The West Coast, Part 2

Low Buck West Coasters

By Danny White

Photos by Mike Ditty

Division Seven was a traditional hotbed of funny cars. That extended into the 1980s with a load of racers. Many raced on small budgets, and we cover some of these hardcore teams.  –– Updated October 7, 2005

The ‘Instant Nut’ was a low-buck nitro team from Tulare, California. The team consisted of Steve Rohn, Louis Sweet, and two other partners, with Rohn doing the driving. The team with the risque name raced infrequently due to their low budget. The ‘Instant Nut’ team had raced an AA/Altered with a cast-iron Chevy. They then got a ½” stroke Keith Black Hemi, a Monza body, and started running nitro. The team still ran the 23 Ford T body at AA/Fuel Altered races. The Instant Nut ran a best of 6.36 in AA/FC and AA/FA trim, according to files. The team gave up the asphalt for the sand drags by 1985. Louis Sweet returned to the quarter-mile in the 1990s with his own team. (Photo by Mike Ditty; info from files)

The beautiful ‘Wild, Wild West’ Monza might have been a used funny car, but it was a good used car. Arizona racer Jim West had raced AA/FA and AA/FC since the mid-70s. West even toured Australia with one of his Chevy-powered ‘Wild, Wild West’ Vegas. Jim bought this Monza from Larry Van Zandt, who had purchased it from Roland Leong. West repainted the car in this awesome black and silver paint scheme and upgraded to an aluminum Rodeck Chevy. Jim raced the car through 1984, running a best of 6.30 at 234 with the low buck machine. (Photo by Mike Ditty; info from files)

Jim West’s brother, Johnny West, also raced his own funny car. Like his brother, Johnny also raced the fuel altered class before and after he began racing funny cars. West built the ‘Plan A’ 1981 Omni from the ground up. The car featured John’s ‘Plan A’ fuel system to save money. West started the car and did the burnout and dry hops on alcohol. He then turned on the nitro tank when staging the car. Using the ‘Plan A’ system and doing most of his own work, Johnny was able to successfully run the Omni AA/FC on his own wallet. By 1985, West had run a 6.01 at 230. He then accepted Roland Leong’s offer to drive the Hawaiian Punch AA/FC and entered the ranks of the paid flopper shoes. (Photo by Mike Ditty; info from files)

Dennis Creason did not race funny cars for long. In fact, it seems he didn’t race beyond getting his funny car license. The ‘Shake Up’ was built in 1982 with the standard Keith Black Hemi and the popular Plymouth Arrow body. Creason is shown here running at Orange County International Raceway, the traditional place to test new cars and get driver training in the off-season. Creason ran a 6.60 at 208 while getting his license. Dennis soon quit funny car racing for reasons unknown to us, and the ‘Shake Up’ was gone. (Photo by Mike Ditty; info from files)

Gary Thompson was one of several Arizona funny car racers competing during the 1980s. Gary’s Chevy Citation is shown here in its first incarnation as the ‘Prime Rate.’ The candy blue and orange beauty featured a 500 cubic inch Chevrolet for power. The Sands Chevrolet-backed ‘Prime Rate’ had some problems during this first year, breaking more often than making it down the track. Things got better when the team got a Hemi and backing from Checker Auto Parts. Thompson ran 5.90 with the new setup. By 1987, a local pizza chain sponsored the team, and the problems came back. The team retired at the end of 1987. (Photo by Mike Ditty; info from files)

Bill Hoge had one of the best names ever for a funny car. ‘Willie and the Poor Boys’ was taken from the classic Creedence Clearwater Revival song. Hoge and his brothers had raced Junior Fuelers, Pro Compers, and a BB/Funny Car. The team made their entry into AA/FC in the late seventies. Bill earned extra money by doing stunt driving in movies. In fact, the stunt driving for More American Graffiti paid for this Omni and the tow trailer.

