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The action was red hot at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, near Phoenix, AZ when the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) showed up on Friday February 21 through Sunday, February 23, 2020. The Wild Horse Pass Motorsport Park is south of Phoenix and a short hop down the freeway from the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Technically it is on the Gila River Indian Community. Despite rain on Saturday, it did not dampen the spirits of racers or fans and NHRA squeezed in a round of pro qualifications for the Arizona Nationals between the rain storms.
Rain Shortened Qualification
So with two rounds of qualifications on Friday to lead the race ladder, the full field was set for a sold out crew of race fans on Sunday. By now you probably know that Erica Enders, Tommy Johnson Junior and Steve Torrance won in the pro ranks. Plus there were plenty of winners in the sportsmen classes as well.
One of my favorite times at a drag strip is when the skies get dark and the exhaust flames shooting out from the headers are more visible. While the Arizona Nationals are generally run in the day light, the lighting gets dark enough to see some flames. We always enjoy hanging around taking some shots as sunset approaches and checking out the flames. Hope you do too!
Plus of course if you are a race track promoter you have to have jet cars! At the end of the day’s races, what better way to close out the night but to have not just one or two jet cars but THREE jet cars zoom down the track? The heat these engines throw off is actually felt in the stands as the jet cars belch white smoke and streak down the track.
The races ran smoothly and how many racetracks can claim a sold out show? So NHRA must be doing something right, huh.
It is funny how something as trivial as a hero card display can become a functional expression of the craftsmen involved. Hero cards are those 8X11 color shots of drivers, or their cars, passed out at NASCAR races, drag racing pits and at fan appreciation events. Even if you don’t get them autographed, it allows a connection between the fan and the racing team.
At the recent SEMA Show in Las Vegas, lots of hero cards were signed by celebrities including Brittany and Ashley Force.
NASCAR Hero Cards
At the latest NASCAR race at ISM Raceway in Avondale, (Phoenix area) Arizona all the race teams from each of the three series, Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, had hero cards ready to be handed out. But how these hero cards were displayed shows the ingenuity of some teams.
Some were rather bland and basic. A weighted box to hold the hero cards. Ho hum….
Martin Truex’s display had the foresight for a clear cover to avoid rains or strong winds.
Paul Menard’s display utilized a Menard storefront to help pass out the hero cards.
The folk’s from Procore and Kasey Kahne, used a fuel can as their prop.
Winning Hero Card Display at NASCAR’s ISM Raceway
But Jimmie Johnson showed he hit the nail on the head with this design. See how it contrasts with his race mate, Alex Bowman?
Funny how a little time and ingenuity can make you stand out in a crowd. Just like in life, right?
It was hard to miss this car hauler and Chevy at the SEMA Show. It was sitting out front, naturally, and drew a good collection of onlookers. Between the gold paint job and some obvious patina, this combo was a natural magnet for car aficionados.
55 Chevy Drag Racer
The 55 Chevy is in drag race trim, sporting a front straight axle and a 327 with a Borg Warner four speed with 5.56 gears. Turns out it was bought by the driver, Van Heck, when he was fifteen in 1963. In 1967 it was set up for drag racing with a chrome straight axle.
The interior sports white metallic diamond pleats. Hilborn injection was used for more power and classic Hooker headers were also used. That’s a fiberglass front end to help cut the weight on the shoebox Chevy. The pictures show the extensive amount of chroming that Heck used on this racer’s rear end suspension parts.
The car raced intermittently until one fateful day in 1976. After breaking the drive shaft and done for the day, and loaded up the car on the hauler. On the way home, the hauler was involved in a crash wrecking the front end but still able to make it home. After that night the car and truck were put into storage.
Heck died in 2006 and his estate sold the hauler and racer to a gentleman Larry Frees who has gone to great lengths to restore this combination to its glory days. It’s nice to see someone recognize the historical relevance of an “average Joe “Saturday night racer and spend the effort and time to make it right. The parts and workmanship are period correct and Frees even went to the length of having the lettering done by the same gentleman who originally did it.
More background on this restoration can be found on Frees’ site.
