By Danny White
Michael Beach photos courtesy of Curt Swartz
The Midwest has always been a hotbed of great funny cars. Here is a menagerie of ten Midwestern floppers that raced in the mid-80s, from low buckers to well-financed teams. — Updated Feb 4, 2006
This is an extremely rare shot of a seldom run funny car from the mid-80s. John Bundy previously had raced his own Omni funny car. He had also run the Omni in 1982 with Gary Shaver. The pair ran the car under Shaver’s well-known ‘Golddigger’ name. This allowed Bundy to get more match race bookings in which he did very well in the Midwest. In 1984, John built a new funny car with a new partner named Forbes. The car featured a state-of-the-art Odyssey Camaro body by Chris Christopherson. Bundy raced this car very little over the next two years. He ran 6.25 at 221.65 with the Bundy & Forbes Camaro before retiring. (Info from Draglist.com files; Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz)
In the 1970s, the ‘Tyrant’ funny cars of Dale Creasy were some of the toughest floppers in the nation. In the 1980s, it was a different story for Creasy. The ‘Tyrant Cobra’ Mustang II was now aging and its parts were better suited for the 1970s. Creasy also cut back on his match race schedule. Gary Bolger began driving for Creasy in the late-seventies. Bolger had raced both dragsters and funny cars; the best known was the ‘Golddigger’ Mustang. Creasy’s ‘Tyrant Cobra” raced infrequently in the 1980s. The car was finally retired after the 1988 season after racing for 12 years. Bolger ran best times in the mid-sixes. (Info from Draglist.com files; Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz)
This Trans Am funny car represented Della Woods’ return to racing. Della had raced match bashers and space framed funny cars into the early seventies with her brother Bernie. Della and her husband bought the final ‘Fighting Irish’ AA/FC from Dick Rosberg and his partners Novak and McDaniel. Woods earned her license again in this car and got used to driving a fuel funny car. It was the only non-Mopar funny car of Della’s career. This car was replaced in 1982 with a new Dodge Charger (Omni) funny car. (Info from Draglist.com files; Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz)
In 1984, Scott Kalitta made the decision to race funny cars. Scott had raced A/FD and Top Fuel since 1979. Kalitta started 1984 in the Top Fueler, running as quick as 5.54 at a Green Valley match race. The funny car was built to race IHRA events after they axed the Top Fuel class. Kalitta’s involvement in business began to slow down his drag racing career. The Ford Mustang was raced infrequently over the next couple of years. Kalitta had some bad luck with the Mustang, including destroying the body in a severe blower explosion. Scott did run 5.94 at 241.28 in the ‘Stang. Kalitta’s good fortune returned in 1987 when he started to race more frequently in an Oldsmobile bodied machine. (Info from Draglist.com files; Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz)
In the seventies, Larry Coogle ran the ‘Freedom Machine’ series of funny cars, mainly in the Midwest. As 1980 came around, Larry changed the team name to the ‘Sting.’ Coogle began to race nationally as his racing fuel business picked up. In 1982, Larry hired privateer John Pott to drive the ‘Sting’ Omni. Pott had raced the ‘King’s Ransom’ Monza to great match race success before signing on as a hired driver. The pair was quite successful during their couple of years together. Pott ran a best of 5.98 at 245.90, making the ‘Sting’ Omni one of the first five-second funny cars. (Info from Draglist.com files; Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz)
Al Bergler is arguably the best-known tin man in funny car history. Bergler did the tin on countless funny cars and other race cars out of his Michigan shop. Al raced out of that same shop. Bergler raced Modified Roadsters, Top Gas dragsters, and finally, funny cars. Bergler began racing his series of ‘Motown Shakers’ in the early 70s. This Pontiac Trans Am was his final funny car. It was built in 1983 and was like most funny cars of the day. The car had the latest G&K Fiberglass body, a ½” stroker Keith Black Hemi, and a 2-speed transmission. Bergler was a mainstay on the match race circuit, but in the early 1980s, match race dates were drying up quickly. Al decided to retire during the 1982 season. Bergler ran a best of 6.22 at 233.76 in the Pontiac Trans Am before selling the car to Rune Fjeld of Norway. (Info from Draglist.com files; Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz)
Bob Pickett began his drag racing career in Southern California before moving to Michigan. Bob raced his own series of ‘Mr. Pickett’ funny cars followed by a well-remembered stint in Pete Everett’s ‘Lil’ Demon’ funny car. In 1976, Pickett teamed with Mickey Thompson to run the ‘U.S. Marines’ machine. That year Pickett became well-known nationwide. In 1977, Pickett won the only NHRA event of his career at the Springnationals. Thompson finally retired from drag racing, leaving Pickett to race on his own. By 1982, Pickett was racing the ‘Pro-Tec’ Arrow and was a middle of the pack national event contender. When the ‘Pro-Tec’ funding stopped, so did Pickett’s regular appearances at national events. Bob ran a best of 6.15 at 233.16 with the car. (Info from Draglist.com files; Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Schwartz)
Bob Gottschalk, the 1982 NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car champion, made the leap into nitro funny cars in 1983. The transition from a blown alcohol Donovan to a blown nitro Keith Black was not a smooth one for Gottschalk. Bob raced AA/FC from 1983 to 1986 without much success. The end of the road for this Camaro came in 1985 as Gottschalk experienced one of the worse fires ever seen. The fire started on the big end at Gainesville and off into the woods Bob went. The blaze burned 50 acres of Florida pines before it was over.
Another fire at Ennis 1986 proved to be the end of Gottschalk’s nitro career. Bob ran a best of 6.08 at 234.87 in the Camaro. He returned to TA/FC in 1987 and immediately went quicker than he ever had in the nitro car. Gottschalk did report that the nitro car pulled harder on the top-end than the alcohol car. Another severe crash in the late 90s ended Bob’s driving career. (Info from Draglist.com files; Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz)
The ‘Chicago Fire’ was one of the great low buck funny cars of all time. Mike Faser had been racing UDRA funny cars since the mid-seventies. He bought the almost new Monza of Dick Bourgeois and began racing the car on alcohol, then put nitro in the car. Faser put a new Bruce Iversen Corvette body on the same chassis and ran 6.53 at 224.77 in the mid-80s. Tom Motry also drove the car. Mike later converted the car into an AA/Fuel Altered with a Fiat body. It has a new front half, but the old Romeo Palamides chassised machine still runs to this day! (Info from Draglist.com files; Michael Beach photo courtesy of Curt Swartz)
After years of racing under-funded Top Fuelers and AA/Funny Cars, Ron Correnti got his chance at a major nitro ride. Bill Dunlap was one of racing’s most free-spirited owners, but he did not race junk. Dunlap began racing the ‘Capt. Crazy’ AA/FC in 1984 after a very successful TA/FC career. Drivers like Gary Southern and Paul Smith drove the machine first, but in mid-85, Bill hired Midwest racer, Ron Correnti, to shoe the car.
In late 85, Dunlap built the first Thunderbird funny car, but good luck was not in the works for the Capt Crazy T-Birds. Correnti had a major fire at Edgewater, Ohio, in late ’85, destroying the first Thunderbird. A new Thunderbird was built but it, too, was destroyed. At the 1986 Winternationals, Correnti was T-boned by Dave Uyehara in the ‘Insanity’ Charger. Ron ran a best of 5.77 at 253.59 in the Thunderbird. Dunlap returned that year with new driver Gary Phillips in a Chevy Cavalier sponsored by FCF Banking.