We left off with the teaming of Jack Wayre, Gene Adams, and John "Zookeeper" Mulligan. The year was 1966 and the team recorded six of the 20 quickest elapsed times of the year including becoming the first in the sixes with a clocking of 6.95 at Carlsbad during the summer, breaking the track record of 7.12 by nearly two tenths. The team also recorded three of the 19 fastest speeds of the year with a best clocking of 221.12. The team had started the season with a runner-up finish at the AHRA Winternationals at the newly opened Irwindale Raceway. Mulligan actually was runner-up by default at this event.
     I remember being down in the shut-off area shooting parachute shots from one of the berms Irwindale featured at the top end when I saw them push starting John on the return road. Gene Adams had replaced the engine for the final and wanted to do a checkout short hit of the throttle. The problem was the throttle stuck open and John went off into the berms and flipped the car. This was the only time I can remember seeing Mulligan really angry. When he got out of the car he threw his helmet and goggles and the goggles were never found.
     Early into the 1967 season the team of Adams, Wayre and Mulligan disbanded and John again joined with his close friend, Tim Beebe. Tim had decided that he wanted to take the Beebe Bros. and Sixt dragster on tour, but his brother Dave decided he wanted to stay home with his family. For this tour the home-built short bodied dragster was painted in green stripes and because of both Tim and John's heritage renamed "The Fighting Irish." During the 1967 season Beebe and Mulligan recorded three of the 13 quickest e.t.'s with a best of 6.70, and one of the 14 best top speeds at 230.76.
     For the 1968 season Frank Huszar of Race Car Specialties front-halved the chassis and Tom Hanna built a nose piece. Again, George Cerny applied a green stripped paint scheme. While the Fighting Irish did not win any major races that season they did set top speed and low e.t. at numerous events and set the National Hot Rod Association speed record at 229.59 during September of that year at Orange County International Raceway. For the 1968 NHRA World Finals in Tulsa Oklahoma Beebe and Mulligan rolled out a new Woody Gilmore built dragster that also featured a Hanna body and Cerny paint which John Mulligan drove to a runner-up finish while recording both low e.t. and top speed of the event. I remember that top speed was the most important thing to the Zookeeper.
     Beebe and Mulligan began the 1969 season by winning the NHRA Winternationals where John defeated Don "Snake" Prudhomme in the final. While the win was gratifying, Mulligan had to share the top speed honors at 225 mph with three other drivers and Carl Olsen was actually credited with the honor since he had run the speed first. As Tim Beebe recalls it, Mulligan passed on going out to a victory dinner with his crew because he didn't gel top speed of the event. At this point in time Beebe and Mulligan were sharing Hayden Proffitt's large shop in Garden Grove with Tom McEwen and some other racers. I recall being at the shop right after John had won the Bakersfield March Meet a short month after his Winternationals victory. While everyone else was talking up the victory, Zookeeper remarked that, "The win was nice, but I wasn't the fastest guy out there. And, that's what I'm there for."
     Beebe and Mulligan went on to record three of the top speeds of the 1969 season with a best clocking of 233.32. Other wins that season included the Olympics of Drag Racing in Union Grove, Wisconsin. During the summer of 1969 Tim Beebe switched from his trusty 392-type early Chrysler hemi to a late-model 426 hemi built by the Ramchargers. Tim Beebe began modifying the fuel system and the team's times dropped substantially.
     After arriving at the NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana, John shut off during his first qualifying run after a wheelstand. After adding weight to the front axle the Zookeeper recorded a 6.43 e.t. which had the crowd in shock, since the NHRA national record was a 6.68 held by Jerry Ruth. After this impressive run the car was loaded back into the trailer until Monday's eliminations.
     During the first round of eliminations John squared off against "TV Tommy" Ivo. As the Fighting Irish car reached the 1,200-foot mark the engine burst into an nil-fed fireball. Mulligan won the round with a time of 6.62 at 171 mph, but the car hit the guardrail and broke into two pieces and flipped. It was later discovered that Mulligan's fire was so intense that his belts were burned off and they are rated to 750 degrees. John was thrown clear of the wreckage and was transported to the hospital where he was soon sitting up and talking.
     At that time it was thought that John would be sent back home to Orange County to recuperate in a hospital there. Tragically, two weeks after the accident, on September 17th, 1969, John Mulligan died from heart failure attributed to his serious burns.
     I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that John Mulligan's crash and his subsequent death had a numbing affect on all of organized drag racing. Personally, I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about the accident, and how I felt at that moment. I was working in a camera store during the week and also was the track photographer at Orange County International Raceway. I did not attend the 1969 NHRA Nationals, but my boss at OCIR, Track Manager Mike Jones did. I called Mike at the track on Tuesday to find out how the Nationals had gone, and who had won. The first thing Jones told me was about Mulligan's crash and his prognosis. I remember being in shock and that I couldn't speak. After I got off the phone I remember thinking that I never even found out who won and that I really did not care.
     At the race itself, Tom McEwen who had qualified for both top fuel and funny car pulled both his cars from competition so he could be at the hospital with his friend. Mulligan's NHRA speed record of 229.59 mph stood until July 1970, 10 months after his death. His remarkable qualifying time of 6.43 stood as low e.t. for the sport of drag racing for a full year until the 1970 NHRA Nationals. John Mulligan was buried in an avocado colored casket because his mother knew it was his favorite color.
     On a personal note, I must confess that I started this particular installment of Blast from the Past over four years ago. At that time I realized how difficult talking about John Mulligan would be for me, and I decided that I would save this for the final installment of this column. So, after over eight years and about 100 columns I bid you farewell with my sincere thanks to Gary Meadors, John Drummond, Steve Anderson and Jon Gobetti who have allowed me to share my photos and my thoughts with you.

Reprinted from the Goodguys Goodtimes Gazette

Blast From The Past - Part 1


Always a Bridesmaid  ||  AA Fabulous  || The Fleeting Irish 
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