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Reunion Won't Be a Drag

November 16, 1996|Shav Glick

Drag racing, once the dirty-faced stepchild of big-time motor racing, has emerged as a power to be reckoned with, right alongside Winston Cup stocks and Indy car racing. As evidence is the selection of funny car driver John Force of Yorba Linda as the top vote getter for the fourth quarter in the driver-of-the-year contest.

Voting for overall driver of the year will be done next month, with Force and NASCAR drivers Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon the favorites. No drag racer has ever won the top honor, although Shirley Muldowney was third in 1982 and Joe Amato second in 1990.

Drag racing might have grown, but it's a sport that doesn't forget its roots. Today and Sunday, at the California Hot Rod Reunion on the legendary Famoso drag strip north of Bakersfield, the spotlight is on two of the drivers most responsible for its early growth, Big Daddy Don Garlits and TV Tommy Ivo.

Garlits will be grand marshal and Ivo will be the featured honoree, along with three of the cars he drove in match races when he barnstormed the country with Garlits and young Don Prudhomme in the early '60s. Featured will be Ivo's original Model-T roadster, his twin-engine Buick-powered dragster and the most famous of them all, the enormous four-engine Buick Wagonmaster, which was known as the Roaring Showboat when it made its debut at Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach 33 years ago.

Said Ivo, "When I talk about driving the four-engine car and think about how long ago it was, I know what IVO stands for: 'I'm Very Old.' "

Ivo, 60, was 24 when he left Burbank and the sound stages of the television series "Margie" to barnstorm his twin-engine Buick--the first to tour the country. Prudhomme, a fledgling racer who was working in his father's body shop, painted Ivo's car and TV Tommy was so impressed with the youngster that he invited him along.

"He was 'Don the Worm' when he was with us," Ivo says with a laugh. "That was before he became 'Don the Snake.' "

Ivo consistently ran among the quickest drivers with a gas-fueled dragster, but about that time people like Garlits were using exotic fuels to produce more impressive record speeds. Still, fans everywhere came to see Ivo's twin-engine creation in match races.

"I figured if they liked two engines, what would they think if they saw four engines?" Ivo said. "That thing weighed nearly 4,000 pounds. It was the car that made me famous. I think it is probably the single most famous car in drag racing history."

Chris Martin, in his authoritative "Top Fuel Handbook," wrote, "At the hit of the throttle, the car became a 160-170-mph moving fog bank."

In 1982, Ivo took a final farewell tour with that car.

"I was away from racing for about 15 years and then last year this nostalgia thing hit and I've been busy being honored," Ivo said. "The high point was getting the Ollie Award on the same night Don Prudhomme was being honored as person of the year at the Car Craft magazine all-star drag racing awards."

Motor Racing Notes

SPRINT CARS--Jim Dale and the Bakersfield Speedway in Oildale will hold the 11th annual Quaker State Classic, a 40-lap race for Sprint Car Racing Assn. drivers, tonight. This will be the event's first appearance at Bakersfield Speedway after 10 years in El Centro. Cory Kruseman, a five-time winner this year who was injured Oct. 4 at Manzanita Speedway, will return to action. With two SCRA races remaining, Richard Griffin leads Ron Shuman by 11 points. The season concludes Nov. 23 at Perris Auto Speedway.

MOTORCYCLES--The American Motorcyclist Assn. will hold its pro awards banquet tonight at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. The highlight will be naming the AMA's top performer of the year from Scott Parker, Doug Chandler, Billy Hamill, Jeremy McGrath and Rich Oliver. . . . National 125cc motocross champion Steve Lamson of Riverside won the revived Elsinore Grand Prix last Sunday before an enthusiastic crowd estimated at 20,000. Ty Davis of Hesperia was second. . . . The annual Speedway Fall Classic, scheduled for tonight at Costa Mesa Speedway, has been canceled.

CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY--The third event of the new speedway's 1997 season will be a NASCAR Busch Grand National and Craftsman Truck doubleheader on the Oct. 18-19 weekend. Scheduled earlier were a Winston Cup race June 22 and an Indy car race Sept. 28. Ticket information: (909) 428-3929.

INDY CARS--Championship Auto Racing Teams, already with races in Canada, Australia and Brazil, moved closer to becoming a Formula One look-alike by announcing an annual spring event in Japan beginning in 1998. Andrew Craig, CART president, has previously said the organization would like to add a race in Europe, possibly at an oval to be built in Germany. . . . Formula Atlantic champion Patrick Carpentier of Canada has been named to drive Tony Bettenhausen's Reynard-Mercedes next season, replacing Stefan Johansson.

FORMULA ONE--British-based Lola is returning to Grand Prix racing next season for the first time since 1993. The initial budget for the year is $48 million. The new Lola will use Ford engines, but no driver has been named.

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