Garlits, McEwen, Glidden grab Indy glory
Reprinted from the Sept. 15, 1978 issue of National DRAGSTER \
NHRA U.S. NATIONALS -- They're calling it "the Great Drag Race." That probably best sums up the 24th edition of the U.S. Nationals, as the granddaddy of all 1320 events went into the sport's history books this past Labor Day weekend in superb fashion. It was the U.S. Nationals in every way, shape, and form. It was, in fact, THE event of the decade.
Dramatic and emotional in every respect, the conclusion to the wild five days of racing left everyone breathless. And we mean everyone: the overflow throng of enthusiastic fans, racers, officials and manufacturers alike.
And what made it so emotional was Don Garlits winning his fifth Nationals Top Fuel title; Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen scoring his first Indy win in Funny Car; Bob Glidden ruling in Pro Stock, again; John Samolyk upsetting the wild Pro Comp field; John Lingenfelter sweeping a tough Comp category; Bruce Sizemore topping the Modified troops; unheralded Stan White taking Super Stock honors; Don Holben capturing his first NHRA Stock crown; and Marion Owens scoring in the Fuel Bike category.
Weather-wise, no one could have asked for a better break. With the exception of Wednesday's half day of qualifying being rained out, it was clear skies and simply ideal conditions maintaining for the duration of drag racing's premier event.
Performance-wise, Indy '78 was more than spectacular -- it was just phenomenal! It was the quickest Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Comp fields ever. The flopper bump spot ended up at 6.21 seconds, Pro Stock 8.78 and Pro Comp 6.85 (for a 32-car field, no less!). Don Prudhomme and Raymond Beadle ran in the 5s just to give you an idea of the top-fight competition that was Indy '78.
"Big Daddy" Don Garlits wasn't the first qualifier, second or third ... but he was the winner in the very end when it really counted. The 46-year-old all-time Top Fuel winner annexed his fifth Indy title and 18th career NHRA national event victory, too. Qualifying 5th at 5.93 seconds, Garlits used every bit of his uncanny skills to top a stellar 32-car Top Fuel field with times of 6.04, 5.86, 5.91, 6.01 and finally a 5.90, 241.28 mph 1320 clocking that did in Rob Bruins and the Gaines Markley entry. Bruins gave it his best, recording a 6.00, 241.28 mph effort in a losing cause.
Really up for this year's U.S. Nationals, Don showed all of his prowess when he scored over Low E.T. and Top Speed setter (5.84, 246.57) Dave Uyehara in a wild 3rd round duel. Uyehara, looking extremely strong with the Velasco, Cohon & Oswald entry that was the Top Fuel performance standout, clicked off a 5.88, 243.90 only to fall to "Big Daddy's" 5.91 at 242.58 mph. Yes, the Seffner, Florida, veteran never looked better in the driving department.
Rob Bruins was no slouch, himself, as the R. Gaines Markley machine from Federal Way, Washington, recorded times of 5.94, 6.06, 5.88, 5.92 and 5.96 prior to the final round. In the process, Rob knocked off the likes of Paul Longenecker, Gary Beck, Shirley Muldowney and Jeb Allen. Now that's not a bad day's work in anyone' book.
Race fans will long remember the '78 U.S. Nationals Funny Car program, and so will the competitors, themselves. Undoubtedly the racer who will cherish this year's Nationals the most is Tom McEwen, who pulled off a major upset and won his first Indy crown. Now don't take "upset" wrong, as the Fountain Valley, Calif., veteran more than earned the Indy F/C "Oscar" hands down. McEwen ran an extremely smart race, clocked his all-time best time, and most assuredly posted THE most popular triumph of the entire event.
It all started when he elected to make one more qualifying run late Sunday to get off the number 10 spot, and thus get away from facing Don Prudhomme in the first round. The strategy worked, as the potent Chevy Corvette clicked off a 6.09 to annex the 5th position. Tom then went to work in eliminations, hitting a couple of 6-teens before soloing in the semi's. Here, too, he used a good move by running in the lane that had seen two T/F entries smoke the tires. Tom didn't even haze a tire, shut it off and got ready for another "Mongoose" versus "Snake" showdown.
When McEwen's win light flashed on in the final, the whole place went wild as "the Mongoose" had posted a stellar 6.05, 235.60 mph winning effort to Prudhomme's tire-smoking marks of 6.33, 224.43 mph. Some called it the high point of the event, and that's not far off.
"The Snake's" Plymouth Arrow was awesome once again, hitting a 5.99 in qualifying second behind Raymond Beadle's unreal 5.98 with the "Blue Max" Arrow. Would you believe that Beadle's pass was THE FIRST Pro run down IRP's 1320 on Thursday morning. During eliminations, Don reeled off simply strong times of 5.97, 245.23 (Low E.T. & Top Speed), 6.04, 243.90 and 6.05, 243.90 mph.
For the 11th straight NHRA national event, Indiana Ford Fairmont ace Bob Glidden was in the Pro Stock final and victorious at that for the record-setting 18th time in his illustrious career. Glidden, who sewed up the '78 World Champion's crown a couple weeks back, was well in command of the Pro Stock show from start to finish. It was the quickest Pro field ever at 8.78 seconds, and Glidden led the way at 8.62, 157.61 mph. He then reeled off effortless times of 8.64, 8.60 (new track record), 8.60 and a final round 8.61, 146.81 to do in fellow Indiana veteran Joe Satmary and his "Tough Rabbit" Chevy Camaro, which trailed with a game try of 8.77, 155.17 mph.
Warren Johnson, Frank Iaconio and Satmary all carded 8.60's during qualifying to stay close to Glidden, but during eliminations Bob had a tenth edge on all his competitors. He knocked off Dempsey Hardy in round one, and then Mark Yuill and Frank Iaconio before taking out Satmary's big-block Camaro in the title bout.