A Totally Unscientific, Purely Personal (of a Select Few Funny Car Fans), Certain to be Disputed, Top Ten Funny Cars of the 1960s
Or… We had to start somewhere!
By Danny White
Russell James Liberman topped our poll as the number one funny car racer of the 1960s. There is not much more that could be said about Jim Liberman, the man. Liberman ranked number 17 on the list of top NHRA drivers, had two NHRA national events victories (one of those as an owner), and an infamous legacy rivaling that of a rock star. Jungle began his funny car career in such cars as the “Hercules,” the “Gypsy” Corvette, and the “Brutus” GTO. Liberman’s stardom skyrocketed when he built the first “Jungle Jim” Chevy II. By 1969, “Jungle Jim’s” long, smoking burnouts (some preceded by a fire burnout), high-speed backups, and long, twisting wheelstands had cemented his place as a popular racer with the fans.
The showmanship had previously been backed up with average finishes, but these stopped in 1969. Jim had two Chevrolet-powered Novas in 1969 with Clare Sanders in the second car. The two started the year off with a bang with Sanders beating Jungle at Pomona for the Winternationals title. Liberman then went on the match race circuit to win countless races, running a best of 7.28, 198.64. By the end of 1969, Jungle had one of the most successful years in history for a Chevy-powered funny car. Liberman knew that the day of the successful Chevy powered engine in AA/FC was limited. By the end of the next year, “Jungle“ had switched to the Hemi. (Photo by Drag Racing Memories; info from www.draglist.com and Dennis Doubleday)
Gene Snow ranks second in our listing of top ‘60s funny car stars for his “Rambunctious” Dodges. Snow went through the ranks of Super Stocks, F/Xs, and flip-top funny cars. Even though Gene won the U.S. Nationals twice in a row in ‘66 and ‘67 with his Dodge, it was his ‘69 Mini-Charger that makes this list. The second Charger, the mini-version, replaced the full-sized one he debuted at the end of ‘68. Snow had been working on the direct drive Crowerglide setup and perfected it with the ‘69 Charger. Snow has never been known to shy away from a new idea. The Mini-Charger ran a best E.T. of 7.13 at 213.27 M.P.H. The car would leave the line behind the automatic transmission funny cars of the day and charge by them on the big end. The car was one of the first funny cars to top the 200 M.P.H. barrier and Snow did it on a regular basis. (Photo from Drag Racing Memories; info from www.draglist.com)
When the Ford Motor Company commissioned Logghe Stamping Company to build four Mercury Comets, drag racing would change forever. The four Comets, raced by Don Nicholson, Ed Schartman, Jack Chrisman, and Kenz & Leslie, were far ahead of the competition in technology. They were even ahead of fellow FoMoCo racers who were racing Holman-Moody Mustangs. The three had everybody else catching up to them in 1966. The best known of these four funny cars was Don Nicholson’s “Eliminator I.” His Comet’s debut was less than graceful when the body came unlatched and flew off. Ford engineers burned the damaged body on the spot.
