THE TOD MACK MEMOIRS: A DRAG RACING RIVALRY
Tod Mack, a former owner of Maryland international Dragway, had his fingerprint on many promotions and innovations from the heralded facility located in Budds Creek, Md.
Mack, whose promotional home runs included the US Pro Stock Open, Mountain Motor Nationals, and The Wild Bunch, solidified his name in the ranks of significant drag racing contributors.
Mack was the first to use a pairings ladder based on qualifying times for the nitro cars when he ran the NASCAR Drag Race Division in the 1960s. Tod and Larry, along with Lex Dudas and Mike Lewis, created the ET Bracket Finals program in the early 1970s, which the group finally turned over to NHRA after a few years. MIR was the winner of the Inaugural event held at York US 30 Dragway. All in all, Tod Mack owned or operated six tracks over his career, and MIR fans benefited from his decades of experience.
In addition to the more successful promotions, Mack and longtime partner Larry Clayton introduced the world to the first four-wide fuel Funny Car match (almost four decades before Bruton Smith did the same thing in Charlotte). Then there was the wacky “Dragzacta,” which allowed fans to take part in pari-mutuel betting on weekly bracket races as they would at a horse track.
Mack was involved in a lot of drag racing.
Today, Mack has shared his memoirs with CompetitionPlus.com recalling his in drag racing. His latest offering focuses on the famous US Pro Stock Open, held annually at Maryland International Raceway.
Every sport has its rivalries. That’s what makes competition so appealing. The great Redskins vs Cowboys football games, the Snake and the Mongoose; Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson were rivalries that made sports more fun to watch. In addition to these very public and high profile rivalries, there are endless less notable and more personal battles that go on every day in just about all human activities.
My personal rivalry, and most fun racing moments, were with my best friend John Paris and his legendary “Yankee Doodle Dandy” funny cars. The years-long series of competitions/performances led to countless stories that just have to be told. They will probably take up a significant segment if I ever get around to writing a book about my experiences. Here are some that are just too good not to share. Please note that I usually change the names to protect the innocent, but there are no innocents in the Jahn Paris crew.
I can’t begin to count the number of times that I faced John Paris at race tracks all across the country and beyond. My first encounter with John was at Colonial Beach Dragway in Virginia in the late 1960s. He had a 1957 Chevy station wagon gasser with a wild red, white and blue paint scheme and the famed Yankee Doodle Dandy lettering. He was a formidable competitor and, I was about to learn, a great showman. He entertained crowds back then with a unique horn blast at the starting line that played the Yankee Doodle Dandy song. On that day, I had a usual big Sunday crowd and encountered a timing system failure that brought all racing to a halt. I was in my first or second season of operation there, and I had to keep the crowd entertained during this downtime. John’s car was always a crowd favorite because of the horn, and his wheel stand starts. He was in the staging lanes, and I thought he might keep the crowd entertained while we tried to solve the timing issues. I told John if he wanted to have some fun and do some burnouts at the line he was welcome to.
Being the showman that he was John jumped at the chance and got into his zone. He played his trademark song on the horns and fired up the Yankee Doodle Dandy. The antsy fans rushed to the stands from wherever they were waiting out the delay and cheered wildly when John came to the line. He didn’t disappoint them and launched a series of bumper dragging wheel stands in that Chevy Wagon that I will never forget. It seemed like he captivated the audience forever while we worked. John bailed me out on that fateful day, and our love/hate relationship began. I remember surprising him with a small wad of money at the end of the day as a token of thanks and later heard that he said: “That Tod Mack is a good F-ing guy”. I guess our friendship was cemented at that point.
He became a regular at the track along with his band of crazies Bob Fastnaught and the Robey brothers, Kenny and Brian. Several years later my partner in crime at our engine shop, Bob Hall, and I were working late on one of my dragsters when we kept stumbling over an old Mustang funny car I picked up somewhere. We didn’t know what to do with it and were just beginning to put together groups of exciting cars to entertain the fans at our growing list of race tracks. Bob suggested we call “Crazy John”. He had just sold his cars and was probably looking for something to do. Let’s set him up in this car if he will keep it going and race with us. John jumped at the idea, and the first Yankee Doodle Dandy funny car was born. It was an old Logghe chassis that was completely out of date but perfect for our purposes. We had lots of great times ahead.
Now John was not your ordinary type A personality. He was a borderline lunatic at times. He ran a successful tour bus company in Washington DC, and I remember a day when one of his big tour buses had a transmission failure in downtown DC. John was not about to pay a towing company to retrieve it. It did still have reverse gear. John got in the bus and drove it backwards for more than 6 miles through rush hour traffic back to his shop. I can’t even imagine how that’s possible, but he did it.
When some of my races at MIR became sellouts, and we were losing business because we just couldn’t park enough cars, John came to the rescue by sending four of his tour busses to shuttle fans from satellite parking lots. We would pick up fans and sell tickets on the bus then drop them off at the grandstands for hours. At some of the events, we held special races between four of the buses that became traditions. “Side-by-side-by-side-by-side”, as our famed radio commercials said. At one of the early Mountain Motor Nationals, we packed the buses with fans to set a world record for the most people ever in a drag race. No one bothered to take a count because there was no other such crazy effort to compete with.
