Jet Funny Cars Join ‘Nitro Ninja,’ NDRL and Jet Truck at US 131’s Funny Car Nationals

Connecticut native Al Hanna always has been a big Oakland Raiders fan.  So, when he went drag racing in the 1960s, he incorporated his home region with his sports passion and named his fuel Funny Car the “Eastern Raider.”

This week, 50 years after he drove the first “Eastern Raider,” Hanna will watch 46-year-old Ken Hall of Pottstown, Pa., drive the latest version, the “Top Secret Eastern Raider,” during the annual Funny Car Nationals at US 131 Motorsports Park.

For Hanna, a lot has changed in 50 years: everything, in fact, except the “Eastern Raider” name.

After driving conventional Funny Cars from 1966 through 1980, Hanna opted to switch from supercharged V-8 power to Pratt and Whitney jet power in 1981.  It’s a decision that changed the course of his career and ultimately transformed him into one of the pre-eminent authorities on jet aircraft engines in non-aeronautic applications.

In addition to racing a pair of jet-powered Funny Cars and a jet-powered dragster, Hanna Motorsports also has converted jet engines for use as track surface dryers.  In fact, Hanna’s son Rich, who will race against Hall this weekend in a second Hanna Pontiac, has a fortuitous day job as a jet engine machinist at the Pratt and Whitney plant in Middletown, Conn.

The senior Hanna’s original “Eastern Raider” jet, by the way, now is housed in Don Garlits’ Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Fla.

The jet Funny Cars will share the Friday and Saturday stage with the Lagana family’s “Nitro Ninja” Top Fuel dragster, six of the nation’s quickest and fastest nostalgia Funny Cars including the No. 1 and No. 2 qualifiers from this year’s March Meet in Bakersfield, Calif. (Mike McIntire of Chesterland, Ohio, and John Hale of Addison, Texas), four fuel coupes led by the national record-holding Drastic Plastic 1948 Anglia of Tom Motry, the cars of the Nostalgia Drag Racing League, the Lagana brothers’ “Nitro Ninja” Top Fuel dragster and last, but certainly not least, “The Original Jet Truck” of Bob Motz.

While the “Top Secret Eastern Raider” might be the nostalgic choice in the jet Funny Car duel, the favorite is the younger Hanna, whose “First Strike” Pontiac is the only jet Funny Car to have broken the 290 mile per hour barrier (295.08 mph).

Ironically, the “First Strike” designation has absolutely nothing to do with warfare.  Instead, it reflects Rich Hanna’s second great passion: bowling.  The younger Hanna was good enough as a junior to contemplate a career as a PBA professional and still manages a 220 average in a Pratt and Whitney Bowling League.

Adult tickets purchased at the gate are $15 Friday and $25 Saturday. Every ticket is a pit pass and parking is always free.

NDRL qualifying, featuring classic 1923 T-roadsters, ’32 Bantam roadsters, ’57 Chevy coupes, Anglias, Willyses, hemi-Plymouths and GTOs, is scheduled for 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday, sandwiched around one nitro session.  A third and final NDRL qualifier is scheduled at 1 p.m. Saturday with racing to follow.

Pro eliminations are set for 6 and 9 p.m. on Saturday with the Hanna and Motz jets slated to close the program both nights.