There were always the stories about the high cost of nitro ... or traveling that far is too costly ... or what if it rains? Some of the pros acted like Seattle were somehow located next to south Alaska, so the costs of just getting there were way beyond their means. It seemed like they always needed more money.
Photo above: After traveling across the United States to Seattle John Force broke a drive shaft in the first qualifying run. Two months later, Force won his 100th NHRA Funny Car race at Brainerd, Minn.
Richard Tharp was driving drove the Raymond Beadle Blue Max for the new three-day format.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF RUSS GRIFFITH
Negotiating the deals was always a balance between what we could do and what the racer needed. Often, that was far, far – far apart.
Of course, John Force and the Blue Max were heavily identified in the radio ads as the front-line stars of the three-day event. Force and I did a verbal deal for him to run the new Seattle event. He would be coming from New Jersey, which is just about as far away from Seattle as he could be.
With Force there was always some humor that made things a little easier to deal with. He is Mr. Super Sales, and he hustles every deal that he gets. And I do mean hustle. During the week, he phoned me three or four times from the road and wanted to renegotiate the deal because the truck permits were costing him a fortune as he commuted across the continental USA.
I remember one call from the Kansas area as he was leaving a truck weigh station with his famous mouth going a hundred miles per hour: "Rockstad, I've got to have more money. All these truck permits are killing me!" I told him to just get here and we'd work it out.
The good part (if you call it that) of all the phone calls was I knew he was holding up the bargain and that he would make it. He was getting closer and closer with each phone call.
Understand also, Force always honored his deals. I had complete confidence that he would arrive in Seattle and put on a great show ... he was known for that.
Later that week, the raceway secretary handed me the phone and said, "It's Force, of course," as he had entered Washington State. I took a huge breath of relief as he had more than enough time to pull it all off. I told him we'd talk about his "deal" when he arrived.
When Force did finally arrive at the race track on Friday, he looked like he had walked all the way across the U.S. He was a "whipped puppy," for sure. I got concerned that he might not be able to drive the race car as he looked so exhausted, but somehow he gathered enough strength to get it all together, as he probably had done many, many times before.
In these early days of his career you could see his passion to make it in this sport. He was not going to let anything stop him from competing at a scheduled race. I always felt good about him showing up, but then again, he might not have traveled all the way across the country to make it to Seattle before.
The new format for the three-day 64 Funny Car event didn't require him to run on Friday. He certainly needed at least an evening of sleep, and so he headed out to do that very thing.
Force always knew that if he didn't show up at a "verbal deal event" that it would affect his ability to get match-race type events – the word would get out and the events would dry up. That has been the case with many racers over the years. Your word is only as good as your performance getting to and running at the track. Once that falls apart in those old match-race days, you can just bet that track operators across the country will take a "hands-off" approach to booking in a certain racer.
If you commit to racing at some event you'd better be there. If you break something in your race car and can't finish the commitment, that's a whole different matter. They are race cars and can break. Not showing up is a bad news deal. Not good.
As a promoter, the last thing you want or need is for your No. 1 car to not show up.
That is a dilemma that none of us want to go through.
During his qualifying run on Saturday, Force broke a drive shaft and couldn't make the call when the Funny Cars were supposed to run. (a rare occurrence for him). Later, after all the cars had run, Force did make a run, just to cover the "deal," after making repairs to the drivetrain. Because he didn't run at the scheduled time because of the broken drive shaft, he was at a disadvantage in his "deal" at the end of the event.
As I recall, I did increase his show-up dollars as I could easily understand that having a race car driver drive the full length of the country doesn't make a lot of sense for either party. Driving from coast-to-coast in a few days' time certainly didn't make sense to him, and I could plainly see how worn out he was.
It was obvious to me after this tedious time that I wouldn't continue with 64 Funny Cars again. Attempting to book in all of those cars who have to travel so far could only lead to disaster for them or leave our Seattle event without the quality lineup the event was known for since 1973.
After 16 years of ground pounding excitement, 1988 became the final year of the event that meant so much to so many: 64 FUNNY CARS!
Interesting enough, the event actual did pretty well in this new three-day format. One reason probably was the success of this event over the previous 15 years, which certainly made the event well established. And we did not get any rain at all over the three days.
I'm not sure how well it would have done in the future years, and there is always the potential that the NHRA schedule would have eliminated this event. As with any sanctioning body they move around somewhat and that could have easily put 64 Funny Cars in a worse position.
The NHRA was never very excited about 64 Funny Cars anyway, and they always did their annual scheduling according to what worked best for them.
It was a tough decision to eliminate this huge event with such a fabulous history, but it had to be done.
I just hated to see it go away!