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.

 

 
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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?

Update:

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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Seaton's Super Shaker Nova Funny Car at Detroit Dragway
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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 »

 
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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 »

 
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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.

 

 

 

 
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Bruce Larson and the USA-1 Camaro Funny Car

Bruce Larson USA-1 Camaro

Bruce Larson brought his new USA-1 Camaro to Detroit in 1968.

Bruce Larson was another entry at the 1968 Super Stock Magazine invitational in his popular USA-1 Camaro. The flip-top Camaro replaced his outstanding injected Chevelle, and relied on a blown rat motor for power.

The new version of the USA-1 was state-of-the-art, running a Logghe Chassis and a flip-top, one-piece, fiberglass ’68 Camaro body.

Larson was still figuring out his new ride, and he lost in the first round two days in row at Detroit. The Candies & Hughes Barracuda was Larson’s nemesis, as the blown ‘Cuda outran the Camaro both days.

Chalk the Detroit event up to experience. Larson didn’t waste much time getting USA-1 sorted out, and by mid-season he hit a 7.41; the quickest run for a funny car ever up to that time. In 1969, Larson would win the prestigious Super Stock Nationals in this car, turning away a huge field of the best funny cars in the country at York, Pennsylvania,

He built another Camaro for the 1970 season and continued to run Chevy power until he burned the new Camaro to the ground. Larson went pro-stock racing for a time, then created an alky Pro-Comp flopper. Eventually he returned to the AA/FC ranks, winning the 1989 NHRA Funny Car Championship.

Still on the Nostalgia Funny Car Circuit

Larson has raced for more than five decades. Fifty years of drag racing would be enough for almost anybody, but Larson continues to race nostalgia funny cars. For 2013, Worm, Inc. has created an authentic replica of the car in the photo above. Larson reportedly still owns the original car in this photo, but changes in safety rules have made that car illegal for all out racing. The Worm chassis meets current safety rules, but maintains the appearance of the original car.

Larson will be competing at tracks across the country with the replica car, once again running a supercharged, nitro-burning rat motor.

 

 
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Fred Goeske and the Hemi-Cuda II at Detroit Dragway

Fred Goeske in the pits at detroit Dragway

A moment in time: Fearless Fred Goeske and the Hemi-Cuda II at Detroit Dragway

Next up, Fred Goeske and the Hemi-Cuda II. The West-Coast Barracuda was backed by The Plymouth Dealers Association of Southern California.

Taken at the 1968 Super Stock Magazine Funny Car Invitational at Detroit Dragway, the photo shows the Hemi-Cuda II just before it was loaded up at the end of the event.

Runner-up at the Super Stock Magazine Invitational

Super and Stock and Drag Illustrated magazine sponsored a number of all funny car events in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The Detroit Dragway invitational was a off-shoot of the main Super Stock Magazine race which was held at New York National Speedway that year. Although the Detroit invitational wasn’t as prestigious as the big race in New York, there was an impressive field of cars on hand.

Goeske captured the runner-up spot against Larry Reyes in Bill Taylor’s Super ‘Cuda. Home town favorite Roger Lindamood had stopped Reyes in the semi-finals and was slated to meet Goeske for the title. However Lindamood couldn’t ready the Color Me Gonr Charger  in time, so Reyes was reinstated and wound up winning the event.

Read More »

 
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Professor Kelly Chadwick and the Wild Thing II Camaro

Kelly Chadwick's Wild Thing II Camaro

Kelly Chadwick’s Wild Thing II was carefully designed to look like a stock 1967 Camaro, despite the fact it was lengthened and both the front and rear wheels were moved significantly forward. Wild Thing would remain on the trailer this day, as rain washed wawy the program at Detroit Dragway.

Kelly Chadwick was another racer who watched the rain wash away the funny car event at Detroit Dragway. Chadwick had brought his Wild Thing blown Camaro to Detroit, only to have rain spoil his chances to mix it up with the other funny cars.

Chadwick’s Camaro spent the day in the same motel parking lot as Dick Harrell’s flopper. I wasn’t particularly surprized to see the two blown Chevys waiting out the rain together. Chadwick and Harrell were good friends, and both of them relied on Don Hardy to build their race cars. I read an interview with Chadwick where he said that racing had just been a hobby. Then Harrell suggested that Chadwick could make good money match racing. Accordingly, Chadwick built an altered wheelbase Chevelle, and followed it up with a match-bash Nova known as Wild Thing.

When he wasn’t racing, Chadwick was a highly successful high school girl’s basketball coach. Because of this, he was known as the Professor or the Flying School Teacher.

In 1967, Chadwick had Hardy build one of the very first Camaro funny cars. The Chadwick and Harrell Camaros were near twins. A steel body shell was mounted on a Don Hardy tube chassis, with fiberglass fenders, doors and decklid. The rear wheels were shifted forward roughly 8 inches, while the lengthened front end allowed the front wheels to be moved some 15 inches forward. As a result, the car rolled on a 115 inch wheelbase.

Note the large aluminum air dam riveted to the front of the Wild Thing II. Can you say downforce?

