Drag Races Turn Back the Clock in Pomona


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, before there were funny cars, fuel altereds were the baddest things in drag racing. Top-fuel dragsters were fastest, but the short-wheelbase, nitro-burning, fire-belching fuel altereds were what the folks came to see.

They were so radical, so different, even from one another, as to be indescribable.

Cars had names back then, they were the stars. Fuel altereds had such names as Mental Cruelty, Rat Trap, Super Thief, Bad Actor, Scrounger, Insanity II, Vendetta, Deliverance and Gorilla.

Winged Express, with Wild Willie Borsch hanging his arm out the side of the car as he streaked, bucked and belched down the quarter-mile, was the baddest of them all. Al Marcellus, known as Mousie, was his alter ego, his agent, mechanic, chauffeur and constant companion.


Borsch and Marcellus will serve as grand marshals of the Goodguys’ annual Nitro Nationals nostalgia drag races this weekend at the Pomona Fairplex. A newer version of the Winged Express will be there too.

Borsch died of lung cancer in 1991, but he’ll be there nevertheless. Marcellus carries a foot-high silver urn with Borsch’s ashes with him everywhere he goes.

“Some people think it’s morbid, but it’s not,” Marcellus said from his home in Anaheim. “He goes to the races all the time and people come up and give him their respects, pat him on the urn and say hello. I see no harm in that.”

The pair will be at the Pomona starting line tonight for opening ceremonies and the Winged Express will close the show with spectacular runs tonight and Saturday night, the headers and exhaust pipes alive in a fiery explosion. Iron Mike Boyd, a 6-foot-5 reincarnation of Borsch, will be in the driver’s seat.

Borsch is remembered as a bearded, balding, often shirtless driver who loved to drive with one hand, his left arm outstretched.

Marcellus, known in drag racing circles as the Grand Old Man of Fuel Altered Racing, shepherds the Winged Express from nostalgia events in a 1968 Dodge truck.


“That truck cost a fortune when I bought it, $2,800,” Marcellus said. “Now, you couldn’t touch it for $28,000. It’s got more than 500,000 miles on it.”

Borsch and Marcellus met in 66th Street elementary school, near Gage and San Pedro Streets in South Central Los Angeles and became lifelong friends.

“Wild Willie was an early drag racing icon who got his nickname because he drove with his hand outstretched,” said Gary Meadows, president of the Goodguys Rod & Custom Assn., sponsors of the two-day Pomona show. “Al Marcellus was the team’s builder, crew chief, sponsor and press agent. Together they were one of the most formidable teams in racing.”

The Nitro Nationals will run today and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Final eliminations, for pre-1972 race cars, rods, customs and classics, will start at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Waltrip Cruising

If you think you saw a white, blue and yellow NASCAR stock car driving down Sunset Boulevard on Tuesday, you weren’t hallucinating. It was Michael Waltrip in his No. 99 Best Western-sponsored Busch series Chevrolet, filming a commercial at his sponsor’s Sunset Plaza hotel.

“I hate driving in Los Angeles, or any big city, because of the traffic,” said Waltrip, “but cruising down Sunset Boulevard, right past the House of Blues and all the fancy places on the Strip, was pretty cool.”


The commercial, which will be aired in August, is part of NASCAR’s marketing program designed to showcase its drivers as individuals.

Waltrip was en route to Sonoma, where he will drive in Sunday’s Nextel Cup Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway.

After 15 races of the 2004 championship season, Waltrip is mired in 22nd place, 687 points behind points leader Jimmie Johnson. With 11 races remaining to qualify for the 10-race “Chase for the Championship,” Waltrip estimates he needs to average an eighth-place finish to make the fortunate 10, or to be within 400 points of the leader.

After the 26th race, the points for the top 10 will be redistributed and only the 10, and anyone within 400 points of the leader, an unlikely event, will be eligible for the $5-million Nextel Cup championship.

“We’d be in the middle of it if Rusty [Wallace] hadn’t taken us out at Pocono,” Waltrip said. “He rammed us in the rear and knocked us out of the race when we were running real good. We were second at Charlotte [in the Coca-Cola 600] and had been in the top 10 in four of the last five races and felt we were on a roll.

“Rusty said he lost his brakes, but I can’t imagine that. I was as mad as I’ve ever been. It’s a good thing I couldn’t reach him. I hope I’m old enough [41] not to fight, but I might have if I’d had the chance that day. There were only about 40 laps to go and we were right there. When he took me out, we ended up 33rd. I’m still smarting over it.”


