Open any car magazine and you will find a gaggle of writers, editors, photographers, builders and manufacturers—a virtual army of people with a passion for what they do—all inspired by a person, place, or thing that was the conduit for how they fulfilled their muscle car dreams.
Mine was an event that I had almost nothing to do with. It occurred in the spring of 1972. I signed up for little league and as fate would have it I was drafted onto the same team and became buddies with Phillip (Flipper) and Donnie Cook. Those names most likely don't mean anything to you, but the fact that they are the sons of Don Cook is how we came to feature the brilliant red Nostalgia Funny Car you see featured on page 64.
For those of you too young to remember, Don Cook was an established heavy hitter in the SoCal drag scene throughout the '60s and '70s. Hailing from Long Beach, California, Don called Lions Drag Strip his home. A born knuckle buster, Don was already hooked on all things mechanical and by age 9 he'd already overhauled is first engine out of a Model T Ford without any outside help. His first real ride in a race car came behind the wheel of a '52 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop that ran in the quarter-mile bracket class, but was soon replaced with a '49 Chevy, then a '40 Ford Coupe fitted with a 327ci Corvette engine between the framerails.
Several progressively faster cars were next, followed by his owner/driving duties in a supercharged, nitromethane-fuelled '69 Corvette bearing his name in the new and wildly popular Funny Car class.
It was in the late 1960's, when Don had several drivers take over the wheel at various times, including Frank Rupert, Dick Bourgeois, Mert Littlefield, Ron O'Donnell, and Mike Chysyk. Don's Damn Yankee Funny Cars of the '70s were feared up and down the West Coast, many of which were featured in drag racing magazines—a few ending up on the covers—earning him local fame and eventually legendary status.
As you can imagine growing up in Long Beach and being on the same Little League baseball team as the Cook brothers, it offered me the opportunity to be around some very cool SoCal drag racing culture. Even though at age 10 I didn't realize the exact magnitude of how cool it really was. Many a baseball practice ended with a bike race over to the Cook's house to catch a glimpse of what their pops was working on. We would nonchalantly wait in anticipation for him to fire up the blown, nitro-breathing monster just outside of the garage—even if it was only for a minute (try doing that these days without a SWAT team arriving on scene within seconds).
The Cook brothers followed in their dad's footsteps and have been involved with racing ever since. It's funny, after all these years I'm still friends with the brothers, and at Phillip's recent 50th birthday party we got to talking about what he was working on these days. It turns out he is working for Jason Rupert, who runs the Mert Littlefield Nostalgia Funny Car Camaro team. Well, needless to say, we had to have that car grace the pages of CP. A couple of phone calls and e-mails were exchanged and weeks later we were shooting the 2012 NHRA Heritage Series Champ's Funny Car at the Source Interlink photo studio in El Segundo, California, while rehashing stories from the "old days." Good times...
It's funny how life works. If our baseball draft was altered by just one kid being picked before me, I might have never even met the brothers, and 40-plus years later we would have no connection to photograph this magnificent beast.
Life and baseball aren't always about being great. Being passionate is key but sometimes you just gotta be in the right place at the right time.
I'm Just Sayin'