When Pink Elephants Ruled
Throughout the 1970s, nitro-engine-builders were as famous as their superstar customers. Orange County International Raceway even staged an annual event that matched up four teams of AA/Funny Cars representing four leading shops, including Ed Pink Racing Engines. Asked to comment on the rise and decline of those glory days, Pink had this to say...
“I can remember one time at Lions Drag Strip, they had a special Funny Car race. It wasn’t promoted as Prudhomme against McEwen, or this guy against that guy; it was Black against Pink! Those were some great days. Irwindale did the same thing.
“That’s the stuff that doesn’t go on today, and that’s because big money’s gotten into drag racing. Now, it’s a really big, professional deal. Not that it wasn’t professional in our day; it was just more fun.
“You [media] guys made it that way. You had the Mongoose and the Snake, and you had the Greek, and the Swamp Rat, but you needed something else. Maybe if Keith’s name wasn’t Black and my name wasn’t Pink, who knows? Keith did a fine job, and in later years, we became good friends. We used to run ads that said, ‘No matter what color your elephant is, they’re all Pink on the inside!’
“And cartoonists like Pete Millar and Tom Medley were really great in those days, showing us in so many of their cartoons. You don’t see that today.
“The crewchiefs hadn’t come in yet. I was kind of the end of that era. I was in the middle of a huge transition in drag racing. In the Sixties and Seventies, we were very fortunate to do engines for some of the best cars. But, as time went on, the owners started buying parts direct from manufacturers. I used to have some big arguments with some of them, saying, ‘You can’t do that! If you’re selling parts to my customers, who am I gonna have to sell to?’ And, if a racer would go into some of these places and buy a whole bunch of something, they’d give him a special price. If you paid cash, they gave you another special price.
“I didn’t make any parts in those days; most everything we did was build engines. Consequently, it cut me out of a lot of the business of selling parts. It slowly got to a point where all we were doing was machine work, a little fuel-injection work, and consultation. When they’d get in trouble, they’d be on the phone, or I’d be at the races, and they’d get me cornered: ‘What jets? What spark lead? What this? What that?’ If I could open up a little stand and sell the information, that’d be one thing, but the information was all given to them. If they got themselves into trouble where they were blowing their engines up and couldn’t figure out why, I’d get some business. If they ran really bad and couldn’t figure out why, I’d get some business. But in the long haul, business was slowing dwindling. Now these guys are pulling their engines apart at the races, in between rounds, so what do they need me to build?
“I saw the change happening in about 1977. We were building fewer engines, and customers who were buying pistons and valves and cams from me were getting fewer. The only parts we were selling were to the racers who thought we had some secret weapon; who were afraid that if they didn’t get it from me, they wouldn’t get the hot setup. Well, there are no hot setups in this business; you got parts that either work or don’t work, y’know?
“As all this was going on, I could see that if I didn’t do anything — if I kept my head in the sand, and just kept going the way I was going — one of these days, I’d look around and there would be no business.
“The Bernstein thing and the Super Shops program were the last big deals we did, around 1980.”
COMING NEXT MONTH: The end of the Engine-Builder Era.
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