Does anyone remember this Bantam Roadster?

Batam Altered with a blown Chrysler engine.

Bantam altered seen at Detroit Autorama in the late sixties. The only clue to it’s identity is the sign the reads “the Ped….” and the owner is Tony…

This is obviously a Bantam roadster. Is it a fuel altered? It sure looks like it could be. It features all the right stuff, including a blown 392 Hemi carried high in the frame rails, with the driver semi-enclosed in a tiny Bantam roadster shell.

An entrant at the Detroit Autorama, the sign on the right provides some tantalizing clues to the roadster and it’s owner. Unfortunately, the way I framed the the photo back in late 1960s displays only half of the sign. Thus, I don’t know who the owner was, where it was from or what class the car ran at the track.

The right half of the sign is cropped off, so I can only read “the Ped…”  What was the car’s actual name ? My best guess is Peddler, but there are other words and phrases that begin with PED.

According to the sign, the Bantam was owned, built and driven by “Anthony…” Anthony who? I cannot tell. because once again, that part of the sign is lost to history.

The sign credits the mysterious Anthony as owner, builder and driver of the car. Does that mean he welded up the chassis himself? Did he design the chassis as well? Where was he from?

Detroit was never a hotbed for fuel altereds. There were countless dragsters and funny cars based in and around the Motor City. But fuel altereds were relatively rare. I remember Bob Sweat’s El Toro roadster, as well as the series of Walt’s Puffer cars out of Walt Knoch’s shop.

I guess, you could add Anthony and the Peddler — or whatever it was called — to that list. Anthony went to a lot of work to create this bitching altered, So what happened? Was it competitive? What kind of numbers did it lay down? Did it run the local South Eastern Michigan tracks (Detroit, Motorcity, Milan, Ubly, St. Thomas?) Or was it just passing through when it appeared at Cobo Hall?

Do you remember this car? Is Anthony still around? Let us know in the comments below. I really want to know about the car and whatever happened to it.


Posted in 1969 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Out of Sight Camaro: West Coast Wonder

Out of Site Camaro driven by Joe Garcia.

Steve and Joe Garcia towed their Out of Site Camaro all the way from California to run a funny car show at Detroit Dragway.

The Out of Sight Camaro funny car is another example of the variety of machines which appeared at Detroit Dragway. Joe and Steve Garcia went on tour with the California Camaro in the summer of ’68, and made at least one stop at “the big track in Detroit.”

To be clear, the Camaro above was campaigned by Joe and Steve Garcia — NOT Ron O’Donnell. There is a lot of confusion about the Garcia’s west coast Camaro, which shared a similar name as O’Donnell’s Chicago based Outa’Site Camaro. Note the slight spelling difference.

I have seen numerous photos of the Out of Sight car labeled as the Ron O’Donnell Camaro. Increasing the confusion is the fact that O’Donnell toured with the Outa’Site car, including trips to the left coast. The Garcia’s also went on tour, traveling at least as far east as Detroit, as the photo above illustrates. Similar cars, similar names. It is understandable that the cars would become misidentified.

O’Donnell was a professional driver and drove a host of mid-west cars including Don Schumacher’s Stardust, Stone Woods and Cook, Chris Karamesines’ Barracuda, several Damn Yankee cars and the Fighting Irish Camaro. In addition, he campaigned his own cars, including the Big Noise from Illinois and of course the Outa’Site and the Outa’Site II.

Meanwhile, out west, the Garcia’s commissioned Noel Black to build a car they named Out Of Sight.   Black is best known for his Bonneville land speed attempts and he incorporated technology from the salt flats into the Camaro. Notice how the bug catcher barely protrudes above the hood in the photo above. Most funny cars of the era carried their engines high in the chassis, in an attempt to increase weight transfer.

I’m guessing that one of Black’s LSR techniques included placing the engine low in the chassis. The Out of Sight’s elapsed times were solid, but not record breaking. Top end speed, however were literally “out of sight.” Joe Garcia posted speeds in excess of 200mph, an impressive accomplishment  for a full-bodied car in 1968.

The car was an early wacky racer, powered by 331″ Chrysler Hemi. I assume that long front clip was fiberglass. As for the rest of the body, I’m guessing the doors and deck lid were ‘glass, while the body shell was genuine GM steel. As I said, that is only a guess, based on how similar cars were built back in the day.

