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The Saga of the Competition + Mustang Funny Car

Midwest Championship fuel funny car winner Steve McKesson w

Steve McKesson's SOHC Mustang won the fuel funny car category at Detroit Dragway's Midwest Championships -- Instamatic photo by Tom Bonner

Detroit Dragway, 1967 Midwest Championships: The overall winner in the fuel funny car division was Steve McKesson and the Competition + flip-top Mustang.

We’ve seen this car before, as some time ago I launched a campaign to discover the owner and history of the Competition +. After failing in numerous attempts to learn the car’s history, Daryl Huffman stepped up to identify the owner and driver as Steve McKesson of Michigan. Not long after that I discovered a report in Drag News covering Detroit Dragway’s 1967 Midwest Championships. Collaborating my sometimes faulty memory, the story lists Steve McKesson as the overall winner in the fuel funny car category.

Huffman had further information about the car. I was surprised to learn that Larry Coleman acquired the Mustang, and that this was the car that Del Heinelt was driving when he was killed in at the 1967 US Nationals.

A short while after hearing from Huffman, Lee Moore commented that he found a story online that seemed to contradict the assumption that Heinelt was driving the flip-top Mustang when he was killed. Heinelt, driving for Larry Coleman at a large funny car event in Memphis Tennessee, defeated a field that included Steve McKesson driving the Competition + Mustang.

Moore came to the natural conclusion that if Heinelt was driving a Mustang for Larry Coleman at Memphis, he couldn’t have been driving the Comptition + at the same event. And he couldn’t have been killed in the Competition +  a few weeks later.

After considerable study, digging through a variety of material and communicating with many knowledgeable experts, I think I finally know what happened to both Heinelt and the Competition + Mustang. Here is my analysis:

  • In early 1965, Delmar Heinelt worked as fabricator and “head wrench” for Pete Seaton. By years end, he had moved up to driver of the famous “Seaton’s Shaker” Chevelle altered wheelbase funny car.
  • In the fall of 1966, Pete Seaton replaces the Chevelle with a new steel bodied Corvair funny car. Heinelt steps down and Jay Howell takes over the controls of the Corvair
  • In January of 1967, Heinelt is listed as the driver for Bill McKesson’s new Dodge Charger funny car. Ironically, Bill McKesson’s brother Steve is also building a new funny car, a Mustang he calls Competition +
  • In the spring of 1967, Ford ace Dick Brannan dissolves his funny car operation and puts his fleet of steel Mustang funny cars up for sale. Hubert Platt takes over the wheel of the quickest and fastest of Brannan’s cars, a Holman and Moody prepared, long-nose injected Mustang. Sometime in the summer of ’67, the Mustang is sold to Larry Coleman
  • Coleman gives the ex-Brannan car the name Super Ford Jr. It features a steel body and a much modified Mustang factory chassis. To remain competitive with the growing number of flip-top fiberglass funny cars, Coleman adds a supercharger to the car’s SOHC Ford powerplant. Sydney Foster is tapped as driver
  • Shortly afterwards, Foster steps down and Del Heinelt signs on as driver of the Super Ford Jr.
  • August 6, 1967 sees Heinelt capture top honors at a 23 car funny car event at Lakeland International Raceway (Memphis, GA)
  • Although the supercharged Super Ford is holding its own against the floppers, Coleman intends to run the US Nationals, which is only a few weeks away. There the Super Ford Jr. will be facing the top funny cars in the nation, many with fiberglass bodies and superchargers. It is doubtful that the steel Mustang can stand up to the competition at Indy
  • At the same Memphis race, McKesson loses the engine in the Competition +.  McKesson is planning to sell the car, but now fears the buyer won’t want the Mustang with it’s wounded powerplant.
  • Either McKesson approaches Coleman, or Coleman makes an offer to McKesson. Whichever, Coleman takes ownership of Competition + in early August

It is a good deal for Coleman, as his blown SOHC Ford engines will bolt right in, replacing the broken injected ‘Cammer. The addition of a blower might require some minor aluminum work, and some of the tubing might need rerouting to accommodate the new induction system. With several weeks to prepare the car, however, this is easily accomplished. I can’t say whether Coleman repainted the car in the interim or not. By August 30, however, Coleman is at Indianapolis, with Heinelt as driver.

The stage turns tragic, however as Heinelt crashes during the qualifying on September 1. According to Daryl Huffman and Lee Moore, Heinelt suffered a heart attack, which caused him to loose control of the car on a 169 mph pass. Heinelt dies at the scene, either from the heart attack or injuries sustained in the crash.

Any suspicion that Heinelt might still have been driving the steel Super Ford Jr. car at Indy can be erased by a terse paragraph in the November 1967 edition of Car Craft magazine. The Car Craft report on the US Nationals states that “…the Larry Coleman-owned blown Mustang entry…got airborne…resulting in the death of Del Heinelt and the destruction of the fiberglass Mustang. ” The italics are mine. No one would have described the ex-Brannan car as a fiberglass Mustang.

I wasn’t at Indy for the 1967 Nationals, and I always wondered about the circumstances of Heinelt’s death. When I started digging into the history of the Competition +, I never suspected where it would lead.

Thanks to everyone who helped me unravel this mystery, especially Daryl Huffman, Lee Moore, John Gacioch, Perry White, Dorne Rigby.

Sources:

The Mystery of the Competition + Mustang funny car

  • Comment: Daryl Huffman August 2, 2010
  • Comment by Lee Moore, December 18, 2010
  • Comment by Lee Moore February 5, 2010

Relevant Web Pages:

Printed Material

  • McKesson Bros. Prove Too Much for FunniesDrag News, May 26, 1967 Vol. 12, No. 48 | page 27
  • 1967 NHRA NationalsCar Craft, Novermber 1967 Vol. 15, No. 11 | page 18
 

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One Comment

  1. Posted January 15, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Can you tell me how you determined the Brannan/Platt/Coleman Mustang was steel?

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