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Hemi Hunter's Top Fuel Tales

From Little Things Come Giant Steps

By Gary Peters

Time to tell a few little secrets from the days we all worked at the drags back in the early 60s. The group we all belonged to worked at Vargo's Dragway and was known as the Lehigh Valley Timing Association. Our piece of the action was to work the track itself. We ran the timing tower, starting line, and finish line functions.

Now this was before all the electronic timing equipment was available. So we used a flagman starting system, along with someone sitting at the finish line to relay to the timing tower who won the race. The ET slips were relayed from one side of the track to the other with a pad that was electrically hooked to another pad with a stylus that wrote out the ET and MPH. We figured this was pretty sophisticated stuff back in 1960.

So the way it went was this: the ET and MPH was recorded in the timing tower with electric eyes hooked up to some kind of timing device. We had a chart that converted the time over 64 feet to the MPH. The guy in the tower wrote the ET and MPH onto the pad with the electronic pen. This electrically operated the pen at the bottom of the return road on the opposite side of the track, and duplicated what the person in the timing tower wrote on his pad. The slip was torn off and given to each driver by the person working there.

One day I'm working the timing tower part, and George is working the return road part. The timing tower was about eight feet off the ground, and had a four-step ladder to get up into the timing tower. I'm sitting in the tower, blabbing away on the PA system, and doodling with the pen on the pad for the time slips. I really wasn't aware of what I was doing. At the other end, the pen that wrote the times on the return road paper pad is going nuts from my doodling. It's flying all over the paper.

Now, George was usually a very calm and collected young man. But he took his part of the job seriously. After all, he gave each competitor his beloved time slip. George is looking at the machine's pad and pen. The pen is scribbling and jumping all over the pad from my doodling. I'm sitting in the tower, and all of a sudden, I see George come charging over the track. I announce to the guys on the starting line to hold up the next pair of cars. I tell them George is nuts or something, that he is right in the middle of the two lanes, charging toward the tower.

George leaps up the ladder two steps at a time, grabs me by my neck, rips the pen from my hand, and calmly says, "Don't do that again." He turns around and takes one giant step out of the tower. I'm afraid to look; I figured he broke all the bones in his legs, or his hips would be up under his arms pits. I see George walking calmly back across the track to his station. Everyone in the tower is amazed, and we start laughing uncontrollably. Evidently, George's adrenaline level was high enough that he didn't hurt himself. To this day, I still never doodle with a pad and pencil.

Now that we have all you folks back in the 60s, here's another little tale about this drag strip. This was inside information to the bunch of guys working and racing there. Since we worked the track, we started noticing that some of the consistent running cars would periodically run a better time, or knock a couple of tenths off their best times. We started getting suspicious, and finally one of the guys who had an electrical background put a meter on the power source for the ET timers. Sure enough, low voltage.

Now, the track used a generator for its power supply. So we started looking for the drain on the ET clocks. What was slowing them down, resulting in better ETs? We found out after several months that the culprit was the French fryer in the refreshment stand. Whenever that little baby fired up, that was the time to make your run. It was good for about two to three tenths, and the French fries were delicious.

We never worried about this little drama because nobody in those days qualified for a race. You just ran everyone until there were only two cars left in each class. After each class had a winner, you spotted a car length for each of the classes' difference and ran until there were winners for each eliminator class. For example, an A/Gas car spotted a B/Gas car one car length. You would eventually wind up with a Top Gas eliminator winner.

So if you're not to old to remember the best ETs you ran at Vargo's, don't feel too proud of that old hot rod or your expert driving ability. You probably owe it to that big General Electric fryer. By the way, the potatoes were locally grown and cooked in pure lard. Exceptional flavor, and I still carry the roll around my waist from eating them all those years.

Gary Peters


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