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“High Gas at Indy,” 50 years in the past

“High Gas at Indy,” 50 years in the past

In my first Christmas at Nationwide Dragster in 1982, again when the annual NHRA vacation celebration included a section the place gag presents got in a “Secret Santa” method, former ND Editor George Phillips mocked up an album cowl for NHRA icon Bernie Partridge, poking good-natured enjoyable at a few of Partridge’s occasional asserting malapropisms, errors, and musings with track titles like “Examine That Factor, Child” (from Partridge’s method of correcting an error — “Examine that. That was Don Garlits, not Don Prudhomme.”). It was very intelligent, and Partridge beloved it, and I bear in mind George getting a form notice that following day from (I imagine) Bernie’s spouse, P.J., telling George that his present was “High Gas at Indy,” or, in different phrases, the best factor that day.

In our drag racing world, that’s the best of compliments. I imply, what may very well be greater than NHRA’s most acknowledged class at its largest and most prestigious occasion? I’ve at all times remembered that reward, even when I’ve seldom used it, all of which bought me, on the eve of this 12 months’s Large Go, to occupied with (what else?) High Gas at Indy. In fact, we don’t know who will win this 12 months, so I assumed I’d return a good 50 years for a photograph present and inform from the 1972 U.S. Nationals.

The large takeaway everybody remembers from the 1972 Indy occasion — no matter class — was Gary Beck’s High Gas win. The previous gasoline dragster driver had taken over the motive force’s seat of the Canadian-based McLean, Beck & Lawrence dragster from accomplice Ken McLean just some weeks earlier than the Nationals and received in his nationwide occasion debut. 

Now, profitable High Gas at Indy in your debut is one factor, however what bought Beck the true headlines was when he was proclaimed as the primary Canadian driver to win a Professional class at an NHRA occasion. Solely downside is, he wasn’t a Canadian, although he definitely didn’t assist put that rumor to mattress when he proudly held up the Maple Leaf flag within the winner’s circle and for years later by no means disputed the story.

Reality is, Beck was born and raised in North Seattle, the place he attended Lincoln Excessive Faculty (Class of 1959) with fellow future Northwest nitro nice R. Gaines Markley and collectively joined the Seattle Emperors automobile membership. He moved to Canada in 1969 when he married spouse Penny (who was Canadian) and was employed as the motive force for an Edmonton-based crew, so everybody figured he was Canadian, eh?

“My skilled racing profession began in Canada with a Canadian racing crew, so I can see why individuals assumed I used to be Canadian, however I solely lived in Edmonton for 3 years earlier than we moved to California,” he instructed me in a 2008 interview. “However the half about me being a Canadian was all a hoax. I’ve had that label for a few years and nonetheless do. I can hold telling individuals the reality, nevertheless it by no means ends.”

Sarcastically, one other Canadian — a actual Canadian — simply missed profitable in Humorous Automotive, the place 19-year-old Gordie Bonin was train-lengthed within the closing spherical by Ed McCulloch. Had Bonin received, he would have claimed that little bit of Canadian trivia (as a result of the Humorous Automotive closing ran earlier than the High Gas closing) and, if we do disqualify Beck’s win and all future wins (together with Indy the next 12 months) from being the primary Canadian Professional winner, guess who finally ends up because the trivia reply: Bonin, for his win on the 1977 Gatornationals. Humorous how issues work out …

High Gas at Indy in 1972 was nonetheless a 32-car subject (as it might be via 1980) with the sector starting from Clayton Harris’ polesitting 6.138 to Lou Novelli’s bump-riding 6.738 (six-tenths over 32 vehicles seems like so much). Beck had certified No. 10 at 6.21.

This being 1972, with the front-engine dragster nonetheless a factor (however definitely on its method out), the sector was comprised of twenty-two rear-engined vehicles and 10 slingshots. The very best-ranked front-engined automobile belonged to “Gentleman Hank” Johnson in eleventh with a 6.359 adopted by “the Loner,” Tony Nancy, in sixteenth; the remaining eight have been all certified within the backside half of the sector. 

Of the front-motored crowd, solely Nancy received in spherical one (beating Novelli) to advance to spherical two, the place he was crushed by Herm Petersen (above). 

However Johnson, like 5 of the opposite qualifiers, couldn’t make the first-round name to face No. 27 qualifier Charlie Moulder (above), who additionally couldn’t make the decision, so two alternates have been put in each of their locations to race each other, with No. 8 alternate Paul Longenecker beating Ray Stutz, whose newly accomplished “California Solar” entry apparently was to this point down the listing of alternates that he’s not even listed on the official qualifying sheet.

