PAPER TRAILS, PART 11
July Through December 1964
THE SECOND HALF OF THIS SEASON STARTED WITH A MEMORABLE MONTH. A single Sunday served up two of the biggest milestones in drag racing history: the first believable, backed-up 200 and the debut of the first nitro-burning stocker, both on July 12.
Don Garlits was not exactly favored to break the double-century barrier first, given the flurry of
198s and 199s coming from California cars since Chrysler engine-builders finally noticed and adapted the upswept headers that had kept clever Chet Herbert’s small-block Chevys so competitive. No, smart money had either Frank Cannon or Paul Sutherland blasting through first in the revolutionary Flexy-Flyers from Woody Gilmore’s Race Car Engineering (where employee Sutherland welded up Woody’s first set of Chrysler zoomies for his top-speed rival). Instead, Cannon was two weeks too late to 200, by which time Garlits had punctured the barrier repeatedly and undoubtedly.
Jack Chrisman’s radical midseason conversion of the ’64 Sachs & Son A/FX Comet, which dominated SoCal class racing with
Bill Shrewsberry driving, was inspired by the Dodge Chargers. After Chargers codriver Jim Johnson topped
141 mph in Lions testing, Mercury’s racing division determined to deny Dodge the promotional benefits of a 150-mph stocker. Chrisman, a veteran slingshot racer and NHRA’s original national champion (1961), was commissioned to break that barrier using FoMoCo equipment. Jack didn’t mess around. Whereas the Chargers retained Torqueflite transmissions and full interiors and ran pump gas, Jack hooked a blown, injected, nitroburning 427 directly to the Comet’s rearend, Top Fuel-style. The Caliente nearly accomplished its mission the first time out, clocking 148.27 mph (in
10.38 seconds) on July 12 in Fremont, California. Labor Day weekend, it wowed the NHRA Nationals crowd with blasts as fast as 156.31, despite smoking its M&H dragster slicks past the eighth-mile mark. Ironically, at Indy, “B/FD” was lettered on the windows of a car that launched the first and only challenge to fuel dragsters as the “kings of the sport.”
Yet another lasting innovation from the latter part of 1964 is exhibition wheelstanding. A midengined, cab-forward, rear-weighted pickup that Dodge envisioned as the ultimate A/FXer produced far too much traction for its own good, until Super Stock racer Bill “Maverick” Golden bravely rode out the wheelies in whichever direction the Little Red Wagon wandered.
Last but not least, Ford’s controversial singleoverhead-camshaft 427 that NASCAR banished was simultaneously getting shoehorned into some of the first fastback Mustangs to roll off the assembly line. In fact, secret track testing of the first SOHC car occurred in late December (with a single-carb NASCAR intake, pending release of an eight-barrel setup). Because these purposebuilt Holman-Moody A/ FXers were not formally introduced until the new year, we’ll save them for 1965’s installment of
“Power Trails.” Meanwhile, the issues of Drag News and Drag Sport Illustrated sampled for our continuing series can be seen in their entirety as individual page scans on CDs available from Wdifl.com.
Mickey Thompson was among a series of savvy track operators who tried, but failed, to find success in Fontana, California. The founder and former manager of Lions Drag Strip obtained control from the wife of Don Rackemann after “Rack” went to jail. Despite splashy Drag News centerspread ads and quality shows like this showdown of the world’s fastest fuelers, the San Bernardino County strip was never able to overcome competition from tracks closer to Los Angeles, about 50 miles west. Legendary Midwestern promoter Ben Christ later took a shot, rechristening the strip Drag City, before Fontana closed for good. Future land-speed-record-holder Gary Gabelich is wearing a woman’s wig in the mug shot (bottom).
The same weekend that the 199-mph Flexy-Flyers of Frank Cannon and Paul Sutherland squared off at Fontana, Don Garlits beat them both to the first believable 200. In eight days of July, he would record three 200s plus a 199.10 in three states.
Cannon and Joe Schubeck bolted zoomies onto their 392 Chryslers at roughly the same time this summer in California and Ohio, respectively. The downforce-producing innovation and a new M&H rubber compound shared credit for pushing Garlits and Cannon through the 200-mph barrier two weeks apart. Woody
Engineering wasted no time placing an ad in the same July 18
Drag News that carried news of the first widely accepted, backed-up 200.