Did you see my Marlowe Modification Nationals meet?
Months ago, there was a suggestion there should be an all new drag racing meet. There was a guy named Marlowe that was modifying diecast cars into drag racing machines from the '60s. The cars, were not produced by any diecast maker. They were existing diecast cars and then converted into wild drag racing machines. Wouldn't it be cool if those cars held a drag race? And so, the rumor mill began to swirl and circulate that some of Marlowe's modified drag racing funny cars should meet up at the same event.
No one quite knows the source of the first talk of such a meet. The hushed conversations that were whispered in the pits at the end of tailgates at different drag racing venues just seemed to be just talk; unsubstantiated rumors, if you will. However, as the rumors grew perhaps all of the quiet talk moved a few racers to say "Why not? We oughta do this!" And so, as these things tend to evolve, phone calls were made, negotiations completed, deals were cut and a date was set! It would be held in the mythical month of Marty, 1966 at historic Lion's Drag Strip in Long Beach, California. The race was ON! It was to be the inaugural drag racing funny car meet called the Marlowe's Modified Nationals (MMN)!
Entry to the event was based on a single criterion. Your car had to be a Marlowe diecast modification! There was only one little problem. Marlowe has modified only a few diecast cars, and only seven are drag racing vehicles. So, it was decided to allow a ringer. More on that later.
Drivers asked what performance modifications to their cars would be allowed. The MMN would be a "Run Watcha Brung" event! Match race rules apply!
Run watcha brung!
OK, got it but there were questions.
Does that mean we can "tip the can?" Affirmative!
Hydrazine rocket fuel? Affirmative!
Can we run any tire pressures? Affirmative!
It's a "Run Watcha Brung" event! Best car wins all the marbles! The "marbles" will be the famous and much sought after, the much desired "No Prize!" OK, then! It's ON!!!
Butch Leal brought his '65 AWB injected Plymouth Belvedere. Mr. Norm, showed with Gary Dyer at the helm, his blown '65 AWB Dodge Coronet, Dyno Don Nicholson with his injected flip top Mercury Comet, Gas Ronda in his '66 longnose injected Mustang atop his '65 fantasy transporter hauler, Bill Flynn with the injected AWB Yankee Peddler Dodge Coronet, and Maynard Rupp with his Chrysler HEMI powered Chevelle Malibu Chevoom. Big John Mazmanian showed up too with his Chrysler HEMI Willys gasser that he tuned for a nitromethane load in his Moon tank. It would be interesting to see how the Willys gasser would perform with nitromethane fuel coursing through its veins.
However, there was still the problem of only seven cars and an unequal paring. It was decided to allow the ringer to be Arnie "The Farmer" Beswick with his '66 Pontiac GTO funny car. (It's missing the engine cover so in a sense, it qualifies as a "Marlowe Modification) Lot's of other cars wanted to attend but they failed to meet the criterion of being a Marlowe modification. So, these eight cars would be paired against each other. It was gonna be one helluva show!
Mr. Norm had been running in the 8.70's at over 160 MPH throughout the East. The West coast drivers didn't believe the times and thought Mr. Norm was "Cooking the Chrondeck clocks." The drivers told Norm Kraus if he wanted to run 8's at Lion's Drag Strip to be sure to bring those East Coast clocks with him!
Dyno Don was running some pretty impressive times himself too. The lightweight Logghe chassis flip top Comet ran great and 8.50's were common at over 160 MPH! An interesting addition of the Mazmanian Willys would prove to be very exciting. How would a gasser running on Nitro stack up against the other tough competition? Time would tell. But first, qualification runs!
Butch Leal, 9.58 @ 151 MPH
Mr. Norm, 8.72 @ 162 MPH (Answering the so-called "East Coast clocks" critics)
Dyno Don 8.61 @ 161 MPH
Gas Ronda 8.81 @ 159 MPH
Bill Flynn 9.16 @ 157 MPH
Maynard Rupp 8.83 @ 167 MPH
Mazmanian 8.90 @ 158 MPH
Beswick, 8.79 @ 165 MPH
First up was top qualifier Dyno Don Nicholson in his flip top Mercury Comet against the 1965 AWB Plymouth of Butch Leal. It hardly seemed like a fair contest as the newer more modern tube chassis funny car was setting records all over the country. However, Butch "The California Flash" Leal never backed down from a challenge and although his chances weren't great, he'd give it his all. Leal's 100% effort was not even close to being enough as he was roundly dispatched by the superior performance of the Logghe Chassis Comet, 8.48 to and excellent for a '65 AWB injected Mopar, 8.98. Considering the difference in technology, it just wasn't a fair fight.
