There was a time when I owned
a substantial amount of memorabilia from what Don Ewald has called
"The Golden Age of Drag Racing". However, for a lot
of reasons, I was unable to hold onto hardly any of it. There
was a complete collection of Drag News, Drag Sport Illustrated,
and numerous 8 x 10s from the early great drag photographers
like Phil Bellomy, Jim Kelly, Ron Stender, and Dave Shipman.
The collection also included time slips from the fabled Lions
Drag Strip that had been recorded by the Herbert Cam Spl. owned
by Chet Herbert and Lefty Mudersbach. This was a twin-engine
inline AA/GD driven by Allen (Lefty's real name) Mudersbach.
He "owned" Lions Drag Strip in the later part of 1960
and throughout most of 1961. Chet Herbert was so approachable,
that upon request, he would just casually grab the time slips
off the dash of the push car and give them up. He even offered
up the one from their Standard 1320 record run of 8.54 set in
November 1960. But, without a doubt the most treasured item in
the collection was a complete inventory of Drag Sport Illustrated
When Drag Sport Illustrated was
first published (March 1963), the initial offerings were available
only at the drag strip. DSI was a highly esteemed publication
at the time due to the quality of its photography. Circulation
started the week before the Smoker's Meet at Bakersfield and
Art Malone and Tommy Ivo graced the cover of Volume One Number
1. It was only after several issues had been released did subscription
service start up. For those who don't recall, Art 'The Colonel'
Malone would go on to win not only Bakersfield, but the Fremont
and Kingdon events as well. Though Drag Sport Illustrated failed
to survive the weekly drag racing periodical wars of the 1960s,
it probably captured the essence of the sport better than any
other publication of its time due to its emphasis on photographs.
Unfortunately, few souvenirs remain from this massive inventory
of memorabilia that was either sold, lost, stolen, or simply
discarded. What remains is being shared here.
My association with drag racing
began in 1960. The fortuitous time and place of my birth (Long
Beach, California), coupled with my interest in hot rods (I was
a Hot Rod Magazine hound) got me out to Lions Drag Strip when
it was known as LADS (Lions Associated Drag Strip). This was
during the time of the nitromethane fuel ban at LADS. I was content
with the show even if the racers were restricted to using pump
gasoline. There were so many drag cars of all makes and designs
that it didn't make any difference to me what fuel they used
to power their engines. This amazing array of ingenuity totally
captivated me, so much so, that I rarely missed a weekly meet.
It would take me about a year before I strayed away from my weekly
trek to the track on 223 rd St. between Santa Fe Ave. and Alameda
St. The date was January 1961; the impetus was the Drag News
Invitational; and, the track was Fontana Drag Strip. An additional
lure was Top Fuel Eliminator.
I had never seen a top fuel dragster
having only read about them in Drag News. With the exception
of maybe the twin-engined gas dragsters, spectators at Lions
or any of the NHRA tracks that banned nitromethane, rarely got
a glimpse of driver and race car totally immersed in a swirling
mass of tire smoke. Plus, I had never experienced the hypnotic
pulse and power of a nitromethane-fired engine. My rite of passage
would start as soon as I walked through the gate at Fontana when
Bruce Woodcock in the Rakers Car Club AA/FMC launched down the
strip with a cacophonous and deafening roar. The old Kodak box
camera got a real workout that day, and it's too bad that some
of the images that graced my bedroom walls for so many years
are all gone. But, I still remember that first nitro race like
it just happened yesterday. This vision of Bill Crossley smoking
down the track in the Hashim-Hylton-Crossley dragster. Dean Turk
from Arizona with his Pontiac-powered fuel dragster trying to
keep up with the Chryslers. And, still my favorite remembrance--Tommy
Dyer in the seat of Ed Pink's Ansen Auto Spl. looking over at
me the instant the motor fired and giving me a thumbs up. Now,
no longer be content just to go to Lions for the gas dragsters,
I spent Sundays at Riverside Raceway, Fontana, or Pomona to see
the fuel dragsters. Mercifully, the Lions Club board of directors
voted to lift their fuel ban and Mickey Thompson offered the
first unrestricted fuel race at Lions on January 28, 1962. The
$500 bond up for the winner enticed many of the big guns of the
day to test the Lions surface including Chrisman Bros.-Cannon,
Mooneyham-Sharp (Jack Chrisman driving), the brand new Prudhomme-Zueschel-Fuller,
Ewell-Stecker-Kamboor, Ansen-Stuckey, Kolb-Frick, Greer-Gireth-Black
(yes, Keith), and others.
