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A.J. Routt Photo

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.”     

This Mar. 24, 1962, cover celebrated the previous weekend’s big Kingdon (Lodi, Calif.) win by the same touring team that sat atop the paper’s prestigious Mr. Eliminator List and Standard 1320 Record List (7.88, 189.48): “Mrs. Pat Garlits and Donna Louise (13 months), Gay Lyn (2 years) ... driver Connie Swingle and Don Garlits himself.” 
When extraterrestrial gearheads get serious about hopping up spaceships (note weedburner headers), Ed Iskenderian, now 99, still plans to grind their cams.
“Pit Views,” the letters section of Drag News, gives us great insight into the issues affecting each era of the tabloid’s 1955-78 existence. Signatures were optional, as evidenced by this anonymous exchange regarding entry fees and the absence of prize money at Pomona's second-annual "Winter Fiasco." The identity of "Enthused" remains a mystery, but "Park Swengard" was later revealed to be none other than NHRA president Wally Parks. This is the earliest appearance we've found in print of his ironic pseudonym, which translates backwards as "drag news krap”!
Fast-evolving slingshot technology is illustrated by the March Meet's Top Fuel and Top Gas winners (though neither of their older file photos was shot at Bakersfield). A shocking upset saw two Valley kids sweep Top Fuel Eliminator at the world’s biggest dragster race: Little-known Dave Zeuschel and Don Prudhomme took Kent Fuller's state-of-the-art "house car" (top) to both low e.t. (8.21) and top speed (185.36) enroute to a hotly disputed final-round decision of Glen Leasher in Ted Gotelli's fueler. On gas, old pipe and brute horsepower got the job done for the heavyweight Quincy Automotive Special of John Peters and Nye Frank, soon to gain fame as the rechristened Freight Train. 
The first threat to Robert E. Petersen's virtual monopoly on the nation's newsstands appeared without notice (or cover date) this winter. Cofounders Gordon Behn and Don Werner, respectively Petersen's former circulation director and Motor Trend editor, were the first PPC defectors to directly compete. They would not be the last to challenge their mentor, as we'll see as “Drag Rags” continues chronologically chronicling the Golden Age of drag-racing journalism. 
PopHotRod's premier edition unmistakably poked Petersen editorial director Wally Parks and the NHRA-biased PPC monthlies in a caption that went out of its author’s way to praise a rival sanctioning body; unheard of in Hot Rod, Car Craft, Rod & Custom, or Motor Trend. 
The back cover of Issue 1 celebrated three Petersen alumni. Adding salt to the wound, the new Argus Publishers Corporation was giving widespread exposure to controversial contributor Scotty Fenn, whose unprecedented public criticism of NHRA and Wally, personally, had been mostly confined to Drag News ads and "open letters." Dean Brown, who’d started but sold that tabloid, and Ed Sarkisian, an influential Drag News columnist and fellow NHRA critic, also resurfaced this year in spunky PHR.
Initial newsstand sales must've been strong, because PHR returned with a second edition that summer, as a monthly. These cover blurbs and bylines reflect a newsstand-oriented package combining proven elements learned at Petersen. (Ironically, the upstart title was ultimately absorbed and discontinued by The Enthusiast Network, a successor to Petersen Publishing Company.) 
Another sign of weakening fuel-ban support was this tiny ad placed in the June 9 Drag News by camgrinder Chet Herbert, whose dual-engined gas dragsters had been feared Top Eliminator contenders ever since several SoCal strips agreed to outlaw nitro and all other “exotic” fuels in March 1957
As Scotty Fenn (left) crisscrossed the country this June, he'd already lost control of Chassis Research Company back home in L.A. The inventor of the mail-order dragster kit eventually landed at Maryland's Coleman Brothers Speed Shop before disappearing from an aftermarket industry that he'd helped create. Also shown is prolific Rhode Island photojournalist Ed Sarkisian (second from right), who supplied most of the coverage of New England drag racing published nationally in the 1950s and '60s.  
Whenever someone mentioned "national records" for fuel cars in this era, he or she was likely referring to the Standard 1320 list created and maintained by powerful Drag News publisher-editor Doris Herbert. In flagrant disregard of the fuel ban, six different categories of nitro burners are listed in this September 1 edition.   


As if managing Lions Drag Strip, staging indoor shows, setting international mile and kilometer records at Bonneville and March Air Force Base, and driving a wide variety of Dragmaster rails weren’t enough to keep a guy occupied, Mickey Thompson supplied a staggering selection of hardcore speed parts to drag racers.
Public criticism of promoters wasn't limited to Wally Parks and his officials and track operators. Charges of favoritism became increasingly common as more racers toured far from home starting in the early 1960s. Electronic starting systems would soon eliminate the questionable human element and minimize the type of disputes that inspired Chet Herbert to criticize AHRA and issue this challenge in an ad that ran in the Sept. 8, 1962, of little-sister Doris’s newspaper. 
Nothing was sacred in Doris Herbert’s Drag News; not even looming nuclear annihilation. A Sept. 12 "house" ad reminiscent of Mad magazine closely followed the Cuban missile showdown between JFK and Russian premier Nikita Krushchev (right). Spelling wasn't sacred, either, as evident in the quote humorously attributed to Fidel Castro (left) regarding his Soviet “missles.” 
Earning a spot on either Mr. Eliminator Top 10 lists meant more to racers—and their earning potential—than winning almost any open meet, including either of NHRA’s gas-only national events. Anyone could challenge the Number Two-through-10 spotholders to a best-of-three-round match race, while Number One accepted challenges only from a current spot-holder. Vanquished challengers were forever humbled in small type after a loss (thus the repeat listings for repeat losers). These standings appeared post-Indy, in the Sept. 15 Drag News.     
One Indy spectator's take on AA/Dragster class results resembles none of the "official" Indy event coverage provided by NHRA. The Sept. 22 Drag News letter also evidences common knowledge of the close, sometimes-suspicious relationships among NHRA, Hot Rod magazine, Mickey Thompson, and Dragmaster Company. (This letter writer later worked behind the counters of several suburban Washington, D.C., speed shops, eventually running the Hot Rod Nostalgia mail-order operation in California.)   


This huge clue that NHRA's fuel ban might soon be ending hit newsstands and mailboxes in October. Fuel cars had virtually vanished from Petersen publications (except in paid "hero" ads) since Wally Parks expanded the gas-only rule from his only national event, the 1957 Nationals, to all sanctioned strips in ’58. Simultaneously and not coincidentally, Parks served as Bob Petersen’s editorial director. Imagine the shock and awe when all-powerful HRM devoted a cover story to the feared Greer, Black & Prudhomme fueler (not to mention an accompanying “crop top” that violated unwritten PPC policy against revealing belly buttons—seriously!).  
No one had to wonder which track was referenced in a startling Dec. 1 Drag News ad from the man who created Lions Associated Drag Strip in 1955 and, with first wife Judy (mother of Danny), developed the model for money-making independent operations. Mickey's oft-contentious dealings with directors of nine local Lions Clubs that shared weekly proceeds boiled over at a board meeting. He resigned on the spot, recommending pioneering Santa Ana Drags promoter C.J. "Pappy" Hart to take over the world’s most-famous drag strip. 
With a few serious exceptions (e.g., Carol Cox, Mary Ann Foss, Shirley Shahan, Judy Lilly), female enthusiasts were typically relegated to so-called “powder-puff” competition in street cars usually owned by a male friend. The credited photographer (and caption writer) was San Fernando Drag Strip’s popular reporter and trophy man, the late Dave Wallace Sr.