PA­PER TRAILS

On the Car­pet: Terry Cook

Drag Racer - - Contents -

 Rose-col­ored ver­sions of the fac­tory wars too of­ten un­der­play or over­look the fac­tory or­ders that dic­tated whether Ford and Chrysler prod­ucts would min­gle on any given week­end. Con­sider that Drag World was born at a time when Hemi-pow­ered stock cars were banned from NASCAR’s su­per­speed­ways; GM’s division man­agers were or­dered to re­frain from auto rac­ing al­to­gether; al­tered-wheel­base Dodges and Ply­mouths were banned from NHRA’s fac­tory ex­per­i­men­tal classes; fac­tory-backed Mus­tangs were for­bid­den from mix­ing it up with Mopars un­til Ford re­placed its wedge 427 with the SOHC ver­sion—an en­gine banned by NASCAR even be­fore it could be dropped into a stock car. The youngest of the three in­de­pen­dent na­tional week­lies pub­lished in L.A. was first to fully em­brace fac­tory ex­per­i­men­tals, while Drag News and Drag

Sport Il­lus­trated re­mained rev­er­en­tial to Top Fuel­ers, the tra­di­tional “kings of the sport” (if not for much longer).

BE­FORE WE PULL THE ’CHUTE ON 1965 AND CON­TINUE DOWN THE CHRONO­LOG­I­CAL QUARTERMILE TO THE 1966 SEA­SON

(COM­ING NEXT IS­SUE), LET’S

VEER OUT OF THE GROOVE TO

PAY HOMAGE TO SHORT-LIVED DRAG WORLD. Drag News was far fat­ter, and Drag Sport Il­lus­trated de­liv­ered finer pho­tog­ra­phy, but Drag World’s mod­ern de­sign and over­all pro­duc­tion qual­ity scared its older ri­vals into up­ping their re­spec­tive games. Among the long-stored per­sonal back is­sues re­trieved to re­search prior in­stall­ments of this se­ries were two 1965 edi­tions marked in red ink.

One edi­tion’s no­ta­tions in­di­cate ed­i­to­rial pay­ments to be made to free­lance pho­tog­ra­phers and colum­nists. The other is­sue was marked with text cor­rec­tions of mis­takes missed dur­ing pro­duc­tion. We sent sam­ple scans cross-coun­try to then-As­so­ciate Ed­i­tor Terry Cook, who con­firmed the print­ing and edit­ing style of his boss, found­ing Pub­lisher-Ed­i­tor Mike Do­herty.

Start­ing with a few fol­low-up ques­tions about the week-toweek op­er­a­tions of a drag rag, we pestered poor Cook for more an­cient his­tory. We’ve edited ex­cerpts from those writ­ten con­ver­sa­tions into the mod­ern ver­sion of Drag World’s “On The Car­pet” in­ter­view se­ries that Cook mem­o­rably con­ducted in 196566, be­fore Jim Tice pur­chased the ti­tle and it be­came AHRA’s house or­gan. Cook’s name resur­faced in the mast­head of the Dec. 1966 Car Craft. He grad­u­ated to ed­i­tor in 1969, and then took over Hot Rod in 1972. Now 75, Cook pro­duces cus­tom­ized fiber­glass repli­cas loosely based on ’30s clas­sic cars (Decorides.com). He re­cently re­tired from 35 years of pro­duc­ing Lead East, the New Jersey cus­toms show he started after re­turn­ing from Cal­i­for­nia to his na­tive New Jersey (Lead­east.com).

DRAG RACER: How did your jour­nal­ism ca­reer get started?

TERRY COOK: I had a weekly

Drag News col­umn, “New Jersey News.” I started it for free, then I got $5 per col­umn, then $10, then $15. I was out there at Lions one night and met Mike Do­herty. He had read my stuff in Drag News and of­fered me a job. I flew home, sold my C/Drag­ster, bought a 1960 Pon­tiac for $750, threw ev­ery­thing I owned in the trunk, drove across coun­try, and started what has been a to­tally en­joy­able and re­ward­ing ca­reer and life. It was pure luck and fate that I had come to Cal­i­for­nia just when Mike was start­ing up the pub­li­ca­tion.

DR: Did Do­herty own Drag World?

TC: No, the orig­i­nal owner was Brainard Mellinger, who trav­eled the world im­port­ing cheap junk to the USA to sell re­tail. He ran ads in the Los An­ge­les Times seek­ing peo­ple who had schemes to make money. Mike saw the ad and sold him on the idea of Drag World. After the first year or so, when we were still not mak­ing a profit, Mellinger told Mike to sell it.

Our sec­ond owner was Gil Kohn. After an­other year of not mak­ing money, Kohn ar­ranged to sell it to Jim Tice of AHRA. Mike told me I could move to Kansas City with the pa­per. Luck­ily, I heard there was an open­ing at Car Craft.

De­scribe a typ­i­cal work­week at a drag rag.

