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:
As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.
McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.
In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.
“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.
“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”
Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.
Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.
When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.
“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.
“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.
“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”
No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.
On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.
In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.
“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.
“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.
“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”
Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.
“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”
With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.
“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.
“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.
“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”