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Wed, 31 Jul 2013, 21:04 PM

The Legends - Clare Sanders
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2013 Steve Reyes






Clare Sanders
You could say that I was born at the right time to be a drag race fan. When I started attending races in 1963, top fuel dragsters were all the rage but shortly thereafter, the funny car began to make its way onto the scene. Living in Northern California, the collective group of funny cars came out of the San Jose area. One of these cars was an ultra-beautiful 'Cuda called Limefire whose driver was a young bespectacled gentleman named Clare Sanders. Clare wasn't a newbie to drag racing as he had been a fan since 1962 when he stood and watched the Thrifty Auto Supply top fuel car run at Deepark Dragstrip in Spokane, Washington. Even back then he knew a nitro powered racer was in his future.

Clare got driving do's and don'ts at the wheel of a modified production Olds and a 1934 A/G Ford. However, his big ride in 1964-1966 was the "Evildoer" A/SR, a 1927 Chevy. Soon Clare found himself in NorCal sharing a shop with Don Williamson and Rich Hammons owners of the Hairy Canary funny car. After the Hairy Canary shop he went over to the Arrington/Liberman Brutus shop. While hangin' out with the San Jose funny car mafia, he developed a friendship with Jim St. Clair and Jack Groner. St. Clair and Groner had developed the "Boss Bite" traction compound that was a hit with early funny car racers and with the funds from the sale of Boss Bite, they were able to go funny car racing.

The Limefire 'Cuda was completely built by Jim, Jack and Clare from the ground up. The trio even built their own jig to build the Limefire's tub chassis. They were also responsible for the aluminum and magnesium interior that was nestled in a Ron Pelligrini Barracuda body. Finally, St. Clare's engine building talent built a blown 392 Chrysler Hemi for Limefire. Once the car was finished, they had to decide who was going to drive it and Sanders was given the assignment to fill the driver's seat. The team motto was "We built it, we funded it, we fueled it and now we're racing it!


The first time out for the Limefire and the new 'Cuda didn't disappoint its anxious owners and driver or for that matter the fans. The NHRA regional race at Carlsbad, California, saw the Limefire win Super Eliminator. Remember NHRA had no class for funny cars in 1967 so funny cars were lumped into Super Eliminator with dragsters, altereds, and gassers. Hot Rod Magazine had one of their staff photographers at the race and he snapped off a color photo of Clare and Limefire. The editor at Hot Rod was so impressed by the beautiful new funny car that Limefire became a center-spread in Hot Rod, not bad for the first time out.

With a successful launch, it was time to go on tour for the Limefire gang. Being novices at the funny car tour business, Clare and the gang just about starved to death with a steady diet of fast food. They traveled with veteran funny car racers that included: Lew Arrington (Brutus), Jim Liberman(Jungle Jim Nova), Roger Lindamood (Color Me Gone), Gene Conway (The Destroyer Jeep) and Terry Hedrick (Super Shaker). With the help of the veterans, the Limefire gang learned to cope with life on the road funny car style. Clare found out that all the scratching and clawing on the road paid off with a cover on Super Stock Magazine, a funny car corner stone magazine.

Clare started the 1969 season in a new ride with the Jungle Jim Liberman team #2 Nova funny car. It turned out to be a banner year for the mild-mannered Mr. Sanders. The Liberman/Sanders Nova won the first ever NHRA funny car eliminators at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Then it was on to the Midwest and East for some hardcore match racing. Clare averaged a race every other day in the blue team Nova ending 1969 with an 86% win record in match racing and they were included as members of the Car Craft All-Star Drag Racing team.

Our paths crossed many times between 1970 and 1971 when Clare left the Jungle Jim team to race the Huff Super Camaro, Coleman's Mustang and then one of his coolest rides, the Chi-Town Hustler. Heck, early in 1970 Clare did double duty at a big funny car show in Epping, New Hampshire. He drove the Huff Super Camaro and Don Schumacher's 'Cuda. He ended up winning the race in the Shoe's 'Cuda.

Then in 1972, the Ramchargers were shopping for a new driver and their crew chief Phil Goulet put in a call to Clare with an offer he couldn't refuse. During this time frame, the Ramchargers funny car was the pinnacle of funny car rides and Clare took full advantage with an IHRA National win and a record of being the first funny car to run over 230 mph. Also the team posted countless match race victories along the track with speed and ET records throughout the Midwest and East Coast.

After the 1973 season, Clare packed up his fire suit and drove off into the sunset. One of the best journeyman drivers ever in the funny car class walked away from the sport he loved. Life on the road can be harsh so Clare left before being a funny car "burnout." Now Sanders and his wife of thirty years, Patty can be found north of Austin, Texas. He plays golf and develops websites for racers like Garlits, Ivo, Bonin, Sid Waterman and many other drag racing teams.

If you wish to purchase prints of the photos below, they may be obtained by contacting us at blrenterprise@cox.net. Other photos may be viewed by following the link at the bottom of the page at www.reyesontour.com.


