As I have mentioned in my column on occasion, I have a limited history in drag racing. Recently, I found a source of information to fill in the missing years prior to my introduction to this sport in 1999. Marvin Noel, current announcer for the NSCA and 1969 IHRA TF Champion, has been my traveling partner on a couple of recent trips. Marvin has seen an unbelievable amount of drag racing history and has made those road trips seem much shorter as he spins his yarns and lets me know just how much I have missed.
During the return from the PRI show in Indy, we stopped by the Floyd Garrett Muscle Car Museum in Sevierville, Tenn. As is the case when you are around Marvin, almost anything will remind him of a story. True to form, one of the cars on display started a conversation about the first funny car in the history of drag racing. The car on display was the Sachs and Sons 1964 Mercury Comet. As part of his storied past, manager of the Greer drag strip in S.C. was one of his incarnations and he was there during one of the more significant events in funny car history. Here is the story as spun by master drag racing storyteller, Marvin Noel:
“A little pre-history to the Dodge Charger and Jack Chrisman story before we get to what happened at Greer. Early in 1964 Ronnie Householder, head of the Dodge Racing program for the Chrysler Corporation, decided they were going to build two exhibition super stock cars, called Super Factory Experimental or S/FX. The cars were 1964 330 sedans, which were two-door Max Wedge cars. They built these cars to publicize Chrysler Corporation's racing effort because of their heavy involvement and the fact that they had so many factory-backed drivers.
“The cars were customized with a front and rear rolled pans under them and trick red, white and blue paint jobs. One was red on the left side and blue on the right side and white down the middle. The other was the reverse scheme. There was a third car that was also red, white and blue, but it was wrecked in '64. It was later customized and became a show car that is still in existence. But that left two cars to tour the country and run each other to publicize Chrysler's program. They had huge 12-foot Dietz parachutes on them and were powered by 426 wedge engines bored and stoked to 480 inches with 6:71 superchargers on them. Using regular gas to keep them reliable and running, they probably generated between 650 and 700 horsepower, all channeled through TorqueFlite transmissions and 8 ¾-inch rear ends.
“Jimmy Nix, Jim Johnson and Jim Nelson were the drivers. Nelson was the test driver with Nix and Johnson designated as the drivers to be on the tour. Nelson wanted to get out of the deal, so Nix got on the phone and called Jack Chrisman. He told Jack that they were building these cars and that Chrisman should come with them and be the test driver and go on the national tour and have a paid salary. As it turned out, Chrisman had just signed a deal with Mercury and Fran Hernandez to run one of the A/FX 1964 427 Comets, so he didn't take the Dodge deal.
“Chrisman in turn told Hernandez what Dodge was doing with the Chargers, however. Hernandez told Chrisman, ‘We can't have that! Do what it takes. Build a car that will run faster, be more showy and put them out of business. Show up unannounced, dog them all over the country and run for free. If you can run against them, fine, if not, run single passes.' Chrisman took the ‘64 Comet and dropped in a blown and injected 427 high-rise Ford on 70% nitro. He set it back 25% in the chassis with a direct drive unit, just like a fuel dragster would use. All in this little two door Comet. Chrisman actually ran that car in the 1964 Nationals as a B Fuel Dragster because the NHRA didn't know what to do with it, so they made it a dragster, even though it had a full body. So it became the first real funny car, even though it wasn't done intentionally. That was the start of funny cars.
“Once the cars were built, Chrisman started showing up at every race that the Dodge Chargers ran. Well, the Dodges didn't know what to do. “Do we race this car or not?” The Dodges were running low 11's at around 140-mph. Chrisman was running 10.50's at 150-mph. Plus, he was smoking the tires for the entire quarter mile. Well, the Dodge Chargers showed up at Greer one night. The Chargers came rolling in as a booked show. We had no idea that Chrisman was going to be there and were unaware that there was a controversy. Dodge had told their team that under no circumstances were they to run that Mercury, or “we will take the cars back.”
“After the Chargers arrived at Greer, only one of the cars was unloaded as the team claimed the transmission was gone on the Nelson car. So Nix pulls to the line and make a practice run in the 11's around 135 or 140-mph. I looked up from the announcer's booth, and on top of the hill at Greer, behind the old Church that was there, I saw this rig come rolling in with an open trailer with a little white Comet on it with an injector scoop sticking through the hood. I was wondering ‘who in the world is this?' I left the booth and went running to see who it was and discovered the car had Sachs and Sons Supercharged Cyclone painted on the side of it. None of us around there had heard of the car - we didn't know what it was. I saw Jack Chrisman's name on it, however, and I did know who he was. He fired that thing up and it sounded like a fuel dragster. He pulled on the track and laid down a 10.50 at 150-mph pass, smoking the tires the entire quarter mile. I went to Nix and asked if he could run Chrisman since the other car was broke. Nix said he was under strict orders not to run him.
“Nix was ready to make his next pass and was coming around through the staging lanes. Now, at Greer, the staging lanes circled around the old booth and some stands but there was a short-cut in front of the booth directly onto the track. Chrisman fired up the Comet and came rumbling down the hill and through the short-cut and pulled right up beside Nix, who was just arriving in the left lane.
“Nix was looking at the Comet in the other lane for the first time, but there no way he could back out now. The crowd and I were going nuts because we had no idea what was happening. The obvious result was that they had to run each other and Chrisman absolutely burned him. I can't even remember the numbers and they didn't matter. It was pandemonium.
“The Chargers were booked into Covington, Ga. the next day and I wanted to be there to see what would happen, but when I arrived, the Chargers were not ready to run due to a “bad motor and transmission”. They were just on display. Chrisman ran the quickest pass ever in the Comet, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10.35 at 155 mph. As it turned out, the Chargers were loaded in the trailer and never made another appearance. I am not completely sure but I believe the next time the cars were seen was 20 years later when Connie Kalitta bought an airplane hangar somewhere in Michigan. Kalitta found a rig in the back behind some junk and in the rig were the two cars. Rumor has it that Kalitta actually drove the cars around town for fun. They were seen by a reclusive collector of Chrysler products who eventually purchased the Chargers and he now has them housed in an area not available to the public.”
Marvin Noel has hundreds of stories like this one that are bringing to life the drag racing history that I have missed. He has raced, he has crewed, he has managed tracks, he has announced, he has owned the largest Classic and Muscle Car business in the south and he counts among his friends most of the people in drag racing now. As Marvin told me of this story happening in my hometown that had a major impact on drag racing, I listened in awe because I lived about a mile from the track in 1964 and I never knew that this happened in Greer and I missed it. Drag Racing is amazing huh?
Let me know if you would like to hear any more of Marvin's Marvelous Musings.
Our Caption winner this month is Scott Hamel with this gem:
“Our team's drive to succeed wasn't the money. It was this trophy. Where's the air valve?”
The Caption Contest will resume in January's issue. Thank you for having fun with me this year.