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PhilZone

Magazines

By Phil R. Elliott

(Originally printed in American Drag News)

I'm a collector. Unlike many who collect things, but do not touch, my collections are not only touchable, but used and loved.

For the last 10-12 years, it's been teddy bears. You'd think they were rabbits the way they've multiplied in that time.

I also have enough magnets to nearly cover the outside of my refrigerator, mostly tiny, cheap mementos of places I've been. There are some bears there too.

Unbuilt model cars dominate a huge portion of space, but I claim to be a "builder" and don't seem to mind carving into fairly rare plastic on occasion. I'll get to them someday.

As you've probably guessed by now, I have a great many drag race photos as well -- five file cabinets crammed, and a few "overflow" boxes. They cover several decades, at least sparsely, and yes, I'd like to have lots more.

Magazines? Yes, and though like many of you, I cut them up when I was young, I haven't thrown them away. They are a plethora of information when researching historical times and events, and I consider them invaluable.

Beyond the ones that have big holes where favorite cars used to be, most are dog-eared and obviously well read.

Historically, there are two publications that we old-timers (ugh) remember with high praise. One was the weekly Drag News that covered it all, from match racing to local heroes from the perspective of seemingly two-dozen columnists. The few national events were covered, but so were all the regional big shows from Ramona to York. There have been innumerable publications (check the front page of this very publication for just one example) that utilize a similar title, and the hope by editors and publishers that some of that old flavor will find them. The other was the all-too short-lived Drag Racing which evolved into Drag Racing USA. I have lots of both publications

While perusing the other day, I slid an August 1973 issue of Drag Racing USA from the shelf and stared at the two photos that editor Mike Doherty chose some 25-years ago to grace the cover. There were Scott Shafiroff's Vega and Butch Leal's Duster in all their brilliance, both major event-winning vehicles from a time that Lenco was still a very exotic term to the still-new Pro Stocks.

At the very top of the page, the headline (called a "sky" in magazine vernacular because it is placed above the logo) screamed "'Supertrick' 8-second Pro Stocks!" There were other heads too, about a "sensational photo section," for which DRUSA was well known anyway, "how to get started in drag racing," and race coverage from Seattle, Tulsa and Green Valley.

I laid it near my computer after I'd glanced at the index page to see what else might be lurking inside. Names like Shirl Greer, Tony Nancy and Moody Blue jumped off the page, so I went deeper.

Actually, I stole a glance at the Engle ad across from the index where a generic E/MP '67 Camaro leaped from copy that claimed a whopping 475hp from 300ci with their camshaft. The full-page ad was aimed directly at Modified Production and other small block Chevrolet users in Modified Eliminator. Obviously, it was a much simpler time.

The next few pages were mostly letters and ads, as well as a few new parts. One Wisconsin writer pointed out how few true Chevrolet TF and FC entries were left, and extolled the efforts of Jim Bucher's Chevy-powered Top Fuel car, which had recently run a 6.25. The editor's reply updated the performance to the record shattering 6.07 number Bucher had run more recently at Gainesville.

John Hogan's "Behind the Scenes" column covered a few accidents, including one where Mike Burkhart's brand new racecar, truck and trailer, was written off when an employee lost control. The already-damaged rig then caught fire. Hogan also mentioned that Chris Karamesines had just retired his 1965 Chrysler wagon (pictured in my column a couple issues back) after eight years and a reported 695,000 miles! A spy photo was also there, revealing that the rumored "Mr. Norm" Pro Stocker would be a Hemi-powered Dodge Colt mounted on what appeared to be a short version of a late-`60s FC chassis. It was to be a match race-only car anyway, so rules be damned.

On the "Late Breakers" page was a photo of the first rocket dragster, "Courage of Australia," with a badly bent beak following an off-the-end-of-Irwindale adventure.

There was also a small mention that Shirley (still known as "Cha Cha" then) had earned her TF license in Connie Kalitta's car, that Don Garlits had witnessed her runs and signed for her license, and that plans were underway for a series of summer matches with "TV Tommy" Ivo.

