An occasional commentary and stories by Dale Wilson
I read in a recent National Dragster that my hero, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits of Ocala, Florida, will next appear in his mono-winged Swamp Rat 34 at the NHRA race in Dallas. You remember that "Big" got bumped from the final 16 at the U.S. Nationals by only a few thousandths of a second, running a career best of 4.763 at 318.54 mph. So now the Old Man is competitive, and he'll run at Dallas.
Dallas isn't Indy. "Big" is liable to make the 16-car cut there in Top Fuel. I'd like to see that. Let's say that Garlits then tried out for the NHRA race at Topeka, and maybe an IHRA race. Would I like to see that, too? Sure would.
Maybe a bunch of us could start following Garlits around, informally, like the Grateful Dead and Phish fans used to do. Yeah. Do that for a season or so. We could call ourselves "Big Heads" or something like that. Yeah, that's the ticket. Sleep six to a room and show up at the track selling Garlits souvenirs until somebody at NHRA caught us and banned such sales. Yeah.
But I'm too old for such carryings-on. I'll have to leave it to someone else to start the "Big Head" movement. Still, it might be fun. Garlits would probably get a kick out of the thing.
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My long-time buddy Larry McLendon, who now lives in Summerfield, Florida, not five miles from Don Garlits' Museum of Drag Racing (Larry's father built the museum when Don and Pat moved from Seffner to right off I-75, Exit 67, I believe), has once again gotten me stirred up to do something different in drag racing. McLendon is building a 116-inch front-engine dragster for the nostalgia racing wars. The engine will be a 296-inch flathead Ford/Merc on injectors and alcohol, with a clutch/shifter and white wall slicks. He has built others -- a hemi FED called "Blue Moon" (I did a magazine story on it a long time ago), and a similar mount with a 409 Chevy.
Seems that McLendon went to Greer Dragway in South Carolina a month ago to run his '40 Willys at a gasser gathering, and he had a ball. Now he is going to take his Willys and put a chrome straight axle under it and hit the nostalgia gasser trail hard, and race for fun. The flathead digger should be ready by next year's NHRA hot rod reunion at Beech Bend in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
I've already got the car I want in my head. It would be a 125-inch FED with a Chevy six with three-twos on alcohol, a shiftable three-speed and a 9-inch Ford rear end. If I ran in the high 11s, I'd be happy.
Last year, at the 2001 B&M Million, good friend Ed Richardson hit a .503 reaction time and ran a dead-on-with change in the final to take the loot. I've seen other such time slips in big-money bracket races. I don't think I can do that any more. Maybe nostalgia drag racing is next for me. Maybe you, too. I know one thing -- when I first went to Indy in 1964, that and the subsequent Indy trips, '65 and '66, were the best races I've been to. Maybe it's time for me to step back to 1964 again. Fun, fun, fun.
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The late, great Steve Collison, editor of Super Stock & Drag Illustrated and other drag racing magazines, will be inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame on March 13, 2003, at the Gainesville (Florida) Sheraton Hotel, during the NHRA Gatornationals weekend. Collison, a good writer and photographer as well as great editor, died in December 2002 while on the telephone with me. According to wife Cathy, Steve died of a massive heart attack. "He had two arteries that were 90-percent blocked," she told me. She still lives in the same house that she and Collison shared for nearly two decades, within a hard walk of Atco Raceway in New Jersey. Both of their sons, Kevin and Sammy, are college students, and daughter Lizzie will start college next year, majoring in art.
Collison's name is in good company. Each year, according to Hall of Fame and Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing comptroller Ed Smith, 10 people who have contributed greatly to the sport of drag racing are inducted. This will be the 14th edition. In addition to Steve, the other inductees are Dick LaHaie, Don Alderson, Gary Cagle, Jim Kelly, Jimmy King and Don Marshall, Jerry Ruth, Tony Waters, Jim Sughrue, Don "Mad Dog" Cook and Bill "Maverick" Golden. Those making the final selections were Shirley Muldowney, Ted Jones, Harry Hibler, Dr. Robert Post and Steve Gibbs; you know who they are.
