THE TOD MACK MEMOIRS: SCOTT SHAFIROFF - THE UNKNOWN STREET RACER
Tod Mack, a former owner of Maryland international Dragway, had his fingerprint on many promotions and innovations from the heralded facility located in Budds Creek, Md.
Mack, whose promotional home runs included the US Pro Stock Open, Mountain Motor Nationals, and The Wild Bunch, solidified his name in the ranks of significant drag racing contributors.
Mack was the first to use a pairings ladder based on qualifying times for the nitro cars when he ran the NASCAR Drag Race Division in the 1960s. Tod and Larry, along with Lex Dudas and Mike Lewis, created the ET Bracket Finals program in the early 1970s, which the group finally turned over to NHRA after a few years. MIR was the winner of the Inaugural event held at York US 30 Dragway. All in all, Tod Mack owned or operated six tracks over his career, and MIR fans benefited from his decades of experience.
In addition to the more successful promotions, Mack and longtime partner Larry Clayton introduced the world to the first four-wide fuel Funny Car match (almost four decades before Bruton Smith did the same thing in Charlotte). Then there was the wacky “Dragzacta,” which allowed fans to take part in pari-mutuel betting on weekly bracket races as they would at a horse track.
Mack was involved in a lot of drag racing.
Today, Mack has shared his memoirs with CompetitionPlus.com recalling his in drag racing. His latest offering focuses on the famous Unknown Street Racer incident.
I am often asked what my favorite promotion was out of the many hundreds of crazy events I put together in my decades of owning and promoting drag races. I loved the challenge of the Monday night US Pro Stock Open races and, of course, the infamous “Dragzacta” parimutuel betting events in the 1970s at Maryland International Raceway in Budds Creek, MD. My all-time favorite idea, however, was “The Unknown Street Racer”
A comedian I loved back in the day was a guy who called himself the Unknown Comic and performed his stand up act wearing a brown paper bag over his head. His name was Murray Langston, and he became a hit on the really wacky TV Gong Show during the 1970s. I thought he was very clever, and I happened to run across him performing at a Casino in Las Vegas on one of my trips there many years later. On that night, he introduced a new twist to his act with a small paper bag over one hand and called himself the Unknown Ventriloquist. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I appreciated anything that was uniquely entertaining, and he inspired me to find a way to include that into one of my off-beat promotions we were becoming know for at MIR. I had come to know a great racer and engine builder from the New York area, Scott Shafiroff. He was quickly becoming a legend in the burgeoning street racing culture there building outrageously fast “sleepers” — crappy-looking cars Grandma might drive but had big high horsepower engines. Perfect for the big money street races of the day. I called Scott with a crazy idea of bringing one of his very unimpressive looking Camaros to the track and showing up with a brown paper bag over his head so no one would recognize him.
My philosophy of promoting races had always been that you could put on a great event for the fans with almost any kind of show if you promoted it cleverly enough and believed that it would eventually deliver entertainment that was worth the price of admission. This would be a good test of that philosophy. This idea was as “out of the box” as you could get. Fans back then were becoming used to major race productions in the area with lots of funny cars, pro stocks, jet cars, and a smattering of sideshow acts to go with them. All these shows were costing us a big chunk of money to produce. Could I fill the joint with only one feature car? And would the fans leave entertained and happy? The latter part was always most important to my partner Larry and me. I always felt that if you work hard to get the reputation that you always get your money’s worth coming to MIR, we will get our reward in the end.
I began the promotion a month out in our Dragline newspaper that had a wide circulation in the Washington/Baltimore area. I featured photos of a guy wearing a typical racing jacket and a brown paper bag on his head. He was boasting that he would take on any challengers with full-bodied cars for cash wagers. To keep the challenges manageable and make my regular racers feel a part of the night, I held some special runoffs to choose who would get to challenge the “Unknown Street Racer.” I took one of my best racers from each of the three major ET Bracket classes I ran at my weekly events and allowed them to challenge the “Unknown” guy. I privately made a deal with my challengers that I would back their cash bets because I felt guilty that they would lose their money and be upset that I tricked them. I knew they couldn’t beat Scott, but none of them knew that. That was also secretly part of my plan to make sure I entertained the crowd as well.
