In today's world of prefabricated sports figures, true self-made legends have become increasingly few and far between, especially in the world of high-profile auto racing sanctioning bodies such as NASCAR and NHRA Drag Racing. All one has to do is take a listen to what goes on in Winner's Circle and top-end interviews; they're smothered in sponsor-laden dialogue that removes most, if not all, spontaneity from what might have been a moment of unrehearsed jubilance. Sure, the day's winner is truly happy to take home the trophy and the buckets of corporate cash that come with it, but one has to wonder what he or she might have said if the television interviews were just a little less, well ... rehearsed.

One thing we do know--yesterday's drag racing stars would have a difficult time adapting to the corporate expectations of today's motorsports sponsors. Take, for example, Jungle Jim Liberman. Here's a guy who took a completely unorthodox approach to drag racing and ultimately became the sport's most well-known and admired figure of the late 1960s and most of the 1970s. His 1,000-foot-long burnouts were his trademark, and his "never lift" approach to Funny Car racing made him a fan favorite throughout his all-too-short driving career.

Russell James Liberman didn't gain fame by racking up the most national event victories. Nope. The fact is he only had one, and that came at the '75 NHRA Summernationals. Jungle gained notoriety by being the most feared Funny Car driver of the match racing circuit. Unfortunately, he lost his life on September 9, 1977, when he was involved in a head-on collision with a SEPTA bus. Jungle was just 32 years old.

What many people might not know is that Jungle's first desire wasn't to go fast in a Funny Car; he was more interested in having his race cars run flawlessly. That meant driving was his only means of knowing the car's mechanical behavior. "No one can tell me what the car is doing but myself, so I have to drive," said Jungle in a '60s Super Stock and Drag Racing Illustrated magazine interview.

Later in his career Jim was also known for his off-track antics, but that partying behavior never interfered with his on-track ability to drive a Funny Car and put on the best show in drag racing. Many of the stories told over the years about Jungle Jim are outrageous, crazy, and just plain insane, but according to those who were there, most of them are true.

One example was when Jungle was on his way to qualifying No. 4 at Old Bridge Township Raceway, the site of his only national event victory. Jungle unintentionally carried the front wheels to half-track in a 6.37, 218.44-mph run. Keep in mind, most any other driver would have naturally lifted and aborted the run. Not Jungle; it just wasn't his style.

In today's world of prefabricated sports figures, true self-made legends have become increasingly few and far between, especially in the world of high-profile auto racing sanctioning bodies such as NASCAR and NHRA Drag Racing. All one has to do is take a listen to what goes on in Winner's Circle and top-end interviews; they're smothered in sponsor-laden dialogue that removes most, if not all, spontaneity from what might have been a moment of unrehearsed jubilance. Sure, the day's winner is truly happy to take home the trophy and the buckets of corporate cash that come with it, but one has to wonder what he or she might have said if the television interviews were just a little less, well ... rehearsed.

One thing we do know--yesterday's drag racing stars would have a difficult time adapting to the corporate expectations of today's motorsports sponsors. Take, for example, Jungle Jim Liberman. Here's a guy who took a completely unorthodox approach to drag racing and ultimately became the sport's most well-known and admired figure of the late 1960s and most of the 1970s. His 1,000-foot-long burnouts were his trademark, and his "never lift" approach to Funny Car racing made him a fan favorite throughout his all-too-short driving career.

Russell James Liberman didn't gain fame by racking up the most national event victories. Nope. The fact is he only had one, and that came at the '75 NHRA Summernationals. Jungle gained notoriety by being the most feared Funny Car driver of the match racing circuit. Unfortunately, he lost his life on September 9, 1977, when he was involved in a head-on collision with a SEPTA bus. Jungle was just 32 years old.

What many people might not know is that Jungle's first desire wasn't to go fast in a Funny Car; he was more interested in having his race cars run flawlessly. That meant driving was his only means of knowing the car's mechanical behavior. "No one can tell me what the car is doing but myself, so I have to drive," said Jungle in a '60s Super Stock and Drag Racing Illustrated magazine interview.

Later in his career Jim was also known for his off-track antics, but that partying behavior never interfered with his on-track ability to drive a Funny Car and put on the best show in drag racing. Many of the stories told over the years about Jungle Jim are outrageous, crazy, and just plain insane, but according to those who were there, most of them are true.

One example was when Jungle was on his way to qualifying No. 4 at Old Bridge Township Raceway, the site of his only national event victory. Jungle unintentionally carried the front wheels to half-track in a 6.37, 218.44-mph run. Keep in mind, most any other driver would have naturally lifted and aborted the run. Not Jungle; it just wasn't his style.

