Pandemonium: Return With Us to the Roots of Funny Car Racing

Drag RacerIn the late ’50s through the ‘60s, drag racing was in many ways a regional sport. From the mid/southwest roared the Top Fuelers of Bob Creitz, Jimmy Nix, Bobby Langley, Vance Hunt, Lou Cangalose and from Kansas City, Kansas, Bob Sullivan.

Bob, with wife Shirley by his side, terrorized the region and frequently beyond, especially in AHRA competition, with a series of nitro diggers. All were beautifully constructed and finished in gorgeous candy burgundy and gold leaf, featuring their little devil character and aptly named Pandemonium.

By late ’64 Sullivan “crystal balled” the sport and visualized a major shift, well ahead of his Top Fuel brethren: Detroit factory-bodied race cars powered by blown and injected nitro-burning engines. He purchased a stock ’65 Plymouth Barracuda, and with the help of friend Ralph Suman and to some degree noted race car builder Rod Stuckey, modified it to accept the 392 Chrysler Hemi from his Top Fueler. The stock 106-inch wheelbase, 3,700-pound steel-bodied racer looked amazingly “stock” save for the Enderle injector hat bulging from the hood and long traction bars. Reports of the day state the headlights, turn indicators and windshield wipers were still functional. At Indy in ’65, running as a B/FD on 100% nitro and direct drive, it brought the fans to their feet, blazing the slicks for a full quarter mile. By the end of the year, he was regularly reeling off 9.70s at over 160 mph.

The stubby wheelbase was quite a handful, so for ’66 the car was lengthened 18 inches and fitted with a fiberglass front end and doors. The modifications sliced the weight to 3,195 pounds and fitted it with a TorqueFlite transmission, elevated performance to a best of 9.43 at 177 mph. With no official Funny Car class, Sullivan wreaked havoc on the “run whatcha brung” match race circuit. But with Funny Car technology advancing at light speed, in 1967 the Sullivans built a flip-top fiberglass Camaro roadster and eventually the Barracuda went down the road and into oblivion.
In 2000, automobile aficionado Greg Sullivan (no relation to Bob and Shirley) stumbled upon a “for sale” ad in Hemmings Motor News for Pandemonium V. As a kid, Greg formed an instant attachment to the race car after seeing its photos in a drag race magazine. Of course the shared surname welded the connection! He contacted the seller and a deal was quickly consummated.
Sullivan commissioned Hansen Race Cars in Montclair, California, for the restoration, but with a hitch. Being the hardcore car guy he is, Sullivan frequents England’s annual Goodwood Festival of Speed where vintage race cars, some worth millions, are raced and occasionally wrecked. He wanted Pandemonium V to return to its roaring glory days, not collect dust as a museum piece. To that goal, he saw to the installation of a modern full roll cage and the suspension was modified with safety in mind, though the long original ladder bars were left in place, as a nod to the original configuration. For performance and reliability, fabled engine whiz Gene Adams recommended a 572-ci TFX aluminum block with Indy Hemi heads, a Kuhl blower and MSD ignition; basically a snappy alcohol motor that can take a nip of nitro upon occasion. A Hughes two-speed Powerglide replaced the Torqueflite. Hemi Under Glass pilot Bob Riggle, whom Sullivan had assisted on one of his trips to the Goodwood Festival, helped complete the finishing touches and provided tuning advice.
With the Pandemonium up and running, a driver capable of getting this ill-handling beast down the track and returning in one piece, was needed. Fortuitously through mutual friends, Dave and Linda Adler, owners of Pantera International, an organization for owners of De Tomoso Pantera sports cars, he connected with Big Show Funny Car shoe Cory Lee. Cory had established a reputation as not only a first rate driver, his first ride coming with Tom Hoover’s Pioneer-sponsored flopper, but also a clutch artist and tuner. Prior to piloting, he’d plied his talents with the likes of Ed McCulloch, John Force, Del Worsham and Hoover just to name a few. Lee is the perfect fit, not only does he have the skills (and huevos) to pilot the beast, he’s a true student of drag racing, fully understanding the historical significance of Pandemonium V. With its high center of gravity and short wheelbase, Lee describes the driving experience as “more like piloting a boat on choppy seas. You sit high, in a big open cockpit, not tight and low as in a modern ride. It’s quite an experience to be able to step back in time and drive one of the first Funny Cars.”

From 2005, through ’07 Sullivan and Lee with the assist of Jerry Gibson, Dan Messner and Don McReynolds unleashing Pandemonium at select events from coast to coast, thrilling fans at every stop. At the ’07 Bakersfield March Meet, the lads bumped the nitro load to over 10%, sending Cory on an epic ride to the tune of 8.60/175mph—its final pass. You see, Greg Sullivan is a very busy guy in the aerospace industry and unfortunately at times, business trumps racing, so for now the beast is at rest. But he’s always open to the possibility to once again unleashing PANDEMONIUM!

The history of the evolution of Funny Cars is murky, but those well-schooled in the subject all agree that Bob and Shirley Sullivan’s Barracuda played a highly significant role in the development of the class. All those who love drag racing owe Greg Sullivan a debt of gratitude for returning Pandemonium V to life.

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Thanks to Greg Sullivan and all involved, Pandemonium V is alive and well, once again rattling the troops.

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Indy Nats ’65, with F/C Eliminator still years away, Sullivan pairs off against another B/FD!

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The Rod Stuckey installed straight axle has been replaced with something more appropriate for high speed runs.

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Bob Sullivan (with cigar) and friend/fabricator Ralph Suman during the Pandemonium V build.

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The original 392 Hemi has been replaced by a 572-ci TFX aluminum block and Indy cylinder Hemi heads.

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Bob and wife/crew chief Shirley prepare the 392 nitro Hemi for another blast.

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Big Show (now Nostalgia F/C) driver Cory Lee’s habitat is a far cry from modern floppers. Major changes were made for the sake of safety.

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Hansen Race Cars of Montclair, CA, handled the restoration, but updated suspension for safety and to accept the new infusion of power.

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Several years ago, the Cragar Wheel folks gave thought to a series of special race events to be held in covered venues. Greg Sullivan had a relationship with Cragar and did some preliminary testing. This was at the Phoenix fairgrounds.

Photos by Jim White and Courtesy of Greg Sullivan

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