The first race coverage was from Texas, though had it been placed in the magazine chronologically, the Tulsa coverage should have been earlier. Both AHRA-sanctioned Grand Americans were hampered by rain, but were completed; Tulsa on Wednesday night, Green Valley Tuesday night. John Wiebe, Don Prudhomme and Larry Huff won at Green Valley, while Vic Brown, Don Schumacher and Wayne Gapp took the Pro titles in Tulsa.

Some of those names are certainly familiar to all of you, while others might draw blanks.

Wiebe, of course, is the same "Kansas John" that wowed folk everywhere, remained competitive with a front-engine fueler, then with a Donovan, long after both had been fossilized by most. He was predicted to win the AHRA championship in '73, but it was nemesis Don Garlits that earned the belt buckle that year. "Big" was runner-up at both meets. Wiebe, after a 1970 AHRA championship, would play second fiddle to Garlits four-years straight before taking two-in-a-row for himself, '75 and '76.

Don "the Snake" was in his Hot Wheels era, driving a 'cuda. He crashed hard in round one at Tulsa when the coupler broke and took out the rear axle and tire simultaneously with the over-revved engine exploding. The flapping tire tread took off the body, and the sliding remains smacked the very end of the single strip of Armco and ended in the ditch. Amazingly, Prudhomme was nearly unscathed and the back-up car won in Texas, running a thrilling 6.29 in the semis when most of the TFs were in the 6.30s and 6.40s. Garlits had run a career-best 6.03 for low, but the track was treacherous for everyone else. That .29 came at the expense of Don Schumacher's similar 'cuda, which had been dominating AHRA to that point. He trailed with a 6.60, which was more respectable of FC competition on that day. "The Shoe" had most recently won in Tulsa over Tom Hoover's "Showtime" Satellite.

Larry Huff made his racing budget from selling Bestline products, or more precisely, the franchises to sell them. Years later, the whole industry of similar "pyramid schemes" would be deemed unlawful but not before Huff made a big dent in FC and Pro Stock racing with his "Soapy Sales" entries. After several 9.5 clockings, his Dodge Challenger took the Green Valley final over Scott Shafiroff, 9.31/150 to 9.65/146.

Vic Brown campaigned dragsters for a number of years before hooking up with Tulsa standout Bob Creitz on a car purchased from Californian Don Moody late the previous year. The Walton, Cerny & Moody car was dominant in '72, and when they decided to upgrade to late Hemi power, it was easier to build a new car. The castoff showed its mettle for Creitz, Dill & Brown with 6.04 and 6.03 passes at Ontario Motor Speedway in October of '72, at the same historic NHRA Supernationals where Mike Snively recorded the sport's first five, Vic Brown reached the semis, and Don Moody marched through with times of 6.02, 6.01, 6.00, and an inconceivable 5.91. According to The Top Fuel Handbook, compiled and written by Chris Martin, those four elapsed times make up four of the six quickest of 1972, the "91" on top.

At Tulsa, the marathon ended with Garlits fouling against Brown, who had a three-tenths advantage according to semi-final performance.

Don Schumacher, whose son Tony has followed the famous "Shoe" and is currently driving a TF, was overshadowed by Tom Hoover at Tulsa. He ran as quick as 6.47, but when the final was run in front of a minuscule, damp crowd, Schumacher managed to win the slip and slide affair.

Wayne Gapp was Jack Roush's partner during the era when Pro Stock was a mishmash of weight breaks for various brand, engine and wheelbase combos, including their own infamous four-door Maverick. At Tulsa, the team ran a more conventional Pinto with Cleveland power. Top qualifier Dick Landy (9.25), who had run a 9.14 during time trials, then roared around the scales, fouled in round one, as did Scott Shafiroff. This left Gapp the platter with a series of 9.2s. His only real competition came from local standout Don Grotheer's Duster, which was winning with 9.3s. The Gapp & Roush Ford pulled out a great 9.20/145 in the final for bests of the meet.

Among the well known AHRA sportsman finalists for the two meets were Walt Neisen (who won Comp at both), Bobby Cross, Allan Patterson, Don Shearer, Billy Graham and, of course, Bill Hielscher.

