Pa­per Trails

FUEL IS BACK, BRIEFLY, AND JETS RUN WILD IN 1963

Drag Racer - - Paper Trails - Text by Dave Wal­lace

EN­TIRE BOOKS COULD BE WRIT­TEN ABOUT MUL­TI­PLE 1963 MILESTONES, AND HOPE­FULLY THEY WILL BE. In Fe­bru­ary at Pomona, fuel re­turned to NHRA for the first time since the 1956 Nationals, if only un­of­fi­cially and “ex­per­i­men­tally.” Im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards, out­go­ing Petersen Pub­lish­ing Co. (PPC) Edi­to­rial Di­rec­tor, Wally Parks, ex­pressed buyer’s re­morse to his ed­i­tors: “Due to lim­ited field of Fuel­ers that ap­peared for par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Win­ter­na­tion­als, and the great amount of dif­fi­culty a num­ber of them pro­voked, it is doubt­ful that NHRA will con­tinue to in­clude th­ese classes at its ma­jor events,” be­gan the Feb. 19 in­ter­nal doc­u­ment. Every­one knows that the un­pop­u­lar fuel ban re­mained in force the rest of the sea­son, but nearly no one out­side of PPC and NHRA could’ve re­al­ized how close we’d come to a fu­el­less fu­ture.

A month later, the stocker world was rocked by GM’s un­prece­dented sup­port for the Au­to­mo­bile Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (AMA) racing ban that its Pon­tiac divi­sion, in par­tic­u­lar, had been cir­cum­vent­ing with great suc­cess in NASCAR, USAC, NHRA and land-speed racing for five years. Mid-1957, when more than 50 Amer­i­can au­tomak­ers and sup­pli­ers pledged not to di­rectly or in­di­rectly spon­sor or sup­port auto racing,

/ABOVE. WE’D BET that Cleve­land’s se­nior cit­i­zens are still talk­ing about the ride that Bob Smith took down­town to si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­mote the in­au­gu­ral Drag News In­vi­ta­tional at Drag­way 42 and also sup­ply footage for “The Mike Dou­glas Show.” Smith un­der­es­ti­mated his stop­ping area, locked up the brakes and slid through a blocked-off ma­jor in­ter­sec­tion, mirac­u­lously squeez­ing be­tween two pass­ing cars. In his cov­er­age of the day, columnist Al Cald­well hu­mor­ously ex­ag­ger­ated the rel­a­tive dan­gers of “Jet Car” Bob’s love life and pro­fes­sional life. In fact, Smith got the ride in late-1962 from owner-builder Romeo Palamides only af­ter Glen Leasher be­came the first thrust-pow­ered fa­tal­ity in Romeo’s Bon­neville car, In­fin­ity. All three rac­ers plus writer Cald­well came up in the San Fran­cisco Bay area’s wicked drag­ster wars, sec­ond na­tion­wide only to south­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s weekly scene, de­spite NorCal’s rel­a­tively tiny pop­u­la­tion base at the time. Iron­i­cally, the sole sur­vivor is Jet Car Bob, also the only mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Drag Racing Hall of Fame to get his big toe tagged af­ter suf­fer­ing what at­tend­ing physi­cians de­ter­mined to be lifeend­ing in­juries in an­other Un­touch­able. Smith re­calls that it was his dis­traught sis­ter’s scream in the op­er­at­ing room that shook him out of the coma.

or even pro­mote per­for­mance in ad­ver­tise­ments, PMD’s Bunkie Knud­sen se­cretly formed a back­door net­work of skunkworks builders, in­clud­ing Mickey Thomp­son, Smokey Yu­nick and Ray Nichels. This time, an up­per man­age­ment ev­i­dently weary from bat­tling an­titrust reg­u­la­tors made clear that no such di­ver­sions would be tol­er­ated. The much smaller Chrysler

Cor­po­ra­tion and Ford Motor Com­pany were both happy to have their pick of GM’s win­ners while stok­ing the fac­tory horse power wars ab­sent ex­pected com­pe­ti­tion from the world’s largest au­tomaker. Lightweight 426 Dodges and Ply­mouths and 427 Gal­ax­ies and Fair­lanes in­stantly grabbed per­for­mance ad­van­tages that they would hold un­til late in the decade.