By 1968, the days of the match-bash style funny cars were fading, as the flip-top fuel coupes began to dominate the funny car world. There were still a few old school machines swimming against the tide, however, of which Garcia’s Camaro was one.

Trying to document drag racing in the 1960s can be difficult. A lot of people, cars and material have been lost, and digging up the truth about a particular machine or driver can be difficult, if not almost impossible.

Unearthing the strange story of the Out of Sight Camaro is even trickier, thanks to O’Donnell and the Chapman Automotive Outa’Site.

The Garcia’s high mph car is a survivor, however. At least it was around in the last decade or so. I remember seeing shots of the Out of Sight being restored in 2004.

In 2009, Phil Burgess mentioned the Out of Sight Camaro in his Friday Fan Feedback column in National Dragster. Don Francis owned the car and was in the process of refurbishing it.

Whether the restoration was ever completed I can’t say. Hopefully, the Out of Sight will be seen cackling away at the drag strips where it once set  speed records.

Just remember, this car was driven by Steve Garcia, not Ron O’Donnell!

Posted in 1968, Detroit Dragway | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Response

Doug Gordon in the Gordon and Best Purple Haze dragster

Gordon and Best dragster, 1975

The Gordon and Best “Purple Haze” A/FD, seen at it’s last outing at Milan Dragway, October 1975.

The last time around, I asked Vintage-Nitro readers for information on the Public Nuisance Fiat.

A tip of the hat to Ron Thums, who identified the car as the former ride of Doug Gordon. Not only did Ron name the car’s owner, he also linked to a website in which Gordon recounts his drag racing experiences in the ’70s.

That is Gordon in the Purple Haze A/FD dragster above, which I photographed winning a Pro Comp event at Milan Dragway in 1975. The dragster is a far cry from the humble Fiat I captured at Detroit Dragway. Until Thums posted his comment, I never knew that there was any connection between this car and that old-school Fiat.

While most of Gordon’s Purple Haze website deals with the history of the Gordon and Best dragster, Gordon relates that “his first real race car” was the Fiat altered.

There is a somewhat blurry photo of the Fiat racing at Lapeer Dragway, but there is no question it is the same car.

Gordon answered some of the questions I pondered on in my last post. First the car was indeed a steel bodied Fiat, not a fiberglass reproduction. It was powered by an injected 427 Chevy.

Unfortunately, it seems the car’s racing career ended when Gordon came down from a wheel stand a little too hard and broke the frame.

That is when Gordon and Steve Best decided to team up on nitro-burning Pontiac (!) front engine dragster. Later the team upgraded to to the rear engined Chevy powered car seen above.

Interestingly, my very first visit to Milan Dragway came when I covered the season-ending Pro Comp show in October, 1975. Gordon and Best won the event with the Purple Haze, which I reported on in Drag News.

While this was my first time at Milan Dragway, it proved the last time ever for the Gordon and Best team. The car was sold immediately afterward and the team planned on building a new machine for 1976. That never materialized and Gordon and Best dissolved their partnership. According to Gordon’s website, he hasn’t returned to the dragstrip since 1976.

The quest continues

So that is the story of the Public Nuisance.

Or is it? From Gordon’s website, it appears he purchased the Public Nuisance, pretty much as a turn-key race car. Since it doesn’t say Doug Gordon on the door panels, I’m guessing when I spotted the car at Detroit Dragway it was being campaigned by the former owner. So we still don’t know who built the car or how it came to be.

So the quest continues. Who built the Public Nuisance? When was it built? What happened to the former owner or owners?

Posted in 1975, Milan Dragway | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Anyone remember the Public Nuisance Fiat Altered?

Public Nuisance Fiat at Detroit Dragway

If you are going to have a nuisance, it may as well be one like this wild looking Fiat.

When I saw the Public Nuisance Fiat, I had to snap a photo. It was Detroit Dragway, late 1960-something. I was there to see funny cars, but I have always had a soft spot for altereds, especially Fiat altereds. Looking at the picture now, it looks like a photo out of time.

A Fiat altered – straight out of the past

The little Fiat looks like it comes from another era. By 1968, cars like this were becoming quite rare. In fact, this car would look more appropriate to 1959, when Detroit Dragway first opened, then 1968, when I shot the photo. While I didn’t plan it that way, that multicolored ’56 Chevy in the staging lanes reinforces the idea that this photo was shot in an earlier time.

