What’s a few haymakers among friends? Actually, that hasn’t been Ed “The Ace” McCulloch’s style for a long time, he admitted. But his longing for the fun old days produced maybe his most classic line: “It’s just getting so you can’t hit a guy anymore.” But, as NHRA’s Lewis Bloom discovered in a recent interview, McCulloch is rediscovering the joy of trash-talking a little bit. In this weekend’s Unfinished Business showdown in Toyota Camrys, The Ace was paired against The Snake, Don Prudhomme – a familiar Funny Car opponent at NHRA events and in match races and more recently his boss when he was Ron Capps’ crew chief. And that last gig ended on a slightly sour note, with McCulloch hinting that the two adversaries stifled their urges to duke it out. His competitiveness resurfaced with his chance to beat Prudhomme once again.
Fifteen years ago, in 2004, McCulloch grumbled, “I don’t know why everybody thinks Snake’s so cool. He thinks he’s cool, but I don’t think he’s cool. You hear Bob Frey in the tower: ‘There’s Snake. He’s really cool.’ Now Snake thinks he’s cool. But do I think he’s cool? No.”
Back then, McCulloch and his peers were trying to adapt to the new norm. This sport was built on rebellion, and it arguably was America’s last bastion of defiance and swagger, of in-your-face calling cards. But it wasn’t lost on McCulloch that it was starting to reek of political correctness. He could see he had mellowed – “a lot,” he said – not because he wanted to but because he had to.
“Everything was different then. You could get away with things,” he said. When he would tell the younger bucks and his children about his exploits, he would lament, “Times have changed.” He said kind of wistfully, “Used to be you go out and get in a fight and the better man’s going to win. Now you go get in a fight, somebody’s going to get shot. With the sponsorship and all of everything that’s here, you go out and you raise a little bit of hell, they get a phone call. Back then you can call all you want; it doesn’t matter to me. It’s different now. The pressure level in the sport is much greater. The generation we’re in now, hardly anybody even knows my reputation. And if they were to hear it, they wouldn’t probably, believe it because I’ve changed enough that they don’t see me as that today.” He said their reaction would be ‘No way would you do something like that.’ You’re right, I wouldn’t. That was then, and this is now.
“At the tail end of my driving career,” McCulloch said, “[announcer Dave] McClelland or [Steve] Evans would say, ‘You know, you guys get out there at the other end and everybody compliments your competitor and how great they are. We need some controversy.’ I said, ‘For 20 years, you guys have been on my ass for getting into it at the other end. Now you want a fight down there, like we used to have. What do you want? Make up your minds.’
“I’m not the hothead that I used to be,” he said, resigned to “progress.” But, he cautioned back in 2004, “there’s a still a button you could push that’ll get me there. But when that happens, I can’t control that. I’ve learned to control it way better than I ever have before, but when it comes right down to it, it happens and then I get in trouble. It’s lawsuits, and it’s fines, and it’s all of that. Well, screw that.”
Aaah, but then along came Unfinished Business, and lookie who fans wanted to see racing against one another again? Ace and Snake. And their tongues started wagging.
McCulloch told Bloom, “There’s a lot of history there. The things we did in the past, we can’t really talk about a lot of it. There were a lot of rivalries. There were a lot of good races; there were a lot of bad races. There was good blood, and there was bad blood. Snake, he was always hard to beat. He’s still going to be hard to beat.”
Prudhomme popped up on a video screen and got the yapping started. He told McCulloch, “Good luck, buddy. I hope you’re better in the lights than you used to be, because this race in the Toyotas is going to be bad-ass.”
McCulloch didn’t wilt. He shot back, “The only problem I see is you’re so old that you’re going to need binoculars to see the Christmas tree. So bring it, buddy.”
Then The Ace said to Bloom that he and Prudhomme “fought a lot over the years and fortunately, I guess, it’s never come to blows. But it’s not over.”
McCulloch’s son, Jason, is a tuner for the Torrence Racing/Capco Contractors Dragster team. But The Ace is over that gig. As early as 2004, he said, “I told Jimmy Prock years ago, ‘I’m glad I’m not you.’ He looked at me funny and said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ I said, ‘You’re young. Your entire life is in front of you. This is what you do. You’ve got to put up with NHRA’s crap the rest of your life. I’ve only got to a few more years.’ In one respect, probably the things I used to go off on – track preparation, different issues I used to raise all kinds of hell about – now I look at it and I say, ‘Nothing I can do about it.’ It is what it is. I can raise hell. Is it going to change it? No. So I make my adjustments, whatever it is I got to do, and go on down the road.”
The NHRA’s “Unfinished Business” promotion seemed like anything but unfinished business by the time Saturday was over, thanks to the shenanigans of Funny Car pioneer Ed “The Ace” McCulloch and “Professor of Pro Stock” Warren Johnson. – https://t.co/LWgqk7iTOP pic.twitter.com/IjnO4iv904
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) March 20, 2019
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019