The Mon­goose Jour­nals

Drag Racer - - Over Center - BY TOM “THE MON­GOO$E” McEWEN

MY FRIENDS, THANKS ONCE AGAIN FOR STOP­PING BY. THE WALLY PARKS NHRA MO­TOR­SPORTS MU­SEUM RE­CEIVED A PRETTY NEAT CHRIST­MAS GIFT: MY ’78 ENGLISH LEATHER CORVETTE.

The most fa­mous car I owned (ex­cept for the red Hot Wheels Duster) turns out to be the ’78 sil­ver-and-black English Leather Corvette, which was a suc­cess­ful race car in it­self, but The Snake and Mon­goo$e movie, which told the story sur­round­ing my win of the 1978 U.S. Nationals fea­tur­ing that ’Vette, re­ally in­creased its pop­u­lar­ity.

I have no idea how many race cars I’ve owned (a bunch), but there are only five still in ex­is­tence that I know of. Thanks to Don Trasin that English Leather ’78 ’Vette is one of the five. He had the fore­sight, pas­sion and per­sonal mo­tives to do the te­dious de­tec­tive work nec­es­sary to track down its ma­jor com­po­nents. He lo­cated the body in Seattle. Friends, it’s not any 1978 fiber­glass flop­per body, it’s the body I cam­paigned. It was wear­ing the sil­ver-and-black Coors Light liv­ery when Don pur­chased it, but un­der that was the English Leather paint job. Don snapped up the Jamie Sarté chas­sis in Wis­con­sin. Not just a Sarté chas­sis, which would be plenty rare, but the orig­i­nal one Sarté welded up for me. Don told me the chas­sis was in re­mark­ably good shape con­sid­er­ing.

It’s amaz­ing Don was able to lo­cate the body and chas­sis. In the era I raced this ’Vette, old race cars weren’t treated very well. Like old race horses, if they weren’t com­pet­i­tive, they were con­sid­ered pretty use­less. Most old flop­per bod­ies ended up with rac­ers who ei­ther burned ’em up or blasted ’em into lit­tle pieces. And the chas­sis fared no bet­ter. They were butchered into econo Funny Cars or what­ever. The nitro Hemis were re­placed by big-block Chevys and pow­er­glides.

Don chose the late Pat Fos­ter to completely re­con­struct the English Leather ’Vette. Fos­ter had a hell of a ca­reer as a race car driver, fab­ri­ca­tor and race car re­storer. He was able to scrounge up all of the era-cor­rect bits and pieces, and af­ter more than two years and a bucket of money, Fos­ter and his crew rolled out a beauty of a race car.

So now, again thanks to Don Trasin, the English Leather Corvette, in­stead of sit­ting in some rich guy’s pri­vate col­lec­tion only seen by him and his bud­dies, is in the Wally Parks NHRA Mo­tor­sports Mu­seum for the whole world to en­joy. Right next to it is Snake’s Army Ar­row that I beat at Indy 1978, which

Trasin just hap­pens to own.

An­other piece of good news:

Don Gar­l­its is still alive and well and en­joyed an­other birthday re­cently. “Big” and I share the same birthday. Years ago we’d usu­ally be racing to­gether at Bee Line, or later at the Tuc­son AHRA races, and there’d be a big get-to­gether. Hope­fully, we’ll both be around for an­other birthday in 2018.

We’re charg­ing full steam ahead into the new racing sea­son—new cars, new teams, tons of en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm. But as we look ahead, let’s take a mo­ment to think of those we’ve re­cently left be­hind. We mourn their loss, but more im­por­tantly we cel­e­brate who they were and how they made drag racing and our lives a bit bet­ter. I’d like to say good­bye to Nick Arias Jr., Pat Minick, Vern Moats, Jim Van Dyke, Don Rack­e­mann, Pete Chapouris, Kent En­derle, John Guedel, and I’m afraid there were others I’ve missed. All those we’ve lost will be missed.

/Don Trasin and I with the ’78 English Leather Corvette

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