The first thing to grab my attention was the trailer — which looks more like a lawn and garden trailer than a race car hauler. The short wheelbase car barely fits, but the tow rig obviously got the car to the track in one piece, which is the only thing that matters.

According to the lettering on the side and back, the car apparently was owned (and presumably driven) by Don Patricks. Was Patricks a local? I only remember seeing the car one time, so perhaps the car towed in from some other place. On the other hand, the car might have been a regular at the track.

Of course there is always the chance that the Fiat is a time traveler from another era and I just happened to be there the night the it materialized for a couple of rounds of racing.

I can’t tell if it is a real steel body, or a fiberglas replica. The exterior looks like it could be steel, but the interior (visible near the roll cage) looks smooth enough to be ‘glass.

Steel body…or ‘glass?

I’ve alway had respect for rodders who build race cars from junk yard bodies, and this car looks the part, even if it turns out the body is fiberglass. Note the hood has been extended eight to ten inches above the engine. Room for a bigger engine or a longer wheelbase for stability?

Another interesting item, the car has B/A painted on the roof pillar. If you look closely, you will see the letter B has been crossed out and A has been written above in shoe polish. Did the car receive modifications that boosted it up a class? More cubic inches? Improved induction system? Or maybe something more than pump gas in the fuel tank? Then again, sanctioning bodies have been known to change classifications, so it is possible the car’s class changed without the owner doing anything.

It is difficult to tell for sure, but to my eye the small diameter headers appear to point straight down to the track, another design element that harkens from another era. By 1968, header were generally adapting a laid back or zoomie configuration.

Do you remember this Fiat Altered?

So what is the story of the Public Nuisance? Was Patricks from the Detroit area? Did he compete at Detroit Dragway often? Why did he move from B/A to A/A? And finally, what happened to the car and driver? Is Patricks still around? Is this car tucked away in a old barn somewhere? Let us know in the comments below!

Posted in 1968 | Tagged , , , , | 2 Responses

Remembering Jim Kelly


Jim Kelly

I respected Jim Kelly as a great drag racing photo journalist. Despite his extensive career as a  photographer, however, I remember him best for his activities on the starting line at Detroit Dragway

Last week, the word came down that Jim Kelly passed away. Kelly was the master of drag racing photography, and I had enormous respect for the man and what he could do with a camera.

Kelly was also a great encouragement to me when I first started covering racing professionally. Even back then, there were only so many pages to fill in motorsport publications, so competition was intense between photographers vying to get their images in print. Some of the established freelancers were helpful and friendly, but there were some real jerks who did their best to discourage any newcomers.

Kelly had safely established himself as a premier automotive journalist, so he wasn’t afraid of competition, Instead he gave me encouragement and treated me with respect..

My favorite Jim Kelly moment came at Detroit Dragway in the mid-seventies. At the time, Kelly was the chief photographer for the American Hot Rod Association (AHRA.) Prior to switching back to NHRA sanctioning, Detroit was sanctioned by the AHRA for several years. Detroit hosted two AHRA national everts each year, and, of course, Kelly was on hand to cover the events.

My friend Dave Tubek and I were there to provide coverage for Drag News. We did quite a bit of bench racing with Kelly between rounds, discussing the race and the state of drag racing in general.

On Sunday, Kelly became rather antsy. He had a plane to catch and he was afraid if the race ran late he would miss his flight.

Kelly’s worries intensified when one of the top fuel cars literally Vaselined the track at the top end. That might have been the worst oil down I ever witnessed. The engine let go around the 800-900 foot mark and sprayed oil and debris all over the race track for 600 feet.

It took forever to clean up the mess. Gil Kohn always hired a wheel stander to appease the crowd during incidents like this, and Chuck Poole made several wheels-up passes to entertain the spectators. Eventually, however, Poole completed his exhibition runs and we were left with an empty race track, except for the guys scrubbing the top end.

Even the announcer ran out of things to say. After three days of hearing the constant roar of un-muffled engines, interrupted from time to time by the clatter of supercharged, nitro burning Hemis, it was eerie to be surrounded by silence.

Kelly was not happy. I could hear him muttering things like “Comeon — lets get going.” under his breath.

Detroit Dragway didn’t have guard rails at the time, just those wide ditches on either side of the track. But there was a short length of Armco railing protecting a set of bleachers near the starting line. The three of us lounged on he railing, staring down at our shoes while we waited for the the race to resume.

