No single season is drag-racing history has been stranger or more impactful than 1957. In the first week of February alone, the supposedly-impenetrable 160-mile-per-hour barrier fell and, not coincidentally, nitromethane was banned. In March, while drag strips elsewhere were still thawing out, eight southern California promoters got together at Drag News headquarters and jointly prohibited multiple engines, too. Superchargers barely squeaked by that same night, surviving a deadlocked vote by the ban-crazy track operators.
While electronic engine management is disproving the old notion of “no replacement for displacement,” there’s still nothing better than old, yellowed newsprint for evaluating drag racing’s formative years. The sport’s rapid rise from the mid-1950s through the ’60s was duly documented only by the tabloid press, the first independent medium to pay us regular attention. A half-century ago, the pen was mightier than all of today’s websites, blogs and podcasts, television and cable networks, terrestrial and satellite radio stations—combined.
Beyond the fun and value delivered at the time to mailboxes, news racks, and speed shops, unaffiliated “drag rags”—i.e., cheap periodicals controlled neither by a sanctioning body nor NHRA-leaning Petersen Publishing Co. (whose editorial director until 1963 was Wally Parks), recorded the truest accounts to be found of this new American motorsport and its supporting industry. In 1964-65, the peak of L.A. publishing’s golden age, no fewer than three independent tabloids competed nationally for readers and advertisers week after week, right through winter, collectively producing 150 issues per year. Classic clippings from these Drag News, Drag Sport Illustrated, and Drag World weeklies comprise most of the artwork for our series.
It was 4 AM in Australia, about 2 hours before I was to get out of bed and prepare for a long 14-hour flight across the Pacific ocean. Why in the world would legendary starter Larry Sutton be calling me out of the blue?
Instead of taking the call, I texted back.
"Larry, can I call you back later? In Australia, trying to stretch out two hours of sleep." - Bobby
It was astonishing enough in 2011 that a senior NHRA executive said the sanctioning body’s technical committee has no aerodynamic expert. That just didn’t sound proper for a sport that rewards aerodynamic efficiency and superiority.
Seven years later, it’s just as astounding that the NHRA – a sport with the fastest-accelerating vehicles on Earth, ones that on a perfect pass will jiggle a driver’s brain in an extreme, abnormal fashion – doesn’t have a concussion protocol.
When motorsports magnate Bruton Smith’s publicly held Speedway Motorsports Inc. purchased Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1998, one of his first projects was to complete construction of the dragstrip where only a massive concrete grandstand stood near the big oval track upon the acquisition.
It was slated to be the first permanent four-lane dragstrip. But while most of the infrastructure was prepared for double-wide racing, only two lanes were completed in 1999. It remained that way until work began late last year to expand it to four lanes for competition and Las Vegas now has joined SMI’s sister track zMAX Dragway at Charlotte Motor Speedway as the only four-lane dragstrips in the world.
The 91-year-old Smith is founder and chief executive of