiers.


With 18 entrants on the grounds, the qualifying lists were full. It was interesting to note that racers traveled from as far east as Pennsylvania plus North and South Carolina. Some came from the Texas/Oklahoma origins of the Chaos events, while the remainder were from the greater Midwest.

John Hale 


We spoke to John Hale, owner and driver of the "One Bad Texan" Camaro Funny Car. "We had a ton of fun at these events in our home state of Texas,” Hale says. “We decided to bring the team up to Illinois and see what we can do here. I would rather travel to the Chaos events and have fun than go to the West Coast for their rule constrictions and hassles."

Jim Gifford 

The “Excalibur” is a real beauty.


Mike McIntire became the champion as eliminations pushed well past the midnight mark on Saturday, Aug. 4. Graves told us he was hoping for an earlier final round for the sake of the spectators. I think his lesson was learned for vetting out tracks in the future that can handle an oil-down with more cleanup equipment than eight mops.

Steve Timoszyk 


McIntire ran a 3.78 in the finals covering Steve Timoszyk. Though the scoreboard showed a 2.06 ET for Timoszyk, McIntire got the win light by hitting the strip first. It was another example of "odd clocks" throughout the day from the track’s aging timing system.

Mike McIntire 


We had a great conversation with Mike McIntire Sr. about the event. They were happy with their accomplishments during the late night, but he was more somber during the day. "We're not sure about our future with the nitro car,” McIntire says. “We had some great seasons competing on the Nostalgia Funny Car and IHRA competition trails. We will get the car out maybe three times this year including this drive from Pennsylvania to Illinois. I hope something changes in this sport (Nitro Nostalgia Funny Car Racing) or we may sell out the entire operation that we have worked so hard to build and be competitive."


The Funny Car B eliminations were a more regional group. The semi-finals consisted of racers from Illinois (Joey Haas) Missouri (Mike Kurz and Rick Wilson) and the exception from Salisbury, North Carolina, Bill Naves.

Bill Naves 

Rick Wilson 


Naves, in the "Shooting Star" late model Monte Carlo fell to Rick Wilson competing in his "UFO" Firebird. The other side of the ladder paired Haas in the "Nimrod" nostalgia Mustang Mach 1 over Kurz in his "Chasin' My Childhood II" vintage Duster (lead photo).


Respectable ETs throughout the Funny Car B eliminations were illustrated in the finals as Wilson earned the win with a 4.30 over Haas' 4.50 ET.


Except for some long-distance diehards, the Chaos events are primarily a group of the region’s hardcore Funny Car racers. Graves’ first event in 2017 took place at his home track, North Star Dragway in Denton, Texas. That event hosted 22 entries, primarily from the South Central region. The 2018 version of Funny Car Chaos is presenting three other races at Mo-Kan Dragway and Amarillo Dragway (already run) and repeating later in the year at North Star Dragway.


The one exception of the regionalized attendance is Jordan Ballew. Manhandling the "Ballew Thunder" '69 Nova Funny Car, the Ballew family is the single team that has attended all F.C.C. events. We spoke to Jordan during the Mo-Kan event earlier this year. "We like the open rules and are enjoying ourselves," Ballew said. "Racing on a little nitro with an old school 427 Chevy is a lot of fun for us. We want this to work for Chris and everyone else."

Jordan Ballew (near lane) and Joe Hass in “Nimrod.” 


A little research shows that Ballew's 4.60 ET at this latest Funny Car Chaos shindig may be their series best, but they always jam on the car between rounds and put on a show for the less than discretionary fans. One of the interesting analogies of this group compared to hardcore match racing racers of long ago is the smack talk between racers building up to an event. Jordan Ballew and Joey Haas are prime examples with their back-and-forth banter. What was heard on AM radio during the '60s and '70s is now exchanged on social media.


Chris Graves has treated this year as a learning season. "We think we can carefully build a six-race roster for 2019," Graves says. "With some good events under our belt, it’s a matter of securing more sponsorships. Other than a few racers traveling over 1,000-miles, we see a majority of our cars still coming from within a 600-mile range. We want the Chaos series to take care of these racers with as much sponsor support as possible."


The "anything goes" format is a great match for the throngs of spectators who attended. Whether it was the impressive 3.70-passes or the multiple racers lighting the scoreboards with mid-4.50's, the crowd was gobbling it up. Where Funny Car Chaos and their "outlaw" format of racing goes from here is to be monitored. The future of funny car competition at this level may well lie in the small track atmosphere that achieves these capacity levels.


There was lots of talk in the pits from racers like Bill Dee, Jim Gifford and the entire "Nor'easter" team as they were going through their Hemi power plant prior to the first round. "One race has these rules, this organization has another, and the NHRA Heritage rules are not good, especially in the allowed fuel pump application," they all commented. "We have six funny car teams who live right around our immediate area; we just want to see them get out and race."


When was the last time you heard a track full of fans applaud a pair of racers after the parachutes popped? Chain-link fences bowing with overpopulation, fathers pointing out pit activity to their young children, funny car dry-hops, and parking lots and concession stand lines reaching a pandemonium level — these visions seen during the Funny Car Chaos gave me recollections of the nitro match race scene from long ago.


Noted businessman Leonard Lauder once said, "I'd rather be a big fish in a specialized pond than a little, little fish in a more generalized big pond." This may be a wise thought for these Funny Car racers.  




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