On the gas side, the now restored
Ernie's Camera with Tommy Ivo driving, Howard Cam Spl. (Glen
Ward driving as Jack Chrisman had switched to nitro), Adams-McEwen,
and all the other usual suspects were on hand that memorable
day. In addition to Lions and Fontana, San Gabriel, Riverside,
and San Fernando also offered fuel shows. NHRA has desperately
tried to rewrite drag racing history to create the myth that
the re-birth of nitro racing coincided with the addition of the
class to their national events (1963). But, the fact of the matter
is that nitro racing was alive and well long before NHRA added
top fuel dragsters to the Winternationals. In fact, it would
be another year before NHRA offered top fuel eliminator at Indy.
By that time, the Smokers of Bakersfield that put on six highly
successful events at Famoso in Bakersfield.
The week prior to the '66 March
Meet, The Smokers ran this two page add in Drag News. The purse
for top fuel eliminator was $1000 for Saturday; $1000 for Sunday;
and, an additional $2000.00 for the overall winner.
If there was ever a moment when
organized drag racing reached its apogee, it had to be 1965 and
1966. Such was the state of the sport that the Smokers Club offered
a 64-car show in both 1965 and 1966. Still stinging from a final
round defeat to Connie Kalitta in 1964, Don Garlits showed up
at Famoso in 1965 with three cars. With Marvin Schwartz and Connie
Swingle driving the other dragsters, Garlits was determined to
get his first March Meet win. Yes, multi-car teams have been
around for that long. Consider the Ward-Wayne "Long Shot"
and "Short Shot" (1964) and, Champion Speed Shop (1962)
as just a couple examples of that genre back then. Back to Garlits;
he won the 64-car show on Saturday, Schwartz won the Sunday 32-car
field, and they raced for the trophy. Garlits was not to be denied
this time and he went on to win the first of five titles at the
famed March Meet. Connie Swingle did not do too shabbily either,
taking a runner up in #2 Eliminator to James Warren. The 1965
March Meet was just a precursor to the avalanche of fuelers that
showed up for the 1966 edition. For those who were in attendance,
and I was fortunate enough to be one of them, it was probably
the greatest multi-day event in the history of the sport. Although
The Surfers had been bagging titles all over Southern California,
especially at Fontana "Drag City" Raceway, a victory
at the March Meet was far from a foregone conclusion. First,
they were nowhere close to being the low qualifier. That honor
would go to Warren-Coburn with a 7.40; The Surfers slipped into
the #7 spot with a 7.59. Frank Bradley would secure the 64th
and final slot with an 8.04. In order to sit out Sunday eliminations,
the Saturday winner would have to endure six rounds of competition.
Mike Sorokin wasted no time staking his name to that honor when
he dispatched Baber-Cassidy with a nifty 7.41. But, #2 qualifier
Marshall-Vermilya (7.48) answered that challenge with a 7.41
of their own. Also looking good was Gotelli-Safford with an early
shut off pass of 7.49. In the first pair in E2, James Warren
announced himself as a player with a stout 7.48, also clicking
it off early.
We will never know if Marshall-Vermilya
would have ruined The Surfer's kharma that day because they were
not able to return for round two. Sorokin-Skinner-Jobe were the
5th pair in E2, and Mike was up against Zane Schubert. This was
when the boys from Santa Monica decided to up the ante. It would
be a run that set all the others back on their heels. Running
in their preferred right lane, Sorokin unleashed a promethean
blast of 7.34-210.76. By E3, it was looking more and more like
a battle between Warren-Coburn and The Surfers. Garlits had eliminated
himself in E2 with a red light, and Don Prudhomme (#3) had also
gone down. James Warren and Mike Snively (The Hawaiian) opened
E3 with a titanic race that had James barely nudging out Mike
with a 7.49-7.57 decision. Right behind these two were Sorokin
and Dave Beebe. Again, we will never know if the Beebe Bros.-Vincent-Sixt
could have taken out The Surfers because the purple car did not
fire up. Sorokin saved the engine sputtering across the finish
line with an 8.80-120.96. By E4, there were only two cars left
that were capable of knocking off The Surfers and was Warren-Coburn
and Gotelli-Safford. In the very first pair it was Sorokin vs.
