OCIR holds its Last Drag Race
Reprinted from the Nov. 11, 1983 issue of National DRAGSTER
ORANGE COUNTY INT'L RACEWAY, E. Irvine, Calif. -- The end of an era.
Certainly that verbiage would qualify as a cliche, but what other way can one accurately describe the final race at Orange County International Raceway.
The country's first ever "Raceway Park"-type facility, built back in 1967, held it's final event ever under the heading of the "Last Drag Race," and almost everyone who'd ever raced at the track showed up as a spectator or racer to say "goodbye" to an old friend.
As it was, the facility was predictably filled to capacity with one of the largest racer turnouts ever featured. It was reported that better than 300 bracket cars joined the pros for the final go-round with 168 racers making up Bracket 1.
Taking the win in the qualified 8-car Top Fuel field (and making the final T/F pass ever down course) was Gary Beck in Larry Minor's dragster. Doug Kerhulas had damaged the motor too severely in the Neuman & Kerhulas entry, allowing Beck to thunder to a 5.59, 245.23 solo shot.
In Funny Car, Kenny Bernstein and John Force got it on in a wild one to settle Funny Car. Force smoked the tires the entire quarter-mile, just losing to Bernstein's "Budweiser King" on a 6.13, 243.24 to 6.22, 233.76 count.
In an upset, the Alcohol Funny Car final, which was the last set of blown cars to traverse the OCIR quarter, produced a final between Mike Andreotti and the Andreotti Bros. Monza versus Wayne Stoeckel's beautiful new Linear Power Corvette. Andreotti took a 6.61, 208 to 6.75, 210 win.
The exhibition cars were also part of the package with the jet dragsters of Scott Hammack's Behr Products "Smoke 'n' Thunder," Bill Holevas' "Alien," Bill Carter's "Hot Streak," and Doug Brown's "Wildfire" in the fray. Taking care of the Wheelstander fans was Ed "the Outlaw" Jones' Jolly Rancher Stage Coach.
Overall, the traction was hampered a bit as OCIR held it's final big-dollar bracket race the week before, and then had another couple hundred cars on the course during the Wednesday grudge races. As a result, the times one saw at the World Finals weren't duplicated at the "Last Drag Race," but then that probably wasn't the point of this event. Everyone appeared to be satisfied just to be at the final race ever for the fabled Southern California course.
The first session of qualifying saw almost all of the nitro cars have trouble hooking up with Shirley Muldowney (5.83, 236.84), Doug Kerhulas (5.87, 238.72) and Rocky Epperly in Frank Taylor's National Record-holding "Dago Red" dragster at 5.88, 243.90 hitting the best numbers. Interestingly enough the two "slowest" times of the qualified cars were registered by Team Minor. Gary Beck, trying out an experimental new manifold, scorched all eight pistons on a 6.01, 186.72 shot, while his boss, Larry Minor, held down the temporary "bubble" at 6.08.
Minor led off the second and final session for the Top Fuelers by setting Low E.T. of the meet. With the flames wing high, Minor charged to a 5.58, 245.90 for the best run of qualifying with Kerhulas improving to a 5.82, 240.00 for the second spot. Shirley's 5.83 held for third with Epperly's 5.88 making up the top half of the field.
Ray Stutz's 5.89, 225 was good for fifth with the remainder of the field including Marc Cornelius' Team C at 5.99, 233.76; Dwight Salisbury (6.01, 236.22) and Beck on the bubble" (of all places) at the aforementioned 6.01.
Minor hurt the crankshaft on the .58, and this let Don Durbin's "Favorite Thing" into the program with a 6.06, 232.55. Other immediate alternates included: Bill Carter (6.11, 212.76) in the "Team Grizzly" dragster; Randy Troxell's unpainted dragster (6.25, 203.16), and Shannon Stuart (6.30, 164.23). Some 19 fuelers tried to make the show.
Salisbury and Epperly led off round one with Rocky thundering by the Whiting & Markley at half track to record a 5.85, 247.93 for the win. Epperly's 247.93, which was Top Speed, was considerably better than Salisbury's 6.04, 228.42.
Marc Cornelius red-lighted and went up in smoke against Kerhulas, who shot through the traps at an uncomplicated 5,89, 227.84. Cornelius shut down to a 10.99.
The race with the biggest crowd interest staged up next as the '82 World Champion Shirley Muldowney went off with the '83 champ, Beck. Gary left so quickly it looked as though he'd fouled. However, it was a clean get away and his 5.73, 243.24 more than held off Shirley's 6.06 at just 189.07 mph.
The final race of the round produced a mild surprise as the stronger car of Ray Stutz went up in hard smoke against Durbin's Milodon-powered entry. Don looked good on a winning 6.00, 216.34 charge.
Round two saw Beck really tighten the screws as he punched out a solid 5.69, 240.64 to cover Durbin's tire-hazing 6.23, 196.93. Kerhulas got the edge on Epperly and sprinted to a 5.73, 227.84, but as he hit the top-speed traps, sparks started flying from the exhaust headers followed by a ton of smoke. Epperly went up in hard smoke and shut-off.
Kerhulas was unable to repair the damage in time for the final, and at 1:25 a.m., Beck layed down the burnout of the meet with a half track "smoker" followed by a great 5.59, 245.23 solo for the first-place purse.
One of the best Funny Car turn-outs ever (certainly for something that was "technically" a match race) marked the last drag race. About 21 "floppers" showed to battle for eight spots with a surprising John Collins leading all qualifiers right from the first session with a 5.91, 237.46 in the JVC Audio Express Camaro. Lee Beard, currently with Gary Ormsby's fueler, was supplying his tuning expertise for the Collins team.
