DRAG RAGS OF 1962: GARLITS IS NO. 1, WALLY IS ALL GAS
by Dave Wallace Thu, 2020-04-02 19:24
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The biggest rumor circulating this season concerned a possible end to NHRA’s nationwide fuel ban for the next one. Member tracks nationwide had been forbidden since 1958 from allowing anything other than pump gas to combust in legal classes and eliminator categories. Booked-in match racing between nitro-burners was grumpily tolerated by dictatorial president Wally Parks as a necessary evil for NHRA operators forced to compete for fans with the fuel-happy American Hot Rod Association and "outlaw" strips—particularly in Wally’s backyard, where, ironically, the ban had been launched in March 1957 by some of the same independent operators now promoting open Top Fuel shows (e.g., Lions manager Mickey Thompson, who in 1961 effectively broke this camel’s back by flipping from NHRA to AHRA affiliation).
For 1962, NHRA’s rule and record books continued to list gas classes exclusively. Parks attempted to counter nitromethane’s absence by spotlighting the Detroit “stockers” that pulled enviable crowds and factory support into NASCAR and USAC. In February, Mickey Thompson and employee Hayden Proffitt made muscle-car history at Pomona’s 1962 opener after stuffing 434 cubic inches of iron Indian into PMD's new Tempest compact, turning the much-publicized debut of Factory Experimental into a one-car show. (Historical footnote: The same meet saw teammate Carol Cox become both the first female allowed to enter a national event and the first to win, prevailing in S/SA. Her grocery-getter Pontiac Ventura’s engine and automatic transmission were expertly prepared by hubby Lloyd Cox of M/T Enterprises.)
Possibly nobody but Thompson and Howard Johansen foresaw all-aluminium, purpose-built powerplants coming to drag racing. Other than recently banned aircraft powerplants, serious race V8s had always been American iron. Cast-aluminum, aftermarket cylinder heads were still considered luxuries when two M/T Dragmasters showed up at Indy with aluminum Pontiac V8s (likely leftovers from Challenger I’s LSR program) wearing massive, hemispherical heads suspiciously similar to 354-392 Chrysler castings—and were allowed to run. The controversial combination made hired-gun Jack Chrisman Top Eliminator.
Howard’s forward-thinking aluminum bullet, expandable to 500-plus cubic inches, combined a cast block with billet Hemi heads of his own design. Initial testing at Lions with injectors and nitro proved so promising that NHRA freaked out and banned the prototype (which remains in the possession of the Johansen family), effectively postponing the acceptance of aftermarket aluminum engines for nearly a decade.
Art Arfons, Romeo Palamides, and Walt Arfons had respectively introduced jet dragsters that became the sport's biggest attractions and money-makers, outshining the traditional Kings Of The Sport and commanding Top Fuel-ish appearance guarantees of $1000-plus. These earliest examples also tended to run out of shutdown area, however. Soon after ’62 March Meet Top Fuel runner-up Glen Leasher fatally rolled Romeo's LSR car at Bonneville, NHRA outlawed all aircraft-powered vehicles, whether thrust- or wheel-driven. (This ban endured until the mid-1970s, but “weenie roasters” never went out of style at non-NHRA venues.)
Last but not least, two major performance barriers officially fell near season's end at San Gabriel, California: Tommy Ivo clocked 7.99 in a fueler (backed up in 8.10 seconds, within the then-customary two percent), while Doug Cook went 9.96 in the legal gasser of Fred Stone and Tim Woods (10.04 backup). Both marks would be bettered and battered soon enough, as documented in the 1963 clippings that we'll be sharing in the next episode of “Drag Rags.”