An in­ven­tor named Lew Bond in­tro­duced elec­tronic hand­i­cap­ping in 1963, test­ing his game-chang­ing de­vice in late spring at Mary­land’s Capi­tol Race­way be­fore in­stalling it— along with a mul­ti­stage count­down de­vice in­stantly de­rided as the “Christ­mas tree”— at Indianapolis Race­way Park for the NHRA Nationals. Five sets of am­ber flood­lights fired a half­sec­ond apart, re­gard­less of class or elim­i­na­tor cat­e­gory. Don

Gar­l­its added a par­tic­u­larly sour ca­reer dis­tinc­tion by be­com­ing the first foul-start Top Elim­i­na­tor run­ner-up de­ter­mined with­out hu­man in­ter­ven­tion.

Pub­lisher-Ed­i­tor-Pro­moter Doris Her­bert, ar­guably the sport’s sec­ond most pow­er­ful in­di­vid­ual and in­dis­putably its most in­flu­en­tial fe­male ever, turned pro­moter for a se­ries of Drag News In­vi­ta­tion­als that in­tro­duced drag racing’s four-day “week­end” (West Salem, Ohio). Pre­vi­ously, not even the AHRA and NHRA Nationals ran more than three days, weather per­mit­ting. At Famoso Drag Strip, the Smok­ers of Bak­ers­field con­ducted the first qual­i­fied 32car Top Fuel Elim­i­na­tor show. Art Malone won it, plus the AHRA Nationals and many high-dol­lar match races (not to men­tion qual­i­fy­ing for the Indy 500 in the Granatelli broth­ers’ backup car, an 8-year-old Novi V-8 road­ster).

One book less likely to be writ­ten is about the jet cars of 1963. We can­not con­clude this in­stall­ment with­out hon­or­ably men­tion­ing drag racing’s big­gest at­trac­tions, com­mand­ing as much as $1,000 as many days and nights of the week as the hand­ful of two-man teams could dash be­tween tracks. NHRA’s late-sea­son de­ci­sion to ban the beasts al­to­gether from sanc­tioned strips only height­ened cu­rios­ity and de­mand for three-round matches. Al­though no fu­eler could run within a sec­ond of a prop­erly tuned wee­nie roaster, the lo­cal hero was usu­ally al­lowed to “win” their sec­ond race, keep­ing fans buying beer and hot dogs in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a de­ci­sive third match al­most al­ways taken by the six-sec­ond jet.

The con­cept of lash­ing fight­er­jet en­gines to non-driven wheels was pi­o­neered by Nathan Os­tich, a physi­cian to Los Angeles rac­ers and au­to­mo­tive jour­nal­ists. One of the lat­ter, Hot Rod Magazine’s Roy Brock, was com­mis­sioned in 1957 to build a Bon­neville car around en­gines start­ing to en­ter civil­ian re­sale chan­nels. The duo did static test­ing in 1959 and hit the salt in 1960. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, L.A. lakes and drag racer Craig Breedlove no­ticed one at a mil­i­tary-sur­plus store and quickly cal­cu­lated that the same 500 bucks he’d bud­geted to build an­other blown flathead for his

’34 Ford could buy 10,000 hp, in­stead. As we saw in our pre­vi­ous episode, Art Ar­fons and Romeo Palamides, re­spec­tively, brought jets to the quar­ter-mile dur­ing 1962.

By 1963, both drag­ster veterans had ex­ter­mi­nated their new-car bugs and been joined by a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of jet jock­eys. Romeo’s shop even of­fered turnkey pack­ages. While up-front costs far ex­ceeded those of as­sem­bling a con­ven­tional sling­shot, the en­gine was vir­tu­ally main­te­nance free. That $25 block plucked from grandma’s wrecked New Yorker needed an­other grand to ac­quire the 1,000-hp en­try into Top Fuel, and might sur­vive mere sec­onds. Buying the lat­est M&H Race­mas­ters or trick heads was no longer nec­es­sary, ei­ther. The­o­ret­i­cally, any dummy could keep a new or low-hour jet en­gine alive for­ever.

Fans of fuel­ers, stock­ers and ex­hi­bi­tion cars alike agreed that they’d just ex­pe­ri­enced our sport’s best year yet. Was 1963 also the great­est sin­gle sea­son ever? De­cide for your­self as “Pa­per Trails” drives us fur­ther into drag racing’s golden age. (Mean­while, visit Wd­ifl.com for 1955-71 Drag News on disc, or Hotrod­club.com for dig­i­tized is­sues of Hot Rod Magazine since 1948.)

