The Northwest

By Danny White

The great tradition of tough funny cars was retained into the eighties in the Northwest. Included in this round are several great names that made Northwest funny car match racing unique and special. — Updated December 17, 2006

Drag racing is full of inventive persons, and Dave Benjamin is one of the best among them. After moving to the Northwest area from New Mexico, Benjamin made parts for fellow drag and unlimited hydroplane racers. Dave not only built this car, but he also built the cylinder heads as well. Benjamin built a set of three-valve heads based on the Donovan block. Dave battled gremlins with this car but eventually got the beautiful Charger to run a best of 6.35. Benjamin raced this 120″ wheelbase chassis for a couple of years, until replacing the boxy Charger with an aerodynamic Corvette. (Photo courtesy of Mike Ditty; info from Draglist files)

One of the Northwest’s best fuel racers for almost two decades was “Gentleman” Hank Johnson. Hank began in top fuelers, then raced both fuelers and funny cars for a while before finally settling in floppers only. The Mr. Auto Supply Parts Stores sponsored Johnson for most of his career, including his last AA/FC, this beautiful Omni. Al Swindahl built the car in 1981. It featured a ½” stroke Keith Black Hemi like most of the other funny car racers of the early eighties. Johnson ran the Omni for two years until the end of 1982, running a best of 6.13 at 233. In 1983, Johnson left the nitro ranks and built a new TA/FC Firebird that he raced until he retired. (Photo courtesy of Walter Huff; info from Draglist files).

“240 Gordie” Bonin was one of the most popular funny car racers from the mid-seventies into the early eighties. Bonin became famous at the wheel of Ron Hodgson’s funny cars. This Trans Am was the last of Hodgson’s funny cars that Bonin drove. Jerry Verhuel tuned the Swindahl built car to best times of 5.985 at 240. It was during this time that the team tried a turbocharged setup. They were unable to tame the new combo, however, and it had to be set aside for a few years. At the end of 1981, Bonin split with the team. Gordie took driving jobs with many other teams over the last two decades as well as a long stint with NHRA. Hodgson teamed with several other top names from the Northwest to drive his cars for the next several years. Luminaries such as Frank Hall, Ed McCulloch, and Henry Harrison drove the Trans Am, as did others. (Photo courtesy of Walter Huff; info from Draglist files)

Jim Moore was the most famous AA/FC racer from Alaska. In fact, the Anchorage service station owner might be the only AA/FC racer from the biggest state in the Union. Moore began racing funny cars in the seventies, housing his machine at Al Swindahl’s chassis shop to cut down on traveling costs. In 1982, Swindahl built Moore this beautiful Charger funny car. The “Kahuna” raced at Western national events until 1985, running best times of 6.10 at 237 before being parked. (Photo courtesy of Mike Ditty; info from Draglist files)

Mike Miller had raced funny cars since the late sixties before this Mustang came along. Mike joined the funny car beer wars of the eighties by getting the famed Northwest brewery Olympia Beer to sponsor the car. The Olympia Brewery had sponsored Don Prudhomme and Herm Peterson in the past. Miller raced the Olympia Beer Mustang from 1980 to 1984, where he was a regular on the West Coast with the beautiful car. Mike had moderate success with the ½” Keith Black Hemi powered car, running best times of 5.92 at 243.24 according to Draglist files. This was Miller’s last ride before retirement. (Photo courtesy of Mike Ditty; info from Draglist files).

Mike Cyr was best known in the Northwest and raced very little outside of Division 6. The “Coast Crane & Equipment” Vega was Cyr’s last funny car. Mike bought the former Green Elephant machine from Jim Green. Cyr got the car to run into the six-second range before retiring at the end of 1980. (Photo courtesy of Mike Ditty; info from Draglist files)

Mardy Maltais owned this beautiful black and silver Corvette and raced with some success. Mardy’s biggest accomplishments came at the wheel of a competitive Pro Stock Vega, in which he was a threat to win throughout the 70s. Maltais got the need for more speed, and so he stepped up to fuel funny cars. The Corvette had the best that money could buy in the early eighties. It went as quick as 6.14, but Maltais did not race the car much, and he sold it by the mid-eighties. (Photo courtesy of Mike Ditty; info from Draglist files)

Nick Harmon had raced a series of funny cars before this Trans Am. “Nitro Nick” raced a Camaro, a Mustang, a Vega, a Monza, an Arrow, and finally, the Trans Am. The Pontiac started life as the Pacemaker/Bubble Up machine of Gordon Jenner. The Trans Am was the best funny car Nick ever raced and was the only one in which Nick claimed a round win at an NHRA national event (the original Fall Nationals held at Seattle). Harmon raced his funny cars west of the Rocky Mountains, mostly concentrating in the Northwest. A good 6.40 was the best Nick Harmon ever ran with the Trans Am, surprisingly on an early shut-off run on which he hit only 199 mph. Nick raced the car only for a couple of years before selling it and switching to jet funny cars, which he raced until retirement. (Photo courtesy of Mike Ditty; info from Draglist files)

Bill Spevacek was the only fuel funny racer ever from the state of Montana. Spevacek began his nitro career in the early seventies and quickly became one of the best racers in the Northwest. Bill raced the very best in the country on the marginal tracks in the Northwest and did well. In 1978, Spevacek built a new Monza, sponsored by the Canadian based UAP Auto Parts. Bill ran a nice 6.24 with the UAP Monza. (Photo by Dana Alderson courtesy of Blair Alderton; info from Draglist files)

Paul Luppy was well-known to Northwest race fans in the seventies. He raced a couple of different funny cars, including this Mustang II, run under the ” Tom and Jerry” banner. Luppy retired from racing for a while only to return in the mid-eighties with the same Mustang II. The “Luppmobile” came out of retirement and was updated and repainted as the Westerlund, Luppy, and Wing machine. Paul and the team were regulars at match races in the Northwest like the Fox Hunt, 64 Funny Cars, etc. The team ran high sixes until the “Luppmobile” met its end at Seattle after a fire. Paul Luppy retired from racing soon after. (Photo by Ralph Reiter; info from Draglist files)