Always crowd favourites these are short wheelbase, front engine dragsters with GRP or carbon fibre replica bodies. The first ‘Funnies’ appeared in the USA in 1964 with a trio of Dodge 330’s called the ‘Dodge Chargers’. These cars ran exhibition races in the Super/Factory Experimental class. The term ‘Funny Car’ was attributed to Fran Hernandez on seeing the ’65 Dodge hardtops. The cars kept evolving and to me the heyday in Europe was the 70’s & 80’s. Long smokey burnouts and dry hops to the start line. You had the nitromethane or Top Fuel cars and the less powerful methanol burners or Pro Comps. My first memories was seeing Dennis Priddle and Clive Skilton racing at my local track Snetterton in Norfolk, both doing six second 200mph runs in around 1975. Today’s Funny Cars produce about 10,000 horsepower and in the States run the now 1,000ft distance in about 3.8secs and over 330mph!
One man who was a pioneer in UK drag racing was the late Allan Herridge. His first drive in Funny Cars was in Santa Pod’s ‘Gloworm’ Capri. He then piloted the ex Don Schumacher ‘Stardust’. The first ‘Gladiator’ was a Vega bodied car then later the Trans Am seen in these shots. Tragedy struck in November ’83 when ‘Bootsie’ had a fatal accident driving his new jet powered funny ‘Midnight Cowboy’.
The first UK Funny was the ‘Gloworm’ or as it was also called ‘Sneaky Gloworm’ which made it’s debut at Santa Pod in 1970 driven by Roy Phelps. It was a Ford Capri body. Here it’s seen ten years later in it’s new colours with new owner.
Another man in at the start of British drag racing was Nobby Hills. He built many dragsters all with the name ‘Houndog’. Number 10 was this Dodge Challenger version driven as usual by Owen Hayward who liked a good burnout!
As I have mentioned the first FC I saw run was driven by Dennis Priddle. That was in a Hillman Avenger clad car. This is his Monza from the early 80’s. Dennis was a top nitro driver and the first European to run 6secs in his rail.
The second incarnation of ‘Stardust’ had a famous past. It was the ex Mustang ‘Blue Max’ of world champion Raymond Beadle. Run by the Stones family and driven by Dave it sadly got destroyed in a fireball in ’83.
Another very famous ‘ex’ car. Bill Sherratt’s Plymouth Arrows was Don ‘The Snake’ Prudomme’s 5sec ‘Army’ car from the US.
This Mach1 Mustang was a real ‘looker’. The owner still has it in his garage.
An interesting body, part Nissan part Monza, the Pro Comp car of Ronnie Picardo.
The former Nobby Hills ‘Houndog 9’ Chevy Vega bought by Dave Prior in ’79 and driven by Alan Bates now called ‘Warlock’
Peter Crane will always be remembered for being the first drag racer outside of the States to run in the 5 seconds. That was in 1976 in the ‘Stormbringer’ TF Dragster. In 1980 he drove the Santa Pod owned ‘Hustler’ which was the former Vega ‘Gladiator’. The car was however not competitive and Peter only gave it one season.
Seen here in ’83 the Dodge Omni of Tony Boden. Sadly in 1986 Tony lost his life in an horrific crash at Hockenheim Germany.
ENTER the VIKINGS!
Sweden’s ‘Red Baron’ Lee Anders Hasselstrom was very competitive in the nitro class. His Monza bodied flopper was sponsored by the Swedish Air Force and went through several paint schemes. His life was cut short by a racing accident in his homeland, a great loss.
The Scandinavians were hard to beat in the Pro Comp class. Their cars were pretty smart too. Martin Hopp’s Corvette is named after the Norse burning rainbow bridge.
A beautiful Swedish Monza methanol car sponsored by a clothing firm and driven by Anders Lantz.
A Ford Pinto bodied Pro Comp car with Anders Lian at the wheel.
Ragnarok is in Norse myth a future battle with the death of many Gods. A great name for a nitro Mustang!
An unusual and not very aerodynamic looking body. Sweden’s Leif Helander stayed with the marque throughout his long career, starting with methanol (as here) before moving on to nitro.
The Trans Am pictured above was the ex-Keeling & Clayton car from America. Although very competitive Steinar sold this on to Timo Aartomaa and purchased a Corvette the beautifully painted ‘Spirit of Norway’.
A Plymouth Arrows Pro Comp car from Sweden.
Etched in European drag racing history, Kent Persson became the first outside of America to run 4 seconds in 1997. That was in the Top Fuel class for which he is well known and successful in. He did however drive this Toyota bodied Pro Comp car in 1983 owned by Pelle Wikner.
STARS & STRIPES
In the 70’s & 80’s we were lucky enough to have visits from several top American racers. Tom Hoover was a winner of a number of NHRA events. His first visit was in 1980 when he drove the ‘Blue Max’ car of Raymond Beadle. For his next trip across the Atlantic in ’81 he brought his gorgeous ‘Showtime’ Corvette fuel coupe, in my view the nicest looking car of the period. Tom returned on several more occasions.
Three time NHRA Top Fuel Funny Car champion in 1979/80/81 Raymond Beadle was one of the biggest names in drag racing. It was always a thrill to see him at the Pod in the famous ‘Blue Max’ cars and he came so close to running a 5 in 1979 with a 6.00!
The first Funny Car driver over 200mph (1969) Gene Snow was another big name to grace the Santa Pod 1/4 mile. The race against the ‘Blue Max’ in 79 which he won on a holeshot 6.04 to 6.00 was the fastest side by side FC race in the world at the time.
Teaming up with Swedish racer Knut Soderqvist after meeting in New Jersey, Harlan had instant success when they brought the ‘Tre Kronor’ Arrows to Europe. The partnership produced many wins over the years in various cars.
BACK to the FUTURE
As we moved towards the present day the bodies of the Funny Cars kept evolving. To keep pace with the massive amounts of power and huge top speeds they have become very aerodynamic. It’s true they no longer truly resemble models of road going cars but are as always, to me, a thrill to watch.
For those who long for that ‘Golden Period’ I have shown in my photos do not despair. Today one of the fastest growing classes is ‘Nostalgia Nitro’. These are beautiful reminders of those times. Long burnouts and dry hops, times and speeds from era but with the benefit of all the modern safety devices. Great cars raced in anger, here are some images of them, taken now with the magic that is digital photography how I wish I had a dslr back in the 70’s!
And a couple of classic classics.