//Fans of fuel­ers, stock­ers and ex­hi­bi­tion cars alike agreed that they’d just ex­pe­ri­enced our sport’s best year yet. Was 1963 also the great­est sin­gle sea­son ever? De­cide for your­self as ‘Pa­per Trails’ drives us fur­ther into drag racing’s golden age.

/WHEREAS un­her­alded Don Prud­homme’s 1962 March Meet de­ci­sion over Glen Leasher and Ted Gotelli was tainted by a con­tro­ver­sial jump­start and restag­ing, this un­prece­dented triple seven for new team­mates, Tommy Greer and Keith Black, left no doubt that Tommy Ivo’s former tire wiper was the real deal. San Gabriel track re­porter Steve Gibbs, the fu­ture NHRA com­pe­ti­tion di­rec­tor, brought the news na­tion­wide in the Jan. 26 Drag News. A gifted writer and il­lus­tra­tor, Gibbs re­mains in­volved with NHRA Her­itage Se­ries events and sits on the NHRA Mu­seum’s board of di­rec­tors. /THE FEW photos we’ve seen re­veal big turnouts of en­tries and spec­ta­tors, along with big crashes. Three dates were ad­ver­tised in Drag News for Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary. The main ob­sta­cle seemed to be the wall lo­cated just be­yond the fin­ish line. In each lane, the driver aimed through an open­ing not much wider than a full-sized car.

/THIS MAY BE the most sheep­ish-look­ing team ever to win a ma­jor event, with good rea­son. En­gine-builder John Peters was listed as driver, but never got closer to the seat than lay­ing a hand awk­wardly onto the roll bar of the Top Gas drag­ster co-owned with Nye Frank (far right). The guy with the tro­phy was the room­mate of mys­te­ri­ous Bob Mu­ravez (cen­ter), whose fam­ily busi­ness for­bade drag racing. NHRA and the dra­grac­ing me­dia pro­tected their se­cret, but the dis­com­fort re­sult­ing from a break­through

Win­ter­na­tion­als win led the young­sters to seek a pseu­do­nym, which Steve

Gibbs (the afore­men­tioned San

Gabriel of­fi­cial) soon pro­vided, lift­ing the au­thor’s name from a col­lege text­book: Floyd

Lip­pen­cott Jr. Fifty-two years later, he was in­ducted into the

In­ter­na­tional Drag

Racing Hall of Fame as both Bob and Floyd

(class of 2015). To this day, Mu­ravez runs the

Bur­bank May­tag dis­trib­u­tor­ship founded by his in­fa­mously in­tol­er­ant fa­ther. /THE HAND-BUILT fac­tory hot rods that put the ex­tra “su­per” in Su­per Stock were Fords, Dodges and Ply­mouths, plus about 20 Tem­pests built be­fore GM shut down its skunkworks pro­gram early this year. Thus did so many Pon­tiac and Chevro­let he­roes aban­don ship this same sea­son.

/AF­TER FIVE YEARS with­out fuel cars in Petersen mag­a­zines, and NHRA’s ban still in force, imag­ine the sur­prise when this cover hit mail­boxes and news­stands. More­over, pump gas re­mained manda­tory for all “of­fi­cial” NHRA com­pe­ti­tion, de­spite Pomona’s ex­per­i­ment. /WE HAVEN’T seen much of CC in this se­ries sim­ply be­cause its com­pe­ti­tion con­tent still con­sisted mostly of hyp­ing NHRA's two na­tional events. Stay tuned as CC grad­u­ally evolves into what many con­sider the best drag mag ever. /ONLY IN L..A. could we see Prud­homme, Ivo and “The Bev­erly Hill­bil­lies” cast. The only thing left out by San Gabe pub­li­cist

Steve Gibbs was an event date (d’oh!).

/RIGHT. DOWN­TOWN Cleve­land’s wild Drag News In­vi­ta­tional pro­mo­tion co-fea­tured Joe

Schubeck’s blown fu­eler, which ran be­fore the Un­touch­able. Doris

Her­bert re­warded Miss In­vi­ta­tional with a large stu­dio shot in the sub­se­quent is­sue, de­scrib­ing Cree

Fran­qito as a Cleve­land na­tive dis­plac­ing 44-23-35 inches. (You think those guys in the back­ground no­ticed?) The West Salem, Ohio, event is be­lieved to be the sport’s first four-day meet.

