DRAG RAGS OF JULY-DEC: FUELERS, FUNNIES AND GASSERS APLENTY

 

 

 

Publisher's Note:  Duplicate issues of 1965 drag rags and mags are becoming available from the Wallace Family Archives ([email protected]).     

A.J. Routt Photo

If you were lucky enough to be alive in '65 and paying attention, you may well have experienced the golden-est single season of drag racing's Golden Age — and of every era since. This year was also among the deadliest ever, particularly for dragster drivers: Among the fatalities reported in the weekly drag rags were Denny Miliani, Lou Cangelose, Tex Randall, "Q-Ball" Wale, Charles Minor, Leon Hamel, Dave Dangerfield, and Gary Taylor. Unknown numbers of lesser-knowns also perished at the many obscure tracks operating under media's radar.  (See Mel Bashore's comprehensive list at DragStripDeaths.com.)

Not coincidentally, quarter-mile performance improved at rates never seen before, and rarely since. "Stocker" fans amazed in January by altered-wheelbase, carbureted Dodges and Plymouths smashing the 10-second barrier saw elapsed times plunge to 8.63 by November, when Gary Dyer and "Mr. Norm" Kraus stormed Lions Drag Strip with the former Color Me Gone factory car, now sporting a blower and nitro. This type of vehicle was still so fresh and transformative that the sport had yet not settled on a common name; in print, the new term "funny car" was still expressed just like that, all lower case and sporting quotation marks. At the NHRA Nationals, some sponsored Factory Experimentals disrupted traditional sportsman racing by intentionally moving into altered and even dragster classes due to some disadvantage favoring a rival automaker's F/X-classified team.  These pros' success at "downclassing" changed the face of Competition and Modified Eliminators forever more.         

Also this November, Top Fuel fans who'd cheered the first believable double-century speeds only last summer watched the clocks climb all the way up to Paul Sutherland's 219.50—a full-10-percent increase that Drag World's Terry Cook attributed to a combination of Crower port nozzles, "sticky Goodyears," and B&M's Torkmaster replacing the clutch in some of the fastest fuelers. Drag Sport Illustrated's year-end review further credited the "Flexy-Flyer" chassis from Woody Gilmore's Race Car Engineering. 

However, the world's winningest wire-wheeled car was Roland Leong's Hawaiian, a near-duplicate of Kent Fuller's feared Greer, Black & Prudhomme rail. The reunited combination of chassis-builder Fuller, engine-builder Keith Black, and pilot Don Prudhomme prevailed at both of NHRA's biggest, oldest national events, the Winternationals and Nationals. In between Pomona and Indy, the Hawaiian also won more than its share of open events and was practically unbeatable in nationwide match races. The final Drag World of 1965 broke the shocking news that the Snake would quit Roland to take over the B&M shop car from Kenny Safford, retaining Dave Zeuschel as tuner and tutor.      
 
The United Drag Racers Association, the most-effective drivers' union in history, grew to 1200 dues-paying members but suffered from class warfare and irreparable damage from a failed "wildcat" strike called by individual members Frank Cannon and Woody Gilmore at Lions. At issue was manager C.J. Hart's lowering of the usual $500 winner's purse to $300 on December 4, a night when Chris Karamesines and Tom McEwen were each guaranteed $1000 to match race. (After all but a few of his Top Fuel competitors decided to race, boycott leader Cannon called them "finks" to reporters.)

Last but not least-lasting, Chrondek successful tested dial-your-own-handicap racing this season at Carlsbad (Calif.) Raceway, under the direction of Jim Nelson, longtime tech adviser to NHRA and half of Dragmaster Co.

Additional highlights and lowlights are illustrated by the clippings on these pages. Of the three national weeklies, Drag World is getting the lion’s share of space here for delivering consistently excellent reporting throughout 1965—and because the controversial tabloid would all too soon be sold twice and become AHRA’s house organ, as we’ll see in upcoming episodes of Drag Rags.
 

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The former Orange County Metal Processing (OCMP) Special ran out of shutdown space in West Palm Beach and plunged Val LaPorte into 12 feet of water. He dried out to race again, as did the indestructible slingshot built by Rod Peppmuller — one of about a dozen, total — before boss TV Tommy shuttered Ivo Speed Specialties to focus on touring his personal Peppmuller-built fueler. 

 

The absence of a photo credit leads us to guess that the scene with the former Mouseketeer and the former Dobie Gillis was staged by Kaye Trapp, the Hollywood photographer who partnered with Ronnie Winkel in the MagiCar AA/Fueler (and push-started Jeep Hampshire with the red Model-T tub purchased from builder Norm Grabowski — famously starring as the "Porter" in a short-lived TV series, My Mother The Car.

 

Citing wife Pat's safety worries; the deaths of fellow drivers Lou Cangelose and Tex Randall; and a back injury from his own recent crash into the rear of Ronnie Goodsell's slingshot, Don Garlits announced the second retirement of his career in the July 2nd Drag World — only to UNretire just before the same edition went to press.  All it took were two subpar runs by rookie replacement Carl Schiefer, 22, son of clutch manufacturer Paul Schiefer.  Pressure from unhappy fans and management put the Old Man back in the seat that same afternoon, and again the next weekend at a strip whose operator threatened to withhold payment otherwise. The two drivers would alternate in match races this summer before Garlits regained the butterfly for good. 

