Dramatic and emotional in every respect, the conclusion of the 1978 NHRA U.S. Nationals was the kind of event which could leave you breathless.
What made it so emotional was Don Garlits winning his fifth Nationals Top Fuel title; Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen scoring his first Indy win in Funny Car; Bob Glidden ruling in Pro Stock, again; John Samolyk upsetting the wild Pro Comp field; John Lingenfelter sweeping a tough Comp category; Bruce Sizemore topping the Modified troops; unheralded Stan White taking Super Stock honors; Don Holben capturing his first NHRA Stock crown; and Marion Owens scoring in the Fuel Bike category.
Weather-wise, no one could have asked for a better break. With the exception of Wednesday's half day of qualifying being rained out, it was clear skies and simply ideal conditions maintaining for the duration of drag racing's premier event.
Performance-wise, Indy '78 was more than spectacular -- it was just phenomenal! It was the quickest Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Comp fields ever. The flopper bump spot ended up at 6.21 seconds, Pro Stock 8.78 and Pro Comp 6.85 (for a 32-car field, no less!). Don Prudhomme and Raymond Beadle ran in the 5s just to give you an idea of the top-fight competition that was Indy '78.
Today's Indy video moment isn't about the actual drag race although the video is an authentic amateur production from the late Grant Iseli from Canada and converted from VHS copy by CompetitionPlus.com reader George Adams. However, the presence of the sights and sounds, (yes sound) in everything from Top Fuel to Stock is enough to build the scene.
But, if you're a stickler for the numbers. The 1977 U.S. Nationals was filled with action, drama, and upsets with Dennis Baca (Top Fuel), Don Prudhomme (Funny Car), and Don Nicholson (Pro Stock) walked away with surprising victories.
Prudhomme's victory marked a then-record sixth U.S. Nationals title, breaking a two-year final-round jinx with a victory over Richard Rogers.
Bob Glidden, who won back-to-back Indy titles in 1973 and 1974, as did Prudhomme, was denied a victory for the third straight year by Nicholson, who won his only Winston Pro Stock title that year, finishing just ahead of Glidden, who would go on to capture three straight Winston championships.
The 50-year-old Nicholson set low e.t. of the meet at 8.61 in qualifying, then ran 8.67, 8.74, 8.72, and 8.73 in the final to beat Glidden, who had to shut down his Arrow after suffering trouble with his car's drivetrain. Nicholson defeated Larry Lombardo in the semifinals, putting an end to one of the event's many subplots. Lombardo entered the event in second place behind Nicholson, but crashed Bill Jenkins' Monza in qualifying, setting the car ablaze. Ronnie Manchester loaned Jenkins and Lombardo his nearly identical Monza for eliminations.
Dennis Baca scored the Top Fuel victory, upsetting reigning Winston champion Richard Tharp in the final round. Baca, a part-time competitor on the national event trail and twice a runner-up, qualified well in the 32-car field with an eighth-best 5.99, then ran 5.97, 5.98, 6.05, and 6.08 to face off against Tharp.
Dennis Baca, near lane, pulled off a huge upset in the Top Fuel final, collecting his first national event title over reigning Winston champ Richard Tharp.
As the finals raced along, NHRA was racing against the weather that was closing in on Indianapolis Raceway Park. Raymond Martin scored in Comp over red-lighting Joe Williamson, Joe Scott downed Jim Kinnett's SS/AA entry to win Super Stock, and home state hero Mike McKinney won Stock in a final-round decision over Mick Leiferman, who suffered his third straight U.S. Nationals final-round loss.
The impending weather also played a hand in the two quickest Sportsman classes. Arlen Fadely took Modified over Tom Turner, who did not receive an elapsed time due to a lightning strike near the track, and Dale Armstrong took a final-round solo in Pro Comp after an extreme gesture of sportsmanship from former teammate and future fellow fuel crew chief Ken Veney.
Veney had cracked a cylinder wall on the potent Ford powerplant in his Alcohol Dragster, and although he could have competed against Armstrong, he decided to sit out in fear that he might oil the track and prevent the other finals from being completed if rain began to fall.
Approximately 10 minutes after the last cars crossed the finish line, rain fell on Indianapolis Raceway Park, bringing a soggy end to a wild U.S. Nationals.
Don Prudhomme's second Top Fuel win and John "the Zookeeper" Mulligan's astounding 6.43 low e.t. were highlights of the 1969 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. However, it was the performance of the new Funny Car class which turned a lot of heads. By 1969, Funny Cars had begun to metamorphose into real race cars.
Prudhomme, who would go on to become one of the biggest names in Funny Car, was still pulling a tour of duty in Top Fuel dragster. Prudhomme qualified high in the field with a 6.56 and benefited from two early red-lights by Bob Murray and Bennie Osborn. A quicker Tom Raley spun the tires in the semifinals while Prudhomme used up his engine to a 6.59. A brief rain shower before the second semifinal race between Kelly Brown, who would win, and Jim Paoli gave Prudhomme and friends time to install a new engine for the final with Brown. Prudhomme joined Garlits as the only multiple Pro-class winner at Indy with his second win and first of two straight U.S. Nationals Top Fuel titles with a 6.51 at 223.34 mph to Brown's 6.78 at 205.01 mph.
