Part 2: The piv­otal year that was 1955.

> Ev­ery­thing went Chevro­let’s way this year. V8-equipped, The all-new, hot-sell­ing Chevy was se­lected In­di­anapo­lis to pace the 500, and the su­per­star was nick­named “Miss Indy’s most fa­mous Chevro­let” race queen ever. If your set or even a ra­dio house had a TV in the 1950s, there was sing­ing, “See no es­cap­ing the USA/IN Di­nah Shore your Chevro­let ….” Start­ing sang the so-called in 1951, she “Chevy Jin­gle” to a loyal at both the au­di­ence of mil­lions be­gin­ning and end of her show, Emmy-win­ning NBC va­ri­ety the first net­work show hosted by a fe­male. Backed the Pur­due Univer­sity Band, here by she belted out “Back Home be­fore the race, invit­ing in In­di­ana” the crowd to sing along and gamely stuck to a se­cond cho­rus, around to kiss Bob Sweik­ert in the win­ner’s cir­cle.

A year that opened brightly with un­prece­dented pros­per­ity, new-car horse­power, and in­ter­est in auto rac­ing closed darkly in the wake of James Dean’s fa­tal high­way crash and a rash of on-track tragedies. New­found con­cern about ve­hi­cle safety would shape the Amer­i­can au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try in gen­eral, and mo­tor- sports in par­tic­u­lar, in ways unimag­in­able be­fore two-time-de­fend­ingchamp Bill Vukovich died while lead­ing the Indy 500 and a Grand Prix car mowed down more than 80 fans two weeks later in France. Fu­ture in­stall­ments of this se­ries will re­call scru­tiny by politi­cians and law en­force­ment, an in­dus­try-wide rac­ing ban, se­cret fac­tory skunkworks, and other ef­fects felt well into the 1960s.

Mag­a­zines pub­lished by Trend Inc. had been doc­u­ment­ing high per­for­mance on black-and-white film since Robert “Pete” Petersen and Bob Lind­say hatched HOT ROD in Jan­uary 1948, fol­lowed soon by Mo­tor Trend. Not un­til this year, though, did Pete—by now a sole owner—ask photograph­ic di­rec­tor Bob D’olivo to start re­tain­ing and or­ga­niz­ing em­ploy­ees’ neg­a­tives af­ter de­vel­op­ing. The com­pany’s early 1955 ac­qui­si­tions of com­peti­tors Mo­tor Life and Hop Up and ab­sorp­tion of their re­spec­tive pho­tog­ra­phers in­stantly spiked the vol­ume of in­com­ing film. The sim­ple log­ging-and-fil­ing sys­tem D’olivo im­ple­mented on March 27, 1955, grew into the vast photo ar­chive that uniquely en­ables HOT ROD Deluxe to serve up so many mile­stone images. Of­ten­times, we’re af­forded the ad­di­tional lux­ury of choos­ing an out­take to the pub­lished shot that some ed­i­tor with the same choice—but far less time—picked, in­stead, in the heat of the mo­ment and a dead­line.

How telling that the first batch of film ever en­tered into the photo lab’s hand­writ­ten log book, di­rec­tor D’olivo’s work at an ama­teur sports-car race, in­cluded four ac­tion frames of a Porsche Speed­ster that rated no pic­ture or men­tion in Mo­tor Trend’s event cov­er­age. It would be an­other half-cen­tury be­fore com­pany ar­chiv­ist Thomas Voehringer came along to won­der, in­ves­ti­gate, then con­firm that the young driver smack­ing a hay bale in his com­pe­ti­tion de­but was a lit­tle-known ac­tor await­ing re­lease of his first fea­ture films, East of Eden and Rebel With­out a Cause. Count­less such sur­prises are sprin­kled amongst ap­prox­i­mately 3.5 mil­lion black-and-white nee­dles in Robert E. Petersen’s photograph­ic haystack. Un­known numbers of wor­thies will be dis­cov­ered or re­dis­cov­ered as our ar­chive re­search pro­gresses through the 1950s and into the ’60s. Whether by lucky chance or dogged dig­ging, to un­earth some pre­vi­ously un­pub­lished im­age of last­ing sig­nif­i­cance is to strike gold. We’ll be shar­ing that ore as we shovel it up, one year per episode.

Back­stage Past fol­lows the pic­to­rial-heavy for­mat of HRD’S pre­ced­ing his­tor­i­cal se­ries (Golden Age of Drag Rac­ing, 2014’15; Power Strug­gles, 2015-’17), with some added value: per­sonal snap­shots taken by and of Petersen staffers roam­ing Amer­ica with cam­eras, free film, and vir­tu­ally un­lim­ited ac­cess. Adult bev­er­ages might’ve been in­volved, too. Read­ers of a cer­tain, ahem, ma­tu­rity who fol­lowed their jour­neys once be­fore will surely en­joy the shenani­gans. You kids will want an app for trav­el­ing back in time. Don’t leave home with­out the magic Trend Inc. busi­ness card that seem­ingly opened ev­ery gate and door.

> Be­low: Eric Rickman tripped his shut­ter just as ev­ery­one turned to check out the chopped coupe rum­bling into the classic scene. The Drag Sa­fari’s Deer Park, Wash­ing­ton, NHRA regional meet brought Petersen’s imbed­ded pho­tog­ra­pher into Spokane and the orig­i­nal Thrifty Auto Sup­ply. Mag­ni­fy­ing the back­ground of this scan re­vealed two by­standers to be Sa­fari leader Bud Coons (right) and an­nouncer Bud Evans. > Be­sides be­ing a bril­liant en­gi­neer and tech­ni­cal writer, the late Racer Brown pos­sessed a pho­tog­ra­pher’s eye. The rel­a­tively few rolls cranked through his fu­tur­is­tic 35mm Le­ica af­ter D’olivo started the ar­chive con­tain clever com­po­si­tions like this il­lu­sion of two guys work­ing in­side the en­gine com­part­ment va­cated by a se­verely set-back en­gine. Racer ex­posed three rolls on this July day at Par­adise Mesa Drag Strip, near San Diego, but we’ve seen no mag­a­zine cov­er­age.


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