Jim St. Clare and Jack Groner took their profits from Boss Bite traction compound and went funny car racing.
Jim, Jack and Clare built the Limefire from the ground up including a chassis jig to build Limefire's tube
chassis and they also hand built the aluminum and magnesium interior. Jim built the blown 392 Hemi and Ron
Pelligrini supplied the 'Cuda body.


Journeyman funny car driver Clare Sanders sometime in 1971.
Just call him by his other name, the Buddy Holly of drag racing.


First time out, Clare and the Limefire were a raging success. A victory at a large NHRA regional race in Carlsbad
netted them the Super Eliminator honors as well as a center spread in Hot Rod Magazine. Then the trio set their
sights on touring the USA funny car circuit with Limefire. This experience gave them many lessons about racing
between 1967-1968.



When Clare's old buddy Jim Liberman wanted to expand his funny car empire late in 1968, Sanders got the call.
He took over the driving of the second touring Jungle Jim Nova in 1969. Clare opened this season by putting the
#2 Jungle Jim Nova in the winner's circle at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Clare waded through
a stellar field of funny cars to win the first ever NHRA funny car eliminator a the event. This would set the tone
for 1969 and the blue deuces became a popular combo around the United States.


After the big win at Pomona, it was on tour for Clare and the Nova. The Jungle Jim team match raced like mad men
anywhere and everywhere in the U.S. and Canada. In a three month span (May, June and July 1969) Clare raced every
other day and ended the year with an 86% winning record in match racing. The team was also voted in as members of
Car Craft Magazines all-star drag racing team. Not a bad finish for 1969!



Here are the Jungle Jim team Nova's, can you tell the difference between the two? These cars were purchased in 2009 by
Oregon's Dave Barry. They were painstakingly restored with period correct parts and then impeccably detailed. Dave
has displayed his Nova's at the CHRR and BBHRR. So if you get a chance to attend a CHRR or BBHRR, go over and say howdy
to Dave and Clare will most likely be there to tell tales of touring.


In 1970, Clare was at the wheel of Frank Huff's Super Hugger funny car. But, then Schumacher needed a driver at
Epping, New Hampshire, in their big Fifth annual funny car tourney. So Clare did double duty driving for
both Huff and Schumacher. He won the event driving Schumacher's 'Cuda.


Clare left Huff's under-funded race team and got a ride in the Coleman Ford Super Mustang funny car. Not the best
move according to Clare because the car left a lot to be desired and there was friction with the owners. Overall,
just not what he had been looking for.


Clare and I would cross paths many times in the early 1970's. Here we were at Atco, New Jersey in 1971 and Clare was
driving the Coleman Mustang, taking on Bob Banning's Dodge funny car. This was one of his last ventures in the
Super Mustang as better things were headed his way.


When Clare started touring in the funny car ranks he relied on veteran touring pro's for advice.
Bruce Larson helped the novice Limefire gang as did Lew Arrington (Brutus), Jim Liberman(Jungle Jim Nova),
Roger Lindamood (Color Me Gone), Gene Conway (The Destroyer Jeep) and Terry Hedrick (Super Shaker).
Clare credits these guys for the success of the Limefire team and said they would have starved to death and
failed at touring without them.



In 1971 Clare got the call to fill a cockpit of one of the most famous funny cars of all time, the Chi-Town Hustler.
The theme for the Hustler was "Smoke 'em if you've got em" and Clare loved putting the Hustler through its tire
smoking ritual much to the dismay of the Goodyear tire honcho, Jerry Tiffin. Tiffin hated the big burnouts with a passion.
With Austin Coil horsepower, Clare took special delight in out-powering Dale Pulde in the MT Pinto that summer in 1971.



It was in 1972 that the phone rang and on the other end was the Ramchargers, Phil Goulet. It seemed the Ramchargers
were in the market for a driver to fill the cockpit of their funny car. For Clare this was one of the greatest moves of
his driving career. A deal was struck and Clare became the "Ram." One of the reasons the Ramchargers had fired their
previous driver was that he kept shutting the car off early. Very soon Clare found out why and told the team they had
to fix it. Clare fount out the demon funny car tried to swap ends at the 900 foot mark and only skill prevented the car
from crashing. The car was brought back to the shop and inspected. The problem was that the front torsion bar splines
had been assembled one spline off. They corrected the issue and then the demon went straight down the track.


Clare and the Ramchargers won a lot of races in 1972 and 1973. They set many track records and won a ton of match races.
At the end of the 1972 season, they achieved a big victory at the IHRA Supernationals when they beat out the
Mickey Thompson car. with a 229 mph run. A couple of weeks later, the Ramchargers became the first funny car to
run 230 mph. repeatedly. Jim Matuszak from Northern Michigan recently bought and restored this same Ramcharger demon.
The completed car debuted at the Detroit Autorama. Watch for it at the next nostalgia race near you.





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