In Praise of Old Paper
I have always been a big reader. I was the nerd with his nose buried in a book while other boys my age were honing their baseball skills or tuning their muscle cars in auto shop.
It was a bug I caught early. Though our family didn’t have a lot of money for toys and trips, my folks, both teachers, would always pony up funds for new books. I distinctly remember those days in elementary school when the book sale boxes arrived. Not only was I excited about my new adventures in those pages, but the freshly printed paperbacks smelled so good! Weird, huh?
I still have some of those books, including Henry Gregor Felsen’s Hot Rod (15th printing copyright 1966) and Tom Macpherson’s Dragging and Driving (third printing also copyright 1966), with chapters like “How to be Chicken and Popular” and “Skids, Skins, and Skills.”
My old paper collection just got a fresh infusion thanks to Dave Wallace. I thought I had a lot of books and magazines until I visited Dave’s place. His massive library (with deep reserves of research materials invaluable in creating our photo-driven archival series) could swallow my relatively puny one without even blinking. But even Dave thins the herd a bit, if rarely. Recently, he and his wife, Donna, presented me with a box of Car Craft magazines from 1959 to 1969. They are filling some long-vacant holes in my own research abilities, the results of which you’ll be seeing here soon, I’m sure.
About a month before my thoughtful gift from Dave and Donna, I was in a bookstore with a broad enough selection that both new and used books shared shelf space in their various categories. This was the kind of place where the latest Ferrari coffee-table book sat next to vintage Chilton repair manuals.
Stuck among that assortment of titles was a copy of Albert Drake’s Hot Rodder! From Lakes to Street, published in 1993. Drake is a prolific writer about hot rods, muscle cars, and his native Portland, Oregon. This was a real find, chock full of first-person accounts of what it was like in hot rodding’s earliest days from people now considered icons. Bill Kenz describes driving the Odd Rod at Bonneville as “the biggest thrill of my life.” Karl Orr talks about having Vic Edelbrock over to his house for beers in the days before Vic owned a roadster. Burke Lesage admits he was “more than scared” when racing a ’34 Ford coupe on the lakes in 1951, the first year SCTA allowed closed cars.
Remarkable, too, is Drake’s account of compiling the book, how he spent years in the 1970s logging interviews and collecting old photos, only to have his proposal rejected in 1980 by every publisher he approached. “There was no interest in hot rodding, I was told, and hot rodders don’t read.”
Those myopic publishers obviously had not heard of a little concern called HOT ROD magazine.
Drake was just a little ahead of his time. In the late 1980s, Don Montgomery published the first of his hot-rod-history pictorials, Hot Rods in the Forties, followed closely by Hot Rods as They Were. Drake caught the wave, and his book was followed by Tom Medley’s two-volume Tex Smith’s Hot Rod History in 1994, and Dean Batchelor’s landmark The American Hot Rod in 1995. Steve Coonan also launched The Rodder’s Journal in 1994. Hard to believe that was almost 25 years ago.
So, between Drake’s book and my new/old Car Crafts, I’ll be busy for quite a while. Find the Drake book if you don’t already have it, but stick to the bookstores. Amazon wants more than $180 for it, and $250
for his Flat Out: California Dry Lake Time Trials 1930-1950. I’ll be hunting for that one next.
> While the film job was credited to both Medley and Rickman, we’re guessing it was Rick who caught the start of the Top Eliminator final at the gasoline-only 1957 NHRA Nationals in Oklahoma City. The Mackey & Dordy Chrysler-powered A/competition Coupe Bantam leaves hard against the Money Oldsmobile Spl. A/dragster, but ultimately couldn’t hold off the rail. It caught the Bantam mid-track and “stormed past the coupe in a latent burst of speed that had the fans howling,” said HOT ROD’S “Plenty of Go Go Go” in the Nov. 1957 issue. Buddy Sampson’s 10.42-second, 141.50-mph pass got him not only the title and a tall trophy, but he and his missus also received a Norge washing machine. Huh? The recent AMA ban on racing involvement “ruled out the auto manufacturers’ traditional engine awards,” HRM explained.