of Famer Roger Coburn Passes
by: Phil Burgess
Roger Coburn, who along with
his driving partner James Warren dominated Top Fuel racing in
Southern California in the 1960s and
'70s, died Nov. 25, two weeks after emergency surgery to repair
a ruptured aorta. He was 78.
Coburn had come through the 12-hour
surgery well and doctors at UCLA Medical Center initially were
encouraged by his progress, but complications unrelated to his
heart issues later arose, leading to his passing.
Wheelman Warren, tuner Coburn,
and sponsor and partner Marvin Miller, hailed from Bakersfield,
and had to make a three-hour tow over the San Gabriel Mountains
on Highway 99 -- the famed Ridge Route -- to reach the mecca
of Southern California dragstrips, which earned them the nickname
"The Ridge Route Terrors." There are stories of other
teams having spotters stationed at the end of the route to see
which freeway the Terrors would take and what their destination
might be so that the other teams could quickly head off to a
different track, as far away from them as possible.
Warren originally had been a
dirt track racer, and initially met the drag racing-oriented
Coburn through Coburn's brother, with whom he had served in the
armed forces, and in 1958 they had partnered and switched to
the dragstrip with a twin-engine gas dragster. They ran in Top
Fuel from 1964 through 1980, always with Coburn on wrenches,
first with supercharged small-block Chevy engines then early
Hemis and finally late-model Hemis. Miller owned the irrigation
company Rain For Rent, which supplied Bakersfield farmers with
portable water solutions, and became the team's major sponsor
Warren, who was voted No. 38 on NHRA's list of Top 50 racers
in 2001, was quick to credit his partner's role in his many successes.
"I had a good car. We were a team for so many years that
we knew what to do for each other. I knew what I needed, and
Roger knew how to tune the car the way I liked to drive it. It
just seemed like there was a combination there."
After a runner-up at the 1967
Nationals -- to Don Garlits, who famously shaved off his beard
after winning the team won their first of two NHRA national
events the 1968 Winternationals, and also set low e.t. and top
speed, 6.86 at 230 mph, in the first round. They also finished
second that year in the Professional Dragster Association series
and Coburn were Division 7 Top Fuel champion five straight years,
1972 to 1976, and the Ridge Route Terrors were never tougher
than at their hometrack, where they won the famed U.S. Fuel and
Gas Championships three straight years, 1975-1977. The 1976 season
was among their best. They opened with a runner-up at the Winternationals,
won the Phoenix Winter Classic as one of only two cars in the
fives, won an East/West race at Orange County Int'l Raceway,
the U.S. Fuel and Gas title, and the Gatornationals, and finished
fifth in NHRA points.
Both Warren and Coburn are members
of the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame and former honorees
at the California Hot Rod Reunion.
Coburn is survived by his daughter,
LeeAnn, brother Larry, and sister Juanita Warren, who is married
to James Warren.
2009 CHRR - Goodbye my
The Warren & Coburn racing
partnership lasted nearly 20 years and like any other team had
their ups and downs but let there be no question that when they
rolled into the pits everyone knew they were there to win. I
had the pleasure of racing James many time in both front and
rear engine dragsters. Incredibly they were one of the few teams
I had a winning edge over. To this day James tells me how he
hated to see me in the other lane and that is music to my ears
as no matter what car I was driving, I was just proud to be racing
They were both men of few words
but Roger was truely the quiet giant. Even when you got to know
him a long conversation was rare. In hind sight his presence
said way more than words. I was blessed to know him and his memory
will be with me the rest of my days. He joins a short list of
those who have passed that really effects me. Rest in peace old
warrior. Don Ewald
The Ridge Route Terrors (Roger
Coburn, James Warren, & Marvin Miller) were heros to all
of us who follow Top Fuel racing. Not just because they ran hard
and won more then their share of races, but also because they
were so laid back and unassuming about their accomplishments.
They were just nice people. Marvin left us a number of years
ago, and now Roger is gone too. I had a soft spot for the team
ever since the moment I laid eyes on their first Woody car. It
was so simple, so clean, yet so bad ass fast. It seemed to reflect
have mentioned the photo of Roger and James that hangs in the
NHRA Museum. Ironically I was at the museum this past week and
inquired about whether they had any copies of that poster still
available. They did, so I bought one. I have admired that B&W
Jon Asher photo since the first time I saw it years ago. It is
so typical of the many nights a lot of us have spent in our garages,
and it catches the essence of Roger and James so perfectly. It
is too big to scan, so I have tried to shoot a photo of it so
I can show it here. I hope it comes out OK.
RIP Roger and Marvin. Hang in
Warren-Coburn-Miller was the
quintessence of California top fuel teams. They stayed together
longer than just about any other team, and they ran hard at every
meet they entered. What kind of sportsmen were they? At the epic
'67 Nationals, W-C-M helped Garlits set up his slipper clutch
before Big ran down James Warren in the first dual six-second
God be with, Roger.
- Chuck Turley
Losing such a giant within our
sport certainly takes the edge off Thanksgiving, yet I'm thankful
I got to see James and Roger, and Marvin, and the rest of the
Bakersfield team race...and to have them as friends. Roger...you
were as good as it gets. Vaya con Dios mi Amigo.
Well, It gets harder each year.
Has we keep losing family. Roger and his gang. James, Marvin.
From Bakersfield, Were very hard racers. Won a bunch of races
and make a lot of us racers look bad. These guys were so kick
back at the races. you wound never believe, That they won kick
ass, God Bless, God speed, To another super guy. R.I.P.
I grew up rooting for the w-c-m
team all my life, I was even a crew member one time that was
a thrill watching Coburn tune the motor.....rip .......Roger
I've probably made 100 trips
to California to see Top Fuel races, and one car I always enjoyed
seeing (and cheered for) was W-C-M. My best love to Roger's family.
Having moved here from Oregon
in nov. 73 i started going to OCIR,Irwindale,Pomona,OMS early
74, I saw every one of the 6 straight James won between OCIR
and the Dale I think it was 75? I'll never forget him pumping
the handle for the 2 speed as he was backing up and clearing
the throttle after he lit the 1st light, header fire to the wing
and as cool as they get Coburn standing off to the side, these
guys are my heros, I have one of Asher's photos hanging in front
of me right now. I never talked to Mr. Coburn but I was honored
to chat with James @ the corral @ the winters for about 20 minutes.
This one made me cry, God bless all whom was close to this legend.
With deepest respects Steve Morse
If you would like to share your
thoughts about Roger send them to: Roger
Coburn Remembered and I will add it to this page.
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