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MUSEUM PIECES, NASCAR AND IHRA

The Drag Racing Hall of Fame at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Fla., will again install new members during the weekend of NHRAís annual Gatornationals in nearby Gainesville.

This year the Hall of Fame selection committee will admit ten new members and itís a decent lot overall. Don Prudhomme, Ed McCulloch, Gene Adams, Eddie Hill, Dick Maxwell, Al Eckstrand, Frank Huszar, Dick Moroso, Bernie Partridge, and John "the Zookeeper" Mulligan will be the inductees.

Most who know me will tell you correctly that I couldnít tell a hoodlatch from an exhaust pipe, but that Iím a better-than-average spectator. Consequently, when I think Hall of Fame, I think greatness, whether in drag racing or baseball I feel all members should easily fall under that heading, and it should include more than one-shot brilliance. Any Hall of Famer should, to my alternate reality, be one of a kind, head and shoulders above, a race-winning, trend-setting, innovating, fan-creating son (or daughter) of a gun. And not excelling in one of these areas, but at two or more and then some.

Now, if you disagree with that definition, then saunter no further. You wonít like whatís coming.

With the exception of Prudhomme, McCulloch, Adams, Hill, and maybe Mulligan, Iíd question the others. I know about Maxwellís work with Chrysler and the Ramchargers and all that. In the Hall, maybe, but Al Eckstrand? His biggest accomplishment, I thought, was when he won the top-rated 2,000-pound fuel A/FX title at the first Super Stock Nationals in 1965 or the í63 NHRA Winternationals Stock win. But Hall of Fame? True, greatness? I donít know. I mean Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in one season and he isnít in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

To be honest, Eckstrand only had a couple of good seasons with his "Lawman" and Golden Commandos Mopars and then he was gone. I just canít convince myself that merits place in a space reserved for the all-time greats in drag racing.

Let me go a little closer to home: Bernie Partridge, a great guy and friend, whom I worked with at NHRA for 20-plus years. He and his wife P.J. are wonderful, hardworking people whose loyalty and service to NHRA was unquestionable. Iím sure that both of them belong in the NHRA Hall of Fame, but the overall, overwhelming one in Florida? Iím not so sure.

Bernie, the first Division 7 Director and the organizationís first and probably most famous voice, was a good announcer, but a great one? Hmmmm. Actually, Bernie was as well known for his malaprops and true unintentional classics like "beating your head on a dead horse" and "Hereís Roland Leong, one of our most famous Chinese racers." "Check that," was as much a part of his vocabulary as "Hi, how íya doin.í"

And if Bernie and Dale Ham are in the Hall, what about Darrell Zimmerman, the first NHRA member ever and the Division 5 boss for 30-plus years. I love all those guys, but Hall of Fame greatness? Changing the sport forever? AccompIishing feats of Joe Louis proportions? Personally, I think even they scratched their heads when they were notified.

And then there were a few others that made me do exactly that when I got the list of inductees.

Frank Huszar was a fine chassis builder from California, but more important than an Al Swindahl? I dunno. Moroso and Mulligan are more borderline with me, but racers like Jerry Ruth and Bennie Osborn arenít: They should be in. (In case, you donít know, Ruth won eight Division 6 Top Fuel championships, the 1973 NHRA World Championship, and was the first racer to win Top Fuel and Funny Car at the same race; Osborn was the first back-to-back Top Fuel World Championships, taking NHRA laurels in 1967 and 1968.)

With the current inductees, the Hall now has 116 people on the roster. Of that, I would disagree with at least 16, and maybe have another ten to 20 listed as borderline. I knew Hall of Famer Herb Parks and liked him, and he was one of the hardest working crew members anywhere, but a lot of guys fill that description. Dan Ferguson, John "Tarzan" Austin, Ronnie Capps, "Fats" McKay, current day players like Mike Guger, Randy Green, the Oberhoffers, Chris McNicol, Kevin McCarthy, the Butterfields, thereís lots of them. Will they get Hall of Fame consideration?

As time goes by (and if you go along with my prejudices) we really shouldnít see ten new members per annum too much longer. There arenít that many great retired racers out there outside of this group, but there are some, I feel who have been overlooked and frankly deserve being in the Hall before some of the other inductees, to understate the case.

So, let me cut to the point. Let the selection committee be just that; very selective. Overall, the quality is still very good and, as a result, the Garlits Hall of Fame is still one of the sportís classiest institutions. Iíd like to see it tighten the reins just a wee bit and continue to be seen that way.

OKAY WISE GUY, WHO
WOULD YOU PUT IN?

Jeb Allen

Only one of two to win World titles in NHRA (1981), AHRA (1977), IHRA (1980). Youngest driver to ever win a Top Fuel title at a big race (1972 NHRA Summernationals). He was 18 at the time.

Steve Carbone

1969 NHRA World Champ, Ď71 Indy Champ, 1968 and 1970 PDA Top Fuel king, í69 NHRA World Finals and í69 AHRA Finals TF champ, í69 PHR Top Fuel champ ó first one, won the 1968 Hot Rod magazine CíShps Top Fuel title.

Leroy Goldstein

1969 AHRA Top Fuel World Champ and 1972 AHRA Funny Car champ - 1st to do this. First Funny Car driver in the sixes ó1970, 1967 and 1969 AHRA Springnationals TF champ.

