Pa­per Trails


Drag Racer - - Paper Trails - Text by Dave Wal­lace

THE BIG NEWS THIS YEAR WAS THE BE­GIN­NING OF THE END OF THE IN­FA­MOUS FUEL BAN—OR WAS IT? No­body knew for sure. NHRA’s rule­book con­tin­ued to list gaso­line classes ex­clu­sively, its mem­ber tracks for­bid­den from al­low­ing other fuels into of­fi­cial classes and elim­i­na­tor cat­e­gories. Booked-in match rac­ing be­tween nitro-burn­ers was strongly dis­cour­aged, but tol­er­ated as a nec­es­sary evil for NHRA op­er­a­tors forced to com­pete with the fu­el­happy Amer­i­can Hot Rod As­so­ci­a­tion and “out­law” strips. Both of NHRA’s na­tional events re­mained gas-only, but ru­mors cir­cu­lated that of­fi­cials met at Indy to con­sider invit­ing a small field of fuel­ers to the next Win­ter­na­tion­als as an ex­per­i­ment, while agree­ing to keep di­vi­sional meets and the na­tion­als all­ga­so­line. When the Greer, Black & Prud­homme fu­eler showed up on the Oc­to­ber cover of Hot Rod— which, like other Petersen mag­a­zines and spe­cials, had been nearly nitro-free since 1958 un­der editorial di­rec­tor Wally Parks—the re­turn of liq­uid horse­power seemed im­mi­nent.

Pos­si­bly no­body but Howard Jo­hansen and Mickey Thomp­son saw all-alu­minum rac­ing en­gines com­ing. Other than re­cently banned air­craft power plants, se­ri­ous drag-race en­gines had al­ways been based on iron pro­duc­tion blocks. Casta­lu­minum af­ter­mar­ket cylin­der heads were still con­sid­ered lux­u­ries when two of M/T’s Drag­mas­ters showed up at Indy with fac­tory-is­sued un­ob­ta­nium re­pro­duc­tions of Pon­tiac blocks wear­ing mas­sive Hemi heads ob­vi­ously adapted from early Chrysler cast­ings. The ex­otic en­tries caused ma­jor com­mo­tion even be­fore Jack Chris­man won Top Elim­i­na­tor.

Ear­lier, Mickey and em­ployee Hay­den Prof­fitt made mus­cle-car his­tory by drop­ping 434 ci of iron In­dian into PMD’s new Tem­pest com­pact and dom­i­nat­ing the de­but of NHRA Fac­tory Ex­per­i­men­tal at Pomona. Team­mate Carol Cox made the most of her ac­cep­tance as the first fe­male run­ning a na­tional event by win­ning the Win­ter­na­tion­als S/SA tro­phy in a Catalina pre­pared by hubby Lloyd at M/T En­ter­prises.

Art Ar­fons, Romeo Palamides and Walt Ar­fons re­spec­tively in­tro­duced jet drag­sters that in­stantly be­came the sport’s big­gest at­trac­tions and mon­ey­mak­ers, com­mand­ing Top Fuel-scale guar­an­tees with­out the break­age and con­stant maintenance. NHRA out­lawed air­craft-pow­ered ex­hi­bi­tion ve­hi­cles after March Meet Top Fuel run­ner-up Glen Leasher fa­tally crashed Romeo’s LSR car at Bon­neville, but the “wee­nie roast­ers” never went out of style (and ul­ti­mately re­gained NHRA ac­cep­tance in the mid-’70s).

Last but not least, two ma­jor per­for­mance bar­ri­ers of­fi­cially fell near sea­son’s end at San Gabriel, Cal­i­for­nia: Tommy Ivo clocked 7.99 in a fu­eler (backed up in 8.10 sec­onds, within the then­cus­tom­ary 2%), and Doug Cook went 9.96 in a le­gal gas coupe (10.04 backup). Both marks would be bet­tered and bat­tered soon enough, as doc­u­mented in the 1963 clip­pings that we’ll share next time.

/WHEN ex­trater­res­trial gear­heads get se­ri­ous about hop­ping up space­ships (note: weed-burner head­ers), Ed Isk­ende­rian of­fered to grind their cams. /FAST-CHANG­ING drag­ster tech­nol­ogy is il­lus­trated by the March Meet’s fuel and gas win­ners (though nei­ther file photo was shot at Bakersfield). A huge up­set saw two Val­ley kids dom­i­nate Top Fuel Elim­i­na­tor: Lit­tle-known Dave Zeuschel and Don Prud­homme took Kent Fuller’s state-of-the-art house car (top) to both Low ET (8.21) and Top Speed (185.36) en­route to a hotly dis­puted fi­nal­round de­ci­sion of Glen Leasher in Ted Gotelli’s fu­eler. In Top Gas, old pipe and brute horse­power got the job done for the heavy­weight Quincy Au­to­mo­tive Spe­cial of John Peters and Nye Frank, not yet rechris­tened Freight Train.

/THE FIRST threat to Robert E. Petersen’s vir­tual mo­nop­oly on the na­tion’s news­stands ap­peared with­out no­tice or cover date this win­ter. Co­founders Gor­don Behn and Don Werner, re­spec­tively Petersen’s for­mer cir­cu­la­tion di­rec­tor and Motor Trend editor, were the first alumni to di­rectly com­pete, though cer­tainly not the last (as we’ll see in fu­ture episodes chron­i­cling the golden age of drag-rac­ing jour­nal­ism).

