There is visual memory and there is verbal memory. In theory, the writing and photography disciplines should carry equal weight, but the preponderance of us is steered much more by the visual than the verbiage. The stark fact is that a few might remember the title of a story but none of the actual copy because the life-giving images surrounding it burn indelibly into the cerebral cortex. Likely, the same phenomenon will occur here, so celebrate your visual memory and excite your brainpan with some game-changers from the best days of drag racing.
Unsafe at Any Speed
Don Schumacher won 15 major events and an AHRA World Championship in 1973. A year later, he quit racing to concentrate on his business. The Wonder Wagon Vega was one of his last cars, built by John Buttera and prodded by a 494-inch Ed Pink motor. The WW was one of Don's most popular racers, but because the back of the car was shaped like a box and lacked aerodynamic soundness, its handling was, in a word, horrible. At that time, the aero factor was an obscure concept that eluded most racers who could only make guesses at the proper form. Schumacher recounts that the squared-off bustle lifted the rear end up and nearly turned the car over at half-track. L'il John nulled that liability with this completely modified coupe body mounted low, thus setting the stage for a different style of Funny Car.
His nickname stemmed from Gordon Mineo's high-school running back days, not from the kinky '30s sci-fi serials that included nefarious Ming the Merciless, the equally reprehensible witch-queen Azura, and the intergalactic protagonist/hero (Flash Gordon) portrayed by Buster Crabbe. Once out of school, Mineo continued to run hard and evade the competition and was successful in the early Funny Car arena. By the end of 1969, he'd won 12 of 15 West Coast events, a success that prompted him to get out of Dodge and embrace match racing on a national basis. In 1972, he sold his '70 Firebird (to Ken Veney) and commissioned Mike Kase (Torrance, California) to build a Vega. This car is noteworthy for its solid front suspension when the accepted configuration was a torsion-bar that was prone to breakage. Kase's adaptation fixed the woe and quickly became the industry standard.
One Way or Another
Michigan and its Motor City tendrils fostered several Funny drivers that were already involved with the OE automobile business as vendors, engineers, or specialists in related fields. Dick Loehr was an engineer who used his connections to get sponsorship and assistance for his racing operations. In 1967, he had Logghe Stamping build the chassis for the Max Curtis Ford Stampede Mustang that was much lower than most of its competition. It debuted with a 427 SOHC engine, but it was soon replaced by a more reliable 392 Hemi. At OCIR, Loehr ran a 7.86 at 189.70. Since competition was growing exponentially, Loehr built a lighter Stampede in 1969 that adopted the SOHC motor and recorded a best of 7.35 at 202. After that, he quit the F/C ranks for heads-up adventure in Pro Stock.
Though Goeske is best remembered for his seemingly endless string of Plymouth bodies, he stabbed the throttle on at least one Vega and Monza as well. After wearing out his stable of early 'Cudas, he changed strategy with this Omaha Orange '69 Road Runner, purported to be the only such body to ever ride Funny Car rails. A one-man show, Fred drove the rig, wheeled the Duster on the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars circuit, twisted wrenches, and dived on the engine between rounds. Ronnie Scrima and Pat Foster built the chassis at Exhibition Engineering.
Jiggs regales a delighted Jungle Bobbi and an unidentified companion in yet another dalliance from the infamous Car Craft motorhome, circa 1972. Aside from his predilection for model trains and Chevrolet small-blocks, Wee Willie Jenkins loved having a pop or two (Scotch mainly) and socializing with the fair sex, admitting that he joined the photography club, the stagecraft club, and the French club—strictly to absorb all that (mostly forbidden) nubile pulchritude. Was Bill a brainiac (a member of Mensa International), a geek (check out that clutch of pens on his chest), or just plain adorable? It seems he was all of those things.