Behind the Scenes
MOST RACERS WOULD BE MORE THAN HAPPY TO HAVE A CAREER ENCOMPASSING 22 NHRA NATIONAL EVENT WINS— INCLUDING THE PRESTIGIOUS U.S. NATIONALS SIX TIMES—AND BEING LISTED AMONG THE ASSOCIATION’S TOP 20 DRIVERS OF ALL TIME. But for Ed “The Ace” McCulloch, that was only the precursor of his second career as a crew chief/tuner where he was responsible for another 27 Wallys, 22 of them won by newly crowned NHRA Funny Car World Champion Ron Capps.
McCulloch has always been drawn to the mechanical side of things, which is something that he laments is largely lost on today’s youth, who are primarily focused on video games and social media. Fortunately for the sport of drag racing, McCulloch’s genetic disposition has been passed on to his son, Jason, who has enjoyed significant success as a crew chief in the nitro ranks.
McCulloch grew up in California’s Central Valley (Fresno area) and cites local oval track racer, Bill Vukovich Sr. (winner of the 1953 and 1954
Indianapolis 500 races), as his boyhood idol and inspiration to become a race-car driver. McCulloch’s venues of choice were local drag strips. He and his brother, Dan, built a fuel dragster in 1964 that unfortunately met its demise later that year after encountering a then-common finish line concrete block that held the timing equipment.
Undaunted, McCulloch stayed the course and eventually got tabbed to shoe the Northwind AA/FD. The team was very competitive, and in 1965 defeated “Sneaky Pete” Robinson for the No. 1 spot on the Drag News Mr. Eliminator list. Supplying the power was Jim Albrich, whose Portland, Oregon-based
Columbia Racing Engines became a mainstay for Northwest racers. Others involved with the car included Jim Rockstad, Steve Krieger and Earl Floyd.
In 1969, McCulloch teamed up with Art Whipple, who had just
built a rat-motor-powered Camaro. After volunteering to do some shakedown runs, which resulted in nabbing the No. 1 qualifying spot and winning the race, the seat was McCulloch’s for good. The following year they pooled their resources, resulting in the swoopy Whipple & McCulloch Duster sponsored by noted Oregon Chrysler/Plymouth dealer Joe Coletti. The car set the NHRA National Record at 7.19, 211 mph at Bremerton, Washington,
//By all accounts McCulloch has always been a fierce competitor, whether it’s behind the wheel or with a wrench. And stories abound about his penchant to settle issues with his fists ...//
and looked to be unstoppable. Unfortunately, the car was destroyed in a trailer fire enroute to the U.S. Nationals.
By then, McCulloch had been anointed “the Ace” as a counterpoint to Northwest rival, Jerry “the King” Ruth. After all, in poker the only thing that can beat a king is an ace. Legendary track promoter Bill Doner made the most of it, and the Whipple & McCulloch Duster became a match race favorite.
The following year Whipple and McCulloch made it to Indy unscathed and promptly mowed down the field, winning the first of six NHRA U.S. Nationals titles for McCulloch. The team then secured Revell sponsorship and the flopper was adorned with “RRRRevolution!” on its flanks. Whipple took leave of the operation and ultimately founded a highly successful supercharger manufacturing enterprise that thrives to this day.
McCulloch soldiered on until dwindling sponsorship monies and on-track success prompted him to cash in his chips in 1979. But the following year, McCulloch got a call from another wellknown Ed, Pink, and embarked on a brief stint as a hired driver for the Pink-powered Super Shops Arrow. He responded by winning Indy for the third time, but the ride was over by year’s end. Super Shops ultimately met its demise.
In 1984, McCulloch entered into a long-term association with potato baron Larry Minor, whose Funny Cars were sponsored by
Miller Lite beer. The “beer wagons” were more than competitive, with McCulloch winning the F/C title at Indy in 1988 and 1990, the latter his fifth Funny Car win at Indy, and a record that stands to this day.
In 1992, McCulloch took over the reins of Minor’s Top Fueler and scored again at Indy, having the distinction of joining Don Prudhomme as the only drivers with T/F and F/C wins at the fabled Indiana track. Minor ultimately curtailed his drag racing efforts, sidelining McCulloch.
McCulloch returned to the cockpit briefly in 1995 as a test driver for Connie Kalitta’s fuelers, which morphed into his becoming Connie’s crew chief, and then
Doug Kalitta’s. From there, he was hired by his old nemesis, “the Snake,” to mentor and crew chief for up-and-coming driver Ron Capps and won six Wallys at Don Prudhomme Racing. McCulloch and Capps hooked up again when Capps was hired by Schumacher to drive the NAPA Auto Parts entry and won 16 races together before McCulloch and Don Schumacher Racing parted company in 2010.
By all accounts McCulloch has always been a fierce competitor, whether it’s behind the wheel or with a wrench. And stories abound about his penchant to settle issues with his fists (“Flash Gordon” Mineo and Sid Waterman tales come to mind), but there’s a softer side to the man, too. For a number of years McCulloch tended to his wife of 48 years, Linda, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2014.
These days McCulloch is in Mello Yello mode and content to enjoy his retirement status. He can reflect on a stellar career that includes being inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame (Florida) in 2000 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame (Michigan) in 2011. He has a spring in his step now, thanks to Cindy Gibbs, who came into his life in
Feb. 2015. McCulloch and Cindy now enjoy life together traveling and spending time with family. High card wins!
/The Northwind T/F, McCulloch’s first big-time ride, was built by Kent Fuller and had Jim Albrich power.
/McCulloch’s association with Larry Minor, first in F/C then T/F, netted him Indy wins five and six.
/McCulloch and his brother Dan built this Chevypowered digger in 1964.
/Art and Ed’s Revell-backed Duster brought McCulloch the first of his six Indy wins.
/McCulloch and long-time partner Art Whipple’s first joint project. /McCulloch also excelled as a crew chief. With Snake then Don Schumacher Racing, he (with Ron Capps driving) amassed 22 NHRA national event wins.