Harris, the nationwide document holder (6.15) on the time, was No. 1, however the No. 2 qualifier was an enormous shock in 19-year-old SoCal phenom Randy Allison, who ran 6.196, only a tick forward of Ruth’s 6.197 — all three ran faster than Don Garlits’ 6.21 observe document set the 12 months earlier than. (Allison additionally shared High Pace honors with Harris and Chuck Kurzawa at 234.98, set in qualifying.) That’s Randy, left, with brother Gary. After beating Paul Gommi in spherical one, Allison red-lighted to Beck in spherical two.

So, if Allison was Beck’s second profession sufferer, who has the respect of being the primary of 180 drivers that Beck defeated in his 158-race profession? That will be this man, Bob Fritchey of Urbana, In poor health., who absolutely had no clue that that rookie he raced in spherical one would go on to win two world championships (and three Indys). In accordance with stats guru Bob Frey, Beck’s 180 round-wins (180-114) nonetheless rank him twenty fifth amongst all High Gas drivers, although his final aggressive trip was 36 years in the past (1986, his final 12 months with Larry Minor).

Beck’s different stats: 19 wins (eleventh most in High Gas); 35 No. 1 qualifiers (eighth most in High Gas); low e.t. 36 occasions (nonetheless sixth most in High Gas); High Pace 17 occasions (seventeenth most in High Gas). Fairly a profession.

Earlier than we get to the finale, right here’s another enjoyable High Gas images from the occasion:

So, what does it take one bringing to win to attempt to win in High Gas? A spare engine, a bunch of components, a couple of containers of spark plugs, some quarts of motor oil, assorted hand instruments, a tank of compressed air, a field of Mr. Gasket Grip Juice, some gasoline jugs, a starter motor, an open-face helmet and breather masks, and, for that uncommon second of relaxation, a mattress. Is that this the poor man’s pickup mattress model of The Storage Picture?

The aforementioned Paul Gommi — a man who just about has finished all of it within the sizzling rodding world (bear in mind his High Fueler that had two blowers on it?) — chatted with eventual runner-up Jerry Ruth, proper, earlier than eliminations.

Right here’s the Wheeler Vendor, and earlier than you suppose this could be Terry Capp — that different Canadian who really did win High Gas at Indy, in 1980 with Bernie Fedderly because the crew chief of his Wheeler Vendor dragster — suppose once more. That is really Maryland’s Al Friedman driving Tom Chastang’s Wheeler Vendor, tuned by Fred Forkner. They missed the sector.

Three of nitro racing’s all-time greats — from left, Ed McCulloch, Tom McEwen, and Don Prudhomme — huddled round “Snake’s” dragster within the pits. Whereas McCulloch — who had already scored three wins and a runner-up in 5 races to this point within the wild 1972 season — went on to win Humorous Automotive for the second straight 12 months (of 5 complete in Humorous Automotive, plus yet another in High Gas), McEwen and Prudhomme each misplaced in spherical three of High Gas. In accordance with Don Hirsch, “the Mongoose” and “the Snake” have been operating in High Gas in Indy and had their Humorous Automobiles in Tulsa for the PRO occasion, which McEwen received.

McEwen, close to lane, on the wheel of his Don Garlits-built rail, upset No. 1 qualifier Clayton Harris’ New Dimension dragster on a second-round holeshot, 6.30 to six.26, however misplaced oil stress and needed to shut off on the road in opposition to Carl Olson within the quarterfinals.


Prudhomme, in his light-weight “Yellow Feather,” smoked the tires in opposition to Ruth.

Beck made his finest pre-final-round go within the quarterfinals, operating 6.13 to beat Kurzawa and the Bob’s Drag Chutes entry. For those who look intently, you’ll see one thing bizarre behind Beck’s automobile … what’s happening there?

I ran the photograph above a couple of months in the past with out noticing the hubbub behind the rear tires, and not less than a half-dozen readers wrote to ask me what it’s. Was it fluid or one thing dragging behind the automobile (the inset pic that I just lately added positive appears like one thing digging into the observe)? I didn’t have Beck’s contact useful, so I wrote to Beck’s good pal, Henry Walther, to ask what he knew; seems he and Beck have been already on the case.

“We had fairly the dialogue about that thriller fluid or no matter it’s,” he stated. “We had each seen that in your Insider story and had each tried to determine it out on our personal, however with no luck. 

