May 12, 2021

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

Twig Ziegker and Ron Colson square off in the final of the funny car proem at Motorcity Dragway.

Hawaiian trailers Twig Ziegler at Motorcity Dragway.

Motor City Dragway: a moment in time

I felt this was a good illustration of the Sunday Night funny car shows at Motorcity Dragway. While editing the photo, I discerned many things I hadn't noticed before.

Motor City Dragway: a photo worth a second look. Sometimes a photo is worth more than a thousand words. Way more. But that isn’t always immediately obvious.

Case in point: This photo of Ron Colson in the Hawaiian Monza squaring off against Twig Ziggler in the Pizza Haven Satellite. I used to love to shoot from the roof of the Motor City tower, and I was able to capture an interesting slice of life at the track. At the time, however, I didn’t think this photo was all that special.

From the Funny Car Archives

When I was asked to submit some images to Hot Rod Detroit, the Complete History of Hot Rodding in the Motor City, I included this image. I felt it was a good illustration of the Sunday Night funny car shows at Motor City Dragway. While editing the photo, I discerned many things I hadn’t noticed before.

Back in the days before television and the internet, people still needed a way to relax after a long, hard day. One popular pastime involved studying photographs. They would keep a stack of printed photos and a magnifying glass next to their easy chair. When time permitted, they would use the glass to examine the pictures in minute detail, finding numerous points that had escaped their notice at first glance.

With the advent of digital photography, I have found myself resurrecting this examination process. Instead of a magnifying glass, I am zooming in on my computer monitor, but the result is the same. Spend time pouring over an image and you come away with all manner of new information.

My lens had captured much more than two cars on a drag strip. The more I looked, the more I found.

Find the secrets in a Motor City Dragway photo

To start with, I didn’t remember that this version of the Hawaiian had wheel humps on the front fenders. Many funny cars used a similar arrangement back in the day, allowing the front end to be slammed close to the ground without the wheels rubbing. The fenders on the Hawaiian Monza were so well executed that it is easy to overlook the fender bumps.

Just another Sunday night at Motor City Dragway

Next, notice the tall figure behind the Hawaiian with one foot on the track. I can’t make out his face clearly, but I am confident that is Roland Leong, owner and tuner of the Hawaiian. I know this because I have seen the Hawaiian in action countless times over the years.Leong was always standing behind the race car with one foot on the track. I don’t know if that was just his habit or if Roland Leong could tell how the car was performing through vibration on the track. But I am 100% certain that is Leong.

Now let your eye travel a little above and to the right of Leong. You will find the unmistakable physique of Poncho Rendon, leaning against a light pole.

Rendon should need no introduction. He owned the top fuel car that Connie Kalitta crashed spectacularly at the 1971 US Nationals. Poncho was one of the first to sign off on Shirley Muldowney’s NHRA Competition Licence. This night, he had shown up with his Desperado Barracuda nitro funny car, with Bob Pacitto as driver.

Poncho Rendon had good reason to stick around to see Colson make the final pass in the Hawaiian. Even as this race was going down, Rendon had. his own Monza on the jigs at Logghe Stamping Company. Within a few months, Rendon and partner Tom Prock would unleash their famous Detroit Tiger on the fuel funny car world.

Now look toward the starter’s stand. If you were raised on Detroit Area drag racing, you undoubtedly recognize Roger Lindamood (with the golfer hat) and his son Randy Lindamood. Like Rendon, the Lindamoods also had reason to scrutinize how the Hawaiian performed. Not far away, Logghe Stamping was also at work on the brand new Color Me Gone Monza.

I don’t recognize the starter, but standing at attention behind him is Tom Gilmore. I mentioned Gilmore before, in the story of the final that wasn’t.

Gilmore was manager at Detroit Dragway at the time, while John Broaden was the manager at Motor City. I am not sure why Gilmore was on hand at Motor City that night, possibly track owner Gil Kohn wanted him there for the funny car show.

There is another Detroit Dragway alumnus. Standing a little behind Gilmore is long-time Detroit Dragway starter Heavy Duty. I never knew his actual name, everyone simply referred to him as Heavy Duty. Even the name on his track uniform read simply Heavy. Like Gilmore, I am not sure what he was doing at Motor City. But that is unmistakeably the man we called Heavy Duty.

The end of Motor City Dragway

Sadly, this is one of the last times funny cars would run at Motor City Dragway. No one knew it at the time, but the track was on borrowed time.

Developers were converting nearby farm land into residential housing. It is the old sad story, people move next to a race track that has been operating for more than two decades, then complain about the noise.

During the winter of 1976-77, unidentified vandals snuck into the track and slashed all the wiring. They were careful to cut the cables every few feet so all the wiring would need to be replaced.

That was the end of the track. Gil Kohn declined to invest in miles of new wiring, especially since there was no guarantee that the same @#$#!@$$% hoodlums wouldn’t cut the fresh cables.

Those were the days. They ended too soon.