I figured I could talk about this here, my dad was an Oppo or a Jalop, take your pick.
Before I was born he drove Top Fuel funny cars under the moniker “Omar the Tentmaker”. When he began his racing career it was in the old front-engine dragsters, after a few years he moved up to funny cars; first with a Barracuda-bodied car, then later it was Mustang Mach I sports-roof. The Mustang was the car I was familiar with, because it was the only car he had pictures of. Wait, he had a few pics of the car he drove for Terry Ivey.
Dad knew all the old timers, back when the entire drag racing scene was made up of some real characters, and the funny cars were the main attraction of a circus, guys like Jungle Jim, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, Pat Foster, Bob Vandergriff, Joe Paisano, and Austin Coil, the chief mechanic on the Chi-Town Hustler. Jungle and Austin were the guys dad was pretty close to at the time, it broke his heart when Jungle died and he was pretty upset when Pat Foster passed away few years ago, he said really respected him.
I never got to watch him race. All I knew was just the stories, like he was in the semi-finals of the Last Drag Race at Lions Raceway. Or that promoters would give him an extra cut of the gate if he’d blow the engine on his car during night-time races. Or another time he got mad at a couple guys that were staging their cars in the final round of a big NHRA event, so he staged his car next to them in the grass in front of the grandstands, when they went, he did too. National Dragster or Hot Rod Magazine called it “The Pass and a Half in the Grass”.
I think he quit racing around the time his own father passed away, mainly because that was his biggest fan. My grandfather bankrolled Dad’s racing and loved to hear what happened at the races when he’d come home. Dad didn’t see much point of doing things if his own dad wasn’t there.
Strangely, after I was born, my dad did everything he could to keep me away from racetracks and away from screwing with cars; him and my mom refused to let me take shop class, they preferred I get into computer programming, I chose art class and punk rock. Yet he’d occasionally say something about building me a race car, but we never did. At that point he was battling his demons and I was your typical angry young man. We never could see eye to eye.
It wasn’t until I got well into my twenties and moved away from Florida, to California to work in the tv news business that he and I could talk to each other without too much trouble, as long as we didn’t talk politics. We didn’t talk often, I was working and building my own family and he was trying to rebuild his life, metaphorically speaking, as a crane operator, but I was just glad he was out there.
Now he ain’t and I’m still having trouble figuring out how to process it.
Thanks for listening.