Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: June 24, 2011
NHRA's muchanticipated 1970 "Super Season," a year in which three races - the Gatornationals, Summernationals, and Supernationals - were added to nearly double the event calendar and Pro Stock joined the eliminator lineup, kicked off, as the NHRA season had since 1961, in Pomona with the Winternationals, which featured a record purse of $226,800, ideal weather, and an overflow crowd.
The event was the first to use NHRA's new eliminator format, dubbed Group I for Top Fuel, Top Gas, Funny Car, and Pro Stock drivers and Group II for the Sportsman competitors. Larry Dixon Sr. won Top Fuel, sharing the winner's circle with his 3-year-old son, who would win the Winternationals 28 years later. Dixon drove the Howard's Cams Rattler to a string of 6.7- and 6.8- second passes to score his first (and only) major NHRA event win, defeating class newcomer Tony Nancy, who had won the Winternationals in Comp in 1963 and was making his first (and also only) Professional final-round appearance. Don Hampton also was a first-time winner, scoring in Top Gas when former Pomona winner Bob Muravez fouled in the final in the Freight Train.
As interesting as those stories were, they were outshone by the winners in Funny Car and Pro Stock. The 1969 Winternationals had ended in disaster for Funny Car driver Larry Reyes and car owner Roland Leong after the Hawaiian Dodge Charger got airborne and crashed heavily in round one, but a year later, the duo was in the winner's circle after beating Gene Snow in the final. It was the fourth Winternationals win for Leong, who had scored in Top Gas in 1964 (with driver Danny Ongais) and in Top Fuel in 1965 and 1966 (with Don Prudhomme and Mike Snively, respectively), and he would win again in Funny Car in 1971 with the late Butch Maas.
Bill Jenkins, arguably Pro Stock's most iconic driver, appropriately won the first Pro Stock Wally. He drove his '68 Camaro past ultra-tough Ronnie Sox and the Sox & Martin team in the final, 9.99 to 10.12.
More history was made at the event when Canadian Barrie Poole scored in Super Stock to become the first non-United States citizen to win an NHRA major event. Other Group II winners were Jack Ditmars (Comp), "Dandy Dick" Landy (Modified), and Richard Charbonneau (Stock).
The trend of first-time Top Fuel winners continued at Gainesville Raceway at the inaugural Gatornationals, and so did the history making. The highlight of the event was the Funny Car final, in which Leonard Hughes defeated teammate Reyes (now driving for the Candies & Hughes team) in the first all-team final in NHRA history.
Dave Chenevert, runner-up at the previous year's World Finals, scored for the first (and again only) time in Top Fuel and was joined in the Group I winner's circle by Jenkins, who won for the second and final time that season in Pro Stock, and old hand Gordon Collett, who collected Top Gas honors for the seventh and final time in his great career, defeating reigning U.S. Nationals champ D.A. Santucci in the final.
Tommy Shinholster (Comp), Herb McCandless (Modified), Ed Hedrick (Super Stock), and Tom Callahan (Stock) were the Group II winners.
With the Springnationals in Dallas in mid-June and the new Summernationals in mid-July in York, Pa., being contested in warm climates, NHRA created nighttime qualifying sessions at both, delaying the Friday and Saturday starts to 1 p.m. with 10 p.m. conclusions, allowing fans to witness the spectacle of an evening nitro show.
Dallas Int'l Motor Speedway hosted the 6th annual Springnationals, where a field of more than 700 competitors vied for a share of the richest purse in drag racing history, $313,500. The first-time Top Fuel winner trend continued when 22-year-old rookie Bob Gibson drove the Carroll Bros.' homestate Texas Whips dragster to a final-round victory over favored Jim Nicoll, whose run was ended by driveline failure - though a more spectacular runner-up was in Nicoll's future.
A Texan nearly claimed Funny Car honors as well, but Snow fell in the final to Leroy Goldstein in the Ramchargers entry, which posted an otherworldly 7.03, the quickest Funny Car pass in history. Goldstein had earlier run 7.07 and Snow 7.09, but Snow was forced to shut down to a 7.56 in the final.
Jenkins' Pro Stock winning streak ended in the quarterfinals in Dallas against unheralded Lee Smith, clearing the way for Sox, who had low e.t. at 9.93, to win on Wally Booth's foul for his fourth straight Springnationals win. Ray Motes drove R.C. Williams' twin-engine dragster to Top Gas honors over Norm Wilcox. John Elliott in Super Stock and Ralph Hope in Modified became the second and third Canadians to cash in and were joined in the Group II winner's circle by Ray Rastetter (Comp) and Marv Ripes (Stock).
