Our Unbelievable Year with the USA-1 Tribute Funny Car!
By John Worm
It has been quite a year! In September of 2012 I approached Funny Car World Champion Bruce Larson to see if he was interested in us building a tribute funny car of his iconic USA-1 1968 Camaro funny car. I came up with the idea to market our new line of nostalgia funny cars and wanted Bruce to endorse our chassis business. Bruce and I sat down at breakfast and he said he had never let anyone use the USA-1 name and paint job since he started running them in the mid-‘60s. I told him that there was one more thing to add to the mix: I wanted him to drive the USA-1 Tribute Funny Car. A week later we met again for breakfast and he agreed to endorse our chassis business and drive the car for the season in exhibition match races. What started out to be an endorsement for our business turned out to be a friendship I will cherish for the rest of my life.
We started the build in late October and built a bare frame to debut at Bruce’s Dragfest party the first week of November. At the show, Bruce sat in the frame outside his shop and we both daydreamed of the time when we would fire up the blown, nitro big-block Chevy and drop the body for the first burnout. Fans took photos of the champ sitting in the bare frame and gave us well wishes and their assurance that it would be great to see him back on the track in the famous red, white and blue flopper. I’m sure when we said that we wanted to have the car at the Gator Nationals, many of those same fans probably raised an eyebrow and questioned the time frame… November to March is just a few short months. We went back to the shop, got organized and prepared for the build, along with ordering parts from some of the best manufacturers in the business.
We started the actual tribute build in early December and fired the motor the night before the Gator Nationals. The car went from bare frame to finished funny car in just 13 weeks! Lots of hard work, energy, red label parts and help from friends made it all possible. Many people comprised our team that helped on the car. Without trying to mention each one, I would like to thank all of them for their support and help – we would not have made it without it! One person I do have to mention, though, is Bruce. You see, when I started the build, we talked about trying to be as historically accurate in creating the tribute car as we could, while using an updated nostalgia chassis to make it legal to run on tracks nationwide. Bruce let us go to his shop and “map” the original 1968 USA-1 funny car that he restored over 15 years ago. We measured EVERYTHING. Stripe widths, beads rolled in the tin work, the screw spacing for the window glass, ride height… everything. We made the tribute car’s pivot point for the body the same location as the original and the prop rod that holds it up is even at the same height. Not only did Bruce let us get up close and copy the original car, but he opened his doors to us to go to his shop any time we needed, and he helped build the car.
What started out as Bruce being a consultant on the build, stopping in once or twice a week, quickly changed into a mentor-type atmosphere with him coming to work on the tribute funny car daily. I am blessed to call Bruce a friend, and I cannot tell you how much I valued the time spent building the car with him. In 1967, Bruce spent time at Logghe Chassis when they built the original USA-1 chassis and then also did the same with master craftsman Al Bergler when Al did the tin work on the same car. Bruce’s insight helped us learn the ropes on mounting the body, making the tin and mounting it, but most importantly, making the car as safe as we could. He was able to connect us with John Force Racing, who sent us prints of their famous 3-rail design funny car chassis to look at and use any of the design we wanted. The JFR design definitely influenced our final product, as we added an extra center rail in the frame for strength and protection as well as the double-K design on the bottom of the frame. Bruce is ultra safety conscious and had his hand in the design of our chassis he endorses and drives.
With Bruce at the shop every day, we were able to see into the mind of a Funny Car World Champion like most fans would never have the chance to do. Remember, Bruce raced in the greatest era of drag racing, when they match raced 60-70 times a year across the country. Stories of racing at Englishtown one night followed by driving to New England for the next day, only to turn around and race at another track in a day or two were numerous. We heard of his favorite tracks, least favorite tracks, being on fire in a funny car and watching it burn to the ground, running through barbwire fencing at the end of a track into a pasture, plus many more stories. We spent the better part of three months with a racing legend in my shop, working side by side with us and telling us what it was like back in the day. Talk about priceless!
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