Billy Meyer hit a 6.02 with no mph for the second slot with Mike Dunn in the amazing Hawaiian Punch car third at 6.05, 229.00. Dunn was in what used to be Billy Meyer's EXP that Tripp Shumake drove last year. The chassis, in one of racing's serious miracles of the past few seasons, was the same one that Mike had the horrendous motor explosion in at the World Finals.
The "bubble" for the first session was Henry Harrison's 6.17, 226.13 in the Lidtke-Harrison-Lidtke Trans Am.
Collins' 5.91 held up for the pole in the second session, but Kenny Bernstein (5.98, 238.09) and John Force (5.99, 245.23) were right behind him with improved runs. Rounding out the top four was Meyer's 6.02.
The surprise entry of the Candies & Hughes/Old Milwaukee Trans Am was in the fifth slot when Mark Oswald hit a 6.03, 214.79. Dunn's 6.05 held for the sixth spot with Raymond Beadle's on and off the throttle 6.09, 245.90 (Top Speed) in the "Blue Max" and Don Prudhomme's 6.114, 230.76 filling out the field.
There were some interesting alternates and (in order) they were: Pisano & Shumake (6.116, 215.82); Dale Pulde and the Miller High Life "Warrior" (6.13, 204.08); Gary Densham (6.15, 236.84); Henry Harrison (6.17, 226.13); Tom McEwen's 6.31, 229.00; Jim Dunn (6.32, 234.37); McEwen later came back and ran a 6.14, 241.93 during eliminations.
The hairiest run of qualifying came from John Martin's Jam-Air Special Omni. Martin got badly out of shape and possibly touched the spectator-side guardrail. He got back on the throttle and ran a 6.64, 200.89, leaving everyone breathless.
Round one opened with a big surprise as Mark Oswald, one of the steadiest hands in the business, red-lighted against Collins. John took a throttle-feathering 6.80, 201.35 win, while Mark clicked it to an 11. 13.
Bernstein blasted a 5.92, 240.00 to handle Mike Dunn's shut-off 6.22, 177.51 after a good starting-line launch, and Force followed with a 5.94, 241.93 defeat of Beadle, who clicked it early also.
Low E.T. came in the last race of the opening stanza as Meyer's 5.89, 243.24 put out Prudhomme's 6.20, 193.13 after a good launch by both drivers.
The semi's saw Collins foul and shut-off against a tire-smoking John Force, who hit a 6.25, 234.37, and Bernstein make it a pair for the final with a convincing 5.97, 245.90 win over Meyer.
Billy had an oil line come off at the starting line, and thanks to his heads-up crewman Jim Duffy was spared a trip into the guardrail. Meyer had both staging lights lit when Duffy saw the pool of oil spreading under Meyer's car. He stuck his hands inside the cab of Meyer's ride and got him to shut off before any catastrophe developed.
The final between Bernstein and Force took place right after Beck had made his solo in Top Fuel. At the green, Force went up in smoke, but never took his foot off the throttle. Because Bernstein was hooked up a little better he got the win in a pretty good contest in the aforementioned 6.13 to 6.22-:victory.
Alcohol Funny Car
The Alcohol Funny Cars-were out in force with 17 from their ranks making the last drag race. Brad Anderson put in a return appearance with the Mike Grieco Camaro and led the first session of qualifying with a 6.69, 215.82 shot, putting him just in front of Dale Van Gundy's 6.70, 209.30 in the "Quarter Pounder." Kenny Mooers' Positive Performance Headers/Rodeck-powered Omni was third at 6.74, 207.85.
The second session saw Lou Gasparrelli snatch the pole with a blast of 6.59, 210.77. Van Gundy improved to a 6.67, 210.77 11 for the second slot with Anderson (6.69); Mooers (6.74); Mike O'Hearn (6.87, 199.11); Gary Ritter with the Spingolo Trucking 'Vette (6.90, 196.50); Mike Andreotti (6.93, 206.89); and Wayne Stoeckel at 6.94, 205.01 filling the show.
Just missing the field was Jim DePasse's Budweiser Corvette with a 6.94, 201.34.
Van Gundy, who was thundering at this race, powered to a 6.56, 21,2.26 to lead off round one with a win over a red-lighting Gary Ritter, who hit a 6.80.
The first of many surprises supplied by the Andreotti Bros., materialized next as Mike's '77 Monza calmly disposed of Brad Anderson. Everyone kept waiting for Anderson to motor around a good Andreotti leave, but it didn't happen as the Monza's 6.68, 211.26 held back Brad's 6.78, 216.34.
Gasparrelli got Low E.T. again with a 6.53, 211.76 win over Bret Williamson's 6.71, 204.54 and Stoeckel's Linear Corvette ended the round with a close 6.71, 209.79 to 6.70, 206.89 win over Mooers.
The upsets just kept on coming from the Andreotti camp as they took care of Lou Gasparrelli next. Mike left first and carded a 6.65, 211.26 eclipsing Gasparrelli's better 6.62, 203.61. Joining the Andreottis in the final was Stoeckel, who hit a 6.74, 209.78 to beat a centerline-crossing Dale Van Gundy.
The Andreotti Bros. took the biggest win of their career in the final as their venerable old Monza stormed to a 6.61, 208 to cover Wayne Stoeckel's 6.75, 210 effort.