After more than 30 years, legendary Blue Max and Cajun Cuda Funny Cars ride again this weekend

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Before John Force became the winningest driver in National Hot Rod Association history, there were other drivers who were the Force of their time.

If you’re a longtime gearhead and drag racing fan, surely you recognize the name Raymond Beadle and his “Blue Max” Plymouth Arrow Funny Car, or Paul Candies and Leonard Hughes’ “Cajun Cuda,” which ruled the quartermile back in the 1970s.

Nearly 40 years later, those iconic cars will once again take to the dragstrip in the International Hot Rod Association Nitro Jam Spring Nationals Saturday and Sunday at Rockingham (N.C.) Dragway, right across the street from legendary NASCAR track, Rockingham Speedway.

The two legendary Funny Cars are part of  increasingly popular nostalgia classes in both the IHRA and NHRA (Hot Rod Heritage Series) that have been bringing back memories for longtime drag racing fans and are attracting new fans, as well.

“It’s like stepping back in time,” Dragway owner Steve Earwood said in a media release. “When I was the PR Director at the NHRA, I worked with the Blue Max guys as well as with Paul Candies and his series of drivers.

“Richard Tharp, he drove for both teams at different times, Mark Oswald, Leroy Goldstein, the list goes on. Those cars had personalities and I think that still resonates with our fans.”

The Blue Max and Cajun Cuda were among a crop of Funny Cars that not only put the NHRA and IHRA on the map nationally, they also barnstormed across the U.S. and Canada as the sport exploded to the greatest level of its popularity in more than a half-century of chasing the fastest elapsed time and top speed.

“Between them, the Blue Max and Candies and Hughes won seven IHRA Funny Car championships and four NHRA titles in the late 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s,” according to the media release. “In fact, Candies and Hughes once won both titles, IHRA and NHRA, in a single season (1984).

“Back then, the drivers were Beadle, who this year will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Novi, Mich., and Mark Oswald.  Now, they’re Ronnie Young of Dallas, Texas, and Mike Halstead of Fontana, Calif.

“Nevertheless, while the drivers’ names have changed, the mystique has not, which is why the nostalgia Funny Cars are among the hottest commodities in the sport.”

Beadle went on to parlay his drag racing prowess into a successful career as a NASCAR Winston Cup team owner.

In fact, it was Beadle who owned the car NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace earned his only Winston Cup championship (1989), not Roger Penske as many fans still get wrong even to this day.

Beadle had a special fondness for Rockingham Dragway while still a driver, winning the spring race there four times in seven years from 1975 through 1981, using three of those wins to springboard to the eventual championship that season.

Other legendary Funny Cars expected to compete in this weekend’s event are John Smith of Delray Beach, Fla., in a “Jungle Jim” Liberman tribute car, former IHRA Top Fuel winner and trailer manufacturer Bruce Litton in the U.S. Male Chevy Vega, and rookie Mike McIntire Jr. in the McAttack 1969 Camaro that won earlier this year at Bradenton, Fla.

Over the last few years, there has been a significant renewed interest in legendary dragsters of old, particularly Funny Cars.

Although they won’t be at Rockingham this weekend, legendary Funny Cars like Don “Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “Mongoose” McEwen campaigned their Hot Wheels-sponsored rides not only at NHRA races, but also barnstormed from one end of the country to the other. The special friendship and rivalry between the two was profiled in the recent Hollywood movie, “Snake & Mongoo$e.”

To see how drag racing was back then, check out the promotional trailer of “Snake & Mongoo$e” below:

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IMSA: Sebring test notes

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Ahead of next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, teams from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship took to Sebring International Raceway to round out a week of IMSA testing at the 3.74-mile road course.

Below are news highlights from Friday and Saturday at Sebring.

Derani Aiming for a Repeat of 2016 Victory

Tequila Patrón ESM’s Pipo Derani burst onto the American racing scene in 2016 with standout performances at the Rolex 24 and 12 Hours of Sebring to lead the ESM team to victory at both races.

His Sebring triumph was particularly impressive as he charged from fourth to first in the final ten minutes to secure the victory in one of the most thrilling finishes the race has ever seen.

Now two years removed from those successes, Derani appreciates the impact those 2016 triumphs had on his career.