After what seemed like an exceeding long time, a couple of pickups came back from the top end, their beds filled with burly guys holding brooms. I took that to mean that racing was about to get underway again..

Strangely, there was no activity on the starting line. The clean up was completed,  a pair of funny cars were waiting in the lanes and the crowd was getting restless. Still, several minutes ticked by with nothing happening.

Kelly and I looked at each other. Neither of us could figure out why they hadn’t restarted the race. I’m sure most of the spectators were wondering the same thing.

Finally, Kelly had had enough. He snapped to attention from his perch on he railing. Cradling his camera in his arms, he marched purposely to the middle of the starting line. As I watched in fascination, he peered toward the top end, which was completely empty. He looked behind him where two funny cars were waiting, bodies up, crews in position and electric starters in place. Then he looked up at tower, which was still eerily silent.

Kelly gave a slight shake of his head, then raised his hand in the air and spun it around in the universal motion that means “start ’em up.”

And they did! The flopper crews were just as anxious as we were to get back racing, so as soon as Kelly started twirling his wrist, both cars spun over and exploded into life.

That is the only time I saw a photographer give the command to start the cars at a major race, Usually there is a competition director, or maybe an official starter. Sometimes  one of the high-ranking track employees might issue the start command.  But a photographer? No way.

Kelly walked back to where we were standing, a huge grin on his face. It was too loud for conversation, but Kelly looked at me with an expression that said “And that’s the way you do it!”

I don’t remember who won the race that day. I don’t know if Kelly actually made his flight that day. But I won’t forget the proud look in Kelly’s eyes as he rejoined us along side the track.

I didn’t see much of Kelly after that. He left the AHRA to take over as editor for Super Stock & Drag Illustrated. I saw him often at major events, but he was always surrounded by an entourage of writers and photographers, so we never exchanged more than “Hi, how is it going?”

But I did talk with on the phone frequently. Usually, I would call him to pitch a story or feature article for the magazine. One day, however, he called me to ask if I was going to Gainesville for the Gatornationals. When I told him I was, he asked if I would mind shooting the Sox and Martin Dodge Colt for him while I was there. Thats the way he phrased it…”Would you mind…”

Kelly had a great night shot of the Colt on the staring line, and he needed some black & white photos for a feature he wanted to develop around his image. Naturally, I agreed  and spent a great afternoon with Ronnie Sox. We shot the Colt in a field at the top end while Gatornationals qualifying was going on. That was my favorite Jim Kelly assignment.

That was a long time ago. Detroit Dragway is gone. Ronnie Sox is gone. Super Stock magazine is history.  The AHRA is only a shadow of what it once was. And now, sadly, Jim Kelly is gone as well.

But whenever I think of Kelly, I will remember him restarting the field at Detroit Dragway. And I will smile.

Posted in 2015 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rapid Ronnie Runyan Corvair Flip-Top Funny Car

Rapid Ronnie Runyan Corvair Funny Car at Detroit Dragway

Originally a fixture on the West Coast, Ronnie Runyan moved to Missouri to run match races and AHRA events with his Chevy powered Corvair funny car.

Rapid Ronnie Ronyan brought his Blue Hell Corvair Funny Car to Detroit Dragway in 1969. Corvairs were quite popular as funny car body shells in the ’60s, due to their small and slippery shape.

Ronyan first gained fame on the West Coast with his California-based Corvette, also known as Blue Hell. The Corvette was a wild, erratic ride, but quite popular with fans. By 1969, Ronyan had moved to Missouri to campaign his new Corvair flopper on the AHRA circuit.

Dick Fletcher built the chassis for the Corvair. Fletcher isn’t as well-known as the big name builders from the era, but he was responsible for several well-known funny car and dragster frames in the ’60s.

I believe this is the initial design for the Blue Hell. To the best of my knowledge, Runyan only ran one Corvair during his career.  I have seen photos of the Corvair that appear to have a longer wheelbase and a lengthened nose. I assume that Runyan had the car lengthened at some point, although I could be mistaken.

Power comes from a blown Chevy rat motor. It you believe the lettering inside the Chevy emblem, the displacement is a stock 427 cubic inches.