As usual, I pulled every trick I could think of to hype the event. I tagged the end of radio spots for a prior Jet Car Nationals with the teaser that the “Unknown Street Racer” was coming to take on the fastest of our local cars. On the PA system and in Dragline, we tried to imply that “our” guys were the best, and we would send this guy home in disgrace. I even got into Bob Motz’s jet Kenworth truck at the Jet Funny Car Nationals with a fire suit jacket and brown bag on my head. I had him blast off the starting line in his usual display of smoke, fire, and noise, then come to a stop in front of the packed grandstands where I jumped out as the announcer identified me as the “Unknown Hitchhiker” to promote the upcoming show. I can assure you that I will never try that again! That truck is the most violent and loudest thing I have ever been in.
I felt that I might have another unlikely hit on our hands when Larry and I were getting questioned by hundreds of racers and fans about who this “Unknown Street Racer” was and how our guys would kick his butt. We managed to keep it a complete secret, and Scott went along with it all the way.
The stage was set. A surprisingly big crowd showed up to see another of our P.T. Barnum-type events, and shortly before showtime, Shafiroff showed up at the gate, actually driving in with his ’68 Camaro and a brown paper bag on his head. He was playing the role all the way, and I think he was really enjoying it. He drove to the pits, where we had a prominent spot waiting for him. When I announced that the “Unknown Street Racer” was here and driving in, almost the entire crowd was fighting for a spot to see him up close. It was a bigger reception than I ever saw for Garlits, Prudhomme, Bill Jenkins, or any of the dozens of superstars we regularly featured.
Scott Shafiroff was the ultimate showman that night, too. When he parked his car, he stepped out - still with the bag on his head - and took the hood off the nondescript Camaro. It had faded paint, hadn’t been washed in a while, and many of the fans actually started laughing when they saw a plain old Chevy motor with one 4-barrel carb and nothing that looked exotic. They just knew our guys would teach him a lesson.
We started the challenge races with a car from our slower Heavy Eliminator Class, which was for 11 and 12-second street race type cars. There was some immediate betting action in the famed “Eddie Freeman Grandstand” but with a little reservation. Scott played it perfectly by taking just enough win to make the race interesting. Next up was a car from our Pro ET Class class, which was made up of purpose-built race cars that could hit times in the high tens. Our fans knew that this guy was a good second or two faster than the first challenger. Now the cash was really moving in the grandstand betting. Again, Scott played it perfectly by pacing his run to just take a narrow win. The crowd went wild. You would think they just watched the finals of the Mountain Motor Nationals. We had set things up perfectly for the grand finale.
The final challenge, by design, was against the all-time fan favorite from our top Super Pro class, Craig Hennige’s “Whoopee Car.” This was an old Anglia coupe with a big block Chevy engine that was actually the A/Gas class champion at the prestigious NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. The popular “Whoopee Car” was famous for its wheel stand starts and mid to low nine-second runs with uncanny consistency. Craig was one of the best drivers in the class, with numerous wins to his credit. He was also no stranger to the street race scene in the Washington area with a number of other “sleeper” cars in his stable.
Everyone knew it was all over now for the “Unknown Street Racer,” and it was tough to get any betting action without some pretty long odds. I felt bad for Craig going into the race because he declined my offer to cover his wager, and I think he even wanted to up the ante prior to the run. By now, the bet was in the many hundreds of dollars. No one at the track had figured out yet the real identity of the “Unknown” guy, and Scott still played the role of keeping his identity secret with the bag on his head. He only removed it in the privacy of a trailer we had next to him when he put his helmet on with a full face mask.
As you might imagine, Scott let it all out on this final run with the hidden nitrous oxide bottles wide open and left the thousands of fans in shock and Hennige in disbelief. I don’t remember the exact Elapsed Time on the run, but I think it was in the sevens, and the Whoopee Car was many car lengths behind. I made sure that Craig did not lose any money and ruin a great friendship we had since the whole deal was a setup, and he never knew it.
I think Scott went on to run a couple more guys who were just itching to make a name for themselves - and had more dollars than sense. For my part, though, the night was a smashing success.
It was as exciting a show as we ever had, a very big crowd, and we only had one driver to pay for the night. The kind of show every promoter dreams of. And Scott Shaffiroff should have also gotten an Academy Award for his performance that night. He went on to a great career as a Pro Racer and a highly respected engine builder to this day.