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The Blue Max Funny Car

Blue Max Funny Car

It’s likely that the Blue Max car name is the most famous in Funny Car History. The only other car to enjoy the level of recognition was the famed Chi-Town Hustler of John Farkonas, Austin Coil, Pat Minick.

The Blue Max moniker first appeared at the 70’NHRA Winternationals on a Ford Mustang Funny Car owned by Harry Schmidt. The flashy blue paint scheme, the trick lettering, and the famed painting of the WWI German commendation medal for combat flying distinguished it from the others. For the next 20 years, the Blue Max was one of the most popular cars on the match race circuit and the NHRA tour.

If Schmidt was responsible for the birth of the Blue Max, then Raymond Beadle was responsible for its upbringing. Beadle bought out Schmidt in 75’ and immediately set about revitalizing the race-car operation.

From 79’ through 81’, Beadle won three Winston Funny Car Championships and 13 National event titles aboard Blue Max Fords, Plymouths, and Pontiacs. Beadle, crew chief Dale Emery, “Waterbed Fred” Miller, and D. Gantt became the most recognizable crew in Funny Car, if not in drag racing. Whether in Diamond P sports TV coverage, National Dragster, or the various enthusiast magazines, the Blue Max seemed to be everywhere.

The business-conscious Beadle was quick to take advantage of that popularity. Blue Max wearing apparel became the L.A. Gear of drag racing, and Blue Max bicycles, Moroso Blue Max spark-plug wires, and Blue Max car was appeared.

Cognizant of the teams popularity, corporate America wasted little time in hopping aboard the Dallas, Texas, bandwagon. Schiltz Breweries, Old Milwaukee Light beer, Mobil Oil, English Leather cologne, Motorcraft, Napa Regal Ride Shocks, Alugard, Kodiak tobacco, and a host of others annually graced the sides of the Blue Max.

By mid 1990, Blue Max mania had run its course, and Schmidt and Beadle were pursuing other business interests.

Blue Max Funny Car

The Start: Harry Schmidt

Harry Schmidt, one the south-central United States’ original Funny Car competitors, first attracted attention in 66’. At that time, the Dallas, TX, mechanic teamed with Mike Burkhart to race an injected, fuel-burning 66’ Chevy II, under the banner of Friendly Chevrolet. For the next two years, Burkhart and Schmidt ran a nitro-burning injected 67’ Camaro before parting company.

Burkhart then fielded a two-car team of blown, nitro Camaros with Mart Higgenbotham, in 68’, and Schmidt took some time off. At the end of the year, he decided to return and commissioned Don Hardy to build him a 69’ Mustang. The Taylor, Mich.-based Ramchargers Racing Engines shop built him a blown nitro-burning 426-cid Hemi, which he raced in 69’.

Paul Gordan was first behind the wheel, but the only drove the car three or four times according to Schmidt. Higgenbotham drove the car once at Tulsa International Raceway but never got downtrack because of a blown transmission.

In the summer of 69’ Schmidt hired former Gene Snow crew chief Jake Johnston to drive, and he was the first driver of the Blue Max series of race cars.

“When Gordan and Higgenbotham drove,” Schmidt said, “the car just had Harry Schmidt racing on the side. It was the same with Jake in 69’. We did a little touring at the end of the year; the car was running in the 7.40s and the 7.50s at close to 200mph.

“I guess it was that fall that I saw a movie called the Blue Max starring George Peppard, and I thought that the name had a nice ring to it. I loved that emblem, and since I had a German last name and my Mustang was blue, I decided that’s what we’d call the car when we started the 70’s season”

Schmidt and Johnston debuted the Blue Max Mustang at the 70’ Winternationals. The car did well, setting Top Speed at 203.61 mph and lasting until the second round.

In November, Schmidt and Johnston enjoyed the kind of race on which reputations are built. They entered the Orange County Manufacturers Funny Car show in the land, and the Blue Max tore ‘em up.

During eliminations, Johnston ran the lowest elapsed time in the history of the class, a 6.72. In the final, Johnston left on Rich Siroonian’s and “Big John” Mazmanian’s Barracuda and claimed the win, 6.89 to 6.88.

