January 27, 2023


Still car-crazy after all these years

Ron O'Donnell

Ron O’Donnell in Don Schumacher’s Cuda

Ron O’Donnell brought Don Schumacher’s Stardust Barracuda to Detroit for the 1969 Grand Nationals. Was this Don Schumacher’s number 2 car? Or did O’Donnell replace Schumacher for the AHRA event? We’re looking for answers.

This is Ron O’Donnell in Don Schumacher’s Stardust Phase II Barracuda. The car was at Detroit Dragway for the 1969 AHRA Grand Nationals. O’Donnell, who hailed from Chicago, drove  a number of famous cars during his career. At various times, you could find O’Donnell piloting Mr. Norm’s Super Charger, the Stone, Woods and Cook flopper, the Fighting Irish Camaro, Chris Karamesines’s flip-top ‘Cuda, the Outa-Site Camaro, the Damn Yankee flip-tops, and his own “Big Noise from Illinois” Barracuda. For at least part of the 1969 season, he campaigned this flip top Barracuda owned by Don Schumacher.

I discussed Schumacher before, taking a look at his injected Charger that ran the UDRA circuit. Schumacher wasn’t  a big threat in his early career, but in 1968 he acquired a blown ‘Cuda and immediately started to collect wins and post impressive time slips.

Schumacher’s Racing Stable

Which brings up the question of the car O’Donnell drove at the AHRA Grand Nats. It closely resembles the ‘Cuda Schumacher ran in 1968, which suggests this is the 1968 car with new paint. On the other hand, Schumacher toured with a flip-top ‘Cuda in 1969 as well. So did O’Donnell get his own team Stardust car? Or did Schumacher and O’Donnell share driving chores for the nitro funny car?

I cannot be sure, but I assume that Schumacher offered up a two car team in ’69. Schumacher is well-known for campaigning multi-car teams through the years (can you say Wonder Bread?) and he continues to run a major team effort today. Both Jungle Jim Liberman and Dick Harrell needed multi-car teams to meet their bookings in 1969, so there is no reason to think Schumacher couldn’t have fielded multiple versions of Stardust for ’69.

So, is the above Barracuda a new car for 1969? Or did O’Donnell inherit Schumacher 1968 car?

Is this car the Ex-California Flash?

It is well-documented that Schumacher purchased Butch Leal’s California Flash for the 1968 racing season. Leal gained fame in Super Stock Chevrolets, before Ford tapped him to drive  factory-backed Fords. His prowess with the Ford caught the interest of the Chrysler racing team, and Leal was offered one of the 1965 factory Plymouth altered wheelbase A/FX cars.

Leal acquitted his self well with the California Flash Fury, but when the flip-top Comets of Don Nicholson and Eddie Schartman appeared, he realized the altered-wheelbase A/FX cars didn’t have a future. Accordingly, as soon as Logghe Chassis was free of their contract with Lincoln-Mercury, Leal had the Michigan chassis builder turn out a flip-top ‘Cuda. Still running injectors, the California Flash ‘Cuda compiled an impressive list of wins in 1967.

For 1968, Leal knew he would need a supercharger to remain competitive. He went back to the Logghe brothers and commissioned them to build a new Barracuda, which would carry a blown Hemi. Since Leal had no experience with superchargers, he found a mentor in Jack Chrisman. Leal’s new car was still under construction, so Chrisman allowed Leal to accompany him on at a few races. Chrisman ran a blown exhibition Comet before the first funny cars existed and his GT-1 was the first supercharged flip-top fuel funny car. If anyone knew how to set up a blown fuel funny car, it was Chrisman.

Chrisman was setting up his new Comet flopper, and Leal got a quick education of the dangers of running a blown fuel motor. The first time Leal tagged along with Chrisman, the supercharger exploded and ripped the top off the car.

They went to work and managed to get the car back together for a race a few days later. Once again Chrisman blew the supercharger. This time, however, the highly regarded Chrisman received severe burns.

On his website, Leal describes the soul-searching he did after watching Chrisman’s second fire. Ultimately, Leal determined that the possibility of fire and permanent disfigurement wasn’t worth the risk. So Leal went back to door slammers, including a series of successful Pro-Stockers. Schumacher bought the blown ‘Cuda before Leal ever made a pass in the car.

The ex-California FLash car was a big departure for Schumacher. The “Schu’s” previous funny cars were built by Romeo Palamides. Schumacher actually had Palamides build a ’68 Dodge Charger flopper that he ran before acquiring the ‘Cuda. But there was no doubt that the Logghe car was state-of-the-art, and Schumacher quickly racked up wins to prove it.

Different Paint? Or a Whole New Car?

For 1968, the ‘Cuda was painted in blue and white. “Don Schumacher” was painted in large letters on the car’s flanks, while the name Stardust graced the sail-pillar.

The car O’Donnell drove was very similar in appearance to Schumacher’s ’68 car, but the paint scheme was maroon and white. Shumacher’s name was still on the side, but as you can see above, O’Donnell’s name was painted on the sail-pillar.

So is the car in the  photo Butch Leal’s ex-California Flash? Or is it a new car that replicated the appearance of Schumacher’s 1968 car? If anyone knows the answer, I would appreciate a response in the comments below.


Tom Bonner