December 1, 2022

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

Richard Tharp drive Mike Burkhart's Satellite

Satellite Funny Car Part II: Larry Brown Weighs In

The has been considerable interest in the recent post about the many lives of the Larry Brown Satellite Funny Car. So much information has surfaced that I feel there is a need for a follow-up post.

I discovered a photo in my archives of the car when Big Mike Burkhart owned it. It was captured at the 1975 NHRA Spring Nationals and I assume Richard Tharp was driving. You will notice the paint scheme is nearly identical to the livery it wore when Larry Brown took over the car in 1976.

Shortly after discovering the color photo, I received a phone call from an out-of-state number.

An unexpected phone call

I seem to be a frequent target of spammers lately, so I nearly didn’t answer. In general, I decline calls from unknown numbers.

Somewhat suspiciously, I decided to take a chance and picked up. I’m glad I did.

“This is Larry Brown,” the voice on the other end informed me.

If you are familiar with my earlier post about the Larry Brown Satellite, you can guess how my demeanor changed from distrust to excitement. That post dripped with unanswered questions, and now I had someone who could fill in the blanks.

Brown is a gifted conversationalist and offered several informational tidbits about the car. I devoured his insights, knowing the additional info could only enhance the tale of the ex-Whipple & Mr. Ed Satellite.

Brown noted that when he got the car from Burkhart he was in excellent shape. “The body was free of cracks and damage; it looked like it had hardly been run.” Either Tharp and Burkhart took very good care of the Satellite or they hadn’t ran the car very often.

Anyone who slugged through the original post will remember I speculated what happened to the car after Brown vacated the driver’s seat. Brown had no trouble clarifying the car’s status.

Good bye Satellite Funny Car; Hello Arrow

In 1977, Oklahoma’s Jerry Jefferson purchased the car, still with its Satellite body. I haven’t discovered documentation that Jefferson ran the car as a Satellite. By 1979, the Satellite body was gone, replaced with an Arrow shell.  Jefferson renamed the upgraded Arrow the Oklahoma Land Rush.

Jefferson began his Funny Car career driving the Gitthens & Jefferson AA/FC Vega. Eventually, partner Jerry Gitthens bailed, citing the rising costs of nitro racing. Jefferson soldiered on, retiring the Vega and purchasing the Don Long-built Satellite from Brown.

Refitting the car with the Arrow body, Jefferson campaigned the car on nitro through 1980. He ran NHRA and AHRA events, claiming third place in the 1978 NHRA Division IV standings.

Jefferson continued carrying the Land Rush name on his later nitro-burning Corvettes. Sadly, he and Jerry Caminito collided at the ’87 IHRA Winternnationals. With the destruction of the ‘Vette, the line of Oklahoma Land Rush floppers ended. Jefferson’s driving career wasn’t over, however. According to Draglist, Jefferson drove James Marshall’s alky-burning Seminole Shaker Corvette in 1992.

But what of the ex-Whipple & Mr. Ed, ex-Mike Burkhart, ex-Larry Brown Satellite which Jefferson converted into an Arrow?

The old Satellite becomes the Penny Pincher Arrow

When Jefferson retired the Arrow, it ended up in the hands of Kenny Spurlin & Grady Barr. Now known as the Penny Pincher, the team ran the Arrow as an alcohol funny car, still with the original Don Long chassis. Spurlin acted as the wheelman, and the team ran the Arrow from 1980 through 1982.

After that, the trail of this specific Don Long chassis runs cold. Who knows, I may get another surprise phone call detailing the further exploits of the old flopper.

Brown had another intriguing morsel of information. In the earlier post, I mentioned there was a second Larry Brown with a competition number of 307. The competition number of the owner of the Satellite was 402. Both drivers were competing in the top fuel ranks in the eighties.

In my article, I kicked around the possibility of #402 and #307 racing one another. It would be a drag racing announcer’s dream. “In the left lane, we have Larry Brown. His opponent, in the right lane, will be Larry Brown.”

Unfortunately, it never happened. In Brown’s own words, “No, he was out of Ohio. I don’t recall meeting him.”

Too bad. But then Brown provided me with another zinger. “There was another from Tulsa,” Brown informed me. “But didn’t travel or was not competitive either.”

I couldn’t find a Larry Brown racer from Tulsa, but Draglist does show a Larry Brown driving a Top Gas dragster in the years before NHRA eliminated the category. He was from Ohio, with a Competition number of 322.

So we have numbers 402, 307, and 322. That is three Larry Browns driving dragsters at various times in the ’70s and ’80s. If Brown is correct and there was someone from Tulsa driving a rail, we got ourselves four drivers with the same name. Hey, let’s keep it up. Could we possibly assemble an eight-car field where everyone had the same name? I would love to see how the racing press would report on that!

The War Eagle becomes the Okie Smoker

Brown offered another fascinating racing vignette. At some point, he acquired the ex-Hamby & Pulde Firebird known as the War Eagle. Decidedly a great choice, but Brown wanted to dress the car in its new Okie Smoker livery. To do this, he had to remove the gorgeous tangerine paint and graphics from the War Eagle’s fiberglass body.

“I got a lot of flack for that,” Brown reported. “Everyone was asking why we were sanding off that beautiful paint job.” Brown says he thinks the War Eagle Firebird might be the most beautiful funny car of all time. Even he felt bad repainting it as the Okie Smoker.

Hoover’s Satellite Funny Car did become John Luna’s Vega Flopper

I also had some people pointing out that Tom Hoover’s Vega was actually Don Prudhomme’s original Buterra-built Army-sponsored Vega. Thus. it could not be Hoover’s Showtime Satellite converted to a Vega.

Hoover did run the Snake’s old Vega and enjoyed great success with it. However, before buying Prudhomme’s former ride, Hoover bought the first Whipple & Mr. Ed Satellite, and renamed it Showtime. At some point, he converted that car into a Vega, presumably because the little Chevy was more aerodynamic. This was the Vega he sold to John Luna, which became the Luna Orbiter Vega funny car.

Read the Original Story of the Many Lives of this Plymouth Satellite Funny Car. Click Here!

#larry_brown   #satellite_funny_car   #drag_racing_history

To sum up what we’ve learned about these two funny cars, I present the following:

1972

First Whipple & Mr. Ed Satellite

Driver: Dave Beebe

1973

First Whipple & Mr. Ed car sold to Tom Hoover

Whipple & Mr. Ed introduce second Satellite

Driver: Mike Snively

Driver: Kelly Brown

1974

Hoover converts Satellite into a Vega

Hoover sells Vega to John Luna

Whipple & Mr. Ed campaign second Satellite

Driver: Leroy Goldstein

Driver: Jack Martin

1975

Second Whipple & Mr. Ed Satellite sold to Mike Burkhart

Driver: Richard Tharp

1976

Mike Burkhart Satellite sold to Larry Brown

Driver: Larry Brown

1977

Jerry Jefferson acquires the Satellite from Brown

Car is converted to a Plymouth Arrow

Car is renamed Oklahoma Land Rush

Driver: Jerry Jefferson

1979

Jefferson sells Arrow to team of Kenny Spurlin & Grady Barr

Renamed Penny Pincher

Still with the original Don Long Chassis

Driver: Kenny Spurlin

1984

Spurlin & Barr replace the Arrow with a Corvette

I assume this was a new car, not the old Don Long Chassis

Driver Kenny Spurlin

 

Vintage Funny Car Shirts on eBay!

Click Here!

Tom Bonner