According to a Runyan quote on the 70s Funny Cars website, an announcer started referring to Runyan as “Rabid Ronnie” while he was running his ill-handling Corvette. In turn, fans started calling him Rapid Ronnie and the name stuck.

Runyan would go on to campaign a Blue Hell Vega in the ’70s, which was also powered with a Chevy rat motor.


Posted in 1969 | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Responses

Seaton’s Super Shaker Nova Funny Car at Detroit Dragway

Seaton's Super Shaker Nova Funny Car

Pete Seaton brought the new Seaton’s Super Shaker Nova to Detroit for the AHRA Grand Nationals. Driver Terry Hedrick put on a great show, defeating Pat Foster with a hole shot on Friday as he advanced through the field. Unfortunately the Shaker lost a head gasket and fell to the Whaley Brothers’s ‘cuda in the final.

Seaton’s Super Shaker Nova funny car was another headliner at the 1969 AHRA Grand Nationals, with Terry Hedrick at the controls. When I got this photo back from the processor in 1969, I was disappointed to see all the shadows superimposed on the side of the car. Now, almost 45 years later, I really like the story those shadows tell. It symbolizes how popular funny cars were back then, and it demonstrates the low-hanging western light that characterized most of the evening shows at Detroit Dragway. I wonder if anyone will recognize themselves in those silhouettes?


I was pleased to hear from Jay Howell, who set the record straight regarding the steel Corvair, as well as a fun tidbit about Hedrick’s fuel license. Thanks for clarifying the story, Jay!

Hey Tom:  Just a slight correction on the Seaton Shaker story.  I did drive the car (the steel bodied Corvair) with the supercharged engine. In fact, I built the engine and set the track record at Detroit at 180.  I had to give up the seat due to my management position at Logghe’s.  Another tidbit of info.  Terry didn’t have a fuel license when he started driving it.  I found out years later that he raced using my name until he got licensed!  LOL!

Seaton’s Shaker is Back!

I featured the Seaton’s Shaker Chevelle in an earlier post. Del Heinelt was the principal driver for the Seaton’s Shaker Chevelle. Seaton’s next effort was an injected steel bodied Corvair, driven by Jay Howell.  Seaton added a supercharger to the steel bodied car and renamed it Seaton’s Super Shaker. Young Terry Hedrick replaced Howell (update: see above) in the original Corvair and continued as the shoe for Seaton’s first flip-top fuel funny car, a blown fiberglass Corvair. The Corvair flopper was a stand out performer, and suited Hedrick’s aggressive driving style.

In spring of ’69 Seaton and Hedrick showed up at Detroit Dragway with this new Nova funny car, still known as Seaton’s Super Shaker.

The Man Who Never Lifts

I can’t locate my photos of Seaton’s flip-top Corvair, but I still hope to find them someday. Hedrick’s exploits with the Corvair at Detroit Dragway are legendary. Among my friends, Hedrick was known as “the man who never lifts.”

The late Dale Earnhardt (senior) is famous for the “pass in the grass.” He stayed in front of Bill Elliot at the 1987 Winston Stock Car race by driving through the edge of the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Observers still speak in awe of  the way Earnhardt was able to stay in control as he drove off the pavement, through the grass and then back on to the track at full speed. It remains an impressive maneuver, but Earnhardt had nothing on Hedrick. Twice during the 1968 season, I watched Hedrick drive the Corvair into the ditch at Detroit Dragway.

By itself, that wouldn’t be noteworthy, I saw numerous drivers end up in the ditch that lined both sides of the track. But Hedrick was different. Any other driver would have lifted once he left the asphalt. Not Hedrick.

Full Speed Ahead: In the Ditch at Detroit Dragway

The Corvair sped down beside the track, throwing up great rooster tails of dirt, as Hedrick made like the world’s fastest sand dragger. It was obvious that Hedrick intentionally kept the hammer down, because the tone of the engine never wavered. The first time we saw this, we watched in amazement as Hedrick deftly drove back on the track at the top end, still without lifting. When the win light came on in Hedrick’s lane the crowd went nuts. Off the track, through the ditch and back on track again and he still defeated his opponent!

A few months later, it as a deju vu moment as Hedrick once again went into

Seaton's Super Shaker Nova funny car with the body raised.

