NHRA's 50 GREATEST DRIVERS ...
NHRA's 50 GREATEST DRIVERS
#26: GENE SNOW
In addition to being among the select group of drag racers whose careers have spanned five decades, Gene "the Snowman" Snow will remain in the history books as the first Funny Car driver to break the 200-mph barrier with a 200.88 clocking on Aug. 17, 1968, and the first Top Fuel driver to break the four-second barrier at an NHRA national event, Oct. 6, 1988.
Racing during an era in the mid-1960s when most competitors relied on production automotive-type automatic transmissions, Snow pioneered the use of a direct-drive arrangement for his Funny Car, a configuration that is still used today, thanks largely to the second generation of pioneering he did in the late 1980s.
Snow originally had planned to make a living as an electrical engineer, but he left the University of Texas in Arlington after three years to sell used cars.
"I did that because I could make more money [selling used cars] than what engineers were making at General Dynamics," said Snow.
After forming a partnership with L.G. Melton in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, Snow began racing cars from his car lot to promote sales.
"Everybody talks about winning on Sunday and selling on Monday, and that's what I did," said Snow. "I would win a race with a dealership car on Sunday and usually sold the winning entry the next day."
Snow decided to take the sport more seriously and began racing with a 348-cid '58 Chevy Impala and then with a new Chevy 409 in 1962, which was replaced midseason with a 413-cid '62 Plymouth Sport Fury that led to his series of Rambunctious Chrysler entries.
After running a '63 Max Wedge 426-cid Dodge and a '64 426 Hemi Dodge, Snow began racing against Funny Cars in 1965 with an altered-wheelbase Dodge Dart, which was built by Don Hardy.
In 1966, the chassis was lengthened to improve its handling capabilities, and its enhanced performance enabled Snow to win several eliminator titles in NHRA national event competition. Because the Funny Cars were yet to be officially recognized by NHRA, Snow's Dart ran as a C/Fuel Dragster in Comp, which he won with a 9.04 run at the 1966 Nationals. In 1967, Snow repeated his triumph in Indianapolis with an 8.67 run in the newly created Super Eliminator class.
In 1968, Snow switched to gasoline and won B/Altered class and Comp at that year's Winternationals, before moving on to a supercharged '68 Dodge Dart that quickly gave way to the aerodynamically-superior '68 Dodge Charger body.
It was with this machine that Snow abandoned the conventional automatic transmission, which could not handle the increased horsepower, in favor of a direct-drive arrangement.
"We worked with Crower to come up with a four-disc Crowerglide centrifugal clutch," said Snow. "Though it was sluggish off the line, it would mow down the automatic cars, which always nosed-over at about 185 mph."
Snow had been running in the mid-190s on a regular basis, when he attended a race at Don and Carl Gay's track in Dickinson, Texas.
"The sea level location gave us extra horsepower, and we went 200.88 mph on the first pass," said Snow. "I didn't think it was such a big deal at the time, but we kept running more than 200 mph at just about every race after that."
That fall, Snow went 205.46 mph at Orange County Int'l Raceway and later broke the 210-mph barrier with a 213.78-mph clocking in September 1969.
In 1970, Snow picked up the pace with a new Dodge Challenger that debuted with a runner-up finish at the Winternationals against Leroy Goldstein in the Ramchargers car. Snow went on to win three NHRA national events in four final-round appearances. The streak included a runner-up at the Springnationals and wins at the Summernationals, World Finals, and Supernationals.
Snow's 7.23, 208.71-mph run at the Dallas Int'l Motor Speedway-based Springnationals on May 3 was the first 200-mph run in NHRA Funny Car competition. He also won three AHRA Grand American Series events, the AHRA Points Championship, and the AHRA Driver of the Year award. He conclude the year with a best run of 6.76, 218.44 at Lions Dragstrip. "We carried a spare motor the whole year and never had to use it," said Snow. "It was an extraordinary deal."
In 1971, Snow fielded one of the first multicar teams in the sport, running a pair of mini-Chargers with longtime crew chief Jake Johnston as the other driver. Highlights of the season included the Super Stock Magazine Championships in York, Pa., a runner-up finish at the Summernationals, a win at the OCIR All Pro Series, and a Drag News Driver of the Year award.
Snow began running under the Revell Snowman colors in 1972 to promote the 1/16th-scale kit produced by the popular model manufacturer.
Snow and Johnston continued driving Funny Cars, and the team expanded to include a Top Fueler driven by Chip Woodall, an injected Funny Car piloted by Terry Pringle, and an experimental turbocharged Funny Car.
In 1972, Woodall won the Springnationals, but a highway accident destroyed the Top Fueler, and by 1973, Snow had cut back to a pair of cars.
Snow experimented with a Vega body in 1974 and won the NHRA Springnationals and IHRA U.S. Open Nationals, but went back to Mopar the following season.
The combination of subpar seasons and the gas crisis of the 1970s forced Snow out of racing at the end of the 1978 season, but he came back to run in Top Fuel in 1981. "At the time, I figured this would be my last stint in racing, so I decided to do it in the quickest and fastest category," Snow said.
From 1983 to 1991, Snow finished in the NHRA Top 10 in nine consecutive seasons, and again pioneered advances in drivetrain technology by working with Bob Brooks at AFT on a direct-drive arrangement for Top Fuel.
At the 1988 Supernationals at Houston Raceway Park, Snow's 4.997 clocking was the first four-second run at an NHRA national event. He finished the year with five of the 10 quickest runs in 1988 and his second consecutive IHRA Top Fuel championship.
His most recent NHRA title took place at the 1989 Cajun Nationals, but he also produced two runner-up finishes in 1990 and three more in 1991, before retiring from the ranks following a crash at the 1992 Chief Auto Parts Nationals in Dallas.
Snow returned to the sport in 1997 with an A/Fuel Dragster that he campaigns, as he tells it, "on a hobby basis," concentrating primarily on Division 4 points races and national events conducted in Houston and Dallas.
NHRA's Top 50 Drivers will be unveiled on NHRA.com and through the pages of National DRAGSTER, in reverse order throughout the 2001 season, with a schedule leading up to the naming of the top driver at the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals at Pomona Raceway on Nov. 11.
As NHRA celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2001, it has emerged as one of the most popular spectator sports, highlighted by a $50 million, 24-event, nationally televised tour. The NHRA has developed into the world's largest motorsports sanctioning body, with more than 80,000 members nationwide, and more than 140 member tracks. <pre> NHRA's 50 GREATEST DRIVERS 50. Elmer Trett 49. Richard Tharp 48. Malcolm Durham 47. Billy Meyer 46. Ken Veney 45. Scotty Richardson 44. Dave Schultz 43. Frank Hawley 42. David Rampy 41. John Mulligan 40. Frank Manzo 39. Danny Ongais 38. James Warren 37. Edmond Richardson 36. Blaine Johnson 35. Terry Vance 34. Willie Borsch 33. Brad Anderson 32. Darrell Gwynn 31. Dick LaHaie 30. Chris Karamesines 29. Art Chrisman 28. George Montgomery 27. Jim Dunn 26. Gene Snow