Raymond Beadle’s legendary Blue Max Plymouth Arrow and the Cajun ‘Cuda campaigned by the late Paul Candies and Leonard Hughes are among the favorites, along with the points-leading Black Plague Chevy Camaro of Californian Jason Rupert, in an increasingly popular nostalgia class that features the vehicles responsible for putting the “fun” in Funny Car.
And, during drag racing’s barnstorming days, when the match race circuit introduced the sport to fans in some of the nation’s most obscure outposts, there were few bigger drawing cards than the Blue Max and Candies and Hughes.
However, when economic reality began to diminish the number of match race opportunities, those teams also were among the most successful at making the transition to the more structured pro tours maintained by the IHRA and others.
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. In fact, Candies and Hughes once won both titles, IHRA and NHRA, in a single season in 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. It was the IHRA that got out in front of the craze by including the nitro-burning, ill-handling hybrids in its primary series.
In addition to the Funny Cars, the Nitro Jam program includes Mountain Motor Pro Stock cars, four jet dragsters competing for points just like their more traditional contemporaries, Nitro Harleys and another throwback to the sport’s glory days, Nitro Altereds including “Nanook,” the eccentrically-named hot rod driven by third generation altered driver Kyle Hough.
“It’s like stepping back in time,” said track owner Steve Earwood. “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.”
Beadle, the Texan who also won a championship as a NASCAR car owner with Rusty Wallace behind the wheel, was especially successful at Rockingham where he won the Spring race four times (1975, 1976, 1979 and 1981) and, on three of those occasions, went on to win the championship.
It’ll take some doing for Young to follow in those very big footsteps especially up against Rupert, the 42-year-old son of California Top Fuel veteran Frank Rupert, who is on pace to add a Nitro Jam title to the three consecutive championships he’s won in the NHRA Heritage Series.
Among the others expected to contend for the Funny Car title 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 surprising McAttack 1969 Camaro that won earlier this year at Bradenton, Fla.
A new simplified format features Saturday night pro qualifying beginning at 7 p.m. and Sunday eliminations starting at 1 p.m.
CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to the 2014 IHRA Nitro Jam Spring Nationals at Rockingham Dragway.