The short and surprisingly simple answer is—literally—someone back in the early 1960s looked at the odd design of a basic Super Stock car with its altered wheelbase and said, “That looks funny.”
According to The Shop magazine, racing historian Leo Levine investigated who came up with the nickname that stuck. Credit, he determined, went to Fran Hernandez, the head of Mercury’s racing program, who was the first to use the term “funny” in reference to these cars, perhaps in the context of “We need to beat those ‘funny’ cars.”
Longtime National Dragster editor Phil Burgess wrote that many consider “the Jack Chrisman-driven Sachs & Sons Comet, which wowed the fans at the 1964 Nationals in Indianapolis . . . to be the original Funny Car.”
The first Funny Cars didn’t all have a flip-top body or a tube chassis like the modern version that characterizes the category, they did use a supercharged engine that ran on nitromethane. Others say the identical Dodge Charger exhibition vehicles—S/FXers—that Jimmy Nix and Jim Johnson drove in 1964 were the first. Those Chargers ran on gasoline rather than nitromethane but otherwise appeared identical to what Chrisman raced.
Powered by supercharged 480-cid Max Wedge engines that Jim Nelson and Dode Martin built and prepped, these Chargers were the first factory race cars to use parachutes and the first for which the drivers wore firesuits.
“Fast Eddie” Schartman earned the first Funny Car trophy at the 1966 Finals, at Tulsa.
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