In Praise of Old Pa­per

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Flag Man - EMAIL ME: [email protected]

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.

—DREW HARDIN

> 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.

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