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Fuel Altereds Flash-Forward at Famoso

By Cole Coonce, Photography by Ted Soqui

One long-time Fuel Altered stalwart who is less than pleased with the transformer-style race cars is Dave Benjamin, who was back at the Famoso March Meet, shaking down his Nasty Benjamin '27 Ford T-Bucket, before engaging in further competition at the IHRA Nitro Jam in Tucson the following weekend.

"These things don't have to look like spaceships to go down the track," Benjamin declared. "Look at Pure Hell: 6.20 at 244. No overhang in the front, no wings on the back."

Famoso mandated that its AA/FA Eliminator competitors adhere to a 6.00 index, in an attempt to keep the spaceships in check and give the truly classic Altereds a fighting chance. But this break-out rule did little to douse Benjamin's ire.

"Everybody seems to want to stick more and more out front," he continued. "Half of them don't know what they are doing. Ninety-eight percent don't know they don't need all that shit out front. You could hang 25 pounds of weight on the front end and it'd do the same thing. If you are trying to run 280 mph, you are going to need a big wing. But for what we are trying to do, it isn't necessary."

I asked Mark Leigh, crew chief on Dan Hix's Heatseeker transformer-style '34 Chevy, about his take on the class and how their race car was different than a Funny Car: "It is the same wheelbase," Leigh said. "The motor placement is the same and it has the same clutch as a Nostalgia Funny Car."

Leigh was in favor of the break-out rule.

"This altered class is going to be great because there is the 6.0 index and you can't go faster. So you don't need the carbon-fiber brakes and you don't need the Leahy [automatic shut-off] system."

Leigh revealed that his team was using a 526ci Miner Bros. Hemi, fueled by a 30-gpm Waterman pump that they "are bleeding off."

He said, "You can pick your own fuel pump and your own motor and they don't have to come tech you looking for anything other than safety items. It's simple. It keeps the tech to a minimum."

Besides keeping the bureaucracy at bay, Leigh saw this as a chance to let a freedom flag fly.

"There is some expression allowed," he explained. "You can do whatever you want."

Freedom cuts both ways. In his return to Famoso, Mike Sullivan's choice was to maintain tradition with a new '48 Topolino that looks remarkably like the one that caught on fire in 1971, en route to the March Meet winner's circle.

When asked why he is still racing Fuel Altereds, Sullivan quipped: "Somebody said I was off my rocker, but it was while I was adjusting these valves."

When quizzed on what was different than his original race cars, he said, "It's a late-model [Hemi] and about 10 inches longer. Other than that, we try to make it like the original."

And unlike the transformer-types, Sullivan still eschews the wing.

"So far, we have been able to make it from one end to the other without a wing. It's still controllable—controllable chaos, I guess."

With his son Jeremy swapping the pedals, the Sullivan entry waded its way through an eight-car bracket that included some of the same entries from the days of yore: Pure Heaven, Pure Hell, and the Winged Express, who were mixing it up with modern transformers like the Witch Doctor and the Heatseeker.

Regardless of vintage or vehicular style, the action was insane. Lane-swapping. Opposite lock. Timing cones flying in the air. Wheelstands at 1,100 feet. On-and-off-the-throttle pedal work. Pure Hell eliminated the Winged Express. Jeremy Sullivan dispatched Pure Hell. On the other side of the ladder, the transformers seemed to take out each other. The final round was like a taste test between Coke Classic and New Coke: John Henry versus steam power. Luddites versus the laissez-faire. Mike Sullivan versus the Heatseeker.

Dan Hix laid down a 6.11 and beat Jeremy Sullivan, who turned a 6.21 at 220 mph.

Tradition was trumped. The Transformers triumphed. But old school sure looked cooler, even in defeat. 'Twas ever thus.

By Cole Coonce
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