:::::: Feature Stories ::::::

INDY MEMORIES - WHEN SCHUMACHER AND BLAINE JOHNSON'S PATHS CROSSED

Originally published 9-1-2006

On one weekend the careers of Blaine Johnson and Tony Schumacher intersected...

indymemories_blainecover.jpg Many drivers look back on the first elimination-round passes of their professional careers as a bit surreal. But nothing could come close to the emotional swing that Tony Schumacher experienced in his first race in a Top Fuel dragster.

It promised to be intimidating enough for Schumacher because it came at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, the National Hot Rod Association's oldest and most prominent race.

But 10 years ago, that first quarter-mile ride, which should have taken about 4.7 seconds, seemed to take an eternity.

Schumacher was the No. 16 qualifier. As such, he was paired against No. 1. But this time the No. 1 qualifier didn't pull up to the starting line. He had died two days before of massive head injuries from a top-end accident during qualifying.

So Schumacher had a single pass instead of getting to race Blaine Johnson, the 34-year-old sensation who was running away with the Top Fuel championship, owned the national speed record, and set a track-record 4.61-second elapsed time on his final run. Gone was the likeable Californian whom veteran publicist Rick Voegelin called "a tiger in a race car." But little did anyone know just how much this rookie Schumacher, this rather overwhelmed 26-year-old from Chicago, would turn out to be the same kind of driver.

SACRIFICE PAYING OFF FOR COMP RACER MARK WOLFE

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Engine pieces were scattered around the spartan pit area at Pacific Raceways, and Mark Wolfe had that determined look in his tired eyes.

The NHRA Competition Eliminator racer, his girlfriend Dana, and buddy Curt thrashed away on the '96 Thunderbird all weekend long, barely sleeping.

"We had the motor down to a bare block three times that weekend for various issues," Wolfe said, looking back on his O'Reilly Northwest Nationals experience earlier this month as a first-time No. 1 qualifier. "And people would walk by and shake their heads and say, 'Why are you working so hard? It's just one race.' We stayed at the track, and we were the first ones up every morning and the last ones to go to bed, working on the car.

"Guys come by and they'd see the motor on the ground in the dirt, all just tore apart. And they said, 'So -- you're done?' We said, 'No, we'll be there the first round.' We made it," he said. "We don't mind working as hard as we can until there's no chance of making it."

That is the motto of Wolfe, 43, who calls Marysville, Wash., home but really has no home. He isn't exactly homeless, but he once lived in a campground and today claims a small, loft-like storage room in the back of his dad's trucking-company shop as his residence.

PULDE’S VALLEY FEVER SICKNESS NEARLY KILLED HIM

Dale Pulde didn’t know physically  if he was  up to the task. When it came to driving his nostalgia nitro Funny Car, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Regardless he had to give it a try.
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Pulde, who was diagnosed with Valley Fever last year, believed he was healthy enough to drive his legendary War Eagle entry during the Night Under Fire in Norwalk, Ohio.

“I really wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to be able to do it when I got there,” said Pulde, who had temporary driver James Day on stand-by in case he couldn’t. “When the temperature and humidity wasn’t up there, I was feeling pretty good.”

Pulde has long been lauded for his ability to do every task on his car, from tuning to driving, to upholding the overwhelming needs of the fans. Norwalk presented a foreign experience. All he had to do was drive and sign autographs.

 

GARY BECK Q & A: SEATTLE RACING ICON SHARES HIS MEMORIES

8-12-11beckGary Beck, honored as the NHRA Legend in his native Seattle this past week at the O'Reilly Northwest Nationals, spoke with Competition Plus about building the Space Needle and his own drag-racing career. Find out why he drove his Beck & Peets Export A Top Fuel Dragster around a road course and a circle track, how everybody thought he's a Canadian citizen, who was his classmate all the way through school, and who was sniffing oil and how that affected him.

HOT WHEELS PHENOMENON LIVES ON

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Driving a sexy-looking race car, blowing off conventional career paths, being his own man, beating all the other poor pretenders who thought they had a chance to compete on his level  ... That's what appealed to Don Prudhomme. He somehow blended his

Machiavellian-wicked, win-at-all-costs attitude with beguiling charm to become one of drag racing's best and one of the most recognizable icons of American pop culture.

