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.

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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:

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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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Nostalgia: The CKLW All-Time Top 300 from 1967

Cover from the CKLW All-Time Top 300, dated May, 1967

I found this edition of the CKLW All-Time Top 300 amidst my papers from the 1968 Autorama

As a certain cartoon moose used to say: “And now for something completely different…”

Don’t worry, Vintage-Nitro is all about fast cars, custom rods and racing. But I found this among my material from the 1968 Autorama, and just had to share it with everyone.

It is the CKLW All-Time Top 300 from May, 1967, and was probably handed out at the CKLW booth at the ’68 Autorama.

If you grew up in the Detroit area during the sixties, CKLW needs no introduction. CKLW was actually a Canadian AM radio station located across the river in Windsor, Ontario; but it was powerful enough to be heard throughout South Eastern Michigan and beyond.

If you had a time machine and could go back to the era before FM radio, you would probably find CKLW and WKNR programmed on the buttons on 99% of the GTOs, Mustangs, Chargers and Corvettes in the Detroit area. Except for news and ball games, few gear heads listened to anything else.

Perusing the song titles in this list brings back lots of great memories. Most of the songs don’t have any automotive connections, although I spotted GTO by Ronny and the Daytonas at 151 on the list and the Beach Boy’s Little Deuce Coupe holding down spot number 253.

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The Banshee Firebird at the 1968 Autorama

Banshee Firebird in the loading dock at Detroit's Cobo Hall

Banshee Firebird arrived late for the 1968 Autorama. The owners are seen waiting for approval to move the car onto to the show floor. Note the snow underneath the car and the heavily-padded roll bar that extends through the roof.

I was in the basement loading dock at the 1968 Detroit Autorama, when these guys showed up with an injected Pontiac Firebird. The show was already open to the public and all of the other cars were set up in their displays.

Some of the officials pointed out that the owners had missed the deadline and attempted to prevent them from bringing the car into the auditorium. Cooler heads realized that the crowd was there to see cars, and the more cars the better. So the Firebird was allowed to join the other exhibits in the lower “overflow” area.

The Firebird looked to be freshly completed. The fact that the car arrived at Cobo Hall after the show opened to the public has always led me to believe the car was thrashed together to make the show.

The Pontiac was known as the Banshee. I’m not sure what class it was built for. It looks like a funny car, but it wouldn’t have been very competitive against the supercharged floppers on the match race circuit. It is possible it was intended for the NASCAR Ultra Stock class, where it would compete against cars like Wayne Gapp’s Super Cat Cougar.

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Wayne Gapp and the Super Cat Ultra-Stock Cougar

Super Cat of Wayne Gapp on display at 1968 Autorama in Detroit

Wayne Gapp got it done in 1968 with this gasoline Cougar Funny Car.

The last time we looked at Wayne Gapp, he was still running the Chargin’ Cyclone for the Hi-Risers. For 1968, however, Gapp went out on his own, campaigning the new Super Cat Mercury Cougar.

Gapp’s Cougar was another race car on display at the 1968 Detroit Autorama. Although flip-top funny cars were becoming the de-facto standard, Gapp’s new ride adopted the familiar tilt-forward front clip on a stock appearing factory shell.

When nearly all his contemporaries were embracing nitro and superchargers, Gapp bucked the system by building a new, gasoline powered funny car. The Cougar relied on the tried and true injected SOHC Ford 427, mounted in a tube frame. You cannot see them in this photo, but the injector tubes punched through the hood and were nearly as high as the car’s roof. I cannot say whether the body was shell was steel or fiberglass. I suspect it was a mixture of both.

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The Dennett Brothers B/G Chevelle Psycho

Psycho Chevelle

Another B/G entry at the 1968 Autorama was the Dennett Brothers and their modern 1965 Chevelle gasser.

Another gasser at the 1968 Detroit Autorama was this sanitary 1965 Chevelle.

Although I preferred the traditional Willys and Anglia gassers, there is no denying the Dennett Brothers B/G Chevelle was a head turner. Built from a 1965 Chevelle, the Psycho was powered by a fuel injected, 440 CI rat motor.

According to Draglist, the Westland, Michigan based Chevelle achieved a best of 10.19 at 135mph, which was hauling for a B/Gas coupe in the late ’60s. I wonder if the Dennett Brothers ever faced off with the Buckpasser Willys that I talked about a few weeks ago. The Buckpasser also ran B/G, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Dennett gang tangled with the Ohio based Buckpasser at some point.

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The Porcupine, Semi-Hemi, Mystery Rat Motor

The Chevrolet Big Block V-8 : AKA the Rat Motor

The Chevrolet Big Block V-8 is affectionately known as the rat motor to Chevy high performance fans.

One of the displays at the 1868 Detroit Autorama was this jewel-like big-block Chevy, AKA the Rat Motor. How did the big Chevy come to be known as a rat?

To a hot rodder or racer any Chevrolet big block V-8 is a rat motor. The slang term goes back over four decades and few enthusiasts will use any other term to identify the big Chevy power-plant.

Generally, the expression rat is less than complimentary. From James Cagney’s famous line “…that dirty, double-crossin’ rat” to the much-maligned rat finks of the fifties, calling someone or something a rat is the ultimate insult. When something is old, used up and falling apart, it is “ratty.”

The Chevrolet big block is a marvel of engineering and is the most powerful automotive engine ever mass-produced by General Motors. How did such a masterpiece of automotive design come to known-by the unsavory term of rat?

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