Don Nicholson, nicknamed "Dyno Don" by the mid-sixties motor media, is still racing. Not NHRA anymore. He's racing in Super Chevy events around the country. The reason, he says, is that it's become too expensive to run Pro Stock in the NHRA, let alone Funny Car.
Who is he and why would he even consider Funny Car?
He's one of the most famous drivers of the sixties and early seventies, and he might consider Funny Cars because he invented them.
Nicholson was racing a '34 Chevy two-door on back streets when he was a seventeen year-old kid in Pasadena, and for about ten seasons Nicholson built and raced cars successfully. But it wasn't until the early sixties that Nicholson became the guy to beat. Running in '59 and '60 with a 348 cubic inch, 315-horsepower eight, the 1961 season debuted Nicholson's 409, which won both the Winternationals and the Nationals in Stock Eliminator class.
When Chevrolet withdrew their support in '63, Nicholson found himself in a quandary. He'd always used GM machinery in his racing, but he a friend who raced for Lincoln Mercury -- namely Indy winner Troy Ruttman. So in 1964 he prepared a pair of AFX Comets, switching to the new single overhead cam Ford engine in 1965 and ended up winning most of his races.
In 1966 he was to change the face of drag racing forever. The trend at the time had been to alter the wheelbase of the car, moving the front wheels back a foot or so, the rear wheels back a few inches, the engine back in the engine compartment almost a foot, and putting the driver in the middle of the car. The move to the rear was to enhance weight transfer. For a good launch it made sense to take as much weight off the front and eliminate it or at least put it on the rear where it would help traction. That was what inspired him to start his revolution.
In 1966 Nicholson debuted the first flip-top funny car ever built. The one-piece body was based around a '66 Comet and mounted on a tube-frame chassis. Nicholson called simply, "a killer car". The car was different from everything that had come to that point because there were no doors. The driver entered and exited the car by moving out of the space created when the body was flipped up.
"There wasn't anything around the county that could outrun us. We had to either break or run off the track for somebody else to win. We won well over ninety percent of our races with it. And by the end of '67 while we were running the Eliminator II the tires weren't getting any better but the blown cars were getting faster. In '66 they couldn't find a good tire for most of the blown cars. They were making too much power. I think that's maybe why we were so successful. We were unblown still."
The flip-top body changed the way racers looked at the sport of drag racing, and in time it changed the sport itself. Bill Jenkins and Don Nicholson actually forsaken the flip-tops for what they called door-slammers, saying they liked the stock cars better, prompting the NHRA to create Pro Stock, which exists to this day. At the same time, the NHRA created a class for the weird flip-top cars, which they called Funny Cars. They may have been "funny" to some, but Nicholson didn't think so. And he decided he wasn't going to be a part of it any longer.
Nicholson and his wife Patty, who has always traveled with him, still races. And although he doesn't have the machinery he used to have, he's reportedly still as quick as ever.
Some things - and people - never change.