Chadwick’s car is the epitome of the idea behind the original funny cars. Except for the big supercharger punched through the hood, the car looks like a stock Camaro. Racers and racing fans might immediately note the heavily modified wheelbase and lengthened fenders, but the general public might assume the car is a factory built Camaro, unless you parked an actual ’67 Camaro next to it.

Kelly Chadwick's Camaro waiting out the rain

Although the Chadwick called this Camaro Wild Thing II, I don’t think the name appeared on his ramp truck. Following the truck on the highway, you would see the car identified as “Kelly’s Camaro.”

Originally running an injected big block Chevy, by 1968 Chadwick had stuffed a nitro burning, blown rat motor into Wild Thing. While Harrell and other Texas standouts moved to flip-top Camaros for 1968, the supercharger kept the Wild Thing II in the thick of things, as Chadwick continued to race the steel bodied car though the rest of the season.

All good things come to an end, however, and Chadwick replaced Wild Thing II with a Hardy constructed flip-top Camaro for 1969.

The lettering on the ramp truck is interesting. It proclaims Chadwick owned the 1967 1/8 mile championship. I’m not sure who sanctioned that title, but apparently Chadwick earned it. He also lists his car as the 1967 Chevrolet Team National Champion. Again. I’m not sure what kind of title that is, but Chadwick laid claim to it.

Chadwick’s truck also indicates he is the 1965, 1966 and 1967 Texas State Champion. I’m guessing this has nothing to do with drag racing. Chackwick’s basketball teams were consistent championship winners, so I think those titles were earned on the basketball court rather than the track. Read More »

 
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Dick Harrell’s 1968 Funny Car Fleet

Dick Harrell's 1968 Camaro

This ’68 Camaro is likely Harrell’s very first flip-top funny car. At the end of the 1968 season, Harrell updated the car with a 1969 Camaro body and drove Jim Kirby’s similar ’68 flopper until the updates to this car were completed.

Unraveling the history of Dick Harrell’s 1968 season would task even Indiana Jones. Harrell took turns driving at least three funny cars during the season, and some suggest there was a fourth.

Harrell sold his 1967 steel bodied tube-frame car at the start of the season, after taking delivery of a Don Hardy flip-top ’68 Camaro. I belive this is the car he brought to Detroit Dragway for the rained out event I wrote about before.

Shortly after this, Harrell repossessed the steel racer after the purchaser failed to pay him for the car. The temporary buyer had repainted the car yellow, and Harrell decided to continue racing the steel car, making it the only Harrell funny car to deviate from a red color scheme. Harrell stuck one his blown Chevy rat motors in the car and used it for match races and kept the flip-top for AHRA points races.

Even that wasn’t enough to meet Harrell’s busy schedule, so he made arrangements with Jim Kirby to add Kirby’s flip-top Camaro to his stable. Kirby had contracted with Don Hardy to build a near-twin of Harrell’s own flip-top Camaro. Kirby ran the car with an injected Chevy, until Harrell made an offer to use the car. Harrell immediately dropped in a blown rat and shared driving the car with Kirby. Charlie Therwhanger got some seat time in the Camaro as well.

At some point, Harrell sold the steel car to a Michigan based racer named Brice Neff. Repainted red and named The Stroker, Neff ran the car for several years, despite it’s outdated design. Some claim Neff was the last driver to campaign a match-bash funny car.

Neff carried sponsorship from a radiator shop in Garden City, where I lived at the time. I saw the Stroker run numerous times at Detroit Dragway, never realizing the car was Dick Harrell’s old machine. I know I have some photos of the  Neff and the Stroker, but so far I have been unable to locate them.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Kirby Camaro still exists, and Bill Porterfield tours the car at cackelfests. Porterfield discovered the old Camaro after it came out of storage with the original 1968 paint. Some of the graphics have been freshened-up, but  the paint is original. This might be the most authentic 1968 era funny car in existence.

Filmmaker Eric Johnson has made a nice documentary on Bill Porterfield and the Kirby Camaro. The clip appears below:

http://player.vimeo.com/video/52301497

 
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Rain, Rain Go Away, Dick Harrell’s Camaro has Come to Play


Dick Harrell Camaro Funny Car on a Ramp Truck

Dick Harrell never had a chance to show Detroit Dragway fans how well his flip-top Camaro could run, thanks to the rain which cancelled the big funny car show in early 1968.

 

We returned to the Ditch (Detroit Dragway) in the spring of 1968, lured by the promise of a huge funny car line-up. The entry list left us drooling over the opportunity to see many of the top cars in the country. The radio spots guaranteed records would fall, and knowing the caliber of the cars involved I could well believe it.

Sadly, it was not to be. As we made the turn on to Telegraph road, the first rain drops hit the windshield. By the time we reached Sibley road, twenty minutes later, we were driving through a full-fledged downpour.

Could they dry the track and run the race?

I still hoped they might be able to dry the track and get the show in. When we reached the track entrance, however, the gates were locked and a small signed proclaimed “Event cancelled due to rain.” Read More »

 
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