Next up was the #2 qualifier of Mr. Norm's '65 blown AWB Dodge Coronet against another '65 AWB Dodge Coronet Mopar of Bill Flynn at the helm of his Yankee Peddler. Bill Flynn had been running very well in his native Northeast. His match race record was quite impressive blowing off some of the top names in the country. But this time, he was running against Gary Dyer in Mr. Norm's awesome Grand Spaulding Dodge! Those 8 second runs that Dyer was turning were no fluke! The power of a supercharged car over an injected one was too much to overcome. Notch one for Mr. Norm, 8.62 to Bill Flynn's 8.87.
Gas Ronda came to the line against Maynard Rupp in his rear engine (it was actually mid engine but that's what they were called back then) Chevy Chevoom! It was the classic Ford vs Chevy (albeit Chrysler HEMI powered) matchup! Gas Ronda has been destroying competition on the West Coast. His match race record is one of the best in the country and his injected Ford SOHC is consistently providing big reliable horsepower! But would this be enough against a blown Chrysler HEMI Chevelle Malibu of Rupp? Everyone knows of Rupp's AA/FD records as his Roy Steffey powered rails were formidable foes! Could Rupp duplicate that success in his new rear engine funny car? They staged and on the green GO light Ronda leaped off the line like a scalded banshee (or is that screaming cat?) with a 2 car length lead! At mid track, Rupp hooked up and the blown HEMI's prodigious horsepower started to show its muscle! Rupp was coming on strong in the traps and catching Ronda but ran out of track and Ronda got there first with a quick 8.60 to Rupp's 8.69 @171 MPH. It was a close race and the fans went wild!
Big John Mazmanian with his '41 Willys seemed like the oddball against modern funny cars. However, Big John tuned his big HEMI to run on fuel and he "tipped the can" BIG TIME! Some said they thought he was running 100% nitro. Considering the bright long flames exiting his headers, who would argue? The question to be answered, was it enough to compete with modern funny cars? The qualifying pitted Big John against the ringer, Arnie Beswick in his always strong running Pontiac GTO.
After they both laid down the rosin and finished their burnouts, the crowd rose to its feet to see this unusual matchup! The ever popular Beswick was always a crowd favorite but this time, it seemed from the crowd reaction, they really wanted Big John Mazmanian to show well against such staunch but probably superior competition! The Christmas Tree ticked down and both cars catapulted off the line with just a slight wheelstand by Beswick. Beswick stayed with it, didn't lift and at mid track they were even but then there was an apparent problem with Mazmanian's Willys! It seems that the high nose attitude of the Willys and the extra horsepower of the nitromethane was a little too much speed for the aerodynamics of the Willys and as the air built up under the car, Big John got squirrely and the front end rose to a huge wheelstand at 150 MPH!!! It was either lift or crash and Maz decided to save his car! The Willys settled back to Terra Firma in one piece. After Big John's heart rate dropped back to a more "normal" 150, Arnie went on to record an 8.62 with no time on the Mazmanian Willys.
In round one, Dyno Don improved on his qualifying time with an 8.48 so he was feeling really confident about his injected Cammer Merc! Ronda wasn't running too badly himself but he knew that to beat Dyno Don that he had to have everything go just right! Both cars did their rosin burnouts but then Dyno Don's sat still 200 feet down the track. The car wouldn't back up! It appeared that his reverse gear wouldn't work and he was beginning to have transmission troubles! The crew realizing that Dyno's car was stuck ran to the car and pushed him back to the staging area. Was the reverse gear a harbinger of more tranny trouble for Dyno? Gas Ronda is a gentleman racer but in drag racing, drivers adopt a "take no prisoners" attitude! Tranny problems or not, Gas would give no quarter, show no sympathy! Ronda, sensing a weakness was beginning to taste victory! In other words, you will NOT PASS GAS!!! The race was ON!!!
Both cars are Ford Cammer powered running on injectors. Power was about the same but the tuning wizardry of Earl Wade on Nicholson's car, plus the lighter Logghe chassis proved to be too much for the heavier longnose Mustang of Ronda. Despite the tranny woes it was Nicholson all the way with a very quick 8.41 to Gas Ronda's 8.55! It was one helluva race!
