Bobby Rowe

Unfortunately, we have more sad news to report this week. Well known Memphis drag racer Bobby Rowe, who left his mark on the escalating development of funny car racing during the 1970's, died last Thursday after a prolonged illness. His achievements as a driver came the old fashioned way... by climbing the ladder of success from the ground up.

Bobby Rowe had paid his dues. He made his way into the seat of a nitro funny car after more than a decade of dedication to the sport. He began his involvement with drag racing while still a teenager, and was a track worker for several years. He then began honing his driving skills by racing stockers and gassers. He became a national record holder in Stock Eliminator, and then thrashed funny cars behind the scenes as a crewman, but when Bill Taylor had an opening in the new for 1970 'Super Duster' Rowe got his chance. He quickly became a part of the feared contingent of Memphis funny car racers that had come to power on the nations drag strips in the 60's & 70's. The Taylor & Wolff 'Super Duster' was his first nitro ride, and when he hit the scene with the new car, he promptly ran heretofore unheard of numbers with it including a very impressive for 1970 7.18 ET at 203 MPH during the inaugural NHRA Gatornationals. In 1971, Rowe snagged the runner-up position at the the Gatornationals and had given notice that he should not be regarded as a lightweight at the race track.

Rowe must have impressed Don Schumacher early on, because by 1972, he was at the helm of one of Schumacher's 'Stardust' Plymouth Barracuda floppers. Rowe piloted the "blue" Barracuda that Schumacher campaigned during 1972 as part of a 3 car team that was meant to dominate the competition from match races, to national events. His team mates included Raymond Beadle in the "red" car, and Schumacher himself in the "yellow" car. Rowe finished the 1972 season as the year-long champion of the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars funny car series, and also amassed an enviable win-loss record in the blue 'Stardust' Cuda.

After Schumacher snagged the Wonder Bread sponsorship in 1973 and revamped his racing operation, Rowe moved on to the seat of the Ed Willis & Art Whipple 'Mr. Ed' Plymouth Satellite funny car. He set the NHRA national record at 6.29 232 MPH in this car, and almost won the 1973 NHRA World Championship in the process. But a late season crash in the 'Mr Ed' car led to a back injury, and a lengthy recuperation. By the middle of the decade Rowe had partnered with fellow Memphis driver Gary Henderson, and T.B. Smallwood to field a new Vega bodied funny car. The trio of Memphis funny car veterans nicknamed themselves and their race car 'The Hillbillies'. The Vega was campaigned throughout the 1974 & 1975 drag racing seasons.

By the time the 1980's came around, Bobby had hung up his helmet, but kept his hand in his craft by racing powerboats with NFL quarterback Dan Pastorini. Eventually, he was lured back to the drag strip as crew chief for Pastorini's new Top Fuel dragster 'Quarterback Sneak'. Rowe used his experience as a driver to help transition the ex-football star from a novice racer into a legitimate contender in drag racing's fastest & quickest class. Their efforts were validated when Pastorini won the 1986 NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta.

Bobby Rowe was 64 years old at the time of his death. Unfortunately, he had been in poor health for several years. Still, his passing leaves a large void in the drag racing community. His old friend Don Schumacher summed it up well for
CompetitionPlus... "Drag racing lost a good friend. Bobby loved the sport and the people." An excellent, detailed retrospective of Bobby Rowe's career is also part of Phil Burgess' weekly Dragster Insider blog on NHRA's website. Entitled Remembering Rowe it's well worth clicking the link to read Phil's words. it's a fitting tribute to an accomplished drag racer who was part of the fabric of funny car racing, and also an integral part of Memphis motorsports history.