“If you’re talking about sports car racing, you’re talking about Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Petit and those races that are known worldwide,” said the now 24-year-old Derani. “After winning Daytona and immediately coming here at Sebring – which if I’m not wrong, I was the first guy winning both on debut and the first Brazilian, probably to win back-to-back on those two races. It definitely changed my career. It opened many doors for myself and I’m really glad that it happened. Nothing comes easy. I’m really glad that ESM gave me the chance in 2016 to be in those races. Two years later, I can’t wait to win again.”

With testing now in the rearview mirror, Derani hopes he and the ESM team have found the right setup package to give them another chance at a victory.

“(Thursday) was a day that we managed to get a lot of information,” he explained. Most importantly, we ran a lot. We were out on track, and that is really good for us. Hopefully, this work is going to pay off really, really soon.”

United Autosports Continues American Odyssey at Sebring

Although two-time FIA Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso won’t be in the mix, United Autosports will be continuing the American adventure they started at January’s Rolex 24 with entries at the three other Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events in 2018, beginning with March’s 12 Hours of Sebring.

The No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson will be the team’s entrant at the remaining NAEC events and they will look to build on a fourth-place finish at the Rolex. However, while fourth looks like a strong result, team co-owner Richard Dean felt a victory may have been within their reach.

“We were a little bit disappointed in the end, even though we finished fourth because I think with three hours to go we sat in third place and the two Cadillacs were looking like they were struggling, we felt like we had an opportunity that 24-hour races can give you,” said Dean. “But everybody’s got a story, so we came out of there with a fourth place.”

Drivers Phil Hanson and Paul Di Resta returned to the team to complete the Sebring test, while Alex Brundle filled in for an ill Bruno Senna, who is scheduled to race with the team at the 12-hour enduro.

Dean emphasized, though, that Senna’s previous experience around the track should make up for his absence.

“Bruno couldn’t travel, he wasn’t well enough, and there was just no point in him getting on a plane and being ill here,” Dean asserted. “He knows the track. Of the three drivers we’ve got, he’s the one who needed the least laps around here.

Dean added that the team is beginning to get a better foothold on American soil, citing help from Andretti Autosport, which should improve their prospects for the remaining NAEC rounds.

“We feel a little bit more organized, we’ve got our own truck now, and we’ve got a little base here, and (Andretti Autosport) have been helping us out an awful lot, so our little collaboration or alliance with Andretti has certainly steadied the ship a little bit for us and helped us,” Dean said. “We’re excited to do these remaining races, and now that we’ve got Daytona experience with us, it’s definitely going to help us do a much better job in the approach for Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit.”

Lally Samples New Continental Tire Design

Continental Tire, the current tire supplier for the Prototype and GT Daytona classes in the Weathertech Championship, rolled out a new tire design for the Sebring test, and Magnus Racing’s Andy Lally was the first to sample it on Thursday.

“Basically, we’re all going through sweeps right now and feeling things out. What does the tire feel like when you’re in qualifying mode versus full-fuel mode?” Lally said after the initial running. “There are all sorts of stuff when you get such a change like what we’ve got here. This is a relatively big change for the GT cars. Maybe for the Prototypes, it’s not as big a change, but for the GT3 cars, it’s quite a different feel on the platform. We’re just going through that.”
The new tire design comes after a Rolex 24 that was plagued with tire problems, as several teams suffered failures, especially on the left-rear, during the 24-hour race. Wayne Taylor Racing even elected to retire their No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R after suffering five tire failures.
Miller, Bechtolsheimer Sample New CJ Wilson Racing Acura NSX GT3
Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer got to work quickly with new Weathertech entrant CJ Wilson Racing, with both drivers sampling their new Acura NSX GT3 on Thursday and Friday.
Miller is a veteran of GT3 machinery and has won big races before – he was a GTD class winner at the 2016 Motul Petit Le Mans. Bechtolsheimer, however, is all new to GT3 machinery, having primarily raced vintage cars along with forays into the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
“I’ve not driven anything close to a GTD car before,” quipped Bechtolsheimer. “The first time driving it properly here at Sebring is kind of fitting because the first time I drove a car on slicks was at Sebring two years ago in moving to Continental Tire, which was at least as daunting at the time as moving into GTD now.
“The first time I turned a lap or two in the car, even though I was just trying to figure out where all the switches were and so on, I straight away felt that this is a car that’s going to be fun to drive. It’s going to take me time to build up to be on pace, but it’s a confidence-inspiring car and its yeah, it’s a lot nicer than perhaps I was expecting.”
The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring rolls off on March 17.