Southland Scene

Irwindale Speedway will be humming with activity all weekend.

Pure stock car racing, the track’s newest class, will begin three busy days and nights at 9 tonight. Saturday night, the weekly NASCAR short-track racing program, featuring the super late model stock cars, is on tap.

Sunday will be doubly busy. In the early morning, the Society of Automotive Historians’ annual Literature Faire & Exchange, a swap meet of sorts involving motor sports and motors, will be held in the parking lot. Later, drag racers will compete for the Manufacturers Cup on the one-eighth mile strip called Irwindale Dragstrip. The first matchup is at noon.

After winning last week at Ventura, El Monte’s Jerome Rodela trails Johnny Rodriguez by 86 points in the U.S. Auto Club western midget car series going into Saturday night’s 30-lap main event at Perris Auto Speedway. Wally Pankratz, the 2000 champion, finished second at Ventura and trails Rodela by 35 points.

Cory Kruseman, a regular on the USAC sprint car circuit, will race tonight in Richmond, Va., then catch a cross-country flight so he can run in the midget race at Perris.

Perris will introduce road racing tonight with street stocks, cruisers and hornets competing on a dirt course laid out in the track’s infield.

Eddie Mulder’s West Coast vintage flat-track motorcycle series will be at Ventura Raceway on Saturday night for races involving four-stroke machines built in 1974 or before. There will also be vintage speedway bike races. Racing will start at 6. On Sunday, there will be an antique and classic cycle show at Seaside Park. Details: (805) 650-6777.


Who said vintage car drivers don’t go fast?

Phil Stratford, in his Tyrell Formula One car, bettered the track record at California Speedway for its 2.88-mile road course last Sunday in the Historic Sports Car Festival. Stratford qualified at 118.349 mph, bettering the record of 113.874 set by Didier Theys and Fredy Lienhard Jr. in the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series in 2002. Stratford also won the Group 8 feature race with a speed of 112.979 mph.

Kevin Harvick, who became the youngest track champion at Mesa Marin Speedway when he was 17 and a junior at North Bakersfield High School, will return to the track Saturday to drive in a special Speed Truck Challenge against NASCAR drivers Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin and Scott Riggs.

Rickie Gaunt will go for his fifth consecutive Sprint Car Racing Assn. victory Saturday night when the series returns to Barona Speedway Park in San Diego County. Gaunt won both previous races at Barona and also won two at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare.


This Week’s Races


Dodge/Save Mart 350

* When: Today, qualifying (Speed Channel, 3 p.m.); Sunday, race (Channel 11, 12:30 p.m.).

* Where: Infineon Raceway (permanent road course, 1.99 miles, 10 turns); Sonoma, Calif.

* Race distance: 218.9 miles, 110 laps.

* 2003 winner: Robby Gordon.

* Next race: Pepsi 400, July 3, Daytona Beach, Fla.


Alan Kulwicki 250

* When: Saturday, qualifying, 3 p.m.; race (FX, 6 p.m.).

* Where: The Milwaukee Mile (oval, 1 mile, 9 degrees banking in turns).

* Race distance: 250 miles, 250 laps.

* 2003 winner: Jason Keller.

* Next race: Winn-Dixie 250, July 2, Daytona Beach, Fla.


Black Cat Fireworks 200

* When: Today, qualifying, 3 p.m.; race (Speed Channel, 6 p.m.).

* Where: The Milwaukee Mile.

* Race distance: 200 miles, 200 laps.

* 2003 winner: Brendan Gaughan.

* Next race: O’Reilly Auto Parts 250, July 3, Kansas City, Kan.


SunTrust Indy Challenge

* When: Today, qualifying, 4:15 p.m.; Saturday, race (ESPN2, 4:30 p.m.).

* Where: Richmond (Va.) International Raceway (D-shaped oval, .75 miles, 14 degrees banking in turns).

* Race distance: 187.5 miles, 250 laps.

* 2003 winner: Scott Dixon.

* Next race: Kansas Indy 300, July 4, Kansas City, Kan.


Sears Craftsman Nationals

* When: Today, qualifying, 3 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 3 p.m. (ESPN2, 7 p.m.); Sunday, elimi- nations, 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2, 6 p.m.).

* Where: Gateway International Raceway; Madison, Ill.

* 2003 winners: Doug Kalitta, Del Worsham, Ron Krisher and Geno Scali.

* Next race: Mile-High Nationals, July 18, Denver.