1976 Monthly Headlines
Irwindale's Grand Premiere titles were taken by Top Fuel racer Rance McDaniel and Bob Pickett in Mickey Thompson's Grand Am Funny Car. Tom McEwen won Fremont's Nitro Bowl Funny Car event. ... NHRA signed a 10-year lease on Gainesville Raceway. ... Plans were made to celebrate the 25th anniversary of NHRA, which was founded in March 1951. ... The 10th annual SEMA Show, held for the final year at California's Anaheim Convention Center before moving to Las Vegas in 1977, was sold out. ... The NHRA Phoenix Winter Classic winners were James Warren (Top Fuel), Don Prudhomme (Funny Car), and Larry Lombardo in Bill Jenkins' Monza (Pro Stock).
The 16th annual NHRA Winternationals kicked off the second NHRA drag racing season with Winston as its major event sponsor. Wins went to Frank Bradley (Top Fuel), Prudhomme (Funny Car), Bob Glidden (Pro Stock), Ken Veney (Pro Comp), Phil Featherston (Comp), Butch Leal (Modified), Larry Tores (Super Stock), and Jerry McClanahan (Stock). Prudhomme, who had recorded Funny Car's first five at the end of the 1975 season in Ontario (5.98), set a national record, 6.02, with his Pomona win. ... Datsun was named the official automobile of NHRA.
Dick Landy and Derry O'Donovan scored respective wins at Sacramento's Pro Stock/Pro Comp bash. Sportsman winners were Dave Riolo in Super Gas and Sal Lopez in Super Eliminator. ... NHRA and Diamond P Productions announced a three-race, nationally syndicated television package for 1976 that included 60-minute broadcasts of the Gatornationals, Springnationals, and Winston World Finals. Sponsorship came from Budweiser, English Leather, and Fram. ... The big winners at the Bakersfield March Meet were McEwen (Top Fuel), Jim Liberman (Funny Car), and Leal (Pro Stock). ... McEwen won Funny Car at the KHJ radio-sponsored Funny Car Night Opener at Irwindale Raceway in California. ... The Pro winners in the record-breaking Gatornationals were the same trio that triumphed in the NHRA Phoenix Winter Classic: Warren, Prudhomme, and Lombardo, respectively, in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock. Winternationals winner Veney repeated in Pro Comp. Other winners were Doug Dye (Comp), Cotton Perry (Modified), Anthony Cieri (Super Stock), and Tom Reider (Stock).
NHRA refined Pro Stock rules for 1976, including the use of big-block engines (366-cid or larger in original production form) in cars with a wheelbase smaller than 105 inches and restrictions on cylinder-head modifications that disallowed true wedge heads to become inclined or canted valve heads. ... Former Top Fuel racer Carl Olson, who had most recently served as the technical and legislative director for SEMA, was named industrial relations director at NHRA. ... The inaugural NHRA Cajun Nationals, which was run as a national open (not a national event) in 1976, was won by Richard Tharp (Top Fuel), Raymond Beadle (Funny Car), and Lee Shepherd (Pro Stock) in his Pro-category driving debut. ... Warren Johnson set a Pro Stock speed record of 156.66 mph at the Dragway Denver points race and moved into first place in the standings for the first time.
Don Nicholson clocked an 8.15, 162 at a Southern-style Pro Stock match that was won by Don Carlton's Nationwise/Rod Shop Dodge. ... Bradley's win at the El Paso Winston World Championship event moved him ahead of Warren in the Top Fuel standings. ... Dale Armstrong was the big winner at the third annual NHRA Sportsnationals. He defeated Wilfred Boutilier in the final, 6.83 to 6.86. Other winners were Raymond Martin (Comp), Tony Christian (Modified), Jack Mullins (Super Stock), and Reider (Stock).
History was made at the 12th annual NHRA Springnationals when Shirley Muldowney scored her first Top Fuel triumph, with low e.t. and top speed of the meet, 5.96 and 243.90 mph, in the final over Bob Edwards. Other winners were Prudhomme (Funny Car), Wally Booth (Pro Stock), Veney (Pro Comp), Wally Jacobsen (Comp), Bruce Sizemore, (Modified), Buddy Ingersoll (Super Stock), and Buck Jednak (Stock). ... Midway through the 1976 calendar year, the points leaders were Bradley (Top Fuel), Prudhomme (Funny Car), and Johnson (Pro Stock). Of the trio, Prudhomme had the largest points lead with a 2,537 margin (6,199 to 3,662) over second-place Shirl Greer.