It was probably Mike's finest
moment of the entire event as he pasted James with a 7.47-209.30
run that left a bewildered Warren wondering what he needed to
do to get the best of his antagonist. In the semis, five rounds
of competition took its toll on Gotelli-Safford and they were
eliminated by Jim Dunn. The Surfers got past the surprising Wulf-Maher
(#44 qualifier) who had lasted this long with some luck and savvy
driving. That all ended then and there for Greg Maher, and the
Saturday final came down to Jim Dunn and Mike Sorokin. The Surfers
settled this match quickly with Mike laying down a snappy 7.56-207.00
to humiliate the 7.98-159.85 for Dunn-Yates. There would be plenty
of drama on Sunday as well as the top 32 returned to duke it
out again. As it had been on Saturday, it was Warren-Coburn and
Gotelli-Safford hanging around after all the pretenders had faltered.
In the penultimate race that day, Warren beat Safford on a hole
shot (8.02 to 8.00) to earn the right to race The Surfers. Warren-Coburn
probably knew they had to overcome a lot of adversity going into
that final round. They had gone through nine rounds, which included
an engine swap from the Warren-Crowe dragster. James took a chance
on the tree and disqualified himself with a red light. Mike cruised
down the strip to a 7.74-196.06 and into the annals of drag racing
lore forever. There have been lots of other events that could
stake their name to the greatest drag race of all time, but for
those of us who witnessed this event and have seen plenty of
others over the years, nothing, but nothing, will ever come close
to the 1966 March Meet.
The following pictures were taken
with a simple little cartridge camera called the Minolta Autopak
500. Most of the pictures were shot at Bakersfield from 1973
through 1976 with a couple from OCIR and Ontario Motor Speedway.
Though thoroughly amateurish, these images still chronicle a
time when the graceful slingshot was being replaced by the less
glamorous rear engine dragster. The rest of the souvenirs, found
in a box in my garage a few years ago, also offer a tantalizing
glimpse into the world of drag racing during its formative years.
Don Prudhomme in the
pits at Bakersfield-1972
Chris Karamesines (Bakersfield
'72) with Stephen Justice.
Campfire at Bakersfield-an awful
lot of telephone wire found its way into those infernos back
Larry Fullerton; '72
Don Cook in the pits
at Fremont; Jim Davis car.
Lots of room available in the
pits at Bakersfield back in the 1970s; Don Garlits with Robert
Tony Nancy won the March Meet
with the last front engine dragster in 1970; took runner up in
1974 and 1976 with an RED
Roger Coburn prepping the Rain
for Rent entry; Warren-Coburn-Miller won the March Meet in1975,
1976, and 1977
Petersen-Fitz; this is
the way it looked in '75.
Petersen-Fitz redux; like the
dragster,Olympia beer is a thing of the past, too. And, Hamm's
from the "Land of the Sky Blue Waters."
"Gentleman" Hank Johnson
was another bad-ass top fuel car from The Northwest.
What's that in your right hand
buddy, Bubble-Up? Frank Bradley with Warren Crawford.
Frank Bradley a few years
Ed McCullough (Pisano-Matsubara
in the background).
Cornwall Bros. from Reno
Hazen ready to roll in the Panic car.
Jim Herbert (near side)
Charger with Rick Ramsey driving.
Don Ewald waiting to
push start in the Trotter & Ewald fueler in 1975.
Don Prudhomme was using
his Division 7 number (712), so this may be 1975.
Charlie Proite's Pabst
Blue Ribbon Charger.
"Big" won Bakersfield
five times: 1964,1971,1978,1986, and 1987.
Shirley Muldowney in
the pits at OCIR
Burkholder Bros. at OCIR-I don't
know who was responsible for the team uniforms, but they are
Barry Setzer in the pits
Keeling-Clayton; "The California
Charger" was the opitime of a slingshot top fuel dragster.
The photographer's view
of the starting line at OCIR.
