When Funny Cars Had Names
There was a time when a catchy name was as important to a funny car driver as a supercharger and nitro. A car wouldn’t run faster with a memorable name, but it ensured profitable match race bookings. Match races paid the bills, so race teams put a lot of effort crafting unforgettable names.
Of course dragsters and gassers had names, long before the first funny car hit the track. Teams switching to the profitable funny car ranks brought their old names with them. Roland Leong retained the label Hawaiian, made famous with his dragsters, on many successful floppers. Connie Kalitta used the name Bounty Hunter on his rails before adopting the title for his funny car. Stone, Woods and Cook recycled the name from one of their gassers for the Dark Horse 2 funny car. When a crash destroyed that car, they built a near-clone of the original Mustang. Rather than calling the new car Dark Horse 3, they christened it The Ghost of Dark Horse 2.
Race car names were inspired by events, activities and ideas. Roger Lindamood chose the title of a pop-county song to adorn his car. The song soon faded into obscurity, but for more than a decade afterwards, Lindamood’s fans continued to cheer on the car known as Color Me Gone.
The Blue Max was both a movie and a famous World War I German metal. It was also a highly feared funny car campaigned by Raymond Beadle.
Ford’s Mustang inspired numerous horse related names, including the Trojan Horse, Boss Hoss, Stampede and Warhorse.
The most popular funny car driver of all time was Russell James Liberman. He first gained fame as the wheelman for Lew Arlington’s Brutus GTO, but he soon started touring his own car. Although the name on Liberman’s cars was Jungle Jim, his fans and peers granted him Elvis status and always referred to him as Jungle.
As teams started adding superchargers to their cars, a rash of names starting with the term “Super” appeared; Super Cuda, Super Duster, Super Camaro, Super Stang, Super Bug, Super Charger and others.
While “shaker” was originally a slang term for Chevrolet, it was a popular name on all makes of floppers. Al Bergler ran Vega, Mustang and Corvette versions of the Motown Shaker. Likewise, Hubert Platt campaigned his Georgia Shaker as both a Chevy and Ford. Other variations included the Boston Shaker, Bear Town Shaker and Bluegrass Shaker.
Probably the most famous shaker was Seaton’s Shaker, owned by Pete Seaton. When he added a blower, he updated the name to Seaton’s Super Shaker. Driver Terry Hedrick, acquired the car when Seaton retired. He shortened the name to Super Shaker — a combination of two of the most popular flopper names.
Most drivers retained the same name when they built a new car. Once a name was established, racers wanted to retain fan loyalty. One man who bucked this trend was Arnie “the Farmer” Beswick. Although Beswick was known as the Farmer, each of his race cars had an unique name. These names included Tameless Tiger, Star of the Circuit, Super Judge and Boss Bird.
Don Prudhomme, was known as the “Snake.” His most successful funny cars were sponsored by the US Army. While the white floppers weren’t actually named Army, a host of fans paid good money to see that “Army Car” in action.
It would take a good-size book to contain a complete list of funny car names. The stories behind Virginia Twister, Secret Weapon, Yankee Peddler, Warlord, Destroyer and Eastern Raider will have to wait for another time.
So what happened? Why don’t funny cars have names any longer? One reason is that match-racing is no longer viable. Instead of racing several times a week at small, out-of-the-way tracks, today’s touring pros concentrate on the big national events.
Today, there are a multitude of big races, many with full television coverage. Instead of running for appearance money, today’s hero drivers rely on sponsorship to pay their salaries. There is no longer a need for a stimulating car name.
Secondly, those corporate sponsorship deals involve huge sums of cash, and finding a willing sponsor is difficult. Sponsors who pony up big bucks to place their name on a race car don’t want to share the car’s flanks with a nickname. When it comes down to name or a lucrative sponsorship deal, teams always go with the cash.
I guess that’s progress. Still, I’m glad I was active in the era when funny cars were Vicious, Hairy, Candid and 2 Much!