Drag Race Central - NHRA
Mon, 06 Jan 2020, 11:26 AM

Last Gasp of Top Gas, Part I
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2020 Steve Reyes

Does anyone remember top gas dragsters? NHRA did away with the class at the end of 1971. The once mighty high-octane gas burning dragsters had been a staple at NHRA race tracks all over the U.S.A. for many years. However, the big three, car manufacturers started to back the then new Pro Stock class leaving no room for the top gas class. For dragster fans like myself, the gas dragster class was just getting good as NHRA pulled the plug. What made the difference for me and thousands of race fans was the "Twins" that started to appear in the class.

Twin engine dragsters had been around drag racing since its beginning over seventy years ago. One dragster that stood out in the mid-1960s was the Southern California based Peters and Frank Freight Train. This twin engine blown Chevy powered dragster had almost a cult following in Southern California. The Freight Train's owner John Peters made it interesting by having Goob Tuller, Billy Scott, Wild Bill Alexander, Sam Davis, Walt Rhoades and Bob Muravez (a.k.a. Floyd Lippencott, JR) in the driver's seat over a span of seven to eight years. Muravez and Rhoades collected the most wins driving the car.

Schultz and Jones also went the twin route just in time for NHRA to pull the plug on the class. Bill Schultz kept racing in top fuel with longtime friend and driver Gerry Glenn. Los Angeles based Ken Theiss of Ken's Automotive had a better idea when it came to twin engine top gas dragsters. His Odd Couple sported a Hemi engine and a Chevy engine on high test octane gas. Of course, Theiss was told his dragster would never work and it would be just a pipe dream. Well, his regular driver Walt Stevens had other ideas and put the Odd Couple in many a winner circle in the Los Angeles area. Stevens took Theiss' gasser and won the 1971 NHRA Winternationals over a broke Bill Mullins. The Odd Couple won the last top gas eliminator at the Winternationals.

The strangest end to the top gas eliminator class took place at the 1971 NHRA Supernationals, in Ontario, California. Kenny Ellis piloted Larry Van Unen's twin Chevy's over Ohio's Jim Bucher and his twin Chevy's. Ellis was all smiles in the Ontario winner's circle. However, he wasn't smiling the next day, as Van Unen's car was pronounce illegal by NHRA and Bucher was declared the winner. Such a shame for the top gas class to go out on such a sour note.

If you wish to purchase prints of the photos below or any others, they may be obtained by contacting us at breyes@reyesontour.com. Other photos for purchase may be viewed by following the links at www.reyesontour.com.

John Peters Freight Train twin engine top gas dragster was based in Southern California
and had a cult like following during the mid to late 1960s. Peters had Goob Tuller,
Billy Scott, Wild Bill Alexander, Bob Muravex(a.k.a. Floyd Lippencott, Jr.), Sam Davis,
and Walt Rhoades drive the train over a span of seven to eight years. Muravex
and Rhoades won the most top gas races with the train.

Schultz and Jones went the twin route just in time for NHRA to cancel the class.
The Freight Train said "Goodbye" as the Schultz tuned twin boiled the tires and
handed another victory to Peters' Freight Train at Ontario.

California vs. Kentucky was the battle of Peter's Freight Train squaring off against
Dale Funk in the Frakes and Funk twin. The ever so humble Dale Funk was a lot of
fun to watch in the top gas class. When top gas ended, Funk could be found in
the English, Frakes and Funk Moonshiner top fuel dragster. Funk on nitro, now
there was fun in the top fuel class.

The winner's circle for Peter's two winningest drivers, Bob Muravex (a.k.a. Floyd Lippencott Jr.)
and the Peters gang at Fremont with driver Walt "Wally Gator" Rhoades in 1971.

Ken Theiss owned the Odd Couple and Red Fogelman first drove and then top fuel and
top gas veteran Walt Stevens took over. The Odd Couple with Stevens at the helm scored
top gas eliminator victories at Pomana and Bakersfield in 1971, the last year for top gas.
At Pomona, Stevens scored one of the biggest hole shot wins ever in drag racing.
When in the first round he beat the heavily favored Larry Van Unen and low qualifier7.58
to a losing but better 7.25. The 7.25 was low ET for the event in top gas but not
good enough to advance to second round.

Larry Van Unen's twin Chevy won top gas at Ontario, California at the NHRA Supernationals.
Making Van Unen and driver Kenny Ellis the last to ever win a NHRA top gas eliminator at
a national event. Ellis was all smiles in the winner's circle. Unfortunately, the smile was
short lived as NHRA tech crew declared Van Unen's car was illegal. Runner-up Jim Bucher
was made the winner on the Monday after the race. It was a sad ending to the top gas class.

In 1970, there was an upstart young woman based in upstate New York behind the wheel of her
Double Trouble top gas dragster. Her name was Shirley Muldowney. Everyone has to start
somewhere and Ms. Muldowney's first supercharged ride was the Muldowney family's AA/GD.

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