Be­hind the Scenes

Drag Racer - - Contents -

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.

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