Canadian Funny Car Ironman

By:       Bruce Biegler

The upcoming drag racing season will mark an important milestone for one of Canada’s all-time most recognized racers.   For Welland, Ontario’s Larry Dobbs, 2011 will be his 30th season (!) racing a Funny Car….

That resilience is both reputed and remarkable. Now we may be wrong (but I doubt it) but we cannot think of another Canadian driver who has raced longer in the class — any takers? 

Prior to stepping into a “plastic fantastic” for the first time ever back in 1981, Dobbs in fact raced a series of supercharged alcohol and gasoline burning front motored dragsters, beginning that at the tender age of 19.  Early in his career he did in fact set a national record (in B/ED) during the NHRA Gatornationals in 1974 which was probably his first ever claim to fame.

For Larry Dobbs -- 2011 will be 30 years (and counting) in a Funny Car!

Dobbs and his initial and then longtime racing partner Fred Speight’s first Funny Car was a very unique one — a Mercury Bobcat-bodied car.

“We picked up that car from a barn in Michigan after buying from a Lawyer in London following a lawsuit,” Dobbs recalled. “We then bought our first motor from Herb Rodgers.”

Dobbs & Speight, who would eventually go one to be known fondly an familiarly as the “Kardiac Kids” (mostly because of Larry’s rather fearless driving style) went on to race a number of rather significant alcohol-burning machines.  During the next 20 years they campaigned together an ’82 Datsun, ’86 Trans-Am, ’92 Lumina and ’96 Camaro bodied cars.  Dobbs and Speight did split up as teammates following the ’01 season, however Larry Dobbs continued on, racing a ’02 Corvette in conjunction with two sons Kevin and Christopher.

While Larry Dobbs did not frequent victory lane really that often, he did manage 3 career IHRA national event titles.  During the waning years of IHRA Alcohol Funny Car class racing he did put up some big numbers including a 254.14 mph run using a “roots” style supercharger.   According to our records that 254.14 mph terminal speed was the fastest ever recorded in the now defunct IHRA class category.

Larry and his boys have since evolved their racing operation over to the NHRA circuit, participating at some regional Lucas Oil Divisional and Full Throttle Series event races. 

“Our focus is 100% on the NHRA going forward,” Larry affirmed.  “We had to try to transfer a car that was suited for Roots-blower technology racing to a screw blower and that was a challenge.  But we did run 5.67 secs at 256 with it during 2010 – which was encouraging.”

Larry Dobbs was rewarded with a career quick and fast pass at NHRA Gainesville last season.

Dobbs plans to continue that migration during 2011 with some more upgrades being implemented.   During the present off-season Larry did acquire a significant arsenal of modern parts from Manitoba’s Brian Friesen.  Also last year’s chassis has been stiffened and will be outfitted with a new Firebird body (formally raced by Tom Carter).

“The new body is all carbon fiber and about 65 lbs lighter then the Corvette was,” Larry confirmed.  “That combined with the new big bore block engine program should result in some improvement.”

Larry Dobbs did confirm that he intends to continue to drive this season and that he still has the gleam in his eye to continue racing even after all this time.

“As you get older you get thinking about things,” he reflected.  “There have been times that I wondered if I wasted a big part of my life doing this.  It’s somewhere between passion and addiction I guess.  But I found out early that I was not real good at sitting in front of a TV and drinking beer.  With racing I’ve developed and maintained a close bond with my boys who are both into it – so all being said it’s been a good thing.”

“It is possible that 2011 might be my last as a driver,” he added.  “My son Kevin and also our crewman (Casey Kovacs) have both expressed interest in driving and I admit there is a certain attraction for me to maybe tune and then watch one of these cars from the outside.”

But for Dobbs, who not all that long ago retired after 41 years of service as an Mechanical Engineer for G.M. (St. Catherines plant), whatever the future holds, his impact on the Canadian drag racing scene will be retained and revered. 

Larry Dobbs first debuted his Corvette during the 2001 racing season.

Kardiac Kids Trans-Am begins burnout at Cayuga - 1989.

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(Bruce Biegler Photos)