COURTNEY FORCE WON HISTORIC 100TH FEMALE PRO NHRA VICTORY!
Courtney Force, a member of her father’s John Force Racing dynasty, not only won the Funny Car champion trophy at Topeka, Kansas on Sunday May 25, 2014; she also was able to claim the 100th professional victory by a woman in NHRA (National Hot Rod Association).
Officials at NHRA were really promoting this special event over the last few racing events and it was just a matter of time before some lady claimed it. There usually are two female funny car racers at the drag strip; Courtney Force joined by Alexis DeJoria, along with Erica Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock and Brittany Force in Top Fuel. Of course no other motor sport comes close in diversity in regards to women being accepted as drivers and winning.
It was Courtney Force’s second attempt to earn this trophy. Last week Courtney Force lost to her brother-in-law and teammate Robert Hight. This week she defeated in the final round Cruz Pedregon, who ironically used to drive for John Force, and whom she has never beaten in a final round before.
Courtney Force is in her third year as a professional Funny Car driver. This week she was the fastest qualifier in the funny cars. Not only does she follow in her father’s footsteps, but her older sister Ashley Force Hood also raced funny cars in the NHRA. And younger sister, Brittany Force, is now pursuing a career driving a Top Fuel dragster.
John Force Racing
John Force Racing is snapping up wins and points this year, despite knowing that in 2015 John Force loses his Ford sponsorship funding and Castrol Oil is backing out then as well. But John Force is determined to keep his team going forward and winning races in future seasons.
Fourteen women won victories in the NHRA pro ranks, most notable being Shirley “ChaCha” Muldowney who earned the first win in 1976. Ashley Force, Courtney Force’s sister, also contributed to the win category.
Not to be overlooked was Brittany Force, Courtney Force’s younger sister, who took the fastest qualifier spot in Top Fuel. So racing history was also made with two sisters taking the top qualification spots in two professional drag racing categories.
The COPO Camaro is what legends are made of. And if you watch Fast N’ Loud, the Gas Monkey franchise on Discovery, you’ll learn more about them soon. They recently sold a Gas Monkey decaled COPO Camaro in Reno, through Barrett-Jackson Auctions. And are doing some more by way of Chevy’s “Build Your Own” program.
Back in the 60’s, slick dealers could order cars made by Chevrolet in unique configurations using a Central Office Production Order (COPO). A dealer, Fred Gibb in Illinois, thought making a 69 Camaro with an aluminum 427 ZL1 power plant making 425 horsepower was a great idea. So ultimately he ordered 69 of these fabled cars, with Chevrolet requiring a minimum of fifty to make a COPO. With a price tag of over $7,200 (twice what a stocker cost), Gibb could only sell thirteen at his dealership and he sent the others out through a network of dealers.
These cars were intended for racing on the strip and they are rather rare and pricey. I first saw one owned by Reggie Jackson back in the 90’s. One sold at Barrett-Jackson in 2012 for $451,000
In 2012 the COPO name and concept was revived by Chevrolet at the SEMA show and was introduced with a white paint job. Only 69 ( a recurring number you see) were produced. It sold starting at $89,000 and was strictly for the NHRA’s strips with no VIN being issued and lacking a bunch of NHTSA mandated stuff. You had a choice of three engines; a 427 V8 or a 327 V8 with a either a 2.9L supercharger or a 4.0L supercharger
In 2013 it again premiered in SEMA, this time in a unique convertible (which most tracks wouldn’t allow)! It started at $86,000 and offered again three engine options. a 352 horsepower V8, a 375 Horsepower 6.5L V8 or a massive 7L V8 making again the 425 horsepower. Plus along with the racer’s standard Powerglide it came in a 4 speed manual. The convertible was later sold at auction with only one other convertible made in 2013.
Yet again for 2014, Chevrolet trotted out their COPO at SEMA in a light blue color. This year, lucky winners can choose from a 427 V8, a 350 V8 with a 2.9L supercharger, or mere V8’s with either a 350 or 396 cubic inch displacement. For 2014 a solid rear axle appears in place of the independent rear end.
