The weekend after, I was assigned to cover the NHRA LeGrandnational Molson in St. Pie, Quebec, and after a tortuous ride from the Montreal airport to the Auberge de Seigneur hotel, I immediately repaired to the hotel bar. When I arrived, which was about 11:15 p.m., the place was supposed to have been closed, but three anchors at a table near the railing were keeping it open past the deadline … Messrs. Paul Smith, Chuck “First In the Funny Car Fours” Etchells and Mr. Hofmann.
“Hey Chrissie sit down.”
“Hey, we hear you popped your cherry with Roy.”
“Don’t know how to drive a stick? You shoulda been killed. Tell us about it.”
Which I did. Laughs all around.
After another round of Laurentides, Hofmann leans over mid-somebody’s conversation and gives me a Jimmy Conway look. You know who Conway is. He was the character Robert DeNiro played in “Goodfellas”, the slit-eyed insider who got things done.
He says (and I obviously paraphrase), “Chris, 1.14-second sixty-foot time. Good for you. What would you say to a nine- or eighth-second sixty-foot time, huh? I mean, do you really want to go fast? I mean really REALLY fast. I can fix it for you.”
And, in quickie thought, I look up and see Etchells and world renowned nitro professor Smith, crocodile grins in place, nodding their heads with “He’s right kid” smiles. Just like a dial-in with junkies in some respects. They all chimed in with words along the lines of “you’ll forget all about Pro Stock.”
I have no doubt they were right. Now if Roy’s school taught me one thing, it was that I could keep one of those pigs under control, stick-shift ability or no, but I emphatically was not a race car driver … much as I hated to admit that. However that look Hofmann gave me in Canada, probably related more to me what it is like to be consumed by the wild edge of this sport than anything I’d seen (or close to it.)
(Last fade.) Hofmann was a playful guy. I was at the (I think) 1995 Winternationals in Pomona and cruising the Funny Car pits on a Thursday morning. I saw Hofmann’s Western Auto compound and went over for an early morning pick-me-up. I dipped into their ice chest and Hofmann grabs me by the shoulder and says, “We can talk, but I’m tied up right this minute. Have a seat in the truck and I’ll be right over.”
Into the tent I went. Five minutes later, Hofmann comes by the driver’s side window of the truck and says, “By the way, Phil Burgess (Nat’l DRAGSTER editor) left this for you.” And he tosses me a tight package, which upon close inspection is four sticks of dynamite, a timer, fuse, and digital read-out … and it reads “7, 6, 5, 4 ….” Etc.
Attention grabber? You bet. I cleared the front seat of Hofmann’s truck in less than a brilliant sixty-foot time and into the spotlight of a crew who’d just seen the funniest thing in the past year. Of course, all the stuff was fake, but it sure brought a halt to dinner conversation.
Hofmann gagging back more laughs says, “Hey, we’re just playin’. I can hardly wait to see what happens when I throw this in Force’s trailer.”
As John Force would say, “Good ole Al.”
I didn’t personally know Pat Foster or Leroy Chadderton at the level I knew Hofmann, but I was well aware of their accomplishments. I think I interviewed Foster just twice, once when he was driving the “Shady Glenn” Dodge and later for a “Where Are They Now?” article.
Although I’m well aware now of Foster’s mechanical accomplishments, my acquaintance with him was as a driver. When I interviewed him in ND’s “Where Are They Now?” Foster said with pride, “I’ve only driven blown fuel cars.” And decent cars they were. And with flair. I remembered at Orange County in Calif.’s All-Pro Series race in January of 1971, Jon Lundberg described him as the man “with the heaviest right foot in drag racing.” Foster feared no car, but the cars might’ve feared him. He really knew how to break out the whip.
Over the years, Foster drove among others (and this is a rough list and off the top of my balding pate) the Beaver Bros. Chevy Top Fueler, Roy Fjastad’s “Anteater” AA/Modified Fuel Coupe, the Childs & Albert R&R Engines/“Addict” Top Fueler, John Bateman’s Atlas Tool Special Top Fueler, the Nickey (or Perfomance Associates?) Chevrolet 198-mph ’68 Corvette roadster Funny Car, the Beach City Corvette roadster “flopper,” Mickey Thompson’s Mach I Mustang Funny Car (this car and Danny Ongais’s were the first to feature zoomie headers and modern Funny Car roll cages – improvements pioneered by Foster), Roland Leong’s “Hawaiian” Funny Car, Don Cook’s “Damn Yankee” Barracuda Funny Car, Barry Setzer’s Vega Funny Car), ‘Lil John Lombardo’s Funny car Vega, “the Chicago Patrol” Mustang II” Funny Car, Jim Glenn’s “Shady” Glenn Volare, Harry Eberlin’s Super Shops Funny Car Arrow and Joe Pisano’s Camaro.
In 1978 and in an ultra-trivial case, a racer named Kenny Bernstein was trying to get his license in the H&H RaceCraft-built (Foster a major major in H&H, which was the late 1970s best “flop” chassis builder) “Chelsea King” Plymouth Arrow. Legend has it that Kenny, who had not driven anything since Ray Alley’s Charger five years earlier, was out of practice and having handling problems, so at one point the Texas racer suggested that the car might not be built quite right, maybe the steering was off.
Not to be flustered, builder Foster was at Orange County Int’l Raceway at that year’s Nitro Championships race and said let’s see what the problem is. I saw the run and at the time I thought the straight-as-a-string 6.45/230.77 was Kenny showing the world that by God I can kick these cars in the ass. Later inspection showed that it was Foster who booted the car and closed with the reported remarks, “Car seems fine to me.” Of course as for Kenny … what ever happened to that guy?