May 23, 2022

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

Super Cuda body

The second Super Cuda at home base. David Rubenstein photo

The Transformation of the Super Cuda: Success, Evolution and Tragedy

A few weeks ago, I published a short feature on the Super Cuda, highlighting the car’s success on the funny car circuit in the ’60s and ’70s. I explained how difficult it was to chart the car’s history, which included a host of drivers and multiple owners.

I dredged up what I could, relying on Google, the Draglist website, various racing websites and personal memory.

After publishing the story, David Rubenstein contacted me to correct some errors and more importantly, to offer an impressive amount of additional information. Rubenstein is from the Memphis, Tennessee area and seems to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the Super Cuda and other funny cars that hailed from Tennessee.

The Actual Genealogy of the Super Cuda

Rubenstein clarified the genealogy of the car, explaining there were in fact three versions of the Super Cuda. The first one was built in late 1967 with a fiberglass ’68 Barracuda body. It featured a Logghe Chassis and a late model 426 Hemi with mostly stock components. Part of the Coleman Taylor racing stables, this was the car shown at Detroit in the original post.

Larry Reyes was the primary driver of this car and the event wins I attributed to him were accurate. For whatever reason, Reyes left the team in mid ’68 and Larry Arnold assumed the driver’s seat.

Based on the information I gleaned from Draglist, I reported that the car was sold to T. B. Smallwood. Rubenstein vehemently denies this. Smallwood actually acquired the Super Duster from Coleman and Taylor. The Super Cuda was sold as well, to seventeen-year-old Mark Hutchinson. Rubenstein explained that Hutchinson’s father essentially acquired the car to provide an educational experience for his son. It isn’t clear if young Hutchinson hoped to drive the car at some point, but the initial idea was for him to learn how to manage a racing team on the road. Imagine being seventeen and owning one of the premier nitro funny cars in the country. While Hutchinson was learning the ins and outs of match racing, Larry Arnold was retained as the driver.

From Racing Dream to Nightmare

It sounds like a teenager’s dream, but it would soon turn into a nightmare. Within a few months of acquiring the car, Hutchinson was killed while hauling the Super Cuda to a race. Rubenstein sent me a newspaper clipping which implied Hutchinson fell asleep at the wheel and crossed into opposing traffic. The car hauler struck a freight truck head-on, killing Hutchinson and injuring Arnold and crew member Timothy Wilson.

While the news clipping insinuated Hutchinson caused the wreck, I did a little research and discovered that after the wreck, Arnold, and Wilson sued and won a judgment against the freight truck company. In contrast to the original newspaper story, Arnold and Wilson claimed they were in the proper lane at the time of the crash. The jury agreed with them and awarded Arnold and Wilson substantial damages.

The freight company appealed the decision, but it seems the jury did not believe Hutchinson was at fault. You can read the court document at Caselaw Access Project. If you wade through the legalese, the document declares that Arnold and Wilson were plaintiffs and the jury decided with them against the freight company.

A Decade in the Courts

Casetext.com published this Court Opinion which states states “Plaintiffs’ [Arnold and Wilson] evidence was sufficient for the jury where it tended to show that defendants’ truck [the freight company] was traveling on the wrong side of the highway when it collided with plaintiffs’ oncoming truck.”

While it seems that the jury sided with Arnold and Wilson, the freight company was still contesting the verdict nearly a decade afterward. I wasn’t able to locate any documents establishing what finally happened with the freight company’s appeal.

The wreck marked the end of the original Super Cuda. High-speed head-on collisions have a way of destroying everything involved. It is a wonder that Arnold and Wilson survived.

The Second Edition of the Super Cuda

It might have been the end, but Mark’s father, John Hutchinson, was determined to honor the legacy of his son. He ordered a new Don Hardy Barracuda, which would carry on the legacy of the Super Cuda. He placed Mark’s brother Royce Hutchinson in the role of business manager of the updated team. According to Rubenstein, Royce had no interest in racing before that, but he quickly adapted to running a touring match racing team.

Arnold recovered sufficiently from his injuries to sign on as the driver of Super Cuda number 2. Hutchinson and Arnold became heavy hitters on the Match race circuit, but fame dictated that Larry Reyes would return the cockpit of the Super Cuda.

Reyes had become a huge racing star in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He won a host of races and was well known for his prowess in cars such as the Hawaiian, the Super Duster, King Fish, Candies & Hughes, the Logghe War Horse, and Big John Mazmanian’s Cuda. He also campaigned his own self-named Larry Reyes Barracuda. Naturally, his win streak in the original Super Cuda helped to establish his reputation as a racing megastar.

Arnold and Royce Hutchinson received a booking to a major west coast funny car show. They towed the newest Super Cuda to the event, fully expecting Arnold would drive. The promoter had other ideas. Because of Reyes’s fame in the Super Cuda, the promoter insisted the fans wanted to see Reyes in the Super Cuda. Which is why Draglist shows Reyes driving the Super Cuda in 1970, even though he only drove in a single event.

As the 1970 season wound down, Arnold left the team to campaign his own car. Without a wheelman, Royce decided to try the driver’s seat himself. Without experience, Hutchinson wasn’t very successful. This is when Bobby Rowe enters the picture. Rowe was looking for a ride, so Hutchinson put him behind the wheel. At Epping, New Hampshire Rowe escaped serious injury when the Super Cuda number 2 caught fire and burned.

Super Cuda: the Third Installment

Hutchinson wasn’t done. He had a third Super Cuda built for the 1971 season. When it came time to select a driver, he chose the man that had been so successful with the original Super Cuda. Larry Reyes stepped away from his own Barracuda funny car and once again found himself at the controls of the Super Cuda.

It looked like Reyes and Hutchinson were poised to dominate once again. But it was not to be. Racing in Norwalk, Ohio, one of the Super Cuda’s front tires blew out. Unable to steer, Reyes crashed hard. The wreck left him with major spinal cord injuries, which effectively ended his racing career.

Even today, however, Reyes is a frequent sight in the drag racing community. His driving career may have come to a close, but he still maintains close friendships with both racers and fans. One can only imagine how much success he might have enjoyed, had he not been injured,

As for the Super Cuda, the crash was the end of the line. The car was never rebuilt and it would never again thunder along the match race circuit.

But for those who witnessed the Super Cuda in its prime, they will always remember it as a serious threat at any race it entered. My thanks to David Rubenstein for the photos and for filling in many details I was unaware of.