Build Your Own
Each year only 69 COPO’s are offered by way of a lottery system. But that is not the only way to get a COPO. Chevrolet has offered a “Build Your Own” program were you can open a parts book and build up from a rolling chassis. Again these are designed for the strip and lack a VIN and are definitely not “street legal”. For 2013 they were offered at a starting price of $55,000.
That’s essentially what Gas Monkey Garage did. They got their hands on twenty of these babies and offered them for $89,000 minus a engine and transmission. So far they have sold 14, with one more set to be auctioned in January at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale AZ. Keep an eye out for more information about the COPO on their show soon. In the mean time, enjoy some views of the recent editions of the COPO Camaro
Gasser’s are easily spotted from a mile away.Â The body’s are lifted up with a straight axle highly visible in the front.Â In the early 60’s that is what everybody brought to the local drag strips.Â Back then you didn’t care about pro-touring handling, you just wanted something to go lickity split for a quarter of a mile.
Hot Rod Magazine
The latest issue of Hot Rod magazine (December, 2013) has an article on a 58 Ford Gasser that the folks at Galpin Ford did for a sales manager, Steve Carpenter.Â The article is a nice write-up on a nice car.
The 331 cubic inch Ford engine produces 500 horsepower and matches up to a Borg Warner 4 speed, using a Hurst 4 speed.Â Â Â A Currie 9 inch rear end with a 4.11 posi helps hold everything together.Â Â Lots of chrome, which probably wasn’t in use as much back at the old airstrip dragways, is evident.Â That’s a nice gold pearl paint job with real gold and silver leaf lettering.
We first saw it at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in January 2013 in Scottsdale, Arizona and thought we could share some extra views of this gasser for our readers.
Galpin Ford has a solid reputation for doing cars right, and just previewed a supercar at Pebble Beach.Â Here’s hoping that both cars will be at their booth in Las Vegas next month at the SEMA Show.
Finally got the chance to see â€œSnake and Mongoo$eâ€ movie this weekend.Â If you love drag racing and appreciate the history and our past this will be a great movie to see.Â Unfortunately it is only at limited locations for now, so youâ€™ll have to check the website for any local theaters in your area showing this film.Â The producers actually have keyed in on sites that host NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) races, figuring they would have a built-in audience at those locations.
I saw a clip of this film while at the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association) show last year in Las Vegas, Nevada and it already looked interesting then.Â If you follow NHRA coverage, they have pushed it heavily since this yearâ€™s Nationalâ€™s.Â John Force Racing even had his cars decaled with the movie for the Nationalâ€™s to help promote it.Â Here are links to our previous coverage, and an interview with the writer and co-executive producer Alan Paradise.
Snake and Mongoo$e
I absolutely, thoroughly enjoyed the film.Â It tells the beginning of Don â€œthe Snakeâ€ Prudhomme and Tom â€œthe Mongooseâ€ McEwen when drag racing was something done on the weekends and you had a day job Monday-Friday.Â Prudhomme was a car painter/body man at his dadâ€™s shop and McEwen worked for Douglas Aircraft.
The story tells how McEwen and Prudhomme ended up being sponsored by Hot Wheels.Â This was the first non-automotive sponsorship in motor racing and led the way for corporate America sponsoring motor racing.Â Hot Wheels sponsored them for $100,000.Â That wouldnâ€™t buy much in todayâ€™s competitive races!Â Hot Wheels and Mattel always has had close relationships with Detroit and the car manufacturers.Â In fact at the GM display at SEMA last year, a substantial part of the floor space was a mockup of the orange tracks used by the Hot Wheels.Â And Chevy even offered a limited production Hot Wheels Camaro available to the public.
The film does a good job blending archival film in with the new stuff.Â Had to laugh seeing a much younger Keith Jackson doing a spot for Wide World of Sports.Â Remember when you had to wait weeks to see a short taped episode of your favorite sporting event (interspersed with cliff diving from Acapulco)?Â A lot of the current action looks like it was shot at Famoso Raceway.
