Great Race: 1975 Springnationals
by Bruce Dillashaw
The 1975 Springnationals marked the beginning of a mutually beneficial and rewarding association between R.J. Reynolds' Winston brand and NHRA.
The pairing of the two companies produced one of the most exciting national events of NHRA's first 50 years.
Top Fuel pilot Shirley Muldowney jumped to prominence and credibility at the event when she became the first woman in a final round of a Professional eliminator. But unfortunately for Muldowney, she lost to upstart Marvin Graham in the final.
The Springnationals was the third NHRA national event of nine that year. Funny Car driver Don "the Snake" Prudhomme opened the season with victories at the Winternationals and Gatornationals. He made it 3-0 on the season at the Springnationals, winning a wild final over Raymond Beadle, who was at the wheel of Harry Schmidt's Blue Max entry.
Bill Jenkins won the Pro Stock title for the first time in almost a year, ending not only Bob Glidden's four-race win streak but a five-race streak of all-Ford Pro Stock finals. Jenkins defeated Roy Hill and his Plymouth Duster in the final.
Joe Ortega, driving the Brunelli & Dunn twin-injected big-block Chevy AA/Dragster, not only qualified for the first time at a national event but won the Pro Comp title. Ortega defeated a tire-shaking Ken Veney in the final, 7.15 at 192.30 mph to Veney's 7.40 at 202.70 mph (top speed).
Russ Flagle, three times a runner-up in Comp in 1974, finally won with his rear-engine C/Dragster when Sportsnationals winner Richie Rosen fouled in the final with his front-engine A/ED.
The late Lee Shepherd won the Modified title in the Reher-Morrison E/MP Corvette over Bruce Sizemore and his I/Gas Pinto for only his second NHRA national event behind the wheel of a Reher-Morrison ride.
Jack Mullins also repeated his Sportsnationals victory in Super Stock driving an SS/V '63 Pontiac station wagon; the first back-to-back wins for a Pontiac in Super Stock. He defeated Ed Hamburger's SS/LA '74 Duster in the final.
Muldowney — still referred to as "Cha Cha" at the time — qualified No. 9 with a 6.14 in the 16-car Top Fuel field, which ranged from polesitter Rick Ramsey's 6.01 in the Kuhl and Olson Da Revell Fast Guys dragster to Ted Wolf's 6.21 bump in the Jim and Alison Lee car.
Muldowney defeated a crossed-up Ramsey in the first round with a 6.06 after Ramsey put his dragster up on its right wheels on the top end. Muldowney's 6.36 in the second round easily handled a broken Paul Longenecker before Muldowney blasted past a wheelstanding Don Garlits in the semifinals with a belt-tossing 6.26. Graham defeated Grant Stoms; Gary Beck, who staged with no oil pressure; and the late Clayton Harris.
Graham's final-round defeat of a tire-hazing Muldowney — 6.19 at 219.51 mph to Muldowney's parachute-less 6.36 at 230.76 mph, which sent her into the catch net — helped him shed the "Marvin Who?" moniker the television repairman had been given after his out-of-nowhere U.S. Nationals win the previous year.
Ironically, Graham, along with Tommy Ivo, would be one of the stunt drivers seven years later in the movie about Muldowney, Heart Like a Wheel. Garlits set low e.t. with a 5.99 in the second round, and Harris ran top speed at 239.36 mph.
Prudhomme equaled the record of three straight Funny Car wins after qualifying No. 1 with a 6.29 (low e.t.). Ed McCulloch, who now tunes both of Prudhomme's Funny Cars, was a distant second in qualifying with a 6.41. Prudhomme defeated "Jungle Jim" Liberman — who laid down a crowd-pleasing 1,000-foot burnout before their race — Jim Nicoll, and Shirl Greer. Beadle advanced over Harlan Thompson, Dale Emery in Gene Snow's car, and McCulloch. In the final, Beadle went into a near-vertical wheelie off the line and lost the body before bouncing back to earth. Prudhomme won with a 6.46 at only 186.33 mph.
Jenkins and Hill ended a string of 13 NHRA national events, since the 1973 Summernationals, in which there had been at least one Ford in a Pro Stock final. Wayne Gapp at the wheel of his and partner Jack Roush's four-door Maverick qualified No. 1 with a 8.94 (low e.t.). The other Fords were driven by Glidden, Don Nicholson, and Scott Shafiroff.
Jenkins defeated Charlie Reed, Wally Booth and his Hornet, and Warren Johnson to reach the final. Hill, who qualified on the bump with a 9.15, used a holeshot-aided 9.15 in the first round to down Nicholson's 9.05, before getting past a crossed-up Glidden and his '70 Mustang, and a fouling Richie Zul to put a Mopar in a Pro Stock final for the first time since his runner-up at the 1974 Springnationals. In the final, Jenkins, who ran quicker in each round, ran an 8.98 at 152.28 mph (top speed) to Hill's 9.16, his worst clocking of eliminations. Jenkins set a record with his 11th career Pro Stock win and 13th overall.