It’s Run Whatcha Brung Success For The Funny Car Chaos Series

Funny Car Chaos is an organized effort by Chris and Tera Graves as an endeavor to provide a place to race for the racer who loves the fiberglass flopper. The series is in its second season following the first-time event at North Star Dragway in Denton, Texas.

One of the unique aspects of the Funny Car Chaos (FCC) is the rules…or lack thereof. The basics encourage racers to bring their own Funny Car combination without the stringent rules such as those related to the NHRA Heritage series or other small circuits.

"We hadn't planned on a whole series, but with the interest generated from that very first race, we immediately expanded to a four race deal for our second year," Chris Graves said. "Our proof of concept happened at that very first event."

Graves was asked if the open format concept based on the classic saying of “run what you brung, hope you brung enough,” was going to be well accepted. He replied, “The arrangement was accepted right away with 22 Funny Cars entering the very first race. It was a plethora of all different combinations. These guys just wanted to race together.”

Down here in Texas, the Street Outlaws and no prep racing is big right now. When the Blue Max can’t get booked for a match race in Texas, we thought what the hell? I still believed we could bring fans in for at least eight Funny Cars. All of a sudden, 22 cars entered and we immediately created a B-field. – Chris Graves

The faithful Funny Car competitors who flock to the Chaos events can vary from the most low-buck to the highest level state-of-the-art racers. One of the teams with the biggest hearts is the “Ballew Thunder” Nova Funny Car owned by Russell and Janell Ballew and driven by their son, Jordan.

Despite the family competing with a conservative all-steel big-block Chevy engine combination, they are currently number two in points as they enter the final race of the 2019 season. That is a tall accomplishment with 42 different Funny Cars competing so far at six of the seven-event points season.

“We have attended every one of Chris’ events since the very first one,” Jordan Ballew says. “We haven’t had this much fun racing with a group ever before. I would like to eventually get the car to take a bigger dose of nitromethane, but our current goal is more consistent 4.50-4.60 ET’s (all 1/8-mile competition).”

Hailing from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the Ballew family showed their dedication by making the almost 13-hour trip to get to Michigan’s US 131 Motorsports Park Funny Car Nationals, the latest stop for the FCC event series. “This race was a real haul for us,” Ballew says. “As usual, though, we saw all our friends with the other teams and had a blast.”

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The FCC group provided the US 131 Funny Car Nationals with a solid group of Funny Cars as the headline act this year, along with jets, wheelstanders, and more. Some promoters, like US 131 Motorsports Park, book the group as part of a “big show,” while others treat the FCC as their single feature event attraction.

I didn't matter if the Funny Car teams arrived in an 18-wheeler or small tag-style trailer, the grandstands at US 131 were filled with fans who took them all in.

No matter the level at which the Funny Car teams compete, it is still a case of most racers holding a “day job.” That dedication is on Graves’ mind when it comes to the growth of the series.

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“We’re lucky this year that our schedule happened to spread out nicely with four weeks between each race,” Graves adds. “It is just as important to make the miles traveled between events as equally reasonable. We have been contacted by tracks way outside our current region, but we want to be cautious. We don’t want to overextend our racers financially with too many races spread over too many miles.”

"For me, not having a competition group like the Chaos guys would hinder me because I eventually have goals to step the car up," Allan Middendorf says. "Having fun with these guys and gals is a wonderful bonus as well." Middendorf ran an impressive 3.58 ET during eliminations on the Chaos 1/8-mile.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are also higher-caliber Funny Car setups competing with the group, such as Allan Middendorf’s American Outlaw team. The team shares track time between a 2015 Dodge Charger body and a Topolino Altered setup. They enjoy running the FCC format with the Charger and compete in a good handful of match races set up as an altered.

“We’re running the same 500-cubic inch engine components as the big-show guys,” Middendorf describes. “We’re running a single magneto, single fuel pump, and just stepped up to a five-disc clutch assembly. We are continuing to work on our combination, but still have a ball competing with the friends we have made racing both our Funny Car and altered. I can bring whatever improvements we make to a race to compete and get good experience.”

Following their success at the Funny Car Nationals, Graves was thrilled. “We’re trying to give these guys a place to run their cars,” he said. “More markets are asking for our events and more Funny Car racers want to join us. We just want to grow in conservative steps. It’s an exciting time for all the racers to race their Funny Cars the way they built them and how they want them to be — not matched to a rulebook.”

Despite bent pushrods, torched bearings or any other calamities that are the inherent beast of nitro and alcohol Funny Car racing, all these guys are having the times of their lives.

“As intense as a day of racing is for a nitro team, I’ve made a lot of friends. Hell, I think I kiss everybody I run into in the pits when I am pumped up,” Middendorf adds. “If it wasn’t for the FCC, I would only have the altered body and be racing my car a fraction of what we are doing. I think Chris has a hell of a deal going; the reactions by the mass of spectators at US 131 show that.”

It is a great accomplishment for the Funny Car Chaos series to bring the group together. From the Funny Car racers ranging from the Ballew family to the Allan Middendorf team, all are experiencing a level of enjoyment at the same event. This fledgling series has been and continues to be a positive recipe between racers, tracks and sponsors.

About the author

Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
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