The August '73 DRUSA featured Scott Shafiroff's Vega and Butch Leal's Duster, the cover subjects. It was sort of an east vs. west, Chevy vs. Mopar attempt that reveled a great deal about both machines. Though just in their mid-20s at the time both "The Kid from New York City" and "The California Flash" were already seasoned veterans of Pro racing.

The SRD-built , Truppi-Kling-prep'd Vega, a near duplicate of Bill Jenkins' machine, still showed a BW T-10 behind its 327, but had already cranked 9.4s at nearly 145mph.

Leal's new Butler-built Duster was among the trickest of the times, and included a destroked 396ci Hemi in front of a 4-speed Lenco for predicted 8.70/155 times. Everything was acid-dipped, plastic, magnesium, drilled and smoothed, except for the real glass -- still required by Pro Stock rules. Imagine mounting a 15-pound piece of curved side glass into a five-pound plastic door that had to open and close a zillion times.

Three funny cars were featured as well.

First, there was a Vega for "Flash Gordon" Mineo, replete with trademark flaming rocket splashed down its flanks. Mineo was already a funny car veteran, having stepped up from Junior Fuelers. He was best known at the time for his body-pitching antics the previous season. While awaiting new fiberglass, Mineo had Mike Kase slap on minimal aluminum bodywork and qualified for a TF show the following weekend. It was the stuff of the times. The new Vega, also Kase-built, allowed the SoCal driver to reach new heights, higher even than his Firebird body had soared in '72.

Second was the Gordie Bonin-shoed Vega from Calgary that had already won both of the early season biggies in the northwest; Portland and Seattle. The Hodgson & Jenner machine was sponsored by Hodgson's Pacemaker auto parts chain, with a big kicker from Automatic Radio. Bonin, who also came from Jr.F, would make a name for himself with a runner-up spot at Indy that year, and make a serious dent in national events a few years later. He is arguably the most popular Canadian driver ever to stand on a loud pedal.

Shirl Greer's Mustang was third, and the Tennessean had relocated to Georgia and forsaken his favored Mopars for the new season. He did one other thing, he set foot on the national event trail for the first time in years, and came away with the NHRA World Championship in one of the wildest finishes in history.

The low buck Greer entry, based around a Chuck Finders chassis and a Billy Holt engine, both standouts from the great gas coupe era, earned enough points at booked-in points race appearances that Shirl just had to make a couple national events as well. By season's end, he was in a virtual tie with three others and was coerced by friends and fans that he had to give it a shot.

Though never having ventured west of the Mississippi before, he aimed the ramp truck for the World Finals in Ontario, California. In his last qualifying shot, he made the field but the engine let go. The ensuing blaze ruined the back half, actually consuming the entire rear section of the body. With borrowed engine components, and an all night thrash by a crew of virtually unknown "friends," the Mustang appeared on the starting line with makeshift aluminum hindquarters. Ugly but functional, the car started, made its burnout, and staged. At the green, Shirl left pretty well, but shut-off quickly. He had earned enough points that nobody could surpass him. The Herculean effort earned him the title, some cash, and an orange jacket that he still has. I tried it on once.

DRUSA also covered Tony Nancy's visit to Japan, one of the first attacks by a Top Fueler on Asian soil. "The Loner" was anything but on the trip, and at every stop, upon firing the engine, unsuspecting spectators literally dropped "to their knees in fear of the monster." It was as close to a real Godzilla that any had seen away from a movie theater, and the soft spoken upholsterer came away with world wide headlines, legions of fans and a Japan record for 400-meters. In the shadow of Mt. Fuji, Nancy clocked a fine 6.50/237.

The Seattle coverage was from a National Open, an early '70s version of a mini-national event. This event was a WCS points race for Sportsman, not for the Pros, and no Pro Stockers were invited. According to the accompanying story and photos, it was porn queen of the time, Linda Lovelace, who stole the show.

Don Moody swept a Top Fuel field with a best of 6.13, quicker by nearly two-tenths than the previous SIR record. Both Jerry Ruth and Jeb Allen recorded 6.16s, with the latter reaching the final.

Also part of the large TF contingent was Jim Bucher's SSP Chevy, and Herm Petersen and Hank Johnson, the latter debuting a new rear-engine car after holding out as long as possible.