I’d go to two or three tracks most week­ends: Lions, Ir­win­dale, San Fer­nando. Once I added Carls­bad on a Wed­nes­day night. I’d come to work Mon­day morn­ing, write my col­umn and do what­ever needed to be done to get the pa­per out: write cap­tions, work on the “dummy” [mockup of where sto­ries and ads went in the mag­a­zine]. Mike edited all the copy. The pho­togs would come by the of­fice ev­ery Mon­day with stacks of pho­tos. Do­herty would usu­ally make the se­lec­tions. We worked un­til at least 10 p.m. Mon­days. Tues­day started at the of­fice, then we went to the printer to oversee paste-up fol­low­ing our dummy. I proof­read each page. The drag rags all went to bed on Tues­day night and were shipped to read­ers on Wed­nes­day.

How much you were paid?

I started in 1965 at $10,000 a year [about $77,000 to­day—Ed.]. After three years, I had worked my way up to close to $12,000. Drag World cov­ered ex­penses for an out-of-town race, like Bak­ers­field. I don’t re­call them re­im­burs­ing me for go­ing out to Lions ev­ery Satur­day night.

Many me­dia vet­er­ans still con­sider the orig­i­nal 1965-66

Drag World to be the best-writ­ten na­tional tabloid ever pub­lished. The pa­per seemed to be pop­u­lar

with sub­scribers and fans at tracks. Why do you think Drag News and even Drag Sport

Il­lus­trated lasted longer as in­de­pen­dent tabloids?

There never was enough ad rev­enue for us or DSI to com­pete with the two ma­jor es­tab­lished play­ers, Drag News and Na­tional Drag­ster. Drag News was packed with ads be­cause Doris Her­bert paid Don Rack­e­mann some in­cred­i­ble com­mis­sion, sup­pos­edly 35 per­cent or more. Drag News was al­ways a schlock rag, jour­nal­is­ti­cally, but Rack was a fab­u­lous sales­man. We never had a sales­man other than Do­herty, who was al­ways busy help­ing put out each is­sue.

Drag World was also con­tro­ver­sial at a time when bad news was down­played or al­to­gether ig­nored by  ABOVE. Even after all these years, the re­silient AA/Fuel Al­tereds refuse to go away (12 gen­uine “aw­ful-aw­fuls” showed up at last year’s Cal­i­for­nia Hot Rod Reunion.) Bans were big in 1965. From week to week, it was hard to keep track of which com­bi­na­tions were ei­ther be­ing banned, ru­mored to be on the verge, or newly al­lowed. Fac­tory pol­i­tics fur­ther com­pli­cated dras­tic rules vari­ables among AHRA, NHRA and NASCAR’s new drag-rac­ing di­vi­sions.

 LEFT. Two vic­tims of two more bans were Chrysler leg­ends Roger Lin­damood and Dick Branst­ner, whose al­tered­wheel­base Color Me Gone was re­pos­sessed for vi­o­lat­ing fac­tory edicts for­bid­ding ex­hi­bi­tion wheel­stands and nitro­meth­ane. Dodge also col­lected their class-le­gal Color Me Gone II, the de­fend­ing NHRA Na­tion­als Stock Elim­i­na­tor. In this ex­clu­sive story, builder Branst­ner sug­gested that the real rea­son was that their A/FXer was out­run­ning Dodge’s fa­vored team of fac­tory en­gi­neers: “We went 9.50148, and con­sis­tently beat the [Ram] ’Charg­ers.”

most pub­lish­ers “for the good of the sport.” Do you think that a rep­u­ta­tion for sen­sa­tion­al­ism hurt its chances in such a con­ser­va­tive en­vi­ron­ment?

From the start, Drag World was a class act jour­nal­is­ti­cally. Is­sue Num­ber One had the story about Petty’s Bar­racuda crash­ing into a crowd, an ac­ci­dent that other pub­li­ca­tions never men­tioned be­cause Na­tional Drag­ster never re­ported on driver deaths or any other neg­a­tive news. When some­body died, the only way the drag-rac­ing com­mu­nity across the na­tion found out was by the black con­do­lence ads that you might see in Drag News—not al­lowed in Drag­ster. The Petty story on the front page of our first is­sue im­me­di­ately branded Drag World as a “scan­dal sheet” in L.A., which of course was

[B.S.]. It was a real news­pa­per, like the New York Times, that was fac­tu­ally re­port­ing the news, but many dun­der­heads in drag rac­ing were so to­tally ig­no­rant of life in the real world, they spread the scan­dal-sheet slur. Most likely that came from Rack­e­mann and/or from the NHRA of­fices, now that they had a se­ri­ous com­peti­tor. Na­tional Drag­ster is a house or­gan, not a real news­pa­per, and Drag News was mush.

You grad­u­ated from writ­ing a free news­pa­per col­umn to run­ning Car Craft, then Hot Rod, in no time, then walked away from a ca­reer in your prime. How does that time in the pub­lish­ing busi­ness look now, four decades fur­ther down the road?

