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Mon, 03 Dec 2018, 09:36 AM

Top Fuel Teams Across the USA Part V
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2018 Steve Reyes

This part of our AA/FD adventure includes some great cars from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, New Jersey, Texas and Washington state. First off, we have a well-known California top fuel team of the Frantic Four; Weekly, Rivero, Fox and Holding breaking up in 1966. Pennsylvania speed shop owners Bob Keough and Chris Gans joined forces with former Frantic Four members, Jim Fox and Row Rivero to race the K&G speed shop AA/FD. The K&G Associates AA/FD raced nationwide from late 1966 to late 1969. In the closing months of 1969, the team decided to forego top fuel for a mustang funny car.

At the far east end of Pennsylvania, there resided a big-time fan favorite in East Coast top fuel wars, the Jade Grenade AA/FD owned by Bill Flurer, Pete Lenoff, and Teddy Thomas. This sleek green machine set records up and down the Eastern seaboard and was a stand out in NHRA Division I top fuel racing in 1971. With Teddy Thomas at the controls, the Jade Grenade was a threat at local and national events.

In Louisville, Kentucky there was the headquarters of car show magnet Carl Casper. Casper was huge in the car show world but a lot of folks didn't know he was a big fan of top fuel dragsters. I saw his show and go AA/FD, the Galloping Ghost at Indy in 1969 with Butch Bryant driving. Casper got real serious in 1970 with an all new West Coast based AA/FD. Don Long did the chassis and Keith Black supplied the power plant. Then all Carl needed was a stud driver for his Young American AA/FD. Fresh from his tenure with Mickey Thompson and his Mach I funny car, Danny Ongais found this way into the cockpit of Caspers' new AA/FD. Ongais did okay with his seat time in the Young American but 1971 saw Gary Cochran in the driver's seat. Cochran won top fuel at the AHRA Winternationals in Scottsdale, Arizona. With the success of Garlits' rear engine top fuel car, the top fuel class was changed forever but the Young American was retired to spend time on the car show circuit.

Now New Jersey isn't really a hotbed for top fuel but the Van Iderstine speed shop guys forever made their mark in NHRA national event history when they bought Tom McEwen's Hot Wheels AA/FD, put their own power plant in it, and tapped Art Marshall to shoe their "used car" AA/FD. Art Marshall drove the second-hand AA/FD into fame and glory by being the last front engine car to win a NHRA national event at the 1972 Grandnational event in Canada.

>From Jersey it is on to the Lonestar state of Texas where Stephens and Venables were big dogs in Texas top fuel racing. The likeable duo raced mainly in the Southwest and went on to race a rear engine top fuel car before venturing into funny car racing. If the name Venables seems familiar, the second-generation Dickie Venables is currently the crew chief for Don Schumacher/Matt Hagen' Mopar funny car.

Last but not least, we make a stop in Washington state, home of the AA/FD duo of Dailey and Johnson. This upstart duo challenged Jerry "The King" Ruth to be the big dog in Northwest top fuel racing. With "Gentleman" Hank Johnson driving, they were the last front engine dragster to win in 1971. Their Supernationals win was their biggest win for the pair. They did go rear engine racing for a short time but then the team split and Hank Johnson went funny car racing in his Mr. Auto Supply sponsored AA/FC.

This is just another glimpse into top fuel racing at its prime. Stay tuned for more.

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The last year the Frantic Four were together was 1965.
Here at Riverside, Norm Weekly piloted the Frantic Four
against Danny Ongais in the Mangler. Then in 1966 only
Fox and Rivero raced the now yellow and black
K&G Associates AA/FD which was then based in Pennsylvania.

Ron Rivero took over for Norm Weekly when he vacated the
driver's seat after his good friend Denny Milani was killed in
Ted Gotelli's AA/FD in August of 1965. The biggest win for
the new K&G team was the 1968 Bakersfield Smokers event.
Towards the end of 1969 the team purchased a brand-new
Ford Mustang funny car from Phil Bonner and left top fuel for funny car glory.

Car show icon Carl Casper loved drag racing and the top fuel class.
In 1969, Butch Bryant was the driver of Casper's Galloping Ghost AA/FD.
The following year Casper got very serious about top fuel with an
all new Keith Black powered AA/FD. Danny Ongais had finished his
tenure with Mickey Thompson's Mach I funny car and found himself
in the seat of Casper's new Young American AA/FD.

Late in 1970, Ongais squared off with Don Garlits at the
NHRA Supernationals in Ontario. Ongais lost a close race
to Garlits and Ongais later stepped away from the
Young American. Gary Cochran took over as the new
driver in 1971. Cochran wasted no time and won top fuel
at the 1971 AHRA Winternationals at Scottsdale, Arizona.

Art Marshall proved a used top fuel car can put you in the
NHRA national record books. Marshall piloted the former
Tom McEwen's Hot Wheels AA/FD to a top fuel win at the
1972 NHRA Grandnational in Sanair, Canada. This made the
Van Iderstine team the last front engine top fuel dragster
to win a NHRA national event.

Another Pennsylvania based AA/FD was the Jade Grenade of
Bill Flurer, Pete Lenoff and Teddy Thomas. Their sleek green
machine was a big fan favorite wherever it raced. At one time
the Jade Grenade was the quickest AA/FD in the country.
The trio made its mark in the switch to a rear engine Jade Grenade.

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Dailey posed with their striped AA/FD at Lions
in 1971. The pair had just won top fuel at the 1971 NHRA Supernationals
in Ontario, Canada. The team proved that Jerry Ruth wasn't the only
winning AA/FD to come out of Washington state.

Last but not least is the team of Stephens and Venables from the
Lone Star State of Texas. With Stephens driving and Venables tuning
the duo put a hurt on other Texas based top fuel teams at the beginning
of the 1970s. The team changed to a rear engine car and then they
abandoned the top fuel classes for the better earning funny car class.

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