December 1, 2022

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

Larry Brown Plymouth Satellite Funny Car

Drag Racing Musical Chairs: Who drove this Plymouth Satellite Funny Car?

Who drove this Plymouth Satellite Funny Car?

Let’s play a game. Who didn’t drive this Plymouth Satellite Funny Car?

I’m joking, of course. Any drag racing fan could compile a long list of drivers who never sat in this particular flopper.

Still, I am amazed at the number of famous drivers and car owners who are connected to this mild-appearing funny car.

Complicating things is the fact the car was sold numerous times, and chassis artisan Don Long apparently built at least two Satellite AA/FCs for the original owners.

The Whipple & Mr. Ed Plymouth Satellite Funny Car

We start with the team of Whipple & Mr. Ed, who inspired fear in many racers in the ’70s.

Art Whipple, who eventually became the driving force behind Whipple Superchargers, first came to fame as owner of the formidable Whipple & McCulloch funny car team. Ed McCulloch acted as the driver, but he was not Mr. Ed.

Ed Wills, known as Mr. Ed, is probably best known for a line of wind-cheating, form-hugging dragster trailers. Mr. Ed trailers were the choice of most of the top digger teams in the days before Chaparral and eighteen-wheel haulers.

It wasn’t much of a leap to progress from fiberglass trailers to complete funny car body shells. Before long Mr. Ed was cranking out a line of FC bodies, including a host of one-piece, full-size Plymouth Satellites.

Larry Brown Plymouth Satellite Funny Car at Detroit Dragway
Can you name all the famous drivers who made quarter-mile passes in this Plymouth Satellite?

At the same time, the Mr. Ed name appeared on a variety of nitro machines. You could find the Mr. Ed moniker emblazoned on Top Fuel dragsters, Drag Boats, and of course, Funny Cars.

After a towing incident destroyed the Whipple & McCulloch Duster, Ed Wills joined the outfit to field the revamped Whipple – McCulloch & Mr. Ed ‘Cuda.

Eventually, McCulloch moved on and for 1972 Whipple & Mr. Ed put together their first Don Long Satellite.

How many Satellites did Don Long build?

Here’s where things start to get twisted. In 1972, Wills also owned a Charger funny car, appropriately christened Mr. Ed. Bobby Rowe ended up in the guard rail with that car, leaving Wills to concentrate on the Satellite, as well as his drag boat and top fuel efforts. Dave Beebe was enlisted to drive the Satellite.

In 1973, Beebe left the team. Replacing him were famous dragster handler Mike Snively and future Top Fuel World Champion Kelly Brown. Both men took turns driving the machine. But I’m not clear which car these two former dragster shoes actually drove.

In early 1973, Tom Hoover turned up with a Plymouth Satellite he called Showtime. According to Draglist, that car was the former Whipple & Mr. Ed flopper. But Whipple & Mr. Ed were also campaigning a Satelite AA/FC in 1973 and beyond. I can’t be sure whether Snively and (Kelly) Brown drove the first Satellite or if they were in the second Plymouth.

For 1974, former Ramchargers pilot Leroy Goldstein assumed the driving chores. Jack Martin, who had driven a top fueler for Wills in the past, was also listed as a driver. Once again, it is challenging to determine in what order each driver appeared. Since Hoover’s Showtime was active in 1973, It seems likely Goldstein and Martin both drove the second Satellite during the ’74 season.

Still with me? Well, pull those belts tight, because we are just getting started.

Enter Big Mike Burkhart

Whipple & Mr. Ed sold the Satellite to Texan Mike Burkhart in 1975. “Big Mike” always ran Chevrolets, but the full-bodied Plymouth became an exception. For the driver, Burkhart tapped another rising star: Richard Tharp. Tharp toured extensively with the car in ’75, before returning to the seat of the fabled Blue Max, a car he drove in the early ’70s.

In 1976, the Satellite was sold again, this time to Oklahoma-based top fuel racer Larry Brown. These photos show Brown at the ’76 AHRA Grand Nationals at Detroit. If you discover photos of the car from ’75, you’ll find the paint scheme is virtually indistinguishable from the livery it carried when Burkhart owned it. Burkhart’s name is replaced by the words “Larry Brown” and Tharp’s name has been painted over. But the stripes and paint look identical.

Brown is a relatively common last name, heck this car was already driven by Kelly Brown. (Or was that the first Satellite? I’ve kind’ve lost track.)  Now the repainted car was driven by owner Larry Brown himself.

As convoluted as this tale has become, it should surprise no one that there was a second top fuel handler also named Larry Brown. The Larry Brown who bought the Satellite wore the competition number 402.

The other Larry Brown, who was active in the early eighties, carried the competition number 307.

I’m not sure how long Brown (402) campaigned the Satellite. He drove a collection of floppers in the late ’70s, including several Okie Smoker cars with Arrow, Firebird, and Corvette bodies. He eventually returned to the top fuel ranks in the eighties. I wonder if number 402 and number 307 ever raced each other?

But I digress. We’re not finished with the Satellite.

Is that really a Plymouth Satellite Funny Car?

In 1977, we find Gary Saindon wheeling a Plymouth Satellite Funny Car owned by Larry Palmer. According to Draglist, this was the former Whipple and Mr. Ed Satellite that Dave Beebe drove. That would mean Saindon’s ride was the former Tom Hoover Showtime, not the car pictured here. At least I think that’s what it means.

Untangling the history of these cars is rather messy.

The problem is at some point, Hoover replaced the Satellite shell on the Showtime with a more aerodynamic Vega body. And that car, in it’s Vega configuration was eventually sold to John Luna.

There is some confusion about Hoover’s Vega, because he actually ran two different Vegas under the Showtime name. He replaced the Satellite body with a Vega on the car he acquired from Whipple & Mr. Ed. That was a Don Long car.  At some point after that, he bought Don Prudhomme’s Army Vega which was built by John Buttera.

Tom Hoover at Draglist See the Showtime Vega from 1974 at the bottom of the page.

Before he got involved with a succession of rocket funny cars, John Luna toured with the Luna Orbiter Vega AA/FC. That car is claimed to be Hoover’s former Showtime.

John Luna at Draglist

If Hoover transformed the Satellite into a Vega before selling the car to Luna, which car did Saindon and Palmer compete with? Draglist specifically identifies Palmer’s Satellite as the ex-Dave Beebe/Whipple car.

But how could Palmer wind up with a Satellite if Hoover had converted that car into Vega long before? Did Palmer switch the car back into a Plymouth? Or was Palmer’s car the second Whipple & Mr. Ed  Satellite? As far as I can gather Beebe never drove the second Satellite.

I haven’t been able to discover what became of either Satellitte after 1977. But I wouldn’t be shocked if one or both are still out there somewhere. This pair of Satellites doesn’t seem to be inclined to fade away quietly.

Maybe someone has the knowledge to sort through this mess and unravel the missing details. But I’m not holding my breath. Tracing the lineage and history of this car might be a Satellite lost in space.

#larry_brown #drag_racing. #satellite-funny_car

 

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Tom Bonner