The grim reaper has once again visited the drag racing world and claimed some fine racers/gentlemen. Door slammer and funny car hero, Gas Ronda, top fuel/funny car racer "Gentleman" Hank Johnson, top fuel/funny car racer Joe Jacono and funny car owner/driver Chuck Beal. As these racers pass so does a part of the sport of drag racing history. The good old days of drag racing featured many a story about these racers and their exploits down the 1320. I was lucky to have known and sat down to talk racing with three of the four who have left this world. With Gas Ronda, we talked about the early days of funny car racing and his Gas Ronda funny car bar located in the Irwindale area, where yours truly did the 2'x3' photos that decorated the bar walls.
"Gentleman" Hank Johnson was a very nice person. A soft-spoken racer, who along with his partner Jim Dailey, took home top fuel honors at the 1971 NHRA Supernationals at Ontario, California. I got to hang out with the duo when I photographed their AA/FD for Drag Racing USA Magazine. Johnson entered the funny car wars in 1979 when funny cars began dominating drag racing. Both Johnson and Dailey were a class act in top fuel racing.
In 2007, I was waiting in line for my press/photographer's pass at the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion at Beech Bend, Kentucky, when I saw Joe Jacono waiting to get his racer's pass in the next line over. We both got our passes at the same time and I approached Joe and introduced myself. We had a great conversation about the good old days of AA/FD racing in the East and match racing funny cars along the East Coast. Joe was racing his Rollin Stoned retro funny car at Beech Bend. All I can say is that Jacono was quite the character.
Now to Chuck Beal, to be honest, I never was able to meet Chuck. However, I did get to witness his racing skills in a TA/FC. The San Diego based Beal was a heck of a racer and from what I have been told a great human being.
Unfortunately for those who have passed, this year's "Gone But Not Forgotten" has more segments. Stay tuned for the next segment.
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was a former dance instructor before his stint in drag racing. Gas was a Ford
legend in drag racing with his stock, A/FX and funny car rides.
racing career. With his badly burned hands, Ronda still appeared with his re-built Mustang AA/FC.
Dick Poll drove until it was decided that Ronda was not returning.
1971 NHRA Supernationals with the Dailey and Johnson AA/FD. Hank went on to
go funny car racing in 1979 with his Mr. Auto Supply line of AA/FC's without Dailey.
Barbin and Haywood AA/FD. When funny cars became the hot deal in drag racing,
Biddy Winward called his pal Jacono to go funny car racing. The duo match-raced
mainly on the East Coast until Winward tired of racing. Joe continued with his own
Rollin' Stoned 'Cuda AA/FC until 1976. It had been almost thirty plus years since
Jacono had retired from racing but the drag racing bug got him again which
resulted in the retro Rollin Stoned 'Cuda being born.
burning dragster. Beal jumped into the alcohol funny car class in the mid-70s.
He made his mark in alcohol funny cars before racing in the nitro funny car class in 1994.
Chuck Beal will be missed by Southern California racers.