In FC, Ed McCulloch was low Q and went on to win, running 6.48s with abandon.

Jerry Ruth debuted a new mini-Mustang after a fabulous '72 season in a more stock appearing model. It would be more than two decades before anyone attempting a two-car effort would be as successful. As just one example, Ruth won all five Division Six points races with the FC, and four of five in TF during 1972. It wasn't the King's day, for after a 6.52 for second, he failed to make the R1 call.

Gordie Bonin, who as stated earlier was the northwest pacemaker to that point, was in the thick of things with bottom 6.5s in eliminations but lost in a tire smoking semi-final duel with the "Ace."

As things often happened, there was a great many controversial calls in those days. Earlier, Ruth had been highly suspect of the elapsed times in TF, and as has always been his way, was quite boisterous about it. When the FC final rolled up, Portland star Kenney Goodell, who had whipped Tom McEwen in the semis, with his third low 6.5, was shown a handicap tree. It placed him with a two-tenth disadvantage. Meanwhile McCulloch thundered to a track record 6.43, and in comparison with the Action Man's early shutoff 6.66, the vote went to McCulloch.

One of the very first rear-engine (Ooops, "mid-engine." DRUSA was the only voice of the era to constantly argue that "rear" meant behind the rear axle, while the then-new REDs had their engines between driver and axle, hence they insisted on the mid-engine or "midi" term. Nobody cared. The argument was short lived.) Sportsman dragsters built was featured in DRUSA, a very light B/FD built by Roy Fjasted for Southern Californian Bill Diehl. The injected Chevy held 369 cubes, drove through a Crower clutch and a Lenco two speed. Bruce Walker, who still keeps his TF license current with occasional rides, drove the little car.

Out of Whittier, Calif., came another feature, the "Moody Blue" '34 Ford 3-window of Joe Shatswell, Tom Hutchinson (driver) and Steve Hope. The car wasn't terribly competitive -- listed was a 10.34/131 for the B/G coupe which also ran lakes events -- and the rock group probably had nothing to do with it, but it was pretty, and had lots of cool injector stacks sticking through the hood.

The "how to get started in drag racing" cover reference was to a two page group of photos with facetious captions. One example was of John Wiebe in firesuit draped across the hood of his push truck, obviously trying to catnap. The caption read, "Learn to endure long hours in the staging lanes..." That sage advice still holds true today.

The "Phantastic Photos" section showed a few crashes and fires, E.J. Potter's jet trike which crashed on its first pass, a couple obscure cars, The "Magic Muffler" fuel altered standing up on its push bar, and of course the obligatory photo of "Jungle Pam" Hardy.

Drag Racing USA was always irreverent and sarcastic. It made you smile, laugh and even get the warm fuzzies over its coverage of everything. It was full of great things, but in respectful retrospect, it was more like People than National Dragster because it not only showed us the cars and performances, but it went into personalities. It talked of the humanity behind the machinery. And amazingly, though everyone I have ever spoken to loved the publication, DRUSA is now just another little piece of drag racing's heritage.

I guess I should tie this all together with some awe-inspiring piece of wisdom. I actually was going to mention that I didn't really enjoy history classes in school, and yet now I actually claim to be a drag racing historian, in a diminutive attempt to tell the younger readers of American Drag News to pay more attention in classes or some such.

Instead, I'll just say that looking back at 25-year-old (or older) magazines always conjures the sights, sites, sounds and smells of something I have been in love with and inspired by for most of my life. The year 1973 was still a time when a couple guys could throw their beer-drinking money into a dragster or funny car, and with a little knowledge, luck and know-how, could run once or twice a week and actually earn a living, and gain experiences that will never be forgotten.

Many of those low buck folk are still right in there today. Some are those highly paid crew chiefs that bring the present unbelievable performances to reality. Others are still getting those unbelievable rides. Some are still writing about it.

Flyin' Phil Elliott

 

Thanks for checking out the PhilZone portion of Draglist.com. If you have accolades, complaints, comments, questions, or if you want to share a story, please feel free to post it on the PhilZone Message Board. Phil
 

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