With body raised, Seaton’s Super Shaker reveals the blown rat motor and Logghe Chassis. Note the independent front suspension. Most of the era’s funny cars still used straight axles, but Seaton’s Nova had a neat IFS system supported with Logghe Coil Over shocks. Notice the lack of upswept headers.

the ditch and kept the hammer down for the rest of the quarter-mile. This time, however, Hedrick couldn’t gather the Corvair up in time and ran over the top end lights. The Corvair wasn’t seriously wounded, but the clocks were out of commission in that lane for the rest of the night.

Lest you think the Corvair was an ill-handling beast, Hedrick did very well with the car at match races and national events. The Corvair made a semi-final appearance at the US Nationals at Indianapolis in 1968, in a field composed of many of the best funny cars in the country. He made his presence felt on the AHRA circuit as well and was a strong contender at many of the independent funny car events on the west coast.

I am sorry to report that the Corvair didn’t last long after Hedrick vacated the saddle. Seaton sold the ‘Vair to the team of Petrocelli & Haskett, who renamed the car Super Twister. Shortly afterwards, the car lived up to its new name and went squirrely at mid-track at Cecil County Dragway. Unlike Detroit, there was no wide apron along side of the track, and Joe Petrocelli went into the guardrail at speed. Fortunately, Petrocelli was okay, but the Corvair was twisted beyond repair.

Thus ends the story of the Seaton’s Super Shaker Corvair.

As for the Nova, it proved even more competitive than the Corvair, and Hedrick enjoyed great success on the AHRA circuit in ’69. I’m not sure if the Nova handled better or if Hedrick just matured as a driver. Maybe circumstances like oil on the track caused the Corvair to misbehave. Whatever, I never saw the Nova leave the asphalt. The new car ran hot, straight and true.

I’ll have more to say about Hedrick and the Super Shaker Nova funny car in a future post.

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Posted in 1969 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

Pat Foster and the Mickey Thompson Mustang

Mickey Thompson Red Car on Ramp Truck at Detroit

Pat Foster had Mickey Thompson’s Red Mach 1 looking strong at the 1969 AHRA Grand Nationals, but a header malfuncton would put the feared Mustang in the ditch at Detroit.

In 1969, Mickey Thompson owned  the two hottest funny cars in the country. Pat Foster drove the “Red Car” (above) and Danny Ongais handled the very similar “Blue Car.” Both were flip-top Mustangs, powered by Ford 427 SOHC V-8s. The two cars were a dominant force in 1969, and the Mickey Thompson cars left their mark wherever they went.

Part of the secret behind the success of the M/T funny cars was the “dragster-style” chassis, developed by John Buttera in California. You can see the sling-shot style roll cage in the photo above. With the light-weight, dragster chassis and Ford supplying engine parts, the twin Mustangs cut a swath through major funny car events across the country.

Despite their advanced features and fearsome performance, the Mustangs looked like the Mach 1 ‘Stangs you could find at the local Ford showroom. Note the real door handle and the actual Mach 1 Emblem on the sail panel. Read More »

Posted in 1969 | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ron O’Donnell in Don Schumacher’s Cuda

Ron O’Donnell brought Don Schumacher’s Stardust Barracuda to Detroit for the 1969 Grand Nationals. Was this Don Schumacher’s number 2 car? Or did O’Donnell replace Schumacher for the AHRA event? We’re looking for answers.

This is Ron O’Donnell in Don Schumacher’s Stardust Phase II Barracuda. The car was at Detroit Dragway for the 1969 AHRA Grand Nationals. O’Donnell, who hailed from Chicago, drove  a number of famous cars during his career. At various times, you could find O’Donnell piloting Mr. Norm’s Super Charger, the Stone, Woods and Cook flopper, the Fighting Irish Camaro, Chris Karamesines’s flip-top ‘Cuda, the Outa-Site Camaro, the Damn Yankee flip-tops, and his own “Big Noise from Illinois” Barracuda. For at least part of the 1969 season, he campaigned this flip top Barracuda owned by Don Schumacher.

I discussed Schumacher before, taking a look at his injected Charger that ran the UDRA circuit. Schumacher wasn’t  a big threat in his early career, but in 1968 he acquired a blown ‘Cuda and immediately started to collect wins and post impressive time slips.