“The automobile had a cast-iron block and heads that have been crammed with water. There was no puke tank because the water drains within the block have been AN traces on either side of the block that have been routed out via the facet panels alongside the engine and capped. That was finished so the water may very well be shortly dumped on the finish of the observe to start out the cooling course of earlier than the following run. It’s unlikely a kind of traces would have come adrift, and even reached behind the automobile if it did. This automobile additionally had a quick-change rear finish in it right now, however there have been no lubrication or vent traces used at the side of it. 

“The opposite widespread guess is that it could be the parachute shroud line contacting the observe floor. The automobile had a single parachute, and it was anchored to the highest of the rear finish, however the thriller path behind the automobile seems to be liquid extra so than possibly smoke from a shroud line dragging on the observe. In order that rationalization can be unlikely. About all we will say at this level is: ‘If somebody has the reply, tell us, too.’ “

As you might bear in mind, I’m an enormous fan of onboard digicam photographs [Exhibit A | Exhibit B], and that is one other Leslie Lovett magnificence, with a digicam strapped to the entrance of Jeb Allen’s Praying Mantis dragster in qualifying, the place he is operating alongside the winged slingshot of Division 5 kingpin Jere Wilson. Allen certified No. 13 at 6.37 however bought bounced in spherical two by Carl Olson. Denver-based Wilson ranked twenty fourth after a 6.65 in qualifying however fell to Herm Petersen in spherical one.

The long-raging battle three-way for Northwest supremacy between Washingtonians Beck, Ruth, and Petersen even carried on in Indy, the place Beck and Petersen met within the semifinals, with Beck prevailing, 6.19 to “the Northwest Terror’s” tire-hazing 6.46.

What a cool shot that is! The opposite half of the semifinals pitted Ruth in opposition to Winternationals champ Carl Olson, with Ruth steaming to a 6.11 to six.46 victory. The mixture of Ruth’s win and Petersen’s loss locked up each the Division 6 and Western Convention championships for Ruth. Olson would go a spherical additional the following 12 months, shedding within the closing spherical to Beck.

The High Gas closing pitted “the King” of the Northwest versus the person who can be king. Ruth, who had been racing in High Gas since roughly 1963, versus the man with the ink nonetheless moist on his nitro license. (Granted, Beck had years of driving expertise in gasoline dragsters. “I used to be a 15-year in a single day success,” Beck instructed me with amusing.)

Ruth appeared to carry all the playing cards, with runs of 6.06 and 6.07 and lots of predicting that he was about to put down the game’s first five-second go within the closing spherical. Previous to the ultimate spherical, the typical of all of Ruth’s runs — together with qualifying — was a staggering 6.13, two-hundredths faster than the incoming 6.15 nationwide document that he had simply reset to six.06, whereas Beck’s finest run was, sarcastically, a 6.13.

But, simply as occurred within the High Gas closing the 12 months earlier than, when underdog Steve Carbone cagily engaged Don Garlits in a starting-line burndown and emerged the winner when “Large Daddy” smoked the tires, Beck and Ruth had a protracted staging battle that left each vehicles “steaming and pouring out torrents of warmth waves,” in line with the Nationwide Dragster report, and when the sunshine turned inexperienced, Beck was lengthy gone to his finest run of the meet, a 6.11, whereas Ruth’s Pay ‘n’ Pak dragster went up in exhausting smoke to an 8.79 loss.

Apparently, the lead paragraph of ND’s protection of the occasion learn, “Gary Beck received High Gas Eliminator on the Nationals. Gary who???” and you’ll’t assist however chuckle that two years later, the 1974 Indy winner, High Gas rookie Marvin Graham, bought the identical therapy (“Marvin Who?”) and nonetheless proudly carries the “Who” nickname practically 50 years later whereas it by no means caught on Beck. Go determine.

As talked about beforehand, Beck went on to win High Gas at Indy subsequent 12 months, changing into the primary U.S. Nationals High Gas winner (that’s proper: the occasion title was formally modified from NHRA Nationals to NHRA U.S. Nationals in 1973) and received it once more a decade later throughout a class-punishing 1983 season to turn into simply the third driver at school historical past to win High Gas at Indy 3 times, behind solely Garlits and Prudhomme. (Since that point, Joe Amato, Larry Dixon, and Tony Schumacher have additionally achieved the feat.)

So, that’s the story of High Gas at Indy, 1972-style. Thanks for taking the trip again with me. I hope this text is “High Gas at Indy” of your day.

Phil Burgess will be reached at [email protected]

Lots of of extra articles like this may be discovered within the DRAGSTER INSIDER COLUMN ARCHIVE

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