NHRA Hall of Fame drag racer and car builder Pat Foster tells the story of Jungle Jim showing up just minutes before showtime at a match race in 1972. "At Atco, New Jersey, we were supposed to race Jungle in a match race deal. First round went down at 8:00 p.m. sharp! Well, it's 7:45 and still no Jungle (hard to believe, huh?). The track lines up some local leaker and says to me, 'Run this bozo and maybe he'll show by the second round.' We pull up and I'm dressed and just getting in, and everyone in the joint stands up and begins chanting, 'JUNGLE! JUNGLE! JUNGLE!' All eyes are on the highway that goes by the track. The starter starts yelling at my guys, 'Get him in the car! Get him in the car!' I look where everybody else is looking and here comes Jungle, strapped in, motor lit and sending flames above the roof, driving that bitch from where they unloaded it out by the highway, past the gates and the ticket booth, through the parking lot and one end of the pits, right out onto the starting line, and through the water for a huge, smoky burnout! The crowd went WILD! I had time for one squeaky little chirp behind the line; they booed us. Then we blaze the tires against Jungle and again the crowd goes INSANE!! Tough gig running the Jungle man in his part of the country, or anywhere else, for that matter; Jim was the king, a hard-ass racer and a great showman!"

Jim's good friend Bob Doerrer, more commonly known as "Berserko" Bob, recalls the time Jungle Jim was up against Richard Tharp in the "Blue Max." "It was sometime in 1970 at New England," remembers Doerrer. "Jungle and Tharp did side-by-side burnouts. As the smoke began to clear, we noticed both cars had swapped lanes. The only ones in on it were the drivers themselves. I mean, they told no one, so it was funny watching the crews scramble to switch lanes."

"Berserko" tells another: "Then there was a Saturday night race in Orange County. It was an average run, nothing fancy. Jungle pops the 'chutes in the lights. We jump in the truck and head down to go get him. Up ahead in the distance we see what appears to be a Funny Car coming toward us. As we get closer, we see it's Jungle, and he's driving up the return road with the 'chutes in full blossom. I'll never forget that night. Man, the crowd just went wild!" There's an old proverb that goes, "Behind every great man is a great woman." And Jungle Jim was no exception. Beginning in the early 1970s "Jungle" Pam Hardy became part of the show as Jungle Jim's crewmember, partner, and backup girl. But not just any backup girl. After one of his long, legendary burnouts, an attractive Jungle Pam, dressed in then cutting-edge '70s fashion consisting of hot pants and knee-high boots, would back up Jungle's Funny Car like no one else could. Before long Jungle Pam was almost as well-known as Jungle himself.

It was this exact kind of behavior that got the attention of Texan Henry Gutierrez. Gutierrez is a consummate drag racing fan, especially '60s and '70s Funny Cars, which explains his vested interest in preserving the sport's history. So when it came time to choose a Funny Car to build, he figured there was no one more popular than Jungle Jim's. "After all," Gutierrez states, "Jungle is arguably the most famous racer to ever go down the quarter-mile, at least in a Funny Car. He was to drag racing back then what John Force is to the sport today."

Gutierrez remembers, "Living in Texas didn't offer up many opportunities to see Jungle Jim very often. I saw him once in Green Valley, Texas, and once at Freemont Raceway in California. So basically, we had to travel a good distance if we wanted to see him. But believe me, it was well worth the trip. "A group of us, led by J.E. Kristek and Buddy Cortines (CKC Top Fuel Team), were benchracing one day and decided to put together a list of the top Funny Cars and drivers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A unanimous vote put Jungle at the top of the list. Basically, it was a no-brainer. And we're factoring in heavy hitters like the Chi-Town Hustler, Ed McCulloch's 'Revelloution,' the 'Blue Max,' and Gene Snow."

So in his quest to find a vintage Camaro Funny Car body, Gutierrez got word from Army Armstrong (not that Army) that Don Beebe (yes, that Don Beebe) had in his possession a complete original Jungle Jim mini Camaro Funny Car--body and chassis. Gutierrez phoned Beebe and took a few stabs at getting him to sell the car, but Don was less than eager to part with his little piece of drag racing history. After about three months, a bit of persistence, and an undisclosed amount of coin, Beebe finally gave in and sold Gutierrez the famous Funny Car. The car was in pretty bad shape, but Gutierrez knew the historical importance of this car (according to Gutierrez, there were only 10 mini Camaro Funny Car bodies ever built), so he was set on doing whatever it took to bring the vintage piece back to life. Gutierrez describes the body as being in "sad shape; almost dumpster bound. The body had been patched numerous times, on the inside and outside."

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