The “Terrifying Toronado” embodied everything that was unique about drag racing; It was an untamed vicious beast, someone’s warped idea of how to beat the system. The car was this big overweight Olds with two nitro-burning blown and injected Olds engines. A front trans axle in front and direct drive in rear.
It’s career ended at the 1967 Winter nationals after an abbreviated stay that was littered with staggering, non-qualifying attempts and a few stabs at trying to kill Smyser himself.
Ahhh … that career. The first time I saw this car was at the 1966 AHRA Winter nationals in Irwindale.
Sometime during the latter half of eliminations, Irwindale management stopped the show and brought out a vehicle under a huge car cover. They parked it just past the starting line A-board and announcer Mel Reck gave it this big play up.
“Fans you are about to see a brand new kind of race car that almost defies description.”
And then, I don’t know, more hype that the car would cure cancer, go over 250 mph, change the face of drag racing and whatever.
The car cover was pulled off to reveal Smyser’s gold monster and I admit that as a young 19-year-old, the car definitely looked "way wild" to me. A twin-motored Funny Car ?.....… surely your kidding?
Much to my disappointment they did not run the car at the event, but put it off to the following week. I had seen twin-motored cars before such as John Peters’ fabulous “Freight Train” Dragster, but a Funny Car? That was a first and I immediately made plans to return to Irwindale to see this brawler in action.
I wasn’t disappointed..... In one of the half-dozen most spectacular debuts I’ve ever seen, this vicious pig made an impression.
On its lone run, Smyser staged it, the lights went green, and the monster lumbered a little past the A-board and then lurched right, the four-slicked thing then dug in and bolted left toward the center line with Smyser fighting the wheel and jerking it back right, whereupon the enraged car hooked left and charged the guard rail and the fans along the chain length fence (not to the mention those in the lower seats of the wooden grandstand) scattering the crowd…. with many screaming!
At one point across from this wounded rhino, there was a little hot dog kiosk between two bleachers and it eyed them wildly and launched in their direction, fortunately the Irwin dale guardrail stopped the Toronado.
On impact, its front end bolted skyward by three or four feet gave out an elephant-sized belch and stopped short of a massive body count.
Now that was cool………So I thought !
That event must’ve wounded Smyser’s enthusiasm, because I don’t remember the car running again until late that year.
In November, Smyser’s repaired warrior took on Doug Nash’s cute little all-aluminum “Bronco Buster” Ford Bronco truck at Lions. (does anyone have photos of that run?) Nash’s piece was nearly as weird as Smyser’s. It had a forged aluminum roll cage, spoked wheels in front, and an injected small block 289-cid on nitro in front.
With these two on the line, I thought that we might make page one of the L.A. Times … but no. Nash’s little sprinter was way too quick for Smyser’s still lumbering drunk and took two straight passes.
At least “the Terrifying Toronado” didn’t go blind and attack the fans this time
It farted, twisted, then turned and lost power at about 100 feet on both runs with only the photographers experiencing dangerous heart rates.
Ironically, as things developed, Nash’s "Bronco Buster" didn’t last all that long. Later that following year, he put a blower on it, and at that event, (gentleman) Joe Schubeck fireballed both motors, on the “Hurst Hairy Olds” with the whole flaming package slamming through the sand trap and fencing onto a farmer’s land where he set some of the brush on fire and reportedly killed his dog. With the irate farmer waving a shotgun and cursing a blue streak, Schubeck elected to withdraw most expeditiously from the twin-motored Funny Car configuration.
As a foot
note: It should be added that the late Lakewood Industries boss and Top Fuel
/ Top Gas racer Joe Schubeck suffered the same disease as Smyser. In 1966
the Hurst Corporation (obviously at a board meeting warped by blotter acid)
decided to sponsor Schubeck's Hurst Hairy Olds, a race car that was a near twin to the Toronado.
Smyser decided to give it one more try at the 1967 NHRA Winter nationals. (It should be remembered that Smyser was a better than average racer). In 1965, he and a young truck driver Nando Haase won the 32-car Top Fuel show at Petersen’s Hot Rod Magazine Championships in Riverside, Calif, which was one of the top 10 fuel shows of that year. Five years later Smyser would just miss at the 1970 Bakersfield meet when he and Harry Hibler runner-upped to Tony Nancy in an all San Fernando Raceway Top Fuel finale. He was nobody’s fool. It’s just … every now and then some folks are capable of making near fatal career decisions.
Smyser was running as an exhibition entertainer since there was no official Funny Car class at the time and during Saturday qualifying, he valiantly tried to ride the bull, who promptly tossed him into the dumpster.
At three-quarter track, the “Toronado” went out of control” and blasted through the guard rail on the right side of the track. Not satisfied with that, the massive Olds went after the local population instead of the fans, almost blowing through the fencing that keeps the race cars off of E Street, which parallels the Pomona track.
That was the last of the “Terrifying Toronado.” Smyser’s next appearance, was as an editorial writer for Drag Racing magazine where he spent a year condemning and screaming at all things Funny Car.
As I, and the many veteran Drag Racing fans could tell you, it was different back then.
Take the Funny Car class for example. In its heyday, their eliminator was the wildest show on earth.
In days past. Variety was a hallmark of the class.
And action? It was not uncommon at all for the “Funny Cars” to wheel stand at the start, get sideways, explode blowers, vault the guard rail, and occasionally blow up into a million pieces on the top end. They just had attitude!
Since then, the Devil’s Lounge has been cleaned up and is now very orderly. Aw what the hell, after 47 years I’ve grown accustomed to drag racing’s face. I’ll never stop going to the races, even though they are far more tame than wild.
These days I just view the races like a pooped out old marriage......... Our sex life just isn’t what it used to be.
The cars all look somewhat the same and corporate as hell. Almost nothing you could warm up to. They run uniformly well…... close competition and uninteresting.
And all the personality of a chicken salad sandwich.