/POP­U­LAR HOT ROD­DING’S (PHR) PREMIER edi­tion un­mis­tak­ably poked Wally Parks and the NHRA-ex­clu­sive Petersen month­lies by stretch­ing to praise a ri­val sanc­tion­ing body. More­over, the new Ar­gus Pub­lish­ers Cor­po­ra­tion gave wide­spread ex­po­sure to free­lance con­trib­u­tor Scotty Fenn, whose crit­i­cism of NHRA and Wally, per­son­ally, had been mostly seen in Drag News ads and open let­ters. Dean Brown, found­ing editor of the hated weekly tabloid, also resur­faced in PHR. War was de­clared!

/THE BACK cover of Is­sue 1 boasted an im­pres­sive cast of in­dus­try vet­er­ans.

/INI­TIAL news­stand sales must’ve been strong, be­cause the sec­ond PHR re­turned that sum­mer, as a monthly—the first pe­ri­od­i­cal to se­ri­ously chal­lenge Petersen’s near mo­nop­oly. Th­ese cover blurbs and by­lines re­flect an editorial pack­age com­bin­ing proven el­e­ments from HRM, Rod & Cus­tom, Car Craft and Motor Trend. (Iron­i­cally, the ti­tle was ul­ti­mately ab­sorbed and dis­con­tin­ued by The En­thu­si­ast Net­work, suc­ces­sors to Petersen Pub­lish­ing Com­pany.)

/AN­OTHER sign of weak­en­ing fu­el­ban sup­port was this tiny ad placed in the June 9 Drag News by cam grinder Chet Her­bert, a leading pump-gas pro­po­nent since SoCal strips first out­lawed nitro in March 1957. /AS SCOTTY Fenn (far left) criss­crossed the coun­try this June, he’d al­ready lost con­trol of Chas­sis Re­search Com­pany back home in L.A. The in­ven­tor of the mail-or­der drag­ster kit even­tu­ally landed at Mary­land’s Cole­man Broth­ers Speed Shop be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing from an af­ter­mar­ket in­dus­try he’d helped cre­ate. Also shown is pro­lific Rhode Is­land pho­to­jour­nal­ist Ed Sark­isian (sec­ond from right), who sup­plied most of the cov­er­age of New Eng­land drag rac­ing seen in na­tional publi­ca­tions of the ’50s and ’60s.

/WHEN any­one men­tioned na­tional records in the early-’60s, he or she was likely re­fer­ring to the Stan­dard 1320 list cre­ated and main­tained by pow­er­ful Drag News pub­lisher Doris Her­bert. De­spite the fuel ban, six dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of nitro-burn­ers are shown in this Sept. 1 edi­tion.

/PUB­LIC crit­i­cism of pro­mot­ers wasn’t lim­ited to Wally Parks and his track op­er­a­tors. Charges of fa­voritism be­came in­creas­ingly com­mon as more rac­ers toured far from home. Elec­tronic start­ing sys­tems would soon dras­ti­cally re­duce th­ese dis­putes. /NOTH­ING was sa­cred in Drag News, not even loom­ing nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion. A Sept. 12 house ad rem­i­nis­cent of Mad magazine closely fol­lowed the Cuban mis­sile show­down be­tween JFK and Rus­sian premier Nikita Khrushchev (right). Spelling wasn’t sa­cred, ei­ther, as ev­i­dent in the quote hu­mor­ously at­trib­uted to Fidel Castro (left).

/EARN­ING a spot on any of Drag News’ gas or fuel Mr. Elim­i­na­tor Top 10 lists meant more to rac­ers—and their earn­ing po­ten­tial—than win­ning almost any open event. Any­one could chal­lenge the Num­ber Two-through-10 spot hold­ers to a best-of-three-round match race, while Num­ber One ac­cepted chal­lenges only from teams cur­rently listed. Van­quished chal­lengers were hu­mil­i­ated in small type after each loss, thus the re­peat list­ings for re­peat losers. /AN INDY spec­ta­tor’s take on AA/Drag­ster class rac­ing re­sem­bles none of the of­fi­cial Indy press cov­er­age we’ve read. The Sept. 22 Drag News let­ter also il­lus­trates com­mon knowl­edge of the close re­la­tion­ships among NHRA, Hot Rod magazine and Mickey Thomp­son.

/NINE-SEC­OND doorslam­mers seemed as un­likely as 200-mph drag­sters at the start of this sea­son. Mickey Thomp­son broke the news of Doug Cook’s bar­rier break­age in a Nov. 3 Drag News hero ad that’s un­usual for its early use of color. /NO ONE had to won­der which track was ref­er­enced in a shock­ing Dec. 1 Drag News ad from the man who cre­ated Lions Drag Strip in 1955 and, with first wife Judy, de­vel­oped the model for in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tions. Mickey’s con­tentious re­la­tion­ship with di­rec­tors of Long Beach-area Lions Clubs that shared in weekly pro­ceeds boiled over at a board meet­ing. He re­signed on the spot. Thomp­son’s rec­om­mended re­place­ment, C.J. “Pappy” Hart, would take over and en­joy even greater suc­cess through­out the end of the decade, as we’ll see in up­com­ing in­stall­ments of “Pa­per Trails.”

/OP­PO­SITE PAGE. THIS HUGE clue that NHRA’s fuel ban might be end­ing hit news­stands and mail­boxes in Oc­to­ber. Fuel cars had vir­tu­ally van­ished from Petersen publi­ca­tions (ex­cept in hero ads) since NHRA Pres­i­dent Wally Parks ex­panded the gas-only rule...

/“PIT VIEWS,” the let­ters sec­tion of Drag News, gives us great in­sight into the is­sues af­fect­ing each era. Sig­na­tures were op­tional, as ev­i­denced by this anony­mous ex­change re­gard­ing en­try fees and the ab­sence of prize money at Pomona’s sec­ond an­nual...

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