Drag Rac­ing’s Ex­po­sure Ex­plodes in Early 1966

Drag Racer - - Contents - Text by Dave Wallace

THE UN­PRECE­DENTED VA­RI­ETY AND NUM­BER OF RACE CARS, EX­HI­BI­TION VE­HI­CLES AND EVEN DRAG BIKES MADE 1966 THE MOST IN­TER­EST­ING, MOST ADDICTING SEA­SON YET. Just ask any­one who ever cheered a lo­cal hero’s crudely con­verted door car as it chal­lenged some state-of-the-art “plas­tic fan­tas­tic” that burned nitro and was lighter by half a ton.

Au­tomak­ers bat­tled with buck­ets of cash and free bul­lets in ev­ery­thing from fuel drag­sters and flip-top Comets to hand-built le­gal “stock­ers” and a 33-yearold Willys gasser in Dayton, Ohio. In a sin­gle week­end, March Meet spec­ta­tors wit­nessed a 64-car Top Fuel Elim­i­na­tor one day and a sep­a­rate, 32-car show the next— con­clud­ing with a show­down be­tween the daily win­ners. A lit­tle more than two years af­ter a re­skinned Pon­tiac Tem­pest and a re­bod­ied Ford Fal­con made new­car cus­tomers out of teenagers, those GTOs and Mus­tangs were joined by mus­cle and pony cars of all makes at ap­prox­i­mately 300 U.S. drag strips.

Ac­cord­ingly, hot rod­ding’s pub­lish­ing in­dus­try turned new at­ten­tion and pages to race cars this year, tar­get­ing mil­lions of Baby Boomers and the ad­ver­tis­ers chas­ing them. Es­tab­lished gen­eral-in­ter­est pub­lish­ers, in­clud­ing Petersen and Ar­gus, were also re­act­ing to a whole crop of small, spe­cial­ized, low­bud­get ti­tles de­voted en­tirely or mostly to drag rac­ing, which were con­ve­niently on sale on the same news racks for the same 50 cents. Sam­ple cov­ers of some, but not all, of those up­starts are re­pro­duced on these pages. All but one was pro­duced in the Los An­ge­les area, sup­port­ing a unique cot­tage in­dus­try of salaried and free­lance writ­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers, ed­i­tors, graphic artists, chicken blow­ers (i.e., ad reps shame­lessly pump­ing up sales num­bers) and ad­min­is­tra­tive types de­pen­dent upon hot-rod­ding and, more than ever, drag rac­ing.

Not all pub­lish­ers pros­pered, how­ever. The ini­tial losers in this me­dia ex­plo­sion, iron­i­cally, were two of the three in­de­pen­dent tabloids wholly ded­i­cated to drag rac­ing years be­fore the young sport be­came fash­ion­able for slick month­lies. This first half of 1966 proved to be the last time that Drag News (es­tab­lished 1955), Drag Sport Il­lus­trated (est. 1963) and Drag World (est. 1965) op­er­ated si­mul­ta­ne­ously and in­de­pen­dently. We’ll ex­plore what hap­pened to these pi­o­neer pub­lish­ers next time, when Drag Racer re­vis­its drag rags and mags dated July through De­cem­ber 1966.

 While short-lived, Drag Sport Il­lus­trated is still cel­e­brated for some of the finest black-and-white ac­tion cov­ers ever printed, pub­lisher-ed­i­tor Phil Bel­lomy un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally set­tled for a sin­gle run and what ap­pears to be a strip of white pa­per phys­i­cally over­laid onto the halftone. Drag News was even worse: Pow­er­ful pub­lisher Doris Her­bert lived down to her rep­u­ta­tion for cheap pro­duc­tion with a clumsy cut-out of a generic photo on a quar­ter-fold cover.

Place­ment of the ad­ja­cent house ad might in­di­cate a rare fail­ure by sales­man Don Rack­e­mann to find a pre­mium-rate buyer for the back cover of pos­si­bly the most-read is­sue all year. [Au­thor’s note about mail­ing la­bels: Decades ago, sub­scribers Bob Thomp­son and the late Bruce Boyd each gen­er­ously do­nated many back is­sues of weekly drag rags for the ex­pressed pur­pose of pro­vid­ing re­search ma­te­rial for his­tor­i­cal ar­ti­cles like this one. —DW]

The post-Bak­ers­field (Mar.

11) edi­tion of Drag World of­fered artist’s con­cep­tions of the

Cy­co­clac-plas­tic-bod­ied AMT

Pi­ranha, which the model-car com­pany tried book­ing as a

Funny Car. No­body ever bought that—in­clud­ing pro­mot­ers and match racers—but the

392-pow­ered, 120-inch light­weight proved to be one of the quick­est, fastest and most suc­cess­ful back­mo­tored fuel cars yet built, le­git­i­mately top­ping

190 mph with both Walt

Stevens and Con­nie Swingle bravely steer­ing. Al­most no­body bought the AMT street ver­sion that the race car was pro­mot­ing, al­though one Cor­vair­pow­ered Pi­ranha ap­peared in some 1966-67 episodes of TV’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” series. Con­trary to this early press re­lease, the project went not to Dick Branst­ner but to a new AMT Speed & Cus­tom Di­vi­sion staffed by direc­tor Gene Winfield, Stevens, ex-Dodge Charg­ers shoe Jim John­son and ex-Dead End Kid Joe Ana­hory, who built and tuned the Chrysler.

