FIRE! Incredible Photos Of Billy Meyer’s 1977 Funny Car Blaze


FIRE! Incredible Photos Of Billy Meyer’s 1977 Funny Car Blaze

(Photos by Bob Boudreau) – These photos depict Billy Meyer’s nightmarish fire at the 1977 NHRA Le GrandNational at Sanair Super Speedway outside of Montreal, Canada (photos say 1972 in watermark but this fire was in ’77). The explosion and subsequent fire were the worst of Meyer’s career and last year in Dallas, Texas at the famed Motorplex he built, Meyer told us the story in person.  We have also had conversations about this incident with Donny Couch, who was crewing for Meyer at the time. This was not a fire that Meyer “walked away” from. He was burned badly and was hospitalized in Montreal and according to Couch, that’s where the problems started. But first we should talk about Meyer and 1977.

After coming into the sport as a 15 year old phenom and racing a nitro funny car when most of his friends barely had a driver’s license to pilot their mom’s Studebaker, Meyer quickly gained a reputation as  a hard runner and someone who couldn’t be and wouldn’t tolerate being underestimated. He scored a huge win at the 1972 Manufacturers Meet contested on the famous strip at OCIR and then decided to step away from drag racing to do other things. He was part of the Hal Needham Budweiser Rocket car project and other ventures before the quarter came calling again and he reentered competition with a fury in 1977.

The SMI Motivator funny car was becoming more and more consistent as the season wore on and Meyer pulled into Sanair primed for a win. He left on a stretcher, loaded in the back of a screaming ambulance on the way to a hospital where no one spoke much English and his racing operation was in literal cinders.

If you have ever seen the drag racing film “Wheels of Fire” this whole situation (the fire and hospital stay) is re-enacted in the movie. It is a strange film, but it is filled with lots of great 1970s drag racing footage. We’ll call it weird and entertaining. Anyway, things were looking pretty grim for Meyer as he laid in that car on the way to a burn word, surrounded by french speakers.

According to Donnie Couch, Meyer soured on the hospital scene rather quickly. “He told me that he wanted out of there, like now,” Couch said. He picked up the phone, called Connie Kalitta and instantly Kalitta agreed to fly from Michigan to pickup Meyer and Couch to get the wounded Meyer to a burn unit at a hospital he knew back home. While this sounded like an airtight plan, Couch said that the experience wasn’t exactly smooth.

“Connie came to get us in this gutted jet designed to carry cargo,” he laughed. “I was sitting down on a bucket in the back, Billy was held in place with ratchet straps, and to top it off Kalitta looks back at us and says, ‘boys, we have a problem’ which wasn’t good.” The problem? There was a storm coming and the people working air traffic control at the airport had apparently gone on strike. Facing few options, Kalitta decided to do what he’s been famous for all of his life, taking matters into his own hands. “Next thing you know, we’re hauling ass down the runway and off into the sky,” Couch said. “Connie just got us the hell out of there.” Once airborne, things actually got worse. “Connie told us that the weather was rough but things weren’t bad unless we saw thunder and lightning. About three seconds after he says that, the sky lights up with all of this lightning. At one point Billy Meyer looked at me and said, ‘I lived through a funny car fire and now I am going to die in a plane crash,’ but Connie got us to Michigan despite it all.”

Once in the care of the doctors in the Michigan burn ward, Meyer recovered quickly and Couch was tasked with getting the racing situation figured out. Both men did what they had to do and a month and a half after the Montreal fire, Billy Meyer won the NHRA Seattle national event on September 25, 1977. Talk about a wild turn around! From 1977 through 1987 Billy Meyer was a talented and feared nitro funny car racer. he accumulated more than 20 national event wins and raced at more than 100 national events in that span. Fittingly, Meyer went out with a bang winning the last event he competed in, the 1987 NHRA finals in Pomona, California. It was a great cap on a career filled with highlights. Of course he then went on to build the Texas Motorplex during the same time frame. It was the first all concrete strip and it revolutionized the sport in terms of how strips were built, designed, and laid out for spectator enjoyment. After 25 years, the track is still one of the gold standards of the sport.

So now that you know all that….Scroll down to see Bob Boudreau’s never before published photo sequence from the top end of Billy Meyer bathed in fire at Sanair, circa 1977.

FIRE!

Fire 1 Fire 2 Fire 3 Fire 4 Fire 5

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One thought on “FIRE! Incredible Photos Of Billy Meyer’s 1977 Funny Car Blaze

  1. Chris Hardesty

    Brian you need to change the first paragraph from “although we have not been able to contact him directly” to ” I got to sit with Billy and listen to him tell this story in person”
    That was a great night in Dallas last year after the DRAW auction!

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