Title: The Big Names That Tried Drag Racing

SS 102302 00 00 015 c

John Andretti climbs aboard Jack Clark’s Top Fuel Dragster. (SPEED SPORT archive photo)

Over the course of 20 years, four racers have attempted to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day—and three of them took a chance on drag racing, too.

Tony Stewart made a serious commitment, marrying Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett, putting together a two-car nitro team featuring her and three-time Funny Car Champion Matt Hagan and racing to second place in the Top Alcohol Dragster class this past October.

But John Andretti—the first to attempt both sides of the IndyCar/NASCAR Memorial Day Double in 1994—was no less difficult racing a Top Fuel Dragster in 1993.

Kurt Busch entered his 1970 Dodge Challenger in the Super Gas class at the Sportsman’s level in 2010 and moved up to Pro Stock the following year.

Andretti drove the Taco Bell Express Dragster, owned by Major League Baseball star Jack Clark.

Clark, who also drove and hired drag racing luminaries like Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen and Ed “The Ace” McCulloch to race it, told Sports Illustrated that the sport “reflects who I am.”

Andretti, for his part, came to the NHRA world less familiar with the drill. He participated in extensive testing at the Texas Motorplex, near Dallas, but, as versatile and game as he was, was not initially convinced that he had made a sound decision.

As he sat down in Clark’s dragster to warm up the engine, he began to wonder why he would agree to such a project. Andretti shared in his “RACER” autobiography, Jade Gurss was told that he really had no idea this unique type of racing car was, except that it had four wheels, a steering wheel and an engine.

“I got up to sit with the rear wheels off the ground and they started the engine,” Andretti recalls. I couldn’t hear anything. And I certainly didn’t know that they initially started the car with (relatively mild) alcohol fuel. “This thing doesn’t look very sporty,” I thought.

He quickly said it felt like “sitting in a Saturn V rocket. This thing was breathing fire, going chugachugachugachuga like a train to hell and growling in every window in the neighborhood.”

He noticed a boy on a bicycle who was watching the entire exercise. And the kid asked, “So, how long have you been cyclist racing?” Andretti replied, “I’ve never been.” And the kid said, “So you haven’t been in any drag racing?

Years later, Andretti said, “I will never forget that child. No wiser words were ever said. I was thinking the exact same thing.”

But Andretti, who lost his battle with colon cancer on January 30, 2020, at the age of 56, had a short but stellar career in the drag strip. In his first race, the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway, he made it to the semi-finals.

Because of his keen sense of humor and work ethic, Andretti was popular with NHRA fans. “Everybody loved him wherever he went, because he was such a good man and quality,” Clark said. As an owner, Clark particularly appreciated him as “a guy you could count on. He didn’t intend to beat your stuff. He was a natural. He got the hang of it right away. He wasn’t afraid of it. He enjoyed the pace. He enjoyed the competition.” He has G powers.

“If he had held on to it, he would probably have been one of the best left (at the Christmas tree). He had a fire—he just had Andretti’s fire. It was fun. I knew it wasn’t going to be long-term for him, but I was hoping it would.” Be. He had other commitments and I knew that. I was happy to have him for the short time she was with us. If he really liked it and wanted to do it, the door was open.”

The NASCAR schedule has been open to Kurt Busch many times for about twelve years and he filled it by competing in the 2011 NHRA Gatornationals. He rented a car from Pro Stock veteran Allen Johnson, who qualified in a tough field of 16 and found himself up against Erica Enders when the eliminations began. Encouraged by legend Bob Glidden to “get out there and beat him,” the Houston native who is now a five-time Pro Stock Champion said, “I don’t care if I’m racing Kurt Busch or George Bush. I want to beat him.” And I did. But that didn’t make Bush love sports any less.

Leave a Comment