Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Great Exploding Pinto

In August 1972 my friend Jim Leishman and I took the bus from Hamilton, Ontario to Niagara Falls, New York for a big show at 1320 Dragway (Sundaaayyyy!!!! Niagaraaaahh!!!!). It was a solid big-name Top Fuel and Funny Car show, the kind they screamed about on the radio during the week. Along with the local talent, all the big guns were there: Snow, Schumacher, The Hawaiian, the Mickey Thompson Pinto; Chris Karamasines, a young Jeb Allen, Tommy Ivo and yes, Big Daddy Don Garlits and Tommy Lemon. I was a wide-eyed fourteen year old and loved every second of it; it was like spending an entire weekend in the pages of Drag Racing USA.

Come the final rounds, the light was fading on Dale Pulde's Mickey Thompson Pinto and Gene Snow's Snowman Charger, the last survivors of the Funny Car field. When the cars fired the Pinto sounded like it was packed with dynamite. I thought at the time that maybe driver Pulde had piled on the nitro, as he'd been known to do on occasion. Whatever the reason, its engine note was sharp and loud. I shouted to Leishman that I thought the Pinto was going to blow, and off I bolted toward the finish line. Both cars roared through their burnouts behind me as I ran at full speed along the slope bordering the track. They lined up just as I scrambled down the hill to watch them launch from about a thousand feet away, separated only by a couple of steel cables lining the edge of the asphalt.

The Pinto left hard, way out ahead of Snow. Sure enough, it blew to smithereens right in front of my eyes at well over two hundred miles an hour. It was magnificent. Fans scrambled to retrieve the pearl red fiberglass shards and the bits of blower that rained down. Pulde and the crew posed for photographs with what was left of the car, and on their way back to the pits they threw Peter-Paul candybars to the cheering crowd.

As if that wasn't enough, the very next race was the Top Fuel final, in which Don Garlits beat a tearful Jeb Allan and set a new national record at 6.10/244MPH, breaking Clay Harris' mark by .24 seconds and 9MPH, a big fat country mile. Big Daddy celebrated with a huge fireworks show. It was all great.

What's special to me now about the story of the Great Exploding Pinto is that 35 years later, I found this photo at


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