Richard Tharp replaced Johnston as driver at the ’70 Supernationals. Tharp remained Schmidt’s driver until mid 73, when Schmidt decided he’d had enough and parked the car.

“I just got tired of racing. “ Schmidt recalled. “ I had burned out. We made close to 100 dates in 72’ and the traveling and running around wore me out. Some people are cut out for that nonstop thrashing, but I’m not one of them”

As worn out as Schmidt was, he apparently wanted one more go-round with drag racing. Fellow Texan Raymond Beadle toured Don Schumacher’s Stardust Vega in 74’, and Schimidt helped him for a month that summer. It was then that Beadle broached the subject of reviving the Blue Max Funny Car name.

Schmidt’s big concern was money, but Beadle told him that could be handled. On November 9 in Lakeland, FL, Beadle debuted behind the wheel of the Beadle and Schmidt Blue Max Ford Mustang II.

They remained a team until the second week on September, when the grind again got to Schmidt. He couldn’t have picked a better time to leave because a week earlier at the U. S. Nationals, Beadle defeated Don “ The Snake” Prudhomme’s Army Monza for the event title.

Blue Max Funny Car

THE FINISH: RAYMOND BEADLE

In September 74’, Raymond Beadle of Lubbock, TX, was completing his second year as a touring drag-race professional. He had driven Don Schumacher’s number –two Stardust Vega at the races across the country for those two seasons, but the idea of running his own car appealed to him. It was something that he’d never done.

Before his stint with Schumacher, Beadle had driven one of Mike Burkhart’s Vegas in 72’. Before that, he had wheeled the Stud Mustang and the Top Fuel dragsters of Spanky Wright and the Prentiss Cunningham.

He recalled, “Harry (Schmidt) had helped me with the Schumacher car, and, on occasion, we talked about his old car, the Blue Max. I thought it would be good if we could bring back the name and see what we could do with it. Basically, it was a 50-50 deal. I’d drive, Tony Casarez would build the chassis, and we’d go with a Mustang II body. We got started late in 74’ at what they call Rebel Winter Series, then went on the full tour in 75’.”

Schmidt told Beadle that he probably wouldn’t last more than a season or two; he figured that the touring would wear on him again.

He was right. As Beadle recalled, “We booked a lot of dates that year. I think we had 110 dates confirmed, and if you count things like rainouts, I figure that we made 90 to 95 of them.” Only ‘Jungle Jim’ Liberman would book more.

“Right after we won Indy that year, Harry had had enough, and I bought him out”

When Beadle took control of the Blue Max, the whole operation took off. Though he didn’t win right away (his first victory came at the “78 Winston Finals at Ontario Motor Speedway), he had a knack for getting attention and sponsorship. As a result, the Blue Max was constantly in the public eye.

The 79’ Season began a three-year period of Winston Funny Car domination and left little doubt about who had the number one Funny Car in the World.

Beadle brought to drag racing a panoramic world view. In 83’, he did something that no full time drag racer ever had done. He expanded his operation to include a NASCAR Grand National stock car driven by the late Tim Richmond and a World of Outlaws (WoO) sprint car driven by Sammy Swindell. So able was Beadle at the business conference table that he negotiated Old Milwaukee beer backing for both those cars and his ’83 Ford EXP Funny car.

This was no publicity stunt; Beadle ran three cars in NHRA, WoO, and NASCAR competition until 1989, when he retired from auto racing. That year, Beadle’s NASCAR driver, Rusty Wallace, won the 1989 Winston Cup season Championship. At all times, with the Old Milwaukee’s, Alugards, and Kodiaks of the sponsor world, a bright Blue Max decal was on those race cars.

Beadle’s Blue Max Funny Car made its last appearance Aug 5, 1989, former Alcohol Funny Car racer Ronny Young drove the Kodiak/Blue Max to runner-up honors against D.A. Santucci’s Black Magic Thunderbird.

If anyone had a right to say he had no more worlds to conquer, it would be Beadle. He doesn’t feel that way, though.

“It was time to move on to something else,” he said. “I was interested in trying my hand at ranching. I have no regrets about drag racing. My high points were the ’75 Indy win and that first Winston title. It’s a satisfying feeling to be able to say, Once upon a time, I was the best at what I did.”