Arnie Karp - June 25, 1947 - July 14, 2021

Best known for his popular string of Boston Strangler Alcohol Funny Cars, Arnie Karp passed away on July 14 following complications from a fractured hip caused by a fall in his home in Englewood, Florida. He was 74 years old at the time of his death.

Arnie Karp in 1986 – Photo © Chris Wakeen

Karp was born in 1947 and grew up in Revere, Massachusetts, graduating from Revere High School in 1965. In 1968, he moved to Peabody, MA.

Karp began drag racing behind the wheel of a front-engine dragster, but in the 1980s, Karp and his drag racing partner, Keith Hughes, began to create the “Boston Strangler” funny car legend. Karp and Hughes may not have been one of the big money teams, but they always seemed to be in the hunt. Karp took the “Boston Strangler” to the winner’s circle at NHRA National Events four times with back-to-back wins at Sanair in 1983 and 1984, and then two more wins in 1986, at the Summernationals and in Brainerd.

Arnie Karp (left) and Keith Hughes were inducted into the New England Hot Rod Hall of Fame in 2008
Arnie Karp (left) and Keith Hughes were inducted into the New England Hot Rod Hall of Fame in 2008

Karp had a long-standing rivalry with the acknowledged King of TAFC, Frank Manzo. In fact, three of those four National Event wins featured Manzo in the other lane. In 2003, Karp made a short-lived attempt to race in the nitro funny cars class but returned to his TAFC roots the following year as the driver for Jay Blake’s “Follow A Dream” funny car.

In later years, Karp’s health became an issue when he began to suffer the effects of polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary condition that required that he receive a transplanted kidney. A crew member, Pat Murphy donated the kidney that allowed Karp to return to health.

Karp was highly popular with drag racing fans in New England, even decades after he hung up his racing goggles. In recent years, Paul Zona built a tribute “Boston Strangler” funny car, and Karp was often on hand to help with the tuning. Karp’s many fans made sure that he knew that they were glad to see him, and he was also genuinely glad to meet with them.

Photo © James Morgan

In the end, drag racing in New England has lost one of its true heroes. They really don’t make ’em like that anymore.

There are many more photos from Arnie Karp’s long career at the New England Hot Rod Hall of Fame website, presented by the Orientals Hot Rod Club.