Schumacher’s Racing Stable

Which brings up the question of the car O’Donnell drove at the AHRA Grand Nats. It closely resembles the ‘Cuda Schumacher ran in 1968, which suggests this is the 1968 car with new paint. On the other hand, Schumacher toured with a flip-top ‘Cuda in 1969 as well. So did O’Donnell get his own team Stardust car? Or did Schumacher and O’Donnell share driving chores for the nitro funny car? Read More »

Posted in 1969 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Responses

Jim Maybeck and the Patriot Chevelle Funny Car

Jim Maybeck's Patroit Chevelle on trailer

Jim Maybeck tagged along with Bruce Larson with Larson’ s old USA-1 Chevelle, now known as the Patriot. Larson’s new flip-top Camaro can be seen in the background.

Jim Maybeck amd the Patriot Chevelle were also on hand at the 1968 Super Stock Magazine Invitational at Detroit Dragway. The Patriot was obviously Bruce Larson’s former USA-1 Chevelle. Larson sold the Chevelle to Maybeck once his new flip-top Camaro was ready,

I am not sure of the relationship between Larson and Maybeck, maybe they were good friends or Maybeck bought the Chevelle with the understanding that Larson would help him tune the car for a period after the sale. Whatever, the two cars travelled to Detroit together, with the USA-1 Camaro on a ramp truck and the Patriot behind on a trailer.

Not what she seems: a true funny car

I like this photo because it shows the two cars together; the old and the new. At first glance, it might sumbolize the era, with the match-bash Chevelle in the foreground and the flip-top Camaro in the back.

Looks can be deceiving however, as the Patriot is a lot more radical than it first appears. The car looks like a slightly warmed over ’67 Chevelle. The first clue that the car is anything but stock is the front wheel, which is located too deeply under the front fender. The car has a straight-axle, which has a narrower track than a factory Chevelle.

Straight axles were not all that unusual for the match-bash cars of the era, but Larson’s old ride is much wilder than most. While most ’65 – ’67 Chevelle funny cars used a massaged factory GM frame, Larson built a new light-weight chassis out of square tubing.

The real illusion of the car comes from the body, which was entirely of fiberglass. Larson worked for a Chevy dealer in 1965, and was able to acquire a complete set of body panels for a 1966 Chevelle even before the ’66 models were on sale to the public. He took the panels to a local boat builder; who reproduced everything in fiberglass.

The combination of tube frame and fiberglass body made the car very light for funny cars of the era. Most of altered wheelbase machines weighed in at 2500 – 2800 pounds. Larson’s lightweight Chevelle is said to tip the scales at 2200 pounds, a nice advantage in match races.

When Larson debuted the Chevelle, he originally ran it on pump gas. Alcohol fuel followed, then he started to tip the can with nitro. Thus this photo demonstrates Larson’s rapid evolution, injected gas to blown nitro in the space of three years.

The amazing canted injectors

One other interesting feature of the Chevelle was Larson’s unique canted forward injector tubes. The vast majority of injected match-racers featured injector tubes arranged up and down like trees in the forest. The tubes of Larson’s rat motor bent forward into the wind. My guess is that forward facing tubes would gain pressure from the car’s forward motion, the faster the car went the higher the pressure in the intake manifold. It would be like having a supercharger without the weight and complexity of a blower.

I’m not sure if it really made much difference, I don’t remember any other cars running forward facing injector tubes. But there is no denying the Chevelle was a stand out performer.

The car was painted in Larson’s signature red, while and blue colors. Larson updated the 1966 body with 1967 Chevelle wrap-around  tail lights and a ’67 front end. That is the configuration the car wore under Maybeck’s ownership. Sadly, the canted injectors were gone, although Maybeck retained the nitro burning rat motor.

Maybeck didn’t race the Patriot for long. By the end to the season, Maybeck sold the Chevelle to future Eastern Raider star Al Hanna. Maybeck built his own flip-top funny car, while Hanna reportedly added a blower to the Chevelle.

A survivor: Restored USA-1 Chevelle at Garlits Museum

The car’s history after Hanna’s ownership is murky. At some point, Larson started to look for his old racer. He found it abandoned in an old gas station. Reportedly it was in pretty rough shape, as time, neglect and owner abuse had taken a solid toll on the Chevelle.

Larson had a plan however, and brought the car to the crew at Don Garlits’ museum, where they strove to return the car to it’s past glory.  They restored the car to it’s 1966 appearance, including 1966 Chevelle front end and tail lights, USA-1 paint and of course, those forward facing injector tubes. The car is now on display at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida.




Posted in 1968 | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Response
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