/BE­LOW. NO MERE comic book, Drag Car­toons ex­pertly cap­tured the era’s hero rac­ers, “des­per­ate pro­mot­ers” and in­dus­try heav­ies as rec­og­niz­able comic-strip char­ac­ters (though we can’t pos­i­tively ID this fel­low). One tabloid-newsprint edi­tion pre­ceded this slick ver­sion. /RIGHT. YOU KNOW how photos of Mickey Thomp­son fre­quently show ban­dages, plas­ter cast, braces or crutches? Here he’s fly­ing 6 feet off of the ground on land ad­ja­cent to Lions Drag Strip, which he and wife Judy man­aged from 1955 un­til the end of this year.

/MIL­LAR’S unique com­bi­na­tion of artis­tic tal­ent, draft­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, hands-on wrench­ing, and street and le­gal racing pro­duced a comic book se­ri­ously re­spected by rac­ers, fans, of­fi­cials and man­u­fac­tur­ers. (See for your­self at Laffy­eras­phalt.com, the trib­ute site and e-store main­tained by his widow, Orah Mae, and daugh­ter, Robin.) /PUB­LISHER-ED­I­TOR-ARTIST

Pete Mil­lar reg­u­larly skew­ered both AHRA and NHRA, but the leader of drag racing’s largest sanc­tion­ing body was per­haps his most fre­quent tar­get. Shown are the first and last pan­els of a longer strip in the first magazine. Tech of­fi­cials swarmed the poor kid’s coupe, at­tempt­ing to pres­sure him into join­ing up. They failed, but so did the poor guy’s Ford tranny. He winds up trad­ing his soul for an ir­re­sistible syn­chro box.

/LEFT. IN ITS sec­ond year, Pop­u­lar Hot Rodding con­tin­ued serv­ing up fuel­ers and other con­tent ab­sent from Petersen ti­tles un­der the reign of Edi­to­rial Di­rec­tor Wally Parks. Imag­ine Wally’s dis­may when bank­rupt chas­sis-builder Scotty Fenn, his loud­est critic, resur­faced as tech ed­i­tor and columnist.

/BE­LOW. SOCAL was still home to the ma­jor­ity of Indycar builders, as well as the cen­ter of drag racing’s uni­verse. Man­u­fac­turer Ed Dono­van merged those dis­parate worlds with a blown-Offy sling­shot that could out­run most Top Gas drag­sters and many Top Fuel­ers. /PENN­SYL­VA­NIA’S York U.S. 30 Drag­way was as sig­nif­i­cant to stock­ers as Famoso Drag Strip was to fuel­ers. On Sept. 14, Gas Ronda, on his first eastern tour, was the star at­trac­tion. The dapper L.A. Ford sales­man (and former dance in­struc­tor) came through with a huge match-race win over Malcolm Durham (far end), Frank La Palom­ery’s L&L Spe­cial and Fred Specio’s Thun­der­charger, re­spec­tively, clock­ing 12.21 at 117. R.F. Bis­sell shot the clas­sic Drag News cover photo.

/THE WEEKLY “DRAG SPORT IL­LUS­TRATED,” in­tro­duced in March at Bak­ers­field, was the first se­ri­ous chal­lenger to Doris Her­bert's 8-year-old Drag News. Com­par­a­tively light on re­portage and pages, the new­comer’s ad­van­tages were bet­ter pa­per, mod­ern graphics and big, bitchin’ ac­tion photos. The re­pro­duc­tion dif­fer­ences were es­pe­cially ob­vi­ous when­ever both tabloids printed the same photo, as was the case with Bob Hardee’s shot of Jerry Baltes at Ra­mona, Cal­i­for­nia. We’ll be see­ing many more ex­am­ples in the next few in­stall­ments of “Pa­per Trails.”

/IT’S TRUE: In 1963, a cou­ple of col­lege kids, liv­ing at home and work­ing out of a twocar fam­ily garage, could still dream of lin­ing up against the mighty Stone, Woods & Cook Willys—and win­ning. Ed Isk­ende­rian took full ad­van­tage in the Dec. 7 Drag News and made he­roes of young Gary and Jerry Mal­li­coat. Al­though En­gle Cams isn’t men­tioned in Fred Stone’s re­sponses of Dec. 14 and 21, Jack En­gle’s style is un­mis­tak­able in the text. Hang on tight, the Gasser Wars are heat­ing up!

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