Time Capsule – Northwest 1970’s Top Fuel – Rear Engined Revs
If there was ever a golden age of Top Fuel in the Northwest it would be the 1970’s, in particular the mid to late years of the decade. At the time there were upwards of 30 licensed TF drivers in NHRA Division Six. The 1978 season saw three Division Six drivers finish in the NHRA National Top Ten with Rob Bruins third, Gary Beck fourth and current NHRA Senior VP of Racing Operations Graham Light ninth.
It was a time of great change in the nitro dragster world. The rear-engine revolution was just beginning leading to the next big evolution that came right out of Division Six.
The decade began with Washington pilot ‘Gentleman’ Hank Johnson winning the 1971 NHRA World Finals in Ontario marking the second-to-last victory for a front-motored car. Johnson would become part of history at the 1975 Seattle National Open when he and Jeb Allen ran the first side-by-side five second race.
Probably most prolific was Gary Beck whose list of accomplishments include 19 National event victories, two World Championships (1974 & 1983) making him the sixth winningest driver in NHRA history.
‘The King” Jerry Ruth won eight Divisional TF titles, including seven-in-a-row from 1968 to 1974. He set the National Record in 1972 at 6.11 leading up to his only World Title in 1973. After suffering a serious tire-shaking incident at the ’79 U.S. Nationals, the Seattle driver got together with Tacoma chassis builder Al Swindahl resulting in a rear-engine design that would change Top Fuel to this day. It was however not without one scary pass at the 1980 Seattle WDRS race when both front tires blew off the car at 250mph!
Rob Bruins captured the 1979 NHRA World Title after finishing third the previous season. This coming in a car owned by R. Gaines Markley who set the National speed mark of 234.37 April 29, 1972 at the Seattle National Open.
Another great driver of the era included Edmonton’s Terry Capp (together with famed crew chief Bernie Fedderly), who won the 1979 Tulsa AHRA Grand American race leading up to his biggest victory, the 1980 U.S. Nationals. The race was the last 32-car field in NHRA history.
Another star of the era, Bremerton’s Herm Petersen, won the 1973 Gatornationals just weeks before a devastating accident at OCIR which resulted in horrendous burns, injuries he would come back from in true hero fashion.
Sadly those days are well behind us as there would never again be a time when so many Northwest racers would make such great marks in the big league nitro dragster ranks.