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Jim Johnson appears headed for victory in this early appearance at San Diego (Calif.) Raceway.  The tubular push bars were added at some point after customizer Dean Jeffries installed the rolled rear pans and sprayed the red, white and blue candy.  The four-inch fenderwell collectors were considered gigantic by 1964 standards.   

The much-publicized March 1964 debut of these identical triplets is widely recognized as the birth of the Funny Car; a term that wouldn’t be heard until 1965 — for a class that wasn’t formally christened by NHRA until 1967.  No current-model doorslammer had ever made so much noise, nor so much tire smoke.  Almost immediately, Nix smashed the 10-second barrier and Johnson topped 130-plus.  Some small tracks shattered attendance records by as much as double.  Nearby dealerships were flooded with potential new-car buyers.  Perhaps coincidentally, Dodge Division was destined to sell more cars during 1964 than in any previous year.  What could possibly go wrong?

The partnership of Dode Martin (left), 80, and Jim Nelson, 79, was 
cemented with a simple handshake in 1946, and is still going strong.  
Famous for their 1959-65 Dragmaster slingshots, the partners built few door cars other than the three Dodge Chargers.  Fabricator Martin is responsible for this perfect reproduction of their dual-engined Two Thing gas dragster.  Engine-builder Nelson was a dry-lakes racer who became Wally Parks's tech director in the mid-Fifties and helped create the NHRA rulebook.  He worked with the Safety Safari as recently as 1995. [Doug Peterson photo ©2006]

No one worried when Nix suffered an early connecting-rod failure at San Diego Raceway that evidently locked up the motor and led to a series of slow rolls, totaling his original ride.  Uninjured, Nix jumped into the backup car without missing a date.

The first sign of trouble came as the tour moved east from California, when Dragmaster’s Nelson failed to appear to service the cars.  “After the first six or seven dates,” Nelson recalls, “I was told that it was too expensive to fly two mechanics in from California.”     

At about the same time, the drivers’ pay was doubled to $400 per week, but both lost their generous expense accounts.  Next, their requests for replacement parts went unfulfilled.  “The transmissions were the only weak link in those cars,” Nelson explains.  “Those Torqueflites needed to be serviced after each weekend.”

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