Blaine Johnson

Won four straight NHRA Alcohol Dragster World Championships and holds the career NHRA TAD total record of 26 and four NHRA Top Fuel titles. He had the 1996 NHRA Winston Top Fuel title pretty well covered when he lost his life in a qualifying wreck at the U.S. Nationals. At the time of his death and until the end of the year, his 4.592 held as the NHRA TF national record.

Butch Leal

A genuine Funny Car and Pro Stock great. His í67 Barracuda Funny Car was one of the first in the 8.0s and 7.9s. In 1972, he won 16 match-race eliminator shows. His versatility showed in wins like the 1973 LeGrandnational Molson Pro Stock crown, the 1974 U.S. Nationals Super Stock title, the 1976 Popular Hot Rodding Modified title, and the 1985 NHRA Southern Nationals Pro Stock crown.

Johnny Loper

The king of the A/G class from roughly 1963 to 1968 with íLil Hoss Anglia, was class record holder in both AHRA and NHRA and won the class titles at both Assn. Nationals events. He won the 1965 AHRA Nationals Modified (?) crown. In 1976, Loper switched to Funny Car

as an owner. Driver Tripp Shumake won NHRA, AHRA, and IHRA national events in the car and earned the eighth slot in the Cragar Five Second Funny Car club with a 5.98.

Billy Meyer

Ten-time NHRA FC national event winner, 1980 IHRA Funny Car world champ. He stunned the drag racing world in 1972 when at age 18, he won the OCIR MFGS. FC title. He introduced the first modern tractor/trailer rig in 1977 and built the first modern drag race stadium with his Texas Motorplex in 1986.

Bennie Osborn (See above)

Jerry Ruth (See above)

Terry Vance

Ruled the Pro Stock Bike world, was the classí Don Garlits. Drove a V-8-powered fuel bike to e.t.s as low as a 6.96. Overall, Vance had 24 NHRA Fuel Bike and Pro Stock Bike wins. To state his case bluntly, ever hear of Vance & Hines?


This March marks the first time Iíve viewed the NASCAR races in their entirety to this point in the season. As some know, I have only fractional interest in other forms of auto racing. Obviously the drags, and only secondarily NASCAR and the sprinties, will interrupt bar conversation for me. I will look up occasionally from the polished wood pit now and then, to see if Jarrett, Wallace, or Martin is in the lead, but I donít glue my eyes to the set: I have this season.

The Daytona 500, NASCARís big daddy, wasnít so hot. In fact, had I not taken part in a $10 pool at the Bases Loaded bar (not to mention the clientele) that morning, I wouldíve passed out before noon. Usually when I have money on a sporting event, the waitresses treat me and my pals like a tableful of lepers; not so here. I had Earnhardt Sr., on the draw and at times, I got jacked up as he approached the lead, but as he sank back in the pack to 21st place, my trips to the Menís room increased.

Overall, a yawn, yawn, snore, snore, deal.

Jeff Burtonís win at Las Vegas was better but only for the last couple of laps. Mark Martin had the lead from laps 142 to 196, and he appeared to have the field covered like an elephant on a chorus girl. Then some guy spins in front of him with two laps to go, Martin backpedals, and like a subway pickpocket, Burton grabs the purse and runs off. Okay, I guess, but geez, the first couple of hours were brutal. Only a twist of the knob above contract Bridge.

Now, the Cracker Barrel/Country Store/Bob Jones University 500 or whatever they call the damn thing in Atlanta was a big improvement. Earnhardt Sr. and Bobby Labonte in the last ten laps was a corker and when Earnhardt held off Labonteís charging rhino by inches, well, it got a max-greased roar of approval from me...but about the previous 490 miles. If Tony Stewart hadnít have had that wreck, its doubtful many would have been awake to see "the Intimidator" shut down the Interstate.

Iíll be back, anythingís better than a talk show or some guy in a garage explaining how a lawnmower works. And I can understand some of the reasons for NASCARís popularity. For one thing, the cars are always moving, even if some guy is pounding the hell out of the field. And with cars anything can and occasionally does happen. But watching lap after lap of these cars going around in circles leads, for me, at least, to video vertigo.

The drags canít give it to you non-stop, but they certainly produce tons more power, noise (even with the restrictions), and variety, and if the two HRAs ever figure out how to bottle it for TV (I would suggest that they listen to recent interview subject Dean Papadeas), drag racing could enjoy the popularity that the roundy-round guys do now.


Elsewhere you will read of the adventures of the Burkster at Darlington, S.C. and the IHRA Summit/ProLong Winternationals. As with the NHRA clambakes in Pomona and Phoenix, the Top Fuel oildowns were dramatically if not totally eliminated. That, of course, was due to their altering blower speeds on the cars by 25-percent to slow them down.

There was just one problem for Top Fuel fans, though. When was the last time that you could remember a national event in the last three or four years where only one 300-mph run was registered. (I think there were none at last yearís IHRA Cordova meet.) Paul Romineís 303-mph dash in his winning final with Bruce Litton was it. Yuk!

Hopefully, the big step up by Summit will lead to more cars and eventual improvements in performance for the IHRA fuel cars. But for now? Slow íem down? Speed íem up. Make hydrazine mandatory.

 

photo by Jeff Burk

 

 

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