Greetings on a Thursday evening. I don’t have much to add to the top of this Elon Werner blog because I’ve never experienced anything like it. Of course, in my years in the sport of drag racing I often heard about “the good old days” when 64-car Funny Car shows were the rage, but those days were long gone once the sport went so professional and highly sponsored by the time I was on the scene. From every account I’ve heard, near and far, this event in Dallas this past weekend ranged from “spectacular” to “nostalgic” to “overwhelmingly incredible.” Elon was there.
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Funny Car Chaos Was The Coolest Kind of Chaos
I don’t want to say I am jaded when it comes to NHRA races or drag racing events in general, but after nearly 30 years in the sport there is definitely a feeling of “been there and seen that.” When the Texas Motorplex added the Funny Car Chaos event over the off-season my initial thought was this would be a nice addition to their schedule. As the 2021 season got underway and word began to spread about Funny Car Chaos coming to the Motorplex I was blown away. I knew the track had a tiger by its tail when NHRA professional drivers and team members were calling me asking for more details about how they could participate.
Two days before the race Don “The Snake” Prudhomme called me to verify there were really going to be over 64 Funny Cars at the race. He told me Funny Car Chaos was all anyone on the West Coast was talking about. I told him he definitely needed to plan on coming to the event next year. Two-time NHRA world champion Del Worsham reached out about running his Funny Car with a special tribute design for his dad Chuck, and Tim Wilkerson wanted to bring his Summit Racing Fuel Altered to make a run at the ¼ mile ET and speed world records. Scott Palmer was entered in the event and Kebin Kinsley was also planning on setting the world record in the War Wagon Fuel Altered. Suddenly not only did we have a huge Funny Car event we had an old school Fuel Altered match race between Wilkerson and Kinsley.
When I said huge Funny Car event that was an understatement, this was the biggest Funny Car event in almost 50 years. There were 70 Funny Cars entered when we rolled into race week and while a couple teams had issues we still had over 65 Funny Cars on the property vying for 32 qualified spots. The field was wide open since there were no performance limitations and any style or type of Funny Car was welcome. Everyone was racing to the 1/8 mile which leveled the playing field considerably and as you walked through the pits you saw every era of Funny Car racing represented. It was like strolling through a combination museum, car show, and national event.
When qualifying got underway on Friday the first session took over three hours and that was just for the Funny Cars. There were minimal stoppages for oil downs or on-track incidents, which was quite an accomplishment. It just takes a long time to run over 60 Funny Cars. They had two sessions scheduled on Friday and the first day wrapped up well after midnight. As Brad Littlefield so perfectly posted on Twitter, “if you like drag racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, then Funny Car Chaos was the event for you.”
Saturday got started with one more qualifying session and then eliminations at 5 p.m. Leading up to the races I attempted to coordinate a group photo with all the Funny Cars in attendance. Chris Graves, the founder and promoter of Funny Car Chaos, had given me his blessing to try and arrange this shot but also told me there was about a zero percent chance of it coming together. He made an announcement at the driver’s meeting on Friday that before Saturday’s Q3 session he would like everyone to bring their cars to the staging lanes for a historic photo. I had photographers lined up as well as ladders for elevated shots. I was shooing people out of the staging lane area behind the tower in anticipation of a ton of race cars showing up. At the appointed time Funny Cars did begin to fill the lanes and I worked to get them bunched together so we could get as many in the shot as possible. Unfortunately, racers being racers, they were not at the event for photos. They were there to race and we only got about 30 Funny Cars to show up. The picture was cool but not overwhelming. Chris and I decided next year we would have a scheduled time on Friday to get everyone in the shot.
Seeing all the Funny Cars from the different eras was really a sight to behold. I spoke with a number of the guys running these tribute cars and their passion level was off the charts. On Friday night there was a big oil down right in front of the Lew Arrington Brutus Funny Car. That team had a mascot of sorts, dressed as a Spartan who stood at attention beside the car until it ran. That guy stood at attention for over an hour waiting for the oil down to be cleaned up. It was a performance that would have made a Beefeater guard from Buckingham Palace proud.
In addition to mascots there were also more than a few back-up girls. Again, this was a throwback event to a different time and the pageantry was half of the racing experience. The role of the back-up person was very important and not something that could just be performed without preparation and training.