The powerful blown Dodge of Mr. Norm was a formidable foe. The East Coast times that Gary Dyer had recorded that no one believed, were verified on this warm day in Long Beach! Mr. Norm's Dodge had little trouble running strong 8 second times! Arnie Beswick knew he had to come ready, locked, and loaded! No one in drag racing can turn a wrench like The Farmer! He's done more with less better than anyone in the business! He'd need it all to beat Gary Dyer!
Both drivers did their rosin burnouts and they slowly pre-staged. It seemed like it was a moment of gamesmanship as both cars sat in pre-stage status waiting for the other car to stage! So both cars waited, and waited, and waited! The crowd was ecstatic with anticipation wondering if one of the cars would overheat as Dyer and Beswick played the staging cat-and-mouse game with each other! Finally Beswick, sensing that he was doing his comparatively fragile Pontiac engine no favors, staged and Dyer followed. The tree ticked down its lights and both cars leaped off the line with blown injected nitromethane furious anger! They were in a dead heat tie for the entire quarter mile and as they both powered through the traps, no one could tell by sight alone who one the race; it was that close! There was a hushed silence in the crowd until the win signed flashed for Beswick, 8.62 to 8.65! It seemed closer than that as Beswick won by a bumper! The crowd roared with approval!
ROUND THREE - FINAL ROUND
The MMN final would be a classic Ford vs GM affair! The promoters couldn't have asked for a better ending! It would be Dyno Don Nicholson against Arnie Beswick, our ringer for this meet. You could feel the excitement, the exhilaration, the tension in the stands!
Everyone knows that the SOHC with injectors on fuel was producing about 900 HP! Would it be enough to overcome the strong running and more powerful blown Poncho Goat on fuel? Arnie, secretive about his setups, wouldn't allow anyone to see his nitro fuel to alcohol mixture formula! Would he put the extra strain on his Pontiac wedge engine and go 100% nitro? Or did he use some of that magic engine elixir normally reserved for Saturn V rockets, Hydrazine? No one knew! Dyno has always been conservative and preferred longevity over ultimate performance! So there was no question that he'd be conservative with his fuel load mixture. Besides, Dyno had bigger worries because his C-6 transmission was starting to sour. He didn't have a reverse gear and didn't know if other issues were lurking in his Art Carr massaged C-6! There was no way that he was going to add any more strain to the driveline than necessary.
The fans were ready, the concessions empty, the restrooms empty, and not a single soul was sitting! Everyone was standing on their feet to see the final round! There was an eerie quiet until the injected Cammer and Blown Poncho pierced the still quiet with their loud nitromethane induced throttle "cackle braps" as both cars fired up and came to the line! Beswick did his rosin burnout while Dyno did a quick hop but no full burnout. Again, Dyno was worried that the C-6 was going south and he elected to forego the burnout routine to save his tranny from any additional strain. Both cars lined up and Dyno was in no mood to play the pre-staging/staging game that he saw Beswick do against Dyer. So Dyno staged, and Beswick followed! The Christmas Tree ticked down and off they went! Beswick got a 1/2 car holeshot on Dyno but the superior engineering of the Logghe chassis quickly gathered up Beswick and Dyno led him comfortably at the lights with a meet low E.T. of 8.36 to Beswick's very quick and respectable 8.52! Nicholson was victorious and limped to yet another win in his remarkable 1966 season for himself and the Mercury racing effort!
The fans left the stands in a state of blissful delirium. They had witnessed one of the best meets they've ever seen! All cars acquitted themselves very well with record runs and low E.T.s. This was the inaugural event for the MMNs! Would there be another next year? Who knows for sure! It only makes sense if there is another new modification! There has been some talk coming out of the Riverside Car Specialties shop that a Sox & Martin injected '66 Plymouth Barracuda Baccaruda or the Don Gay blown '66 Pontiac GTO Infinity might be in the works. It will depend if Marlowe is ambitious or lazy for the coming months! Time will tell!
Special thanks to the following people for their contribution.
Event Promoter: Marlowe Johnson
Event Organizer: Marlowe Johnson
Announcer: Marlowe Johnson
Starter: Marlowe Johnson
Safety Director: Marlowe Johnson
Photography: Marlowe Johnson
Concessions: Marlowe Johnson
Janitorial: Marlowe Johnson
Advertising: Marlowe Johnson
Article Author: Marlowe Johnson
Editor: Marlowe Johnson
Publisher: Marlowe Johnson
Diecast Modifications: Marlowe Johnson