Plenty of actual drag cars are in the background.Â Plus even the houses in the scenes have that period authentic look that only Hollywood can achieve.Â The race sequences are real archival footage to help add that authentic, realistic touch.
As with any historical film, you already know the ending.Â But people still went to see â€œLincolnâ€ right?Â The film starts with a spot from the 1978 Nationals and then sweeps back to the beginning of the Snake and Mongoo$e story.Â I sense this was a labor of love for the filmmakers and hope it is a money maker for them.Â The only drawback I can see is that if you arenâ€™t into drag racing, the storyline might not be as compelling.Â Hearing Prudhomme talk about crewing for Tommy Ivo and driving for Roland DeLong, might not be as relevant if you donâ€™t know the backgrounds of these characters.Â Donâ€™t want to spoil the ending for those of you who might not know the story, but there are a few emotional spots towards the end and a few good life lessons to ponder.
When I see the Nike swoosh on NFL practice uniforms, listen to football broadcast from ATT Dallas Stadium and see ads on the NBA basketball court, it is amazing to realize this all might have stemmed from Hot Wheels first successfully sponsoring the Snake and Mongoo$e.
Cars and Haulers selling at Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, AZ January, 2014
The actual restored drag cars and the matching iconic haulers will be sold by Don Prudhomme by Barrett-Jackson at the Scottsdale, Arizona auction in January 2014.Â They are scheduled to be present for the Las Vegas auction this weekend so you are apt to see a glimpse of them on the television coverage this weekend.
Some pictures/artwork courtesy of â€œSnake and Mongoo$e â€“ the Movieâ€
Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman team up in Dallas, Texas to form Gas Monkey Garage.Â Their “Fast N’ Loud” TV show is a hit on the Discovery Channel, where Richard buys a relic; Aaron and his crew update the ride and then â€œflipâ€ the car to a new buyer that keeps Richard in beer money.Â The show gets great ratings, has a loyal following and has a familiar format.Â Grab a car, make a ridiculously short deadline and stand back to watch the resulting havoc.
Barrett-Jackson Reno, Nevada
At the January 2012 Barrett-Jackson car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona one of their creations, a 1931 Ford, was auctioned off for $12,870 by one of those buyers.Â So I guess that seller flipped a flipped car?Â And at a loss, since the buyer on TV bought it for $21,000.
Gas Monkey Garage decided on a different plan for the just concluded Barrett Jackson auction held at Reno, Nevada last month.Â They took a brand new 2013 Chevrolet COPO Camaro added some decals and auctioned it off for $137,500 (We always list the selling price of an auctioned item with all related buyerâ€™s commissions.)Â Not bad for a car that isn’t street legal.
COPO stands for Central Office Production Order and was used by Chevrolet to offer limited runs of unique setups of their cars to selected special dealerships and those â€œin the knowâ€.Â The most legendary COPO was the 1969 Camaro made for Fred Gibbs, with 69 cars sporting an aluminum ZL1 monster motor.Â In muscle car collections; this is the mother lode.Â In 2012, Chevrolet resurrected the COPO Camaro but with a severely limited run of only Â 69 cars.Â These COPOâ€™s are not street legal, lacking most of the NHTSA safety requirements, and are strictly designed for the drag strip.Â They are lean and mean.
At the 2012 SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturerâ€™s Association) show, the GM folks showed off their only COPO convertible, painted in Inferno Orange.Â Of course having a drag car racer, without a hard top, might make it hard to pass a tech inspection but it looked great; once you cleared off the slobber marks!
2013 Gas Monkey COPO
Well Chevrolet said letâ€™s do it again, and made a limited run of 69 COPO Camaroâ€™s for 2013 and Richard Rawlings got his hands on one and added a few extra touches and decals before auctioning it off in Reno.Â This COPO might be featured in an upcoming episode of their television show and Iâ€™m guessing Richard Rollins took advantage of the engine build option and went back to Michigan to be part of building â€œhands onâ€ the LS7 427 cubic inch engine for the 41st Camaro.
The Camaro was fitted with a NHRA chorme-moly cage and a solid rear axle and looked mean and lean.