Tharp's first major NHRA title took place at the seventh annual NHRA Summernationals, where he scored in Top Fuel. Prudhomme continued his undefeated season in Funny Car with his Army-affiliated Chevrolet Monza, and Lombardo defeated the AMC Hornet of Richard Maskin and driver David Kanners in the Pro Stock final. Sportsman winners were Veney (Pro Comp), Carlton (Comp), Christian (Modified), Ingersoll (Super Stock), and Jednak (Stock). ... Mary Larson was named Miss Winston, and Jean Hobel was hired as Winston's assistant drag racing team manager. ... Tommy Ivo's Dodge Funny Car scored a rare win over Prudhomme in a U.S. 131 Dragway match race in Michigan. ... The U.S. Pro Stock Championships, held at Budd's Creek in Maryland, was won by Lombardo over Roy Hill in the final.
The Oly/PDA championship series winners were Marvin Graham (Top Fuel), Billy Williams (Pro Comp), and Lee Hunter (Pro Stock). ... The sixth annual NHRA Grandnational winners were Gary Beck (Top Fuel), Prudhomme (Funny Car), Lombardo (Pro Stock), Kevin Seibert (Pro Comp), Scott Shafiroff (Comp), Christian (Modified), George Supinski (Super Stock), and Charlene Wood (Stock). ... Those reaching the winner's circle at the Popular Hot Rodding Meet at U.S. 131 Dragway included Don Garlits (Top Fuel), Prudhomme (Funny Car), and Booth (Pro Stock). ... NHRA announced that the season-ending NHRA Winston World Finals in Ontario, Calif., would be the first national event to incorporate breakout racing with the use of the NHRA index system. The system had already been used in the 1977 regional points races.
Winners at the 22nd annual NHRA U.S. Nationals, which featured a then record purse of $359,600, were Tharp (Top Fuel), Gary Burgin (Funny Car), Booth (Pro Stock), Dave Settles (Pro Comp), Carlton (Comp), Don Coonce (Modified), Dave Boertman (Super Stock), and Reider (Stock). Noticeably absent from the winner's circle was Prudhomme, whose perfect 1976 season ended with an upset 6.25 to 6.46 loss to Burgin in the final. ... Among those honored at the 10th annual Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing Team awards banquet were Prudhomme (Ollie Award) and Veney (Man of the Year). Garlits, Prudhomme, and Jenkins earned Driver of the Year awards in Top Fuel, Funny Car, and Pro Stock, respectively. ... Pro winners at the NHRA Fallnationals were Jeb Allen (Top Fuel), Prudhomme (Funny Car), and Booth (Pro Stock).
Lombardo won the Orange County Int'l Raceway (OCIR) U.S. Pro Stock Championships with a final-round victory over Booth's AMC Hornet. Bob Riffle, in the Nationwise/Rod Shop Dodge Colt, won the match race segment of the show with a best of 8.21. ... Dick Wells succeeded Lou Baney as executive director of SEMA. ... Winners of the 12th annual NHRA World Finals were Muldowney (Top Fuel), Prudhomme (Funny Car), and Booth (Pro Stock). ... The 1976 Winston champions were Tharp (Top Fuel), Prudhomme (Funny Car), Lombardo (Pro Stock), Brent Bramley (Pro Comp), Wayne Clapp (Competition), Larry Kopp (Modified), Robert Hutchison (Super Stock), and Scott Main (Stock). ... Chevrolet won the 1976 Hot Rod Magazine Manufacturers Cup. ... The 1977 NHRA race schedule was increased to nine races with the Cajun Nationals achieving national event status.
NHRA rules changes for 1977 follow: In Top Fuel, arm restraints would be highly recommended for 1977 and mandatory in 1978. In Funny Car, roof escape hatches would be required. The 100-pound maximum ballast rule in Pro Stock was lifted to allow unlimited ballast. Comp B/EA would be allowed to run any type of wedge engine, including canted valve models. A 100-inch-wheelbase minimum for all Modified production classes would be required. Roll bars would be required in Super Stock classes A through H. Stock racers could add or remove 75 pounds from the factory shipping weight of their cars. ... Prudhomme and Armstrong won the Funny Car and Pro Comp titles at the OCIR Manufacturers Funny Car Championships. ... NHRA announced the $42,000 Grace Cup Sportsman points fund for 1977.
The total purse for the 1977 NHRA Winston World Championship Series was boosted to $175,000. ... Winners of the Gainesville Turkey Trot Nationals were Clayton Harris (Top Fuel), R.C. Sherman (Funny Car), and Lamar Walden (Pro Stock). ... Pro titles at Florida's Bradenton Snowbird Nationals went to Ron Correnti and Sherman. ... New NHRA rules for rocket and jet cars in 1977 allowed rocket-powered Funny Cars and dragsters to match race with conventional Top Fuel and Funny Cars, provided they observe a 250-mph speed limit.
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