The drag racing world lost Gordie Bonin, Friday, Nov. 29, too soon even at the age of 65. The popular Funny Car driver, known to his legion of fans as “240 Gordie” for his numerous excursions into the 240-mph zone in the 1970s, left behind a legacy of great performances and a truly remarkable personality that endeared him to everyone he met.
It could easily be said that all Funny Car drivers are tough — it takes a certain amount of moxie and derring-do to drive a short-wheelbased, high-horsepower car at more than 300 mph — but when I think of tough Funny Car drivers, the list kind of begins and ends with Ed McCulloch. Tough with his fists when need be and tougher still behind the wheel, he amassed a Hall of Fame career, both in the cockpit and in the crew chief’s chair that won’t soon be forgotten.
Although the creation of the first stadium-style dragstrips, Texas Motorplex, with its wraparound, suite-filled tower and grandstands and all-concrete quarter-mile may have (ahem) cemented his place in drag racing history, Billy Meyer has been making history on the track for more than 40 years.
Anyone who knows anything about drag racing today knows the name Don Schumacher as the owner of the biggest Professional racing team in the sport, with three top-quality Top Fuelers and four championship-caliber Funny Cars, and they may have heard a bit on how “the Shoe” himself used to burn a little nitro from behind the wheel, too, but I’ve never seen any kind of detailed pictorial representation of what was, in reality, a pretty short yet hugely successful career behind the wheel, but that’s why you have me each week, right? Right.
This week, I focus on another SoCal hero who has poured his life — and his nitro — into drag racing decade after decade and yet remains active on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour. I’m talking about everyone’s favorite former fireman, Jim Dunn.
As the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns to California for its exciting conclusion at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, I’m going to focus this column on one of the most prolific and long-running car owners to call the state home, a guy who for decades fielded one of the best cars in Top Fuel or Funny Car. Although he based his racing business out of the Golden State, he wasn’t originally from California, and the name on the side of his car proudly proclaimed his heritage. I’m talking, of course, about “the Hawaiian,” Roland Leong.
I remember it vividly. As a young fan, new to the sport in 1971, a boy of just 11, I was young but already a bit streetwise. Are you kidding me? Someone named their Funny Car the L.A. Hooker? Can they do that? Far out! It was the stuff of tittering locker room emotion you would expect from kids who thought a great way to pass the day was to make funny noises with their underarms.
My favorite Blue Max flopper remains the car in which Raymond Beadle first came to fame in 1975, the Mustang II. I have always liked the way the Mustang IIs looked — with its long and low nose — and the beautiful blue paint and gold-leaf lettering on the car made it a standout just standing still, and, of course, it was a real standout when it wasn’t standing still.
The NHRA Mello Yello tour heads to Pennsylvania this weekend, home of some great racers from the past. I previously spotlighted Keystone State nitro heroes like Jim Liberman, Bruce Larson, Lew Arrington, Neil Mahr, and Frank Kramberger earlier this year in my look at some of my favorite East Coast fuelers, so I’ll drill a little deeper into Pennsylvania lore for this week’s batch.