« PREV. PAGE NEXT PAGE »

DRO: Plus you’ve got the variations of supercharged and nitrous and turbocharged cars. There’s even more variety for you.

TM: Right. And I think they’ve kind of held down a lot of that stuff. Drag racing has always been about the engineering guys, you know, the backyard guys with silver tape keeping the cars together. We used to try things and they didn’t work. I remember years ago, when we first started having superchargers we ran a chain drive, like a motorcycle. We went from there to a Gilmer belt-drive setup. Well, the engineers who made the belt said it would never work.  Now days it takes about 1,200 hp to drive that belt that turns the  blower on an  8,000 HP for the engine, and they said the belts wouldn’t be strong enough. And yet they learned how to make the belts work. So a lot of stuff that goes into everyday passenger cars is learned off the dragstrip, I believe, from the trial and error of the backyard mechanics trying stuff.

DRO: During the time that you raced, particularly in funny cars, what was your budget for a year? And how was that offset by purses?

TM: I never really had a budget when I raced, we just had X amount of dollars and we just tried to make it stretch. You know in the early days, you had one of everything, and then we started getting money in. When we (Prudhomme and McEwen) got the Mattel money in 1970, we were able to get bigger trucks, and we had two engines instead of one and extra cylinder heads and extra this and extra that. The more money racers brought in over the years, the more parts they were able to put in their trailers.

Now today’s racers carry two or three cars with them.  Now they’ve got a dozen engines, twelve clutches, seven superchargers and between rounds they re-strip the superchargers.  Everything is custom made on those cars now.  Where we used to just run Chrysler or Chevrolet parts, now everything is made of billet exotic material so that it’ll handle the horsepower.

DRO: Do you have any idea what you would spend in a year racing in those days?

TM: Well, the last major sponsor I had back when I was running my own stuff in the ‘80s, was Coors beer. We used to take in a couple million dollars a year and run a couple of Funny Cars, plus we had a tractor-pull Corvette that was on the circuit. I had maybe six guys working for me, and we had an eighteen wheeler (tractor trailer).  We had the best of everything in its day, and at the end of the day it paid for everything, plus I made a few bucks on the side.

Now I see that some of these guys are getting anywhere from two to three million dollars a year per car and, like John Force has got like over sixty people that work for him and maintains the two daughters’ cars and I don’t know, he’s got six or seven race cars and a fleet of trucks on the road. I can’t imagine what his budget would have to be now.

DRO: Force said in the Sports Business Daily a couple of months ago that he spent $22.5 million to run all the cars that he’s got.

TM: I believe that. I think his total sponsor package is… I used to hang around, I used to fly back and forth to the races on an airplane, and I remember one time he had a $15 million budget. Now he’d have to have closer to thirty to do it.

DRO: Did you ever think of coming out of retirement after you quit driving?

TM: No. When I quit driving in ’92, I was driving for Jack Clark, and it got to the point where I think he thought my age, I was 58 or something, made it  harder to get sponsors. The sponsors all wanted the younger drivers and he wasn’t getting a sponsor, so I think he wanted to try something else or whatever the deal was, so I figured I’d done it for 45 years, hadn’t gotten hurt, had a good time and everything, and it was time.

Not that I wanted to or anything, not because of the money, but I like driving. It wasn’t to the point that I couldn’t drive anymore, but if the money’s not there and you can’t do it the way you want to do it, there’s no use in doing it. I know that when Prudhomme quit, he wanted to stay involved and get his own teams, and he’s done very well. I had no interest in doing that, whether I could have or not. I probably could have, I think, but I was over-traveled. I was done with airplanes and hotels and crews and all that stuff. I wanted to stay home.

I race quarter horses that I own, and I wanted to stay home and sleep in my own bed and do local stuff. I’d done it long enough and I still love it, still involved with it, you know with Drag Racer magazine, and I still go to some of the races, talk to people every day, and I’m still involved in the sport, but I like staying home now.

« PREV. PAGE NEXT PAGE »