Prudhomme's second Indy win put him in company with Don Garlits as the only two-time Top Fuel winners of the biggest drag race. "The Snake" defeated 1978 Winston Top Fuel champion Kelly Brown in the final of the 32-car field with a 6.51 at 223.34 mph.
Like the Top Fuel dragsters, the Funny Cars used lightweight, professionally built chromoly space frames, and they were powered by the same engines as the dragsters. Don Schumacher, who would win his first NHRA national event in Indianapolis the following year, ran a low e.t. of 7.22 with his Barracuda-bodied car, and former world champion and 1962 U.S. Nationals Top Eliminator winner Jack Chrisman set top speed at 206 mph with his Mustang.
Super Eliminator winner "Ohio George" Montgomery, near lane, won the U.S. Nationals for the fourth time. His sleek AA/Gas Mustang was much quicker than the venerable Willys and Anglias, and he defeated Ron Ellis' AA/A in the handicapped final, 8.59 at 164.23 mph to 8.46, 162.16.
The much lighter Top Fuel dragsters were quite a bit quicker — the bump for the 32-car field was 6.75, and nonqualifier Tom Chastagn had top speed at 231.76 mph — but the fully suspended, short-wheelbase, distinctive and colorful Funny Cars were much more fun to watch compared to the look-alike Top Fuelers.
Danny Ongais, at the wheel of Mickey Thompson's blue Mach 1 Mustang Funny Car, was the man to beat in the class' first year. The Springnationals winner got off to a slow start in qualifying, but he did qualify with a 7.30 at 201 mph. The e.t.s of the two alternates in the 16-car field, Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars match racers Kenny Safford (7.55) and Jess Tyree (7.57), were quicker than the national record of 7.58.
The Funny Cars had been given their own eliminator for the first time at the 1969 Winternationals, where clockings ranged from 7.79 to 8.33, and the class' best were at the U.S. Nationals, hoping for the win, publicity, and match race bookings it would generate.
Racing against veterans such as Dick Loehr, Bruce Larson, Connie Kalitta, the team of Candies & Hughes, and the rest of the Cavalcade of Stars team of Kelly Chadwick, Marv Eldridge, Dick Bourgeouis, Fred Goeske, and Gary Dyer, Ongais won when Rich Siroonian red-lighted in the final in his uncle "Big John" Mazmanian's Barracuda.
Contributing to the fun of watching what were essentially full-size street car look-alikes snake down the track to low seven-second, 200-mph times was the reliability of the automatic-transmission-equipped Funny Cars. Mixed in with the Top Fuel dragsters' great times were more destroyed engines, superchargers, and centrifugal clutches — the result of hydrazine in the nitromethane and the fatiguing heat generated by the still new centrifugal-clutch technology — than any previous NHRA national event in memory.
One year after his famous 1967 beard-shaving victory, Don Garlits returned to the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis facing the daunting test of repeating as champion. Starting with his qualifying run on Friday, and continuing down to his final blast for Top Fuel Eliminator, the grandstands erupted with deafening cheers each time "Big Daddy" would clean off his tires under the Hurst bridge.
Garlits' three Indy wins were viewed at the time as an unbeatable record, along the lines of legendary baseball slugger Babe Ruth's 715 homeruns. .
Overcoming seemingly insurmountable problems, both on and off the race track, Jack Jones, of San Diego, California, and car owner Bill Shultz, of El Monte, California, triumphed over the toughest field of Top Gas Dragsters ever assembled.
Clean cut, articulate Paul Stage, a machinist from Rockford, Illinois, scored for his second major Super Eliminator Championship of 1968 [Springnationals event to stage] and established a new Official National Class Record for AA/Competition on the final run.
A happy Sam Gianino and family accepted their share of the $150,000 posted cash purse for Street Eliminator honors. Gianino, a 28 year old mechanic from Royal Oak, Michigan, wheeled a 1957 Corvette through 5 rounds of rugged competition.
A classic '32 Ford "deuce" coupe captured Competition Eliminator laurels, driven by Harry Luzader, of Monroeville, Pa.
Super Stock Eliminator was a whale of a show, with likeable Arlen Vanke, of Akron, Ohio, hauling in more than $6,650 with his '68 Hemi-Barracuda.
Only 19 years old, Larry Lombardo, of Wyomissing, Pa., handled himself and his '61 Corvette stocker like a true champion, upsetting hundreds of more experienced competitors for the Stock Eliminator crown.
It’s ingenuity in action.
At least that is how the producers of this documentary described drag racers and the 1958 NHRA U.S. Nationals.
This video, from Hot Rod Magazine, features more on the nomadic lifestyle of racers and their insatiable love for the quarter-mile sport. The video is a pleasant trip to the past when hot rodding was exactly as its name describes – hot rodding.
The story focuses on a team as the travel from the west coast to Detroit Dragway.
This video shows us 27 minutes of what drag racing used to be, before the Vietnam War and long before the most hallowed drag race had corporate sponsorship.
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