Frank “The Beard” Bradley: Coast to Coast Top Fuel Standout
If someone asked you to name the standout Top Fuel drivers of the mid-’70s, the usual suspects would include Garlits, Beck, Karamesines, Tharp, and of course, Muldowney. Another name that should appear on that list is California’s Frank “The Beard” Bradley.
Bradley’s stint as a top fuel driver extended from the late ’60s to the early ’90s. During that period, he was extremely active in NHRA, AHRA and independent major events. By 1970, top fuel match races had fallen out of favor, replaced by the ever-growing onslaught of touring funny cars.p
Despite the lack of match race opportunities, Bradley popped up nearly anywhere there was a chance to run his top fuel car. West Coast, East Coast, Midwest — Bradley always seemed to be in the thick of things.
1976: the Year of the Beard
1976 was an outstanding year for the man from Nappa Valley. He started the season by winning the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona and the AHRA Winternationals in Arizona. He also won or took the runner up slot at several independent TF events. In addition, he won at least one NHRA Division points race and was runner-up at another.
The picture above shows Bradley en route to victory at the ’76 AHRA Grand Nationals in Detroit. You can smell the nitro and hear the roar of the supercharged Hemi. The Beard looked strong along the AHRA trail during the season, but Kansas John Wiebe won the AHRA title for the year. Bradley could still point to a couple of AHRA major event wins as well as a runner-up finish at the AHRA Nationals.
Bradley joins the 5-second and 4-second clubs
In June of ’74, Bradley’s 5.96 ET qualified him to become the 16th and final member of the Cragar 5-second top fuel club. Fifteen years later, in 1989, he laid down a 4.998 to become the tenth member of the Cragar 4-Second club.
Frank “The Beard Bradley”: Chief Wrench
Bradley would go on to win the NHRA Winternationals for the second time in 1991. As the ’90s progressed, Bradley decided to step away from the driver’s cockpit. But his tuning skills were still in high demand. He spent the early part of the decade as the Crew Chief for Roger Pimm’s top fuel operation out of Nevada. Ron Capps, Del Worsham, and Roger Pimm all depended on Bradley to get them down the track as quickly as possible.
Bradley was inducted into The International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2007. I consider that honor was well deserved.