There were also a number of special guests at the race including Constance Nunes, one of the stars of the Netflix series Car Masters: Rust to Riches, who was taking in her first big time drag racing event. She was very interested in the role of the back-up girl and inquired about getting into the action. I connected her with Leeza Diehl, wife of and back-up girl for NHRA Funny Car driver Jeff Diehl, and she walked Constance through the processes and procedures for backing up a race car. It was a fifteen minute tutorial that really only hit the high points. At the end of the conversation Constance had a new appreciation for the job of backing up race cars and definitely understood it was not an entry level position.
It was great to introduce someone like Constance to drag racing. She has a ton of experience on the car building and restoration side of the business but would like to get more involved in the racing angle too. She is a Mustang person who is interested in Fuel Altereds so I connected her with Tim Wilkerson who gave here the full tour of his race car program that was making history just about every pass down the track.
On Friday Wilkerson and Kinsley thought it would be cool to have a side-by-side exhibition run before the first Funny Car qualifying session. They had each made some test runs earlier in the day but they were going to take a shot at the world record to see who might grab some bragging rights. Both Altereds launched hard and at half-track they were welded together. In the right lane, Kinsley’s race car drove into extreme tire shake and Wilkerson’s race car, being driven by his good friend and Nitro crew chief Richard Hartman, stayed hooked up. It lit up the scoreboard with a record setting elapsed time of 4.92 seconds at 296 mph. It obliterated both ends of the Fuel Altered world record of 5.28 seconds and 286 mph. The crowd went wild and Wilkerson immediately shifted his focus to trying to become the first Fuel Altered to run over 300 mph. For Kinsley it was a tough race since he had been focusing his attention on being the first in the fours for a while and the damage his race car suffered on the run was extensive. He got back to his pit, evaluated the damage and dispatched a crew person to his Arlington, Texas, shop to grab the materials and tools needed to get back into the race. He was not out of the fight by a long shot.
On Saturday Wilkerson and Hartman were the first to break the 300 mph barrier in a Fuel Altered with a 304.53 mph run but Kinsley was able to leave with the speed record when he blasted down the all-concrete quarter mile with a speed of 304.59 mph. It was an amazing weekend of performance by both teams and made the event truly historic. Those runs showed the world the Texas Motorplex was still a facility that could rewrite the history books.
I was able to take a walk through the pit area with Texas Motorplex founder and former Funny Car racer Billy Meyer and it was a cool experience to listen to him talk about his career and also the event. One of the competitors had his 1973 “The Motivator” Funny Car, which had been painstakingly refurnished to look just like it did 48 years ago. The racer had been campaigning the car for a number of years before Meyer found out about this tribute car of sorts. Once it was on his radar he took an immediate interest. Having a tribute car has its positives and negatives. Once Meyer realized how detailed it was right down to having his name on the side he asked the owner to make some modifications for legal reasons. He didn’t want his name on a car that he didn’t have any control or interest in which is understandable. A few alterations were made and as Meyer and I looked at the car in the Motorplex pit area it looked just like it did in the 70s. The stark difference between that race car and the modern day Funny Car were startling.
It had been many years since I was truly excited about a drag race and Meyer was in the same mindset. We talked about how cool the Funny Car Chaos event was because it was so relaxed. There were safety measures in place but on the technical side it was pretty straightforward. If you had a Funny Car you could haul it out and race it. There weren’t any performance restrictions and you just needed to be able to cut a light and keep all eight candles lit to have a chance. The diversity of the race teams was also very cool to see. They ran the gamut from Del Worsham, Scott Palmer and Kebin Kinsley with full-size 18-wheeler haulers to guys with mini Chaparral trailers and pick-up trucks. In the staging lanes and on the track they were all equals. Del was No. 1 qualifier with his 2021 Toyota Camry Funny Car but he did not get the event win. He was defeated in the final by Kyle Smith and his Smith Family Racing team.
I spent two days weaving through the staging lanes and watching from the starting line and the whole time I was just happy. I was able to see my favorite nostalgia Funny Car, Raymond Beadle’s famed Blue Max. I don’t know what it is about that race car but every time I see it I could tell it was a beast on the track and struck fear into its competition. It was great to see so many people digging drag racing and especially Funny Car drag racing. There is a very bright future for Funny Car Chaos and Chris Graves was doing it right by not over managing the series. There will be five more races across the country this season and while I don’t think any of them will be as big as the Texas Motorplex event they would definitely be worth checking out.