"240 GORDIE" REFLECTS ON HIS DRAG RACING CAREER

Written by Tracy Renck.

boninThere’s no question Gordie Bonin left his mark on drag racing.

From 1972-81, the colorful Funny Car driver from Red Deer Alberta won his share of national events and he was constantly setting the miles-per-hour record, which prompted other drivers to give him the nickname “240 Gordie.”

These days, the 61-year-old Bonin no longer has his foot on the gas pedal as he just taking it easy.

“I wasn't doing anything (in terms of racing), I just go to a few races just to hang with old friends,” said Bonin, who is living in Deer Park, Wash., just north of Spokane. “I go to national events in Seattle, Las Vegas, Joliet, and Pomona  when I can; and hang with my old friends -  (John) Force, Cory Mac, Todd Okuhara, Cory's crew chief; the Pedregons; to name a few. These days it's all about visiting pals, on and off the track. I'm blessed to have had fans that have turned into good friends over the years; so there's always someone to visit with.

"I was semi-retired, and aging gracefully until recently; when, my old pal/co-worker from NHRA/National Dragster; Duane Johnson of Sterling Productions Inc., in Charlotte found me on Facebook after 25 years; and told me I needed to get "back in the game" again. I am happy to say I've accepted the position of West Coast Marketing Director for Sterling Productions and will  work out of Deer Park.”

Although Bonin isn’t drag racing anymore, he does have concerns about the state of the sport he so dearly loves.

"The NHRA are going to do whatever they need to do to keep their racers safe, and butts in the seats” Bonin said. “I don’t really care for 1,000 foot racing, but I totally understand why it is what it is.”

The NHRA implemented 1,000 foot racing for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars at the 2008 Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., following the on-track death of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta during a qualifying run June 21, 2008 at Englishtown, N.J., and the 1,000 foot distance remains in place.

“I understand the IHRA has about folded its tent as far as National event series goes; but I haven't heard much more than it will have a series of bought in race cars on some kind of a tour?"

"I do know the American Hot Rod Association is coming back, and it sounds like a pretty strong deal,” Bonin said. “They have several events already planned for 2010, Troy Moe, AHRA CEO (and an old friend of mine); tells me. It should be a very interesting year. They're timing may be dead on."

Bonin, who served as the NHRA’s Director of Marketing and Marketing Services Manager from 1983-89; is concerned with the continued escalating costs of NHRA Drag Racing; for racers and fans alike.

“I'm hoping they adjust for the economy, like NASCAR did by lowering ticket prices and offering this and that kind of fan packages,” Bonin said.

25th_indy_011
As many memories as "240 Gordie" has, they all pale in comparison to winning the Funny Car title at the 25th anniversary U.S. Nationals in 1979. -Dave Wallace photo
In 1989, Bonin returned to racing with his old friends Ron Hodgson & Gordon Jenner; fielding a brand new state of the art Top Fuel Dragster built by Al Swindahl. They ran a limited schedule with NHRA and won the AHRA Championship.

In 1991 Bonin was tapped by Lee Beard and Castrol to take the place of Top Fuel driver, the late Gary Ormsby, who was battling cancer. Bonin responded by reaching the semifinals at that year’s Seattle event. Two years later, Bonin was back in the winner’s circle while driving Roland Leong’s Hawaiian Vacation Funny Car to the Springnationals title. In 1994, Bonin was behind the wheel of the Candies & Hughes Smokin’ Joe’s Funny Car, which he piloted to two national event victories.

“I was never able to go 300 mph,” Bonin lamented. “I went 297.90 mph in ’94 at Brainerd (Minn.) in the Smokin’ Joe’s Mustang. We were close, but it never happened.”

In 1996 Gordie was back in marketing, this time with the new Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"That was big time" Bonin said."Can you imagine to get to help marketing a 20 some acre site with up to 15 or so different racing venues; from the get-go? The only tracks under construction when I started was the 1.5 mile oval, and the clay half-mile for WOO sprint cars. I had the pleasure of showing folks like Rusty Wallace, Richard Childress and John Bickford, Jeff Gordon's stepdad, around the property. Add to this that Nellis Air Force Base was across the street; which was a full time air show from dawn to way past dusk. THE best, most fun job I ever had! Did I also mention I drove the Bill Miller Engineering Top Fuel car that year too? We were, and still are the World's fastest Chevrolet powered Top Fuel Dragster."

Bonin was then out of driving until 1999 when he landed a ride with Prolong Super Lubricants. He won three of five events in the FIA European Drag Racing Top Fuel Series.

“I raced in Europe as the marketing tool for Prolong Super Lubricants. We were opening up the European market,” Bonin said. “Racing that year was probably the most fun I ever had with my clothes on. That was only a May to September season and I jumped in an ex (Joe) Amato Top Fuel car with a team I had never heard of. But, (former NHRA Vice President) Carl Olson said this Rune Fjeld guy that owned & tuned the car was like the Austin Coil of Europe; trust me -  you will be safe and by God; I was. I go over and win the first two events and won the championship and I talked the FIA into having our dragster on stage in Monaco for the prize-giving ceremony. You’re at the same event that the F-1 World Champion and World Rally champion is at; and that was a pretty special deal.”

Following the 1999 season, Bonin dabbled in some Top Fuel driving.

“I drove a friend’s Top Fuel car in Seattle for about three years,” Bonin said. “I managed to qualify the car, but if the cars had 7,000 horsepower, this thing only had 6,000, but it was still kind of a thrill to step on the gas every now and again.”

Bonin, however, has no desire to get behind the wheel again.

“Nope, not all,” said Bonin, who won nine NHRA National events, and also was well known for driving the Bubble-Up sponsored Funny Car. “People have asked me that 100 times since this Nostalgia Funny Car craze has happened. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that it has happened, but why jump into one of these things now and go up there at my age and maybe get hurt? Also, I can never have as much fun now as I did back in the day.”

Bonin had many NHRA highlights, but he did take a moment to reflect on some of them.

“Going to the 25th Anniversary of the U.S. Nationals was No. 1,” said Bonin about the 1979 event at Indianapolis. “We were the fourth (Funny Car) member of the Cragar 5-second club, we took the speed record away from (Don) Prudhomme; and we won Indy! It’s pretty tough to beat that deal. I have no regrets. I was just a fan of the sport who was lucky; and was in the right place at the right time; and got to do what I loved and got paid for it.”  

SEE GORDIE BONIN VIDEO

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