April 15, 2021

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

"Jungle Clare" Sanders in the pits at Detroit Dragway.

"Jungle Clare" Sanders wheeled Jim Liberman's number 2 car to victory at the '69 Winternationals.

Jungle Clare Sanders: a Case of Double Identity

At the start of the year, there was little to differentiate the two Novas. In photos from the Winternationals, the Sanders and Jungle Novas appear identical. As the season progressed, it became somewhat easier to tell the cars apart.

Jungle Clare Sanders: Winternationals Crushing Nova.

In 1969, Jungle Jim Liberman had a problem. He was so popular that he. couldn’t fill all of the dates promotors were offering him. The solution was simple; he would add a second funny car to his stable. He selected Clare Sanders to handle the second machine. Sanders had just finished a highly successful tour at the wheel of the Limefire Barracuda flopper. Now he would head back on the road under the Jungle Jim colors.

Jungle’s Idea of a Multi Car Team

Jungle wasn’t the first professional to field a multi-car team; Dick Harrell, Tom McEwen, Don Schumacher and others were filling the need to be in two places at once by adding additional race cars. Even Arnie Beswick added a second Boss Bird to his roster. But there were generally differences in paint and body styles to set these team cars apart.

Liberman had a different plan. Jungle’s team would be composed of two identical Chevrolet Novas. From the marina blue paint, to the gold Jungle Jim lettering, the resulting cars were nearly indistinguishable from one another. Apparently Sanders car had slightly more engine setback, but this was hardly visible. Only deeply knowledgeable fans could tell the difference between the cars.

Sanders quickly proved his worth by winning the Funny Car title at the 1969 NHRA Winternationals. Liberman failed to qualify at the event, but Sanders covered the Jungle Jim team with glory.

Was it Jungle Clare Sanders or Jungle Jim Liberman?

The two cars were so similar, it was natural some fans would be befuddled over which car they were watching. The uncertain identity of the two Jungle Jim Novas came to the forefront in the aftermath of Sanders’ Winternationals win. Phil Burgess, (Editor of NHRA’s National Dragster) quotes Sanders saying:

“Keith [Keith Jackson from ABC Wide World of Sports] walked up to me and said, ‘Congratulations Jim Liberman on winning the Winternationals.’ …I was so happy, I didn’t care, but he was nice enough to reshoot it for the show.”

If the Wide World of Sports announcer could be mistaken about which car was which, imagine the average fan.

The confusion continued on the match race trail. Many fans assumed they were watching Jungle himself, when they were actually seeing Clare Sanders. I am sure some promoters encouraged the paying fans to believe they were witnessing Liberman out on the track.

At the start of the year, there was little to differentiate the two Novas. In photos from the Winternationals, Sanders and Jungle’s Novas appear identical. As the season progressed, it became somewhat easier to tell the cars apart.

How to Tell the Jungle Clare and Jungle Jim Cars Apart

In the beginning, both car’s had Steve Kanuika Speed Shops emblazoned on the rear fenders. At some point, Jungle’s car switched to Goodies Speed Shop sponsorship. As far as I can determine, Sanders’s car maintained Kanuika backing throughout the year. So if you see a photo of a Jungle Nova with Goodies on the rear fender, it is most likely Liberman driving. If it has Steve Kanuika it could be either driver.

By summer 1969, Sanders’ car had the words Clare Sanders added in white lettering on the side next to Jungle Jim logo. You can see it in the Detroit Dragway photo above. But this lettering does not appear in photos from the Winternationals, so it is not a definite clue. Photos taken early in the year, with the Kanuika sponsorship and without the Sanders’s name could be either driver.

Sanders claims he maintained an 86 percent mach race victory score for the season. In addition to the Winternationals victory, he won a number of independent funny car events including the Memphis Nationals and the Mid-West Mr. Chevrolet event. The photo above was taken at Detroit Dragway, one of the few times a car wearing the Jungle Jim livery appeared at the Michigan track.

Sanders left Liberman’s operation at the end of the ’69 Season. He teamed with Frank Huff on the Super Camaro funny car, which morphed into the Super Vega. He then was chosen to shoe the legendary ChiTown Hustler. From there he moved to the driver’s seat of the last Ramchargers funny car.

Jungle Clare, Webmaster

When the Ramchargers ended their funny car program, Clare Sanders funny car driver became Clare Sanders, Snap-On tools distributor. When he retired from that gig, he became Clare Sanders Website Builder. He has put together the online presence for numerous race teams, including Tommy Ivo and Don Garlits.

All of these activities are chronicled on Sanders’ own website, which of course, he built himself.

Obviously, Clare Sanders is a man of many talents. But for those of us who remember the glory days, he will always be Jungle Clare.

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