"Snake & Mongoose" Headline 50th Anniversary Display of NHRA's Funny Car at Pennzoil AutoFair
The intense rivalry that defined drag racing in the early 1970s for millions of young fans will be remembered during the 50th Anniversary of the Funny Car exhibit at the April 7-10 Pennzoil AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In 1966, the National Hot Rod Assoc. created the Funny Car category as a way for its Factory Experimental (FX) cars to evolve and grow faster. In that inaugural year, a Funny Car looked like a standard production automobile, but with its front and rear wheels moved substantially forward in relation to its stretched body. This major modification to the car pushed the center of gravity closer to the rear tires in order to give them better traction for faster launches at the dragstrip. The larger engines, which eventually topped out at 500 cubic inches of displacement, were responsible for pushing quarter-mile speeds past the 250-mph mark.
Rivals Tom "Mongoose" McEwen and Don "Snake" Prudhomme did not invent the Funny Car, but they and their Plymouths did more than any other competitors to put the sport on every little kid's radar. In the early 1970s, sponsorship for all forms of racing usually came from automotive-related companies. No one in drag racing had managed to open the checkbooks of mainstream companies on a national level until Prudhomme and McEwen, competing as "Wildlife Racing," convinced the Mattel toy maker to promote its Hot Wheels miniature car line through cleverly promoted rivalry. The Hot Wheels campaign was wildly successful, for the drivers as well as the toymaker, and it ran from 1970 through the 1972 season.
As nostalgic drag racing grew in popularity, enthusiasts began restoring original Funny Cars or seeking driver blessings to build meticulously detailed replicas. The AutoFair's Nationwide Insurance Classic Car Showcase Pavilion will host an exhibit of cars from the early years of Funny Car development, representing legendary drivers such as McEwen, Prudhomme, Richard Petty, Bruce Larson, Dick Brannon, "Jungle Jim" Liberman, and Hubert Platt, to name a few.
Prudhomme and Larson will sign autographs for fans in the Nationwide Insurance Classic Car Showcase Pavilion Friday and Saturday during the Pennzoil AutoFair from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Current NHRA drivers Matt Hagan and Leah Pritchett will also make appearances Saturday. Hagan will sign autographs in the Pennzoil booth from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and again from 1:30 until 2:00 p.m. Pritchett will make a special appearance in the Tommy Pike Customs booth from 11:00 a.m. to noon.
The Pennzoil AutoFair features more than 50 car club displays and more than 10,000 vendor spaces offering an array of automotive parts and memorabilia. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway. In addition, kids can enjoy face-painting, bounce houses, and other games and entertainment in the Play Zone.
Hours for the April 7-10 Pennzoil AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $11 per day for adults, and children 13 years of age and younger are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. To purchase tickets, call the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267), or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.