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.
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.
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
3 thoughts on “Drag Racing Musical Chairs: Who drove this Plymouth Satellite Funny Car?”
The following is from a friend of mine:
Is Tom Bonner related to early pioneer “funny Car” owner/driver, Phil Bonner?
Tom Hoover bought his Vega Funny Car from
none other than Don “the Snake” Prudhomme.
I can’t argue much about his guessing which drivers drove what Don Long Satellite Funny Cars?
I agree with almost everything that he proposes from McCulloch through Big Mike with Richard Tharp.
After that, its a crap shoot, as far as I am concerned.
If he really wants a challenge— Have him research all of the musical chairs of Larry Reyes F/C 201,
Bobby Rowe F/C 202, Larry Arnold F/C 203, Sidney Foster and all of the other Memphis Tennessee Funny Car Drivers.
I know someone once had a history on Dale Pulde, that was amazing how many cars he rented his shoe.
Hi Cliff, thanks for your input. I really appreciate it when people take the time to share their knowledge.
Regarding your questions/comments:
1: I get that a lot. I am not related to Phil Bonner.
2: Hoover did buy Prudhomme’s Army Vega. But he also purchased the former Whipple & Mr. Ed Satellite and renamed it Showtime. He eventually converted it to a Vega. According to Draglist, it was this car he sold to John Luna.
John Luna at Draglist: John Luna at Draglist
Regarding Hoover’s original Showtime Vega, Draglist says “Tom ran this car in early 74 before buying the former Prudhomme Vega. Same chassis as the Satellite, re-bodied. Car was eventually sold to John Luna.”
Tom Hoover at Draglist See the Vega is at the bottom of the page.
3:I have discussed the activities Larry Arnold and Larry Rayes at https://vintage-nitro.com/the-transformation-of-the-super-cuda-success-evolution-and-tragedy/
I cannot resist posting here. Prepare for a long-winded one. I grew up in Salt Lake City, and our family raced top fuel cars during my teens in the 70’s – 80″s using various drivers– mostly running in the western states. Circa 1972, my mother got transferred with her job, and she and I landed in Fresno, California while our racing operation remained in Utah (with my father since passing away it was under management of my oldest brother). At age 15 I hated that move with a sad and rabid passion, and being away from daily racing work brought a horrible case of withdrawals for both Mom and I. We were complete strangers in town. I knew that the Mr. Ed operation was located in Fresno, but I did not know where or who I could ask. Then one day, just like magic, I was walking home from school when the corner of my eye caught sight in the far distance across an industrial zone of an open shop door. It is amazing how the brain works, because all it took was just the very slightest glimpse of the very front tip of a funny car in that open shop door for my mind’s eye to zero in on it like a hungry bird dog. The Mr. Ed racing shop. I soon learned that a hundred yards north of that shop was Ed Wills’ main plant. Very large, it hosted both his trucking company as well as his drag trailer and funny car body manufacturing, where there were at least a dozen of those Satellite Sebring bodies stacked in wood shipping frames all finished in primer and ready to sell. I went into the south shop where the funny car was and introduced myself and my experience.. looking for anything I could do to work with them. After I had already been turning wrenches at such a young age on our own cars back in Utah, I was quite disappointed to hear someone say, “Sure, kid, you can sweep up and help wash parts if you want.” So I did. It was all I had. Time progressed and I got to know everyone in the operation and a lot of other racers around central California, including Art Whipple and Ed McCullogh who are also Fresno natives (Art was married to Ed Wills’ daughter, Cindy). And the rest is history. On I went. But that’s not what I came here to talk about. So here’s one to crack you up. Do you happen to remember a horrific fireball crash that Don Prudhomme had in Seattle? So strong of a blast that it blew the front of the car off the ground in the traps. Famous photo you probably know. Anyway.. the ‘Cuda body from that wreck ended up at Ed’s plant to take configuration notes and measurements from to build another one. Still largely intact, it got tossed way out back in the weeds when done with it. So (now at the ripe old age of 16) I asked Jimmy the clerk if I could have it. His reply, “You can have it, but don’t bring it back.” So I called a kid I knew who owned a Dodge Colt and asked him if we could set the Snake body on top of his car to bring it to my house. I intended to cut all the sponsor logos off of it for souvenirs I could save and share, and remember mailing a bunch of them back to my friends in Utah. But that’s STILL not what I came here to talk about. No, the gist of the story here happened when we set the funny car body down over the top of that little Dodge Colt. It basically covered it like the Colt was its frame. After a little bailing wire and duct tape to hold it in place, we spent a good part of that day parading around town with it on there. Crazy teens. The looks and laughs we got were tremendous.. until a CHP caught sight of us and pulled us over right away. “You need to get this off the road right now… and don’t bring it back!”, is what he said.. which no doubt made a clear and funny memory for his law enforcement career as well. So we took it to my house and set it in the garage with the front pointing toward the door to surprise Mom when she got home from work. Heck yes.. it surprised her when she hit the garage door opener of her brand new sparkling clean house and there it was.. staring her down. And sure, she was a bit amused, for a few minutes, before she said.. of course.. “Get this thing out of here and don’t bring it back!” Dang it! Doesn’t anyone care?? Nope. So out came the jigsaw and off cut the fiberglass logos. I highly doubt any still exist today, but if I still had them all I could probably fetch at least a couple grand for the collection since they came from such a notable incident in racing history. Hindsight is 20/20. I saved the hood with the red flames for myself, and was at least allowed to tack that much up on our garage wall. Oh, and the chute cable was on there, too. My mom eventually used it as an auger to unclog our toilet. I screamed at her, “That’s blasphemy! Doesn’t anyone care?”. Nope. Toilet was fixed and that was that. Today I am 67 and found you while cruising the web of memory lane. Long time, ‘eh? And I told you it would be a long-winded story… but I hope you got a kick out of it.. and thanks for the cool website and tracking story. And yeah.. I knew those Satellite Sebring bodies when they were still babies in the womb, that’s for sure.