Veteran Hoover collects first career win
Reprinted from the Aug. 19, 1977 issue of National DRAGSTER
NHRA GRANDNATIONAL MOLSON -- Minneapolis, Minnesota's Tom Hoover was probably the happiest racer at the 7th annual Grandnational Molson event, as the veteran pilot of the potent "Showtime" Chevy Monza won his first NHRA national event title ever. And if that wasn't enough, Hoover did it in fashion by tripping none other than Don "the Snake" Prudhomme in the final round.
A consistent performer at just about every national event he has competed at in the last three years, Hoover's best finish always fell short of the final round -- semifinal round appearances at best. But that all changed at Sanair Drag Strip, as the 36-year-old ace reeled off a consistent performance to nab his first NHRA "Oscar."
For Prudhomme, who was bidding for his third straight Grandnational victory, it marked his second final round loss of the 1977 season as his Plymouth Arrow shook violently off the line and then smoked the tires to a 6.76, 172.08. Meanwhile, Hoover was long gone for the win at a fine 6.24, 226.13 mph clip -- his quickest pass of the event.
"The Snake" was the performance standout once more, as he clicked off an effortless 6.17, 236.22 to lead all qualifiers as well as set both Low E.T., and Top Speed of the Meet. Hoover was the second quickest qualifier at 6.25, 223.88, while Gary Burgin's "Orange Baron" Chevy Monza nailed down the third spot at 6.31, 230.76 mph. Billy Meyer's Chevy Camaro rounded out the top-half of the 8-car field at 6.33, 216.34 mph.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada's Gordie Bonin, second behind Prudhomme in the points chase, earned the right to face "the Snake" by grabbing the fifth position at 6.36, 229.59 mph with the potent Pacemaker/Bubble-Up Trans Am Firebird entry. Al Segrini, at the wheel of Fred Castronovo's Custom Body Dodge Sport, annexed the sixth spot at 6.47, 221.13, while Tim Kushi's Chevy Monza (6.49, 221.13) and Al Hanna's "Eastern Raider" '77 Mustang II (6.63, 215.31) rounded out the field. The alternates included Frank Mancusco's Chevy Vega (6.68), Bob Simmons' Vega (6.95) and Jim Grace's '76 Chevy Monza (7.31).
The first round began with Hoover nipping Segrini in quite a wild duel, as Tom's 6.35, 224.43 stayed in front of Al's 6.50, 217.91 mph effort with the Custom Body Dodge entry, Gary Burgin squeezed out a motor-hurting 6.30, 226.70 on a solo shot when Tim Kushi's Chevy Monza fired, lost fire, fired again and died once more. In the closest race of the day in F/C, Prudhomme marched past Gordie Bonin in a real points duel, as "the Snake" hit a 6.21, 231.95 compared to Gordie's good try of 6.29, 227.84 mph.
In the final race of the round, Meyer against Hanna, "Waco Willie" used a holeshot to stay just ahead of Hanna's Ford Mustang II, 6.54, 205.47 to 6.47, 222.22, and that's where all hell broke loose. Just as Billy entered the timing traps a small blaze erupted on the left side of the Chevy Camaro, and it turned into a simply horrendous blaze mere seconds later when the fuel tank exploded and blew the body some 50 feet in the air. With the blaze still going, Billy found himself off the side of the track when a rear tire blew and the mount spun. The car came to a stop right side up, and Meyer was miraculously A-OK with the exception of some burns on his fingers.
With Meyer out of action, Hoover singled into the final round at 7.17, 122.78 mph, while Prudhomme was scheduled to meet Gary Burgin. "The Snake" also ended up taking a solo run (6.17, 230.17, no less!) as Burgin was having trouble with his mount in the staging lanes. It must be noted, however, that Burgin and his crew really had to do some thrashing to get the mount ready for the semi's after the Chevy Monza broke plenty of parts in winning the opening round.
Prudhomme had lane choice in the final round, but it was only a matter of a few feet off the line before the Plymouth Arrow began to shake quite violently and Prudhomme found himself up-in-smoke just past the 'Tree. Hoover got off to a great launch in the meantime, and hooked-up well on his way to a stout final round winning effort of 6.24, 226.13 mph.