 

 

 

 

Another threatened retirement that proved blessedly premature was reported in the Aug. 6th Drag World.  The one-and-only Voice Of Drag Racing would continue entertaining and educating fans well into the 21st century before hanging up the mic for good.  

 

Poetry was not often seen in the drag rags. The poetic Drag News caption was inspired by this intentional hit-'n'-run attack by a push-car operator incensed by the red bulb disqualifying his driver, Top Fuel racer John Batto, during a regional NHRA points meet at Fremont.    

 

Shortly after this photo appeared in the Aug. 20 Drag World, the long-disbanded 1964 Dodge Chargers team's third backup/show car vanished.  Unlike the ex-Jim Johnson sedan, which became the spooky-steering GuZler Charger that Doc Halladay tipped over and Jerry Caudle finished off earlier this year, or Jimmy Nix's old ride, which was discovered in the 1980s and restored, this one's fate remains unknown. What a barn find it would be, 58 years after the Dragmaster-built trio's troubled national tour first demonstrated the crowd appeal of supercharged "stockers."     

 

What looks like white artist's paint splashed onto both shirts is exactly that: Prior to printing a people photo, powerful Drag News publisher Doris Herbert was known to obscure the logo of any advertiser who'd dared not pay a prior bill by either painting over the name or physically scraping dots from the photographic "half-tone" with an Xacto blade.  Some unlucky sponsor received just such a personal message in her Sept. 18th edition.

 

 

 


 

Bill Thomas Race Cars served as a back-door skunkworks for Chevrolet Division during the industrywide American Automobile Association (AMA) ban against factory racing support. Among many successful independent NASCAR, road-race, and drag-racing projects, Thomas and a team led by open-wheel racer Don Edmunds handbuilt the Cheetah sports cars to challenge Cobras in SCCA production classes from late 1962 until 1964, when SCCA suddenly increased its homologation minimum tenfold: from the 100 units secretly ordered by GM to an impossible 1000 cars.  Already under pressure to terminate Chevrolet's "back-door" programs, GM suddenly shut off the free Corvette parts. Existing Cheetahs were forced into unlimited road-race classes against faster cars or drag raced. This shop fire finished off the business (though not Dickie Harrell's BTRC-built 427 Chevy II and tow rig, which luckily had left the shop that very morning).

 

The new breed of blown, nitro-burning doorslammers added fuel to the fire of the so-called Camgrinder Wars being fought weekly in drag rags by A/Gas Supercharged teams and respective sponsors. Teenage-sensation Don Gay adopted that technique to deride car-owner Norm Kraus as unsportsmanlike and a "loser" after match-racing Mr. Norm's Charger, the sport's quickest "stocker."  

 

The new breed of blown, nitro-burning doorslammers added fuel to the fire of the so-called Camgrinder Wars being fought weekly in drag rags by A/Gas Supercharged teams and respective sponsors. Teenage-sensation Don Gay adopted that technique to deride car-owner Norm Kraus as unsportsmanlike and a "loser" after match-racing Mr. Norm's Charger, the sport's quickest "stocker."  

 

Emerging-cartoonist "Big Bah" was a young teenager named Bob Thompson, who went on to draw cartoons for Hot Rod before becoming a sought-after race-car artist (e.g., the blower-catching Nanook bear).  We're guessing that the kid traded illustrations to publisher Phil Bellomy for his 52-week, five-dollar DSI subscription.     

 

Anyone previously unaware of NHRA's close—some said incestuous—relationship with Petersen Publishing Company since even before Robert E. Petersen hired Wally Parks as Hot Rod's first fulltime editor was enlightened by this exclusive report. AHRA-president Jim Tice's "million-dollar" lawsuit accused HRM-staffer Dick Wells, a former NHRA employee, of libel and unfair business practices, demanding "proper retraction and restitution." At issue here were rights to operate an Anaheim Stadium drag strip that never materialized, but a feud had been percolating since 1956, when Tice and other disgruntled NHRA racers helped oust NHRA from the Great Bend, Kan., strip that hosted the inaugural NHRA Nationals. Tice retained celebrity attorney Melvin Belli, known for defending (unsuccessfully) Lee Harvey Oswald's murderer, Jack Ruby. Whether the case ever proceeded beyond this initial burst of publicity is unknown (also doubtful).         

 

 

 

 

 

This early-season Drag World ad, signed by Fred Stone but likely produced and paid for by camgrinder Jack Engle, evidently inspired Pete Millar to create the memorable Drag CARtoons comic strip that follows ...

 



No other artist of any era came close to Pete Millar's realistic illustrations of power players such as Tim Woods (in hat), Ed Iskenderian (with cigar), John Mazmanian (wearing Isky Cams jacket), Jack Engle (in eyeglasses), Doug Cook (in Engle shirt), and another driver whom we believe is Dick Bourgeois (briefly "Big June's" pilot this season). The four-page comic strip ran in the Dec. '65 issue of Millar's satirical Drag CARtoons magazine.  Note the subtle allegation that Drag World writer Terry Cook was secretly working both sides of the Gasser Wars.  

 

Larry Tadlock might've set the all-time low e.t. for blowing up a just-built dragster one Sunday just outside San Fernando's "hot-car pits." His push car pulled onto the fire-up road and was barely underway when Larry flipped the mag switch and hydraulicked the Junior Fueler's nitro-fueled 301 Chevy. Note the considerable collateral damage to the brand-new chassis and body.   

 

 

 

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