There was a time when a catchy name was every bit as important to a funny car driver as a supercharger and a tank full of nitro. A memorable name would not make the car run any quicker, but it could be instrumental in getting match race bookings. Match races were where the money was, so race teams put a lot of effort crafting a suitable handle for their car.
Of course dragsters and gassers had names, long before the first funny car hit the track. When teams switched to the profitable funny car ranks, they brought their old names with them. Roland Leong utilized the label Hawaiian, made famous with his top fuel cars, on a series of successful floppers. Connie Kalitta used the name Bounty Hunter on several rails before adopting the title for his Mustang funny car. Stone, Woods and Cook recycled the name from one of their gassers for their popular Mustang dubbed Dark Horse 2. When a top-end crash destroyed the first car, they built a near-clone of the original Mustang. Rather than calling the new car Dark Horse 3, they christened it The Ghost of Dark Horse 2.
A wide range of events, activities and ideas inspired racers to select their car name. Roger Lindamood found his handle in a pop-county song from the early sixties. The song quickly faded into obscurity, but for more than a decade afterwards, Lindamood’s fans continue to cheer on the car known as Color Me Gone.
The Blue Max was both a movie and a famous World War I metal awarded to German heroes. It was also a highly feared funny car campaigned by Raymond Beadle.
Ford’s Mustang inspired a host of horse themed names, including the Trojan Horse, Boss Hoss, Stampede and Warhorse.
The most popular funny car driver of all time was Russel James Liberman. He first gained fame as the wheelman for Lew Arlington’s Brutus GTO, but he soon abandoned that seat for a touring funny car team of his own. Although Liberman painted the title Jungle Jim on the side of his cars, he obtained Elvis status with his fans and peers who always referred to him simply as Jungle.
As teams started adding superchargers to their cars, a rash of names starting with the term “Super” appeared: Super Cuda, Super Duster, Super Camaro, Super Stang, Super Bug, Super Charger and others.
Although “shaker” was originally a slang term for Chevrolet, it became a popular name on all makes of floppers. Al Bergler ran a Vega, Mustang and Corvette under the Motown Shaker moniker. Likewise, Hubert Platt campaigned his Georgia Shaker as both a Chevy and Ford. Other variations of the name include the Boston Shaker, Bear Town Shaker, Bluegrass Shaker, Tennessee Shaker and others.
Probably the most famous Shaker was Pete Seaton’s series of cars named Seaton’s Shaker. When he added a blower, he updated the name to Seaton’s Super Shaker. Later, Seaton sold his operation to driver Terry Hedrick, who renamed the car Super Shaker — a handy combination of two of the most popular flopper names.
Most drivers and teams retained the same name when they updated to a new car. After establishing their name, they wanted to carry on their brand with their fans, One man who bucked this trend was Arnie “the Farmer” Beswick. Although Beswick was always known as the Farmer throughout his career, each of his race cars had an unique name. These names included Tameless Tiger, Star of the Circuit, Super Judge and Boss Bird.
Don Prudhomme, of course, was known as the “Snake.” His most successful funny cars carried sponsorship by the US Army. While the white floppers weren’t actually named Army, a host of fans paid good money to see that “Army Car” in action.
Of course it would take a good size book to contain a complete list of funny car names. The stories behind Virginia Twister, Secret Weapon, Yankee Peddler, Warlord, Destroyer and Eastern Raider will have to wait for another time.
So what happened? Why don’t funny cars have names any longer? One reason is that match-racing is no longer in favor. Instead of racing several times a week at small, out-of-the-way tracks, today’s touring pros concentrate on the big national events. There are more of these than ever, many with full television coverage. Instead of racing for appearance money, today’s hero drivers rely on sponsorship dollars to pay their salaries. So there is no longer a need for a stimulating name on the side of the car.
Secondly, those corporate sponsorship deals involve huge sums of cash, and finding a willing sponsor is difficult. Sponsors willing to pony up big bucks to place their name on a race car aren’t too keen on sharing the car’s flanks with some form of nickname. In order to land to a lucrative sponsor deal, teams are usually quite willing to forego the practice of christening their car with a name.
I guess that ‘s progress. As for me, however, I’m glad I was active in the era when funny cars were Vicious, Hairy, Candid and 2 Much!
What is your favorite funny car name? If I’ve missed a fascinating car name, leave a response below. Let’s see how many car names we can come up with.