York U.S. 30 Dragway hosted the first Summernationals, where "Sneaky Pete" Robinson scored his first Top Fuel win since the 1966 World Finals when hard-luck Nicoll, the No. 1 qualifier who had set low e.t. of 6.71 in the semifinals, couldn't fire his mount for the final.
Pro Stock continued to excite and entice. Sox and Jenkins lost early, and the victory went to cigarchomping Landy, who drove past red-lighting McCandless in the second Sox & Martin Duster in the final. After Funny Car runner-ups in Pomona and Dallas, Snow cashed in, driving his Rambunctious Charger past Vic Brown in Gary Richards' Black Shadow Mustang in the final.
Group II wins went to Tom Smith (Comp), Dick Shroyer (Modified), Ron Mancini (Super Stock), and Dave Boertman (Stock).
Nicoll was runner-up for a third time in Top Fuel in 1970, but his second-place finish in Indy is a first-rate memory for many. Nicoll's dragster was sliced in two at his feet by an exploding clutch while racing Prudhomme. Prudhomme had worked his way past "T.V. Tommy" Ivo, Ongais, Robinson, and surprising rookie Brian Budd, and Nicoll had trailered Jim Walther, Gerry Glenn, Marshall Love, and a red-lighting Don Garlits, who had recovered from his devastating early-season accident at Lions Drag Strip in California. Prudhomme took the finalround win, 6.45 to 6.48, then Nicoll's clutch gave out. The front half of the car, including the engine, slid down the strip in front of a horrified Prudhomme, and the roll-cage portion jumped the guardrail and, thanks to the already-deployed parachute, came to rest in the soft Indiana grass. Nicoll suffered only a black eye.
Six Funny Cars qualified in the six-second zone, and Don Schumacher defeated a tire-smoking Goldstein in the title round. McCandless claimed an all-Dodge Pro Stock final against Arlen Vanke, and reigning Top Gas champion Jack Jones won his second Indy title in three years. Ben Griffin (Comp), Joe Lemley (Modified), Mancini (Super Stock), and Boertman (Stock) also scored.
Ronnie Martin, like Dixon and Chenevert before him, scored his only Top Fuel win in 1970, but it was a big win: He captured top honors in Robert Anderson's Louisiana-based entry at the World Finals in Dallas to also score the season championship. For the second time in 1970, Tom Raley bettered his existing national record in Jim and Alison Lee's Great Expectations II dragster. After lowering it from 6.64 to 6.63 a month earlier in Atco, N.J., Raley dropped it a full tenth in Dallas to 6.53. Jones set the new Top Gas record at 7.14, and 14 new records were set in Super Stock and Stock.
A broken magneto drive in the final cost Jones his shot at the world title, which went to Ray Motes. Snow held off Ed McCulloch to win in Funny Car, and Sox scored in Pro Stock with a final-round decision over Vanke. Griffin scored again impressively in Comp and shared the Group II spotlight with Carroll Caudle (Modified), Ray Allen (Super Stock), and Bobby Warren (Stock). The event was aired live to TV viewers in more than 70 cities on the American Telesports Network.
Although the champs had been crowned, NHRA's Supernationals closed the year at posh new Ontario Motor Speedway, where Rick Ramsey drove John Keeling and Jerry Clayton's California Charger to the Top Fuel title over Gerry Glenn and Snow scored again in Funny Car, beating Larry Arnold in T.B. Smallwood's Kingfish. Sox again beat Vanke for Pro Stock honors, and Don Cain scored in Top Gas on Ray Hadford's foul. The event was significant in that it first employed the Pro Start system, which featured just one amber light instead of the three-bulb countdown. The Pro Start system was added to all events in 1971. Allen again reached the winner's circle in Super Stock and Ripes in Stock, and Don Enriquez bagged Comp gold and Jim Stevens the Modified marbles.
In other news: In January, NHRA President Wally Parks was elected vice president of the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States. Nancy won the March Meet Top Fuel title over red-lighting Harry Hibler. In May, NHRA announced that all AA/Funny Cars had to be equipped with a Freon-based fire-suppression system and rescinded the ban on two-speed transmissions enacted after Garlits' accident. On Sept. 1, NHRA moved into new headquarters in North Hollywood, Calif., which served as its home until it moved to its current location in Glendora, Calif., in 1987.