The car was fixed and the “Eliminator I” went on a tear, breaking into the sevens with a best of 7.89, 178 at Atco in early ‘67. In 1966, Nicholson was able to hold off the heavier stock bodied cars despite using an injected engine. The several hundred-pound weight advantage clearly helped, but having Earl Wade tuning for him did not hurt. By 1967, the competition caught up with a new generation of new flip-top cars. By the end of the decade, Nicholson left funny car racing to help form the Pro Stock class. (Photo from Drag Racing Memories; info from Dennis Doubleday, Bill Duke, and www.draglist.com)
In 1965, funny cars were gaining popularity across the country. A lot of drag racers and fans alike regarded the funny car/FX cars as “circus” acts and not real race cars. The car that changed a lot of peoples’ opinions on funny cars was Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge. When Norm Krause and Gary Dyer brought the ex-Roger Lindamood factory altered wheelbase car to Lions in 1965, the team was not known outside of the Midwest. Dyer then ran 8.63 at Lions, and it went down as one of the great runs in history. The other new funny cars had just broken into the eights. This run and the many victories put Gary Dyer into the number four spot. (Photo from Gary Dyer; info from Gary Dyer, James Ibusuki, and www.draglist.com files)
Danny Ongais ranks number five on our list with the “Mickey Thompson’s Mach-1.” Ongais had gained fame as a top ranked dragster driver. Mickey Thompson was well-known as a racer, track operator, and car owner. In 1969, the pair debuted a new lightweight transition style chassis Mustang. Pat Foster built the blue 427 SOHC powered Mustang as well as a red twin that he drove himself. The team was awesome that year. They won many national events with the car and Ongais ran a reported 6.96, 204.73. The team only lasted two years. Foster crashed in Dallas and Ongais went on to different rides by the end of 1970. The state of the art Mustang was outdated by 1970 due to the new, lighter, dragster style chassis other teams were debuting. (Photo provided by Drag Racing Memories; info from www.draglist.com files and Dennis Doubleday)
Pat Minick landed in the number six spot with the Chi-Town Hustler 1969 Dodge Charger. The ‘69 Charger was legendary for its long smoking burnouts and its tough performance. The team claimed that the car had a 90 percent win-loss record in 1969. Minick did the driving, Austin Coil tuned the engine, and John Farkonas was the behind the scenes engineer. The car was built with an offset roll cage for the driver, one of the last funny cars to be built in that configuration. The ‘Hustler ran a best of 6.96 in 1970 and ran 206 in 1969. As tough as the car was in 1969, it became outdated by 1971 and a new car had to be built. (Photo provided by Drag Racing Memories; info from www.draglist.com)
In the new millennium, Don Schumacher has become the owner of the largest professional team in drag racing with eight cars. But at one time he was a driver himself with the “Stardust” series of AA/Funny Cars that he raced from 1966 to 1974. The car that gets him into the number seven spot is the “Stardust” ‘68 Barracuda. The car featured a late Chrysler engine inside a Logghe Bros. frame. Schumacher bought the car from Butch Leal, who gave up funny cars to go doorslammer racing. This was a departure for Schumacher, who previously raced Romeo Palamides built cars, including a front-hinge flip-top funny car. The Barracuda ran a best of 7.22, 205.50 in 1969. (Photo provided by Mike Ditty; info from www.draglist.com files)
Jack Chrisman ranks number eight on our funny car list. Chrisman got one of four original Logghe built Comets in 1966. Jack took his proven blown 427 SOHC out of the Chrisman Comet to run in the new flip-top car, unlike Nicholson and Schartman, who ran injected Cammers. In 1966, it seemed that the four lightweight Comets dominated the funny car competition like no other cars. Jack Chrisman’s high point in his funny car career was his 7.60, 190.27 run at Indy in 1967. No other car ran in the sevens during qualifying. That run was light years ahead of the competition. Chrisman’s career cooled by the end of the decade. (Photo provided by Mike Ditty; info from www.draglist.com)
As the story has been told before, Gas Ronda began drag racing as a hobby. Ronda’s doctor told him to find something to do in his spare time. I don’t believe drag racing is what the doctor ordered. Ronda made his way through the Super Stock ranks until he got his first funny car in 1966. The Russ Davis Ford Mustang makes our list at number nine. The famed shop of Holman-Moody built the first Russ Davis Ford. That car was replaced by a new West Coast built car in 1967, the one that makes our list.
Gas had a very professional approach to drag racing that made him popular with fans and the press alike. He won many races with the poppy red Mustang, including the ‘67 Manufacturers Race at Orange County. The car ran times of 7.90, 184.04 with an injected engine, despite the stock style body with removable front end and opening doors. By 1969, the car was outdated and was replaced by a newer Mustang. (Photo provided by Mike Ditty; info from www.draglist.com)
“Dandy” Dick Landy lands in our tenth and final spot with the “Landy’s Dodge” ‘66 Dart. Dick made the transition from Super Stock to A/FX to his final fiberglass funny car. Landy did not make the flip-top transition but did switch to the blown nitro combo. “Dandy Dick” was popular with fans because of showmanship backed up with performance. The final “Landy’s Dodge” Dart ran 7.96, 196.60. At one race, Landy suffered a major transmission explosion in front of a Chrysler executive. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back with Chrysler’s entry into early funny car racing. Landy went back to Super Stock racing and later went on to a storied Pro Stock career that he financed with a successful engine-building business. (Photo provided by Drag Race Memories; info from www.draglist.com, Dennis Doubleday, and Bill Duke)