I need to take a moment here and mention who won the largest 64 Funny Car event in 1979.
The two quickest cars that night were Raymond Beadle in the NAPA Regal Ride Shocks Blue Max and the late Pat Foster at the wheel of the Super Shops Arrow. The Blue Max broke a motor in the last qualifying effort, and crew chief Dale Emery and the team were installing a new bullet for the finals.
Obviously, they were out to win this event at any cost. NAPA Regal Ride Shocks sponsored the event, and Beadle's team was going all-out to get in the winner's circle.
Photo above:Pat Foster showed his usual skills in drag racing in the final against Raymond Beadle.
Crew chief Dale Emery and the team changed the motor in the NAPA Regal Ride Blue Max just before the final round against the Super Shops Arrow.
The racers always looked at 64 Funny Cars as a huge impressive event, and they were willing to do whatever it takes to win it.
Foster did a bit of a surprise for the fans there that night. He made a pass of 6.19 seconds at 234.98 mph, besting Beadle's 6.34 at 226.12 mph. Beadle had won this event many times and was expected to win this one – the one sponsored by the good folks at NAPA – but not so on this night. It was a huge victory for Foster and the Super Shops crew.
Ed McCulloch and Beadle "owned" the 64 Funny Cars event, along with the Seafair events leading up to it. In 1979 a very talented builder and driver, Foster, changed that whole picture. Many tried but Foster was the guy that could win the Big One.
When the NHRA expanded their annual schedule in 1988, which included an event at Seattle International Raceway in August of each year, I had to come up with an answer on what to do with 64 funny cars. Do I just forget about 64 Funny Cars, as it has been replaced on our annual schedule? Or do I come up with a new plan? Tough call.
64 Funny Cars WAS Seattle – what a huge burden of a decision. How could I not do it?
The Seattle weather window with the least rain would mean that if I moved it from early August to late June and I got a shower (or worse) on the event, the whole thing could come crashing in on me. A financial mess would certainly exist, like it did in 1976.
If I put it on that weekend in June where there wasn't an NHRA national event so I could get the front-line cars that we would need, could I make it a three-day event in case one or more of the days received rain? Or is the traditional one-day format a huge reason that it was so popular?
As I agonized and wavered back and forth in a decision to convert 64 Funny Cars to a different format and then move it to a different location on the SIR schedule, there certainly were a lot more pieces to the picture that I needed to analyze.
Another part of the equation that needs to be considered was complicated by the fact that Portland International Raceway could no longer have any major drag races after 1986. That wonderful, park-like, close-in PIR location that allowed for easy access and large crowds also impacted the area with loud noise. After about 15 years or so of pressure from the local neighborhoods, the City of Portland eliminated major drag races that year.
All the smaller bracket races there must have mufflers on all the race cars, and they still do to this day. When the end came for the 32 Funny Cars in Portland it hugely affected the 64-car show in Seattle. Attracting the best cars was getting really hard to do after the major races stopped in Portland that year.
Even local Funny Cars had been drying up as the lesser events were causing the lack of income to offset the ever-rising racing costs. More cars would need to come a long way just to fill the gaps in the field. Of course, longer traveling means more costs for the event, and the risk continues to rise.
With the arrival of the sparkling new NHRA Northwest Nationals in 1988 on the traditional time slot of 64 Funny Cars, I had to get a new location that made sense for a three-day concept of that event.
I felt the three-day approach was worth a try because I didn't want to lose the event that made Seattle its name. I thought there was a chance, maybe small, that I could convert
this traditional one-day into a three-day event, move it on the schedule and have something totally different in Seattle. Most of these major events take quite a bit of time to get established, and the future of such an event was not exactly clear.
Deep-down I feared the NHRA would continue on the path of expansion, which would just push this three-day event out of the picture. As long as it didn't rain for three solid days it would be worth trying to salvage a future for 64 Funny Cars at SIR. I knew I could learn a lot with this very first try – and I sure did!
Back in the 70s and 80s, contracts with racers were few and far between. During the winter, a racer and the promoter would exchange phone calls to lock-in a schedule for the next year. Over-the-phone deals were made, and the racers would show, make the necessary runs, and the promoter would compensate the racer, as per the verbal deal. Pretty simple – or, at least, it would seem so if no complications arise.
In some cases before to the season, the professional racer would make a verbal commitment to a particular event and then would begin gathering points at the NHRA events early in the season. By the time mid-summer rolled around it would become obvious to the racer that continuing to gather NHRA championship points was a smarter move, and so some cancellations would take place. They felt they had a possible shot for the NHRA World Championship, and 64 Funny Cars in Seattle was losing its meaning to them. Why not just skip the event altogether?
Those efforts complicated the promoters' plans to produce a major race with the best cars available. I remember in one instance where a letter from an attorney had to remind the racer that a verbal deal is valid and lawful and that very letter then changed the mind of the pro racer as he was considering to renege on his deal with the track. After analyzing his choices and weighting the risks, this racer decided to compete at 64 Funny Cars as promised. A little leverage was required to protect this huge event in Seattle.
For the three-day event 1988 64 Funny Cars at SIR, we had verbal deals with Beadle and John Force as two of the cars for the "Big Show." In his early years, Force was a match-race guy, often scheduling as many events as possible in each week, no matter where they were.
As I recall, he had booked his Funny Car in Englishtown, N.J., the weekend before our late June event in Seattle. It would be a coast-to-coast tow for Force and his team. Talk about a grueling schedule. I had never heard of anybody doing that long of a tow.
Understand that it was just gut wrenching during that entire week with radio and television ads blaring away about Force coming to Seattle and me knowing that he was coming from that far for our event. I had plenty of sleepless nights that week
I just had to ask myself, "What would happen if their truck blew a motor and they didn't make it to Seattle on time?" I tried not to think about that too much. Can you imagine how much heat we would get if Force didn't make it? I would have had to hide under my desk during the whole event!
Editor's note: "Part 7 – 64 Funny Cars: Moving forward with the new format" will be published in June.