Legendary 1970s drag racing figure makes a return to the strip
Pam Hardy, the iconic figure who became a drag racing icon for her role in backing up the legendary “Jungle” Jim Liberman and his iconic Funny Cars, hasn't missed a step.
Hardy, who in four years of drag racing involvement made a mark which remains visible in today's drag racing banter, returned to her comfort zone this weekend guiding past NHRA champion Jack Beckman into his tracks following each burnout this weekend at the NHRA AAA Finals in Pomona, Ca.
“It was a little bit surreal,” Hardy said. “I was surprised that I pulled it off actually. Backing up a car today is more intense. It’s much more intense. It’s the same but it’s different but it’s not as laid back as it used to be.
“Jack is very kind and he backs up slowly for me.”
Hardy first entered the drag racing scene in 1973, when she was discovered by the Funny Car racing legend Liberman while walking to a local convenience store in West Chester, Pa.
The flamboyant Liberman, arguably the greatest showman the drag strip has ever experienced, quickly added the shapely, girl next door image Hardy presented to his drag racing entourage. He christened her as “Jungle Pam,” and the legend grew from there.
Together the two traveled the country from east to west, north to south, and easily made as many 100 race dates at various track as both a match racing and competition team.
Liberman died in a non-racing accident when the Corvette he was driving crashed into a bus during the early hours of Sept. 9, 1977.
Hardy stepped away from the racing limelight in 1977 but has quietly labored extensively to keep Liberman's memory alive through various media and appearance endeavors.
Liberman's 1973 Vega Funny Car was recognized by NHRA today as the greatest Funny Car in a year-long fan-vote contest. NHRA has celebrated 50 years since the Funny Car division was recognized as a professional division.
Hardy has maintained a breakneck pace all weekend in doing her part to uphold Liberman's memory at the Auto Club NHRA Finals.
“Oh my, gosh, airplanes for 8 hours, sitting in traffic and getting here was a challenge,” Hardy admitted. “Actually today is the same thing, I mean I’ve been doing autograph sessions, tower suite appearances.”
The fans, Liberman and Hardy had plenty of them, and never tired of the interaction.
“Everybody has a wonderful story and they all remember Jungle in their own way,” Hardy added.
Hardy pauses when she thinks of the special relationship she has with the NHRA drag racing community, and of course, there were her special moments with Liberman.
“We put on a good show,” Hardy said. “And that's what it was all about. It was not about me. When you were out there doing what we were doing, it wasn't about me. It was about us.”
Hardy, after Liberman's death, never worked with another driver.
“It wouldn't have worked,” Hardy admitted. “Our relationship was a flash in the pan, a bolt of lightning. I just worked. Jungle and I had a symbiotic type of relationships where he did those wonderful burnouts and maybe a strange style of backing up.
“We were just a one-off deal.”
Bobby Bennett is the Publisher/Editor of CompetitionPlus.com, a leading independent online drag racing magazine, since 1999. For the latest in dragster news worldwide, visit www.competitionplus.com or follow on Twitter @competitionplus