You SHOULD know who Steve Collison was. He put a lot of people, including me, to work in the drag racing journalism game, and he was passionate about the sport. When he died, he was editor of Drag Racing USA magazine, and gave birth to Bracket Racing USA magazine, my old magazine that was corporate-killed before its time, and to Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords, which is now as thick as a small-town phone book.
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The next time that Doyle Kay races his footbraked '67 Chevy II at a big bracket race, one would be wise to go into the stands and start the betting on him -- when it is through, you might walk away a rich man.
Kay, a soft-spoken racer from Ashville, Alabama, is just about on the same level, footbrake-wise, as NHRA Competition Eliminator racer David Rampy, or Stock kingpin Peter Biondo this year. In the 2002 B&M Racer Appreciation Series competition, Kay has dominated like no other, going into the last points race of the season, at Darlington Dragway in mid September, leading the chase by more than 20 rounds. No one could come close to catching him. And how did he do at Darlington? He won one day and got runner-up the next (because of a .498 red light), and as with others, missing the final day because of the rainy effects of Hurricane Hanna.
"The Darlington tree was the loosest I've ever raced on. I had to leave at 3,600 rpm and had to go in one bump, which I don't like to do," he said. Friday's win for Kay put $1,000 in his wallet.
Kay now has a collection of 10 B&M trophies, gorgeous pieces of metal art designed and machined by B&M's John Spar and based on the company's Pro Bandit shifter. Kay has six first-place trophies and four runners-up. He finished the B&M points chase 43 rounds ahead of No. 2 man, Brook Stevens of Pell City, a close friend of Kay's. To many who bracket race, those trophies are more desirable than the money that goes along with the win (several have said so).
How did Kay manage to do so well? By having a consistent footbrake car, his venerable '67 Chevy II that he says will see nothing in the way of changes. But also Kay thanked the Lord above for his wins. "These last two years have been a blessing from God," he said. "A lot of people call it luck, but I know it's not luck, it's God's favor. I'm still on Cloud 9. Sometimes I have to pinch myself."
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George Case and Tommy Ciccarone are best of friends. Both have been involved in drag racing most of their adult lives, Case as general manager of Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pennsylvania, and Ciccarone as a pioneer Super Stock racer in NHRA Division 1, along with brother Don. At one time, both sons, Ian Case and Tombo Ciccarone, raced Jr. Dragsters together.
Now they are teamed up on Ciccarone's Super Stock/Truck A '98 S-10, a car that did okay at a recent Division 1 points race at Cecil County. "Ciccarone and Case," it says on both doors. Tommy drives and George offers cheerleading support.
"We've been teamed up now for a few years," Case said. "We're friends."
Case worked himself up from a part-timer at Maple Grove in 1983, to event director in 1985, to operations manager in 1989, and finally to general manger. The partnership with Ciccarone helps in the running of Maple Grove, he says. "Because I'm part of (hands-on) racing, it offers me insights into what the sportsman racers want," he said. Case says his heart is into sportsman racing, as it should be -- he started his racing career in a Super Stock/H '65 Chevelle.
"Big Tommy," who runs his own Parkway Cleaners in West Chester, is a veteran Super Stock racer. He drives the family truck, while son Tombo races a Super Stock/C Modified Grand Am and a Cressman-chassied Super Comp dragster, which won the recent Englishtown points race, while Tommy's nephew, Donnie, son of brother Don, won in the family's GT/A Automatic '86 Camaro at the same race. Both sons are 22.
George and Tommy met while both their sons were racing Jr. Dragsters
several years ago. They have remained friends ever since, hence the
Ciccarone and Case team-up. "I know a lot of track operators who field
race cars, but this is a natural for me," Case said. "Sportsman racing
has been a part of my life, and of Tommy's, for a long time. I'm glad
to be a part of it."