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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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