Ontario Motor Speedway-the drag
strip was actually the pit road for the oval. The interesting
aspect of OMS was the outrun which, of course, made a hard left
at the end.
Don Garlits and his adoring
fans in the pits at Fremont.
Scratchy shot of Garlits
at OMS-God, my pictures suck!
Scott Kalitta in Connie's
car at OMS.
Rob Bruins in the pits at OMS
wrenching on the R. Gaines Markley T/F car.
Typical of the ads that appeared
in the drag racing periodicals was this one for Lions Drag Strip
in March 1963. The payout at the time was fairly generous, too,
ranging from $500 to $1000 for the weekly show.
Lions may have been one of the
first tracks to use direct mailers. What is so degrading about
this one is how track management viewed funny cars at the time.
If using a likeness of Bozo the Clown as seen in this ad was
not enough of an insult, management would also play circus music
over the loudspeakers when the funnys queued up to run.
Further proof that Lions track
management had no clue of how the drag racing audience viewed
and esteemed the funny cars-"funny car circus"? Please!
It took a while but management
finally saw the light-fans wanted funny cars; and, the more the
Lions got fancy with their direct
mailers using color and graphics. I was living in San Diego at
the time and getting the mailer had a lot to do with whether
I would make the two hour trek up to Long Beach.
Quite a number of tracks shown
here including Fremont, Fontana, Irwindale, OCIR, and Riverside.
The pit pass from "Drag
City" was Fontana; I want to say the "Official Chrondex
Time" was from Riverside, but not sure of that fact.
Often copied, but never
Decals from two of the best multi-day
drag races ever; not priceless, but close to it.
Note: the date of the decal (1967
Warner Bros./Seven Arts Inc.) pre-dates the first production
model released in 1968.
This likeness of Baney-Prudhomme
graced the program cover, but it was Bob Creitz and Vic Brown
over Don Garlits for the win.
Though successful, the '68 PDA
meet did not come close to matching the magic of the inaugural
event in '67. For one thing, instead of one 64-car field, top
fuel eliminator consisted of four 16-car fields; Jerry Ruth won
the group for the top sixteen qualifiers.
Competition for the spectator's
buck was so fierce between the SoCal tracks in the mid-1960s
that they were constantly fiddling with the format-"home
of the drag span"? Note: by this time, multiple events per
week were already common practice as shown in the back cover
of the PDA souvenir program.
A 1969 version of fantasy drags
concocted during downtime at the Winternationals. From the handwriting,
I have to say this was the creation of Robert Runne (Lakewood
CA) who, apparently, was a big Jimmy Boyd fan (who knew)?
And, the winner's were ((left
to right and top to bottom): Dunn-Reath, Beebe & Mulligan,
Don Garlits and Dwight Salisbury.
won by Kuhl-Olson.
Event decal and design
used for the t-shirt.
Warren-Coburn-Miller won at Famoso
and Don Garlits at OMS.
March Meet pit pass signed by
Don Garlits; "Tampa" Don lost to Warren-Coburn-Miller
5.95 to 6.18.
If memory serves me correctly,
Marvin "Who" Graham beat Garlits for the event win.
Cover of event program: Warren-Coburn-Miller
defeated on Garlits for their third consecutive win at the March
Back cover of the 1977
March Meet program.
Dennis Baca broke the
W-C-M streak in 1978.
Rob Bruins and R. Gaines Markley
won the championship but "Big Daddy" won the race.
(Long Beach Independent-Press Telegram)
The 1966 UDRA race at Lions was
lining up to be a real barnburner. Check those qualifying times
including Sutherland's 7.38. Damned if it didn't rain on Sunday
washing out eliminations.
Clip of Garlits' accident at
Lions in March 1970 that eventually would lead to the development
of the RED (Long Beach Independent-Press Telegram).
The Prudhmme-Nicoll final
at Indy (1970).
The infamous Carbone/Garlits
burndown final post race.
Clip about the 1971 Winternationals
and Pete Robinson's tragic accident.
(Long Beach Independent-Press
Warren-Coburn-Miller won the
Div. 7 top fuel dragster title five consecutive years from 1972-1976.
From the San Francisco
This story closes with a candid
shot of Gene Snow in the pits at Sears Point during the Autolite
Nationals in 1988.