For that, Infineon Raceway saluted Don "The Snake" Prudhomme with induction into its all-motorsports Wall of Fame this past weekend at Sonoma, Calif., during the FRAM-Autolite Nationals.

But in all the national barnstorming he did in the name of blazing-quick side-by-side racing, in all the gleaming trophies he greedily and gleefully grabbed, in all the mechanical magic he spun, after blasting from the Road Kings Car Club to fame unimaginable, Prudhomme reckoned he might be remembered best for being associated with a little toy metal car, the famous Hot Wheels collection.

THE LEGENDS HAVE THEIR FAVORITES

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When it comes to drag racing “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Shirley Muldowney are legends of the sport.

Garlits and Muldowney were drag racing pioneers who paved the way for modern drivers.

Garlits’ numerous NHRA highlights include him recording the first 200-mph run in 1964 and competing in the first successful rear-engine dragster in 1971.

Muldowney meanwhile opened the door for all future female racers to follow as she accomplished countless first for her gender in NHRA.

Muldowney’s firsts for women included her being the first woman to win an NHRA national event title in a pro category in 1976 and the first woman to win a Top Fuel championship in 1977, something she also did in 1980. She also won an American Hot Rod Association title in 1981.

BRIAN BROWELL'S DRAGSTER IS ONE OF A KIND IN NHRA

08_05_2011_browellThe D/D letters on Brian Browell’s NHRA Competition Eliminator dragster obviously signify his class, but they could just as well stand for Doubly Different, since his machine stands out from others in Comp.

Difference No. 1 is the engine – a Chevy V-6. Difference No. 2 – a five-speed transmission. Put the two together in a 2008 McKinney chassis, and Browell’s 1,340-pound machine is the only D/D in NHRA racing. A few other Comp dragster racers run V-6s, but with automatics.

Browell, 55, a Lafayette, Indiana resident since 1987, likes the exclusivity. “The V-6 is unique, and we like to do something that’s a little different,” he said. “I run a clutch car because I’m old school and hard core, so to me a racecar needs to have a clutch.”

INTERVIEW: TALKING WITH TONY THORNTON

08_03_2011_thorntonOn July 1, Tony Thornton, CEO of the Australian National Drag Racing Association [ANDRA], announced his retirement from the country's leading sanctioning body.

A former national record holder and Divisional Director in South Australia, Thornton ascended into the leadership role in 1988. Many credit Thornton's leadership style for a revival of the sport, which at the time, had fallen on hard times.

Thornton, 23 years later, leaves the executive world of drag racing world just as the sport Down Under faces more than its share of issues presently.

CompetitionPlus.com recently discussed with Thornton his time as the leader, his feelings of the sport's controversy and life after retirement.

LOVE OF OLDSMOBILE IS THE BOND FOR BURESKIS

Bill and Judi Bureski are on a mission: They want to win an NHRA national event in Stock Eliminator for the first time, just as their son Daryl did May 22 at 07_22_2011_bureskithe Summer Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka.

Daryl, 46, who lives in Elgin, Ill., and works for United Airlines at O’Hare International Airport, drove to victory Bill and Judi’s unique 1970 Oldsmobile 442 convertible, an Indianapolis 500 Pace Car model that actually was on the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Daryl’s win improved upon on his two runner-ups in 2001 and 2009 at other NHRA events. He also scored an IHRA national-event win in 2002.

ANTRONS FACES HIS STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES

07_22_2011_antronTwo seasons ago Antron Brown experienced what could be described as one of his highest of highs as a drag racer.

The former Pro Stock Bike rider drove his way to a clean sweep of the NHRA’s famed Western Swing in just his second season as a driver.

On February 21, 2010, the usually upbeat Brown experienced his lowest of lows.

Brown’s dragster lost a tire and crashed into the wall during the NHRA Full Throttle Series event in Phoenix, Ariz. He was uninjured but the errant tire hurtled through the pits and fatally injured a first-time drag race attendee.

“The accident part didn’t hurt me,” Brown said. “I understand that we put on a show for entertainment, we’re out there racing, and we always have our mindset focused on winning. Never once do you think about endangering somebody’s life in the stands.”

Brown has talked little in the media about the days following the accident -- days, he believes, were the darkest he’s faced in his life.

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