I was blessed to work at Drag World and Petersen Pub­lish­ing Com­pany at the time I did. It was a magic golden era, the best and most-cre­ative ten-year pe­riod of my life. I had ed­i­to­rial free­dom with a min­i­mum of in­ter­fer­ence from “chicken blow­ers” [a nick­name that Cook coined for ad sales­men and pub­lish­ers—Ed.]. Drag rac­ing as we knew it, and our mem­o­ries of it, are go­ing the way of the buggy whip and ro­tary tele­phone. We were blessed to live through that glo­ri­ous era when drag­sters smoked the tires on pur­pose.

Now, with the USA and the en­tire world go­ing straight down the [crap­per] while the youths of Amer­ica are only con­cerned with tak­ing a selfie of them­selves in their new, stub­ble-faced look of a bum beard, I’m just try­ing to squeak out a liv­ing and sur­vive per­haps an­other healthy 20 years of ex­is­tence.

Drag World quoted the Hous­ton Post’s cov­er­age of as­tro­naut Gor­don Cooper’s 100foot wheelie in Pre­ston Honea’s Hemi-pow­ered Ram­bler Mar­lin and his plans to reteam with Gemini V part­ner Gus Gris­som in

a two-car fac­tory team. Cooper sounded con­fi­dent that NASA would sign off on the ven­ture in time for Fe­bru­ary’s sea­son open­ers, but we’ve not found pub­lished ev­i­dence of ei­ther the ru­mored A/FXer or ex­hi­bi­tion wheel­stander ever ma­te­ri­al­iz­ing.

 BE­LOW. Ir­win­dale Race­way’s re­cent open­ing nailed Fon­tana’s cof­fin shut for the third time in its brief ex­is­tence. Cur­rent racer res­i­dents of an area that’s since been ab­sorbed into met­ro­pol­i­tan L.A.’s traf­fic jam might be sur­prised to learn that 50 miles from down­town seemed too far to tow or drive at a time when Lions, San Fer­nando, Pomona, and now, Ir­win­dale op­er­ated closer to pop­u­la­tion cen­ters. Ear­lier this sea­son, the same fate be­fell Palm­dale and San Diego Race­ways, sig­nal­ing the end of SoCal’s track-build­ing boom (OCIR be­ing the no­table ex­cep­tion, launch­ing in

1967).

Drag rac­ing as we knew it, and our mem­o­ries of it, are go­ing the way of the buggy whip and ro­tary tele­phone. We were blessed to live through that glo­ri­ous era when drag­sters smoked the tires on pur­pose.

 For the third week straight, Do­herty and Cook broke big front-page news above the fold. Young Prud­homme had been the hottest driver for Top Fuel’s hottest car owner, Roland Leong, and tuner, Keith Black. The trio had just won both of NHRA’s big­gest, old­est na­tional events at Pomona and Indy, yet Prud­homme elected to strike out on his own by tour­ing the B&M Tork­mas­ter Spe­cial pre­vi­ously cam­paigned by

Kenny Saf­ford, but ac­tu­ally owned by B&M’s Spar broth­ers. Snake wisely re­tained old buddy Dave Zeuschel as the fu­eler’s en­gine builder.

Dave Wal­lace

Text by  Cur­rent Car Craft Ed­i­tor John McGann (left) met his flam­boy­ant pre­de­ces­sor at the Oct. 2016 reunion that Terry Cook or­ga­nized for the mag­a­zine’s alumni in Bak­ers­field.

 The first page of the first is­sue es­tab­lished a new form of jour­nal­ism that wasn’t ac­cept­able to ev­ery­one in SoCal’s in­flu­en­tial com­mu­nity of rac­ers, spon­sors, ad­ver­tis­ers and pub­lish­ers. The worst day of Richard Petty’s ca­reer was barely men­tioned else­where in the rac­ing press, as if the fa­tal crash wasn’t already well cov­ered by the na­tional me­dia.

 Here’s one of the two 1965 is­sues be­lieved to be ed­i­tor Mike Do­herty’s per­sonal marked-up copies. His red cor­rec­tions in­di­cate the at­ten­tion to de­tail that re­sulted in the best lay­outs, writ­ing qual­ity and copy edit­ing of any drag rag.

 Pub­lisher-Ed­i­tor Do­herty marked up a sec­ond copy of each is­sue with ed­i­to­rial pay­ments due his paid free­lance con­trib­u­tors (or not, as in­di­cated by the “n.c.” on the Sonic I’s pub­lic­ity shot). Five bucks (worth about $40 to­day) was the go­ing rate for a fresh, ex­clu­sive track photo or the oc­ca­sional il­lus­tra­tion, while colum­nists fared much bet­ter. Note that two con­trib­u­tors to this Nov. 19 edi­tion were broth­ers, writer A.B. and artist Bernie Shu­man. The oc­ca­sional in­clu­sion of land-speed re­sults by all of the pe­riod’s drag rags re­flected the sport’s roots in dry-lakes time tri­als.

 RIGHT.

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