Be­sides pub­lish­ing his monthly comic book, cam­paign­ing a blown Com­pe­ti­tion Coupe and rais­ing three daugh­ters with wife Orah Mae, mul­ti­tal­ented

Pete Mil­lar presided over a one-man or­ga­ni­za­tion he called the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Flat­heads. Iron­i­cally, Mil­lar him­self had by now switched to a de­spised late-model V-8, ac­cept­ing Ed Isk­ende­rian’s of­fer to trade a 260-inch Ford dyno mule for ad­ver­tis­ing art­work.

“The Au­to­mo­tive Go & Show Mag­a­zine” has surely had more dif­fer­ent taglines than any other au­to­mo­tive pub­li­ca­tion. Bob Petersen clev­erly po­si­tioned Car Craft be­tween Rod & Cus­tom and

Hot Rod in the hope of hold­ing onto teenagers tran­si­tion­ing into driv­ers and first-car own­ers. A rare all-drag-rac­ing cover proved to be an early in­di­ca­tor of the mag­a­zine’s grad­ual evo­lu­tion into “Drag Rac­ing’s Com­plete Mag­a­zine” of the ’70s.

How hairy did early ex­hi­bi­tion cars get? Con­sider the dual-en­gined, fuel-burn­ing Hurst Hairy Oldsmo­biles of 1966-67. For­mer drag­ster star Joe Schubeck was coaxed out of re­tire­ment this year to tour the orig­i­nal, from which he ejected through the driver’s door, at speed, af­ter one mo­tor car caught fire. The 442 con­tin­ued beyond the shut­down area into a farmer’s field, where it burned to the ground. Gen­tle­man Joe also drove a near iden­ti­cal, equally scary re­place­ment be­fore hang­ing up his fir­ere­sis­tant tuxedo for good.

Just as Pop­u­lar Hot Rod­ding had copied Hot Rod in 1962, Mod­ern Rod (sis­ter ti­tle to Drag

Rac­ing mag) started out as a PHR im­i­ta­tor, to the point of im­mod­estly—and in­ac­cu­rately— pro­claim­ing it­self to be the “No. 2 hot rod mag­a­zine” on cov­ers. The May is­sue’s sud­den for­mat and ti­tle changes ev­i­denced the in­ter­est that fast doorslam­mers now com­manded within the hot-rod­ding hobby and in­dus­try.

No other pe­ri­od­i­cal pub­lished out­side of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia had the im­pact or long-term suc­cess of this one. Con­ceived by night­club-op­er­a­tor Monk Reynolds and racer-ad­man Jim Davis in the door-car hot­bed span­ning both sides of the Ma­son-Dixon Line,

Su­per Stock put the East Coast on the mag­a­zine rack. More­over, it served as the de­vel­op­ment league for east­ern writ­ers, ed­i­tors and pho­tog­ra­phers bound for the big West Coast ti­tles (e.g., fu­ture PPC staffers John Raffa, Jim McCraw, Ro McGone­gal and Neil Britt).

PHR was the flag­ship of nitro-friendly Ar­gus Pub­lish­ers Corp., founded by for­mer Petersen em­ploy­ees just as NHRA’s in­fa­mous fuel ban was fall­ing apart. An all-in­clu­sive for­mat was loosely pat­terned on Hot Rod’s for­mula, though this cover il­lus­trates...

 RIGHT. The Petersen monthly that tar­geted young teenagers with model cars, doo­dle­bugs, go-karts and slot cars must’ve con­fused the kids by de­vot­ing this cover to a drag car—a for­eign car, at that. Al­low­ing im­ports into gas classes was giv­ing NHRA...

 RIGHT. The an­nual Drag Rac­ing Almanac was the first pub­li­ca­tion to com­bine a pre­vi­ous sea­son’s sta­tis­tics, re­sults and pho­tos that rep­re­sented all sanc­tion­ing bodies and racers’ or­ga­ni­za­tions, plus ma­jor in­de­pen­dent events. For this de­but...

 ABOVE. En­ter­ing its third year, L.A.-based Drag Rac­ing con­tin­ued pri­or­i­tiz­ing drag­sters and was the far-and-away fa­vorite monthly of wire-wheel fans.

 LEFT & RIGHT. As good as Drag World con­sis­tently was, the youngest L.A. weekly couldn’t com­pete for lim­ited ad dol­lars with Drag News and NHRA’s Na­tional Drag­ster.A marked-up Jan. 21, 1966, is­sue in the au­thor’s col­lec­tion in­di­cates found­ing...

Yes, your re­porter makes reg­u­lar use of a hard­bound book pub­lished by Tri­dent Press. As might be ex­pected of NHRA’s co­founder and long­time pres­i­dent, this is more a rose-col­ored ac­count of that or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­pe­ri­ence than a fair his­tory of a sport...

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