If you are an avid drag race fan or into the historical vintage racing stuff, you’ll enjoy watching the upcoming movie, Snake and Mongoo$e. It will be coming to theaters in limited release after the NHRA’s US Nationals being held this Labor Day Weekend. In a clever marketing ploy, it is first being released in markets where the NHRA hosts drag racing. It even had some special preview showings during Hot August Nights and the Woodward Cruise, according to screenwriter and co-producer Alan Paradise. We had first covered this movie this month.
Drag Racing with Mattel’s Hot Wheel Sponsorship
Some of you may recall when Don “the Snake” Prudhome and Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen barnstormed the country with their drag racing grudge matches. Their profiles blossomed when Mattel’s Hot Wheels sponsored the racers, crafting a set of drag racing themed models. This is generally regarded as the first non-automotive related sponsorship of an automobile racing event. Guess you can trace the naming of stadiums, sponsorship of pro team press conferences and ads at courtside of basketball games, all to Mattel and this duo.
The movie offers a trip back to 1970 when these two raced their cars; Prudhome drove a yellow Plymouth ‘Cuda while McEwen piloted the red Dodge Duster. They used color matching car haulers that kept the cars exposed and visible as they crisscrossed the highways. Now these restored race cars are again barnstorming the country to promote the movie before they are scheduled to be sold in January, 2014 at the Barrett-Jackson Car Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Alan Paradise – Screen writer of Snake and Mongoo$e
We had the chance for an interview with the screenwriter Alan Paradise recently, who offered some behind the scenes insights to this movie. Turns out that Paradise is a prolific writer and has authored a variety of car themed books and worked on numerous car magazines over the years. You’ve probably read his words while working for Buckaroo Publications, Truckin’ and Sport Compact Car. As a filmmaker, he developed over 100 video profiles of NASCAR racers and tracks.
The inspiration for the movie
Paradise was first approached by Mattel in 2005 seeking his help in producing a documentary on the then 35th anniversary of the drag racing partnership. The documentary “Once Upon A Wheel” was the result and was used initially for Mattel functions and eventually Tom McEwen acquired the rights to the film and even still sells it today.
While collaborating on the documentary, McEwen suggested that Paradise could make the story of Snake and Mongoose into a book. That started Paradise off on a trek involving hundreds of hours of research and interviews with some of drag racing’s legends including John Force, Tommy Ivo and Roland DeLong.
The more Paradise worked on the project, the more he was convinced that the story needed to be told on the big screen as a movie; and encouraged by his wife, that was the route he pursued. He linked up with Stephen Nemeth of Rhino Films and he started working on a script. It took Paradise seven months to write his first draft and then another 3 months for a re-write, plus another 2 months on final tweaks and changes.
Paradise submitted his script to the Hollywood powers late on a Friday, thinking that he could relax over the weekend before hearing back from the producers at the earliest on Monday. Instead on Sunday, he was in deep discussions with the movie folks who had loved the script and read it right away.
As they sought out financial backing for the film, some distributors were concerned that the story would not have much attraction in the foreign markets. This seems ironic since drag racing is truly an international sport with strong interest across the globe. So the movie folks opted to go the independent route.
During the movie making process, the producers had access to some archival footage from NHRA and were even offered scenes from private collectors. Several vintage racers can also be seen in the movie including the Greer Black Prudhome dragster. The movie was able to use numerous scenes after colorizing and cleaning up these films. So when you see races, you know they are the real deal.
Drag racing scenes
And for the real deal during the race scenes, obviously the movie actors couldn’t be behind the wheel. Taking the place of Richard Blake who portrayed Tom McEwen was Trevor Larkin, the son of famed drag racer Tommy Larkin. And guess who drove for Don Prudhome’s character?Â Yep, Don Prudhome piloted the drag car himself instead of actor Jesse Williams.
The actual filming of this epic took seven weeks and then came months of post-production work. A short snippet was shown at the 2012 SEMA show in Las Vegas and it looked terrific. Can’t wait to finally see the full length feature. Once you see it, leave us a note.
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