First Cajun Nationals a bayou blast
Reprinted from the May 7, 1976 issue of National DRAGSTER
NHRA CAJUN NATIONALS -- Championship-style NHRA drag racing rolled into the fast-paced area of New Orleans, Louisiana this past weekend in the form of the first annual NHRA Cajun Nationals, and the race stayed right in tune with its more than just exciting home. Louisiana race fans and quite a group of South Central visitors literally cheered throughout the three days of racing, more than showing their approval for what transpired on the La Place Dragway quarter-mile.
And just what exactly went on was some fierce competition from Top Fuel to E.T. Bracket racing, combining the best possible racing from heads-up Pros to handicap-style Sportsman confrontations. It was the first Cajun Nationals and the first taste of championship drag racing for many. And it will all be a first that everyone involved will long remember.
The Cajun Nationals will also be a race that will be remembered by the likes of Richard Tharp, Raymond Beadle and Lee Shepherd, as they produced stellar victories in the Professional brackets of Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, respectively. The same goes for the Sportsman winners that included unbeatable Ken Veney (Pro Comp), Raymond Martin (Comp.), Paul Vanderley (Modified), Buddy Ingersoll (Super Stock), Buck Jednak (Stock), Donald Brown (E.T. I) and Glen Fenasci (E.T. II).
Undoubtedly the most popular of all the victories at the Cajun Nationals was that of virtual hometown favorites Paul Candies and Leonard Hughes, who only live down the road a ways in Houma, La. The potent C&H entry, with veteran Richard Tharp at the helm, was in command of the Top Fuel Eliminator program right from the start. Tharp nailed down the low qualifying spot at 6.21, 236.84, and simply got quicker as eliminations progressed. The final results in the performance department netted the team both Low E.T. and Top Speed of the Meet as well as both ends of the track record at a sizzling 6.01, 240.00 clip.
Tharp put away such formidable foes as Clayton Harris (round one) and the veteran team of Dakin & Rupp (round two) before meeting always tough Marvin Graham for the title. Graham, the Oklahoma City Donovan whiz, dropped the likes of Bill Wigginton and Steve Stephens for a shot at the money.
In that final-round clash (after a lengthy staging battle), both Tharp and Graham fought traction problems with Marvin finally having to curtail his efforts when motor problems set in. The Candies & Hughes entry, meanwhile sailed on for the victory at 6.35, 234.37 mph to Graham's slowing 6.61, 183.29 mph pace.
The Dallas, Texas-based team of Harry Schmidt and Raymond Beadle had things going their way in Funny Car Eliminator, and it all eventually added up to top honors for the "Blue Max" duo. Beadle, quite similar to Tharp's antics in Top Fuel, set the pace right from the start with the meet's best clocking of 6.34 seconds during qualifying and then waded through the likes of fellow Texas Gene Snow and finally the also Dallas-based team of Mike Burkhart and Dale Emery.
Emery, who was the second quickest entry in qualifying at 6.59 seconds, got by Gordon Mineo and Johnny White with respective times of 6.50 and 6.49 seconds. But his final round time of 6.79, 224.43 mph (Top Speed) fell just short of catching Raymond Beadle's slightly swifter 6.70 at 217.39 mph.
Also scoring for the state of Texas was the team of Dave Reher, Buddy Morrison and Lee Shepherd, whose brand new Chevy Monza annexed the Pro Stock crown in its first competitive outing. Shepherd, the former Sportsman standout in both Comp and Modified Eliminators, reeled off consistent 9.0s to advance to a final-round showdown with much swifter Wally Booth and his potent AMC Hornet.
Booth set the pace to follow right off the bat, as he unloaded the meet's best performance in qualifying at 8.80 and continued that torrid clip right through eliminations. Although Shepherd's best was also in qualifying at 8.91 seconds, he nevertheless won the title bout right on the line with a good leave which held off Booth's better 8.88, 153.32 mph charge with a winning, but slower 9.07, 151.77. Roy Hill set Top Speed at 154.63 mph with his Duster, but had to bow out with a damaged motor.