At other events, we set up a match race with a bus and my alcohol dragster. It required about a 13-second handicap and made for an exciting show when the dragster sped by the bus at 200 MPH, especially for the crowd riding on the bus. One night they actually strapped well-known photojournalist Woody Hatten to the top of the bus to video the action.
On another occasion the dragster was sitting at the starting line for that long wait for the bus to get its head start John’s band of lunatic helpers snuck up from behind and covered the helmet with a thick coating of whipped cream while the car was staged. Fortunately for me, I was busy with the show that night, and I had Bob Hall driving the car. When the light turned green in the dragster’s lane, Bob calmly lifted the face mask and took off to the delight of the fans with a trail of whipped cream flowing behind. No one ever accused us of being conservative (or sane) in our promotions.
The rivalry grew as the years went on and John and I loved giving promoters and fans more than they bargained for at our shows. We were always the focal point of “burnout contests” that tracks loved to promote in those days. John and I had no problems with smoking the tires through the full quarter-mile. We even began doing u-turns in the shutdown area and driving back to the start where we made another u-turn to stage for the race. I remember a night at Dick Moroso’s track in Palm Beach, Florida, when we caught the track crew off guard with that stunt much to the glee of the fans. They had no idea what to do when they saw us coming. We just waved them away and did our thing. Our crews even had fuel cans ready to top off the tank after those long burnouts and rides back to the starting line.
The “burnout” contests got utterly out of hand at a track in Beaver Springs, PA when John’s guys thought it would be funny to have my tow truck be a part of the show. After I made a run against another car at that show, the Paris mob snuck up behind my custom-built dually and tossed a surplus army smoke grenade into the bed of the truck. It did look like another great burnout as my crew headed down the track to tow me back. A problem developed, however, when they forgot that we had a couple of plastic 5-gallon cans of fuel in the back. The smoke grenade burned through one of the cans, and when my crew got to the finish to pick me up, the truck was ablaze. We managed to extinguish the fire with some help from the track crew.
John and his guys were hysterically laughing as we got back to the pits When things calmed down, and we surveyed the damage I went to John threatening mayhem to him and his crew. His reply was the usual ‘Can’t you take a joke?”. That incident tested our relationship for a while.
A year later at that same track, it was John and I racing again when I thought things seemed louder than usual. I suddenly felt a jolt, and my car veered to the right at nearly top speed, sending me on a wild ride through the finish line. On the return road, I examined the car to find the exhaust headers on the left side were crushed. I went to John cussing at him for hitting me, which he vehemently denied. I looked at the headers on his right side, and they were crushed as well. When confronted with the evidence, it was the usual “Can’t you take a joke?.” I sometimes think that John believed that if he only drove 1320 feet to reach the finish, he wasn’t getting his money’s worth. Maybe that’s why he so often drove 1500 feet to get there!
I don’t mean to criticize John’s driving ability here because he is probably the best driver I ever saw at getting his car straight when it went out of control. The problem is that it was usually his driving that got the car out of control in the first place. He had absolutely no fear. Case in point: John was racing against my wife Roberta one night at my Maryland International Raceway. Roberta got into some tire shake and had to back off while John went completely sideways in the other lane but never lifted. Roberta’s win light came on, and we figured she held on for the win. Following the run, John came storming into the timing tower, insisting that he won the race. I told him we all saw Roberta’s win light come on. He claimed he drove right by her and clearly won by more than a car length. I called to one of the staff who works at the finish asking if he saw what happened. He said sure, John drove right by Roberta — but in her lane.
MIR is a very wide 4-lane track. On the run, John got so sideways he didn’t realize where he was and when he recovered he was already in Roberta’s lane. He hammered the throttle again, chasing her down. He did pass her, but in her lane causing her win light to come on. He was still livid saying that was impossible. I asked him what lane he was in on that run. He said, “Left”. I then asked where Roberta was when he passed her. He thought for a moment and then said, “On my left”. After a short pause, he only said “Oh”, as he left the tower.
John’s antics weren’t limited to the race track. I can remember several times watching his crew climb out the split rear window of his tow truck while pulling the trailer at 80 MPH on some Interstate just to moon someone who got in his way. It was dangerous to ever get in front of him on those long trips to a race because he didn’t take well to being behind anywhere. He would run over you to get back in front.
And don’t ever think you can’t put a bus into a four-wheel drift on the road. Just ask any of the terrified passengers on some of our racers’ ski trips on his buses. Snow-covered mountain roads were no match for John! Note the photo of John in his bus seat examining the ticket he got from a Pennsylvania State Trooper for that trick. The Trooper had to climb over a Heineken beer keg to get to the driver.
John went on to many wins and bright spots in his long career and was probably the last holdout campaigning the supercharged Chevy Rodeck engines after the rest of us gave up and switched to the Hemi style Chryslers. He left an indelible mark on the sport and on his many friends. He was indeed one of a kind, and we are all the better for having known him. I treasure all those wonderful experiences.
I will leave you with a sobering thought. John has now retired to Florida and to fill his spare time; he has become an Uber driver. I can’t imagine going for a ride with John Paris at the wheel. I urge you to consider that before calling Uber near Orlando. Be forewarned unless you are late for your appointment or just like to tempt fate.