Wed, 13 May 2020, 12:35 PM
The Name Game Part I
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2020 Steve Reyes
I believe it was late in 1963 or early 1964 when I attended my first drag race at Fremont Drag
Strip in Fremont, California. For me, the drag strip was a wonderful world of smoke, noise and
nitro fumes. The cars were so colorful and listening to Fremont's announcer, the late Ray
Francisco, make the drivers very flamboyant characters just added to my sense of adventure in
racing. It was a bonus for me when Ray would refer to a driver as the "The Cheater", "The Lizard",
and an owner as "Terrible Tempered Ted." It was like a whole new language for me to learn and it
became a challenge to remember what name went with which owner/driver.
The Bay area didn't have the market cornered on driver nicknames. Just read the then current
issues of Drag News, Drag World, Drag Sport Illustrated and National Dragster and you will find a
bevy of nicknames from around the USA. Names like "Joe the Jet", "Gentleman Joe", Gentlemen Hank",
"The Colonel", "The Kid", "Billy The Kid", "Cha-Cha", "Ringo", "Fat Jack", "Jungle Larry",
"Stormin' Norman", "TV Tommy", "The Greek", "The Ace", "The Loner", "Lefty", "Shorty", "The Red
Baron", "Unsprung", "The Wasp", "The Hippie", "The Bat", "Baby Huey", "The Hunter", "Surfer Hank",
"Wally Gator", "Underdog", "Ice Man", "Dyno Don", "The Worm", and of course various animal names.
The name game will be fun in the second part as we match the name with the driver. Stay tuned!
If you wish to purchase prints of the photos below or any others, they may be obtained by
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I guess the two biggest nicknamed drag racers would be Don "The Snake" Prudhomme
and his rival and good friend, the late Tom "Mongoose" McEwen. This duo took
their racing nicknames to the ultimate level in motorsports.
Joining Prudhomme and McEwen in the outstanding name game department
was Don Garlits. Garlits had two very familiar nicknames, "Big Daddy" and
"Swamp Rat". The "Swamp Rat" nickname was a put down by top fuel racers
on the West Coast. Garlits simply took it in stride and named his car, The Swamp Rat.
Here Big Daddy squared off with the Snake at Fremont in 1970. Front engine or
rear engine fueler, there was only one "Big Daddy"!
Local South San Francisco top fuel racers in 1965 referred to the Gotelli/Milani
team as the "Terrible Tempered Ted" Gotelli and Denny Milani as "The Wolverine".
Did those names fit, yes, they sure did! Gotelli would argue at the drop of a hat
and Milani, well, he was a fierce take no prisoners driver.
This one puzzled me. Drag Sport Illustrated writer/photographer Harry Walker
decided to call Jim Davis "The Texas Lizard" in his Northern Fog column for DSI.
It was puzzling because Davis wasn't from Texas and Jim Herbert was already
known as "The Lizard" in NorCal top fuel racing.
Another racer that Harry Walker named was John Batto. Walker would
refer to him as "The Sultan" in his DSI column. The Santa Rosa, California,
based Batto just seemed to take the whole nickname thing with a grain of salt.
When in 1965-66 Frank Bradley got his first blown fuel dragster ride in the
B.B.S. Chevy AA/FD, he was just called "Fast Frank". Then in 1967, when he
drove the 392 Hemi powered AA/FD of B.B. and J, Frank seemed to sound off
a bit more at his competition, thus his new nickname of "Bucketmouth" Bradley.
When I first attended the drag races, Jim "Lizard" Herbert drove two cars,
Fred Sorensen's AA/FR and Masters and Richter AA/FD. Then in 1966,
Herbert teamed with Bill Bishop and Frank Pitts to race a AA/FD. The car
took Herbert's nickname and became The Lizard AA/FD out of Sacramento, California.
Now how can a driver of a wild AA/FA called Pure Hell pick up the nickname of
"The Snail"? Well, Dale Emery sure did. When he drove the Pure Hell he was
the fastest "snail" on the 1320.
Drag News columnist and photographer, the late Al Caldwell also announced some
at Fremont. Whenever Al was on the mic and Chico Breshini was on the starting line,
Al called him "The Cheater". Breschini had won so much at Fremont, Caldwell gave
him the nickname of "Cheatin' Chico". Breschini took it in good fun and renamed
his car The Cheater.
Old time AA/FA fans know that Fred Cerutti made the first laps in Rich Guasco's
unpainted Pure Hell roadster. Guasco's second driver was Don Petrich a local
NorCal wannabe top fuel driver/owner. Petrich was the driver who dove the freshly
painted and lettered Pure Hell to 1320 glory in California. Don's own chosen nickname
was "The Golden Shoe" and to prove that point he had a golden bootie made to fit
over his right foot. His left foot was silver and his right was gold. Petrich tired of
Guasco's roadster and left to field his own AA/FD in late 1965. Petrich raced in top fuel
until he ran out of funds and fell into the abyss of unknown top fuel racers.
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