The low-budget team seemed to be a day late and a dollar short. The Omni had a Keith Black hemi but cast iron heads and a small 8-71 blower when the big teams switched to cast aluminum and billet heads and 12-71 or 14-71 blowers. The Poor Boys were match race regulars at Orange County because they consistently got down the track. The team ran known best times of 6.30 at 222 mph with the Omni, then stopped funny car racing and put a 23 Ford T body on the chassis for Fuel Altered racing in 1985. (Photo by Mike Ditty; info files)

Siegel & Raines was another short-lived funny car team of 1982. It was said that Guy Siegel could not get the hang of driving funny cars. In stepped Bryan Raines, who had raced a series of funny cars for the past decade. In 1981, Raines had his own team and a tractor-trailer, but his sponsorship ran out at the end of the year. Brian teamed with Siegel to run a few races. Raines drove the car until he began driving the low-buck ‘Impulse’ Mustang in late 1982. (Photo by Mike Ditty; info files)

‘Mighty’ Mike Van Sant had a long history of funny car racing going back to the late sixties. Van Sant raced the ‘Invader,’ Stone, Woods, and Cook, and the Hawaiian funny cars. In 1976, Mike built the best car of his career, a 1976 Chevrolet Monza. In 1981, he laid down his best-ever pass, a 5.97 at the World Finals at OCIR. It was the quickest funny car field to that point in drag racing. In 1982, Van Sant updated the Monza with a new Iversen-built Mustang body that featured a sharp paint job designed by Kenny Youngblood. Mike even put a pair of polished American five-spoke wheels on the front.

Van Sant tried with the new Mustang, but he never could reach the fives again. In protest or as a joke about the swoopy ‘Batmobile’ cars of Kenny Bernstein and Jim Head, Mike painted ‘Buick’ on the side of his Mustang. Ironically, the Invader’s mild wheel bubbles were outlawed in 1988, along with the Batmobile bodies he lampooned. Van Sant ran the ‘Invader’ until the end of 1987, when he retired from racing. (Photo by Mike Ditty; info from files)

Snap-On tool dealers John and Barbara Lindsay have given up many personal luxuries to race funny cars. By 1981, the Lindsays had built their third fuel funny car. The team also ran as a transformer AA/Fuel Altered over the years. This version of the ‘Impulse’ was an Iversen-bodied Mustang on a used chassis with a ½ inch stroke Keith Black Hemi. The car was updated over the years, from cast iron heads and small blowers to aluminum heads and larger blowers. Ed Moore drove the Impulse Mustang to the 1982 AHRA Winter Nationals win on a slippery Tucson track. Moore ran a best of 6.21 at 231 in the car. Bryan Raines took over the wheel of the Mustang by the end of 1982. Raines brought more than just driving talent — he brought much-needed spare parts, too. Bryan ran a best of 6.11 at 233 in the Mustang. (Photo by Mike Ditty; info from files)

Al Arriaga was among the few Hispanic funny racers, holding up the banner until the Pedregon brothers came along. Arriaga was a low buck racer from Arizona, but his ‘Spanish Galleon’ machines always looked and ran great. Al had raced a Pro Stock Camaro before buying the ‘MOB’ AA/FA Fiat. He continued to race the Fiat under the ‘MOB’ name but with different paint jobs. Arriaga also kept the Donovan Hemi that came with the car. Arriaga eventually bought a Pontiac Trans Am body for the chassis and named the car the ‘Spanish Galleon.’

Al sold the Trans Am to the Green Family from Colorado, then bought a former ‘Hawaiian’ Monza and stepped up to a Keith Black Hemi. Legendary Arizona racer Joe Pierce began to tune the car, and Arriaga ran 6.35 at 220 by 1984. Several setbacks sidelined the ‘Spanish Galleon’ Monza, and Al bought the ‘Challenger’ jet dragster in 1985. Arriaga raced the jet through 2001. (Photo by Mike Ditty; info from files)