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Mar 6, 2006

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The first time I went to the drags was the 4th of July 1960. There was a little old place called Pacific Raceways way out in Kent, Wash., whittled out of the evergreens. It was an NHRA record meet and one of two cars that set a record that day was Dick Kalivoda and John Hamlin's B/MR. Since it was during the NHRA nitro ban, there was no Top Fuel Eliminator.

This tattered old photo is at least a year after I saw this car run at Kent. Ed Norton (far right) is teamed with Dick Kalivoda (left) and John Hamlin (center). But the car looked very much the same. All these folk would go on to bigger and better things in Top Fuel, including the Kalivoda & Hamlin "Joker" with Ed Norton-built Chryslers. Photog unknown

However, there was a single dragster there. It was more than likely the Norton Bros. I know it had a "dog sled" style cage and was blue, and Nortons ran a Jerry Harris-built TE 440 copy with a Potvin-blown Chrysler at the time. The car made two exhibition runs, made more noise than the rest of the cars put together, and smoked its rear tires the entire quarter-mile! Oh was it cool. Fred Vosk said to me recently, "What a nasty sounding thing that car was!!!"

Over the next couple years, I went back to that same hallowed spot about five times spot to view whatever was happening. In early '62, I saw Tommy Ivo's "Showboat" there, more than likely, with Tommy McCourry at the wheel. I remember Bob Tindle's "Orange Crate" there too but either it banged and popped or didn't run at all.

The car I remember most that day was a hammered, mostly primered Model A sedan with mailbox slit windows -- the driver had a little hatch door that he flopped open that said "Not Ready". I walked around the car and it was just TOO cool. I remember the car broke a rear-end or something in the drive train and that little hatch popped open and the driver threw his gloves and helmet out! He was upset!

This may or may not have been the day I first experienced Puyallup Dragway, but it was that foggy and this was certainly taken in 1963. Photo by Rich Carlson

It was the following Spring, or more correctly late Winter – early 1963 anyway – that I once again got to see/hear fuelers. This time was at Puyallup. Unlike the wide-open spaces of Pacific, Puyallup was tiny, with only a few grandstand seats located right at the edge of the strip. I saw Don Garlits, Chris Karamesines, Tommy Ivo and everything the northwest could throw at 'em. To that point, it was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

The human mind is a wonderful thing in how with just a little thought process, it can conjure up memories of sites/sights, sounds, even smells, exactly how they were. To experience the fumes of inefficiently burned nitromethane on a VERY cold day is something I cannot ever forget. The scenes of those seemingly endless missiles with their silver-suited "passengers" was the most exotic thing I'd ever experienced. There were probably only a dozen fuelers there that foggy day but I believe it to have been at least a hundred.

Another "first time" was in August of 1965 when the nitro sedans stopped at Puyallup during their national tour. I'd seen fuel-burning A/FX cars in onezies and twozies for a year or so, but that night there were about twenty – including Landy, Sox & Martin, Leal, Yother, Proffitt, Durham, Strickler, etc. Like similar happenings, the final came off at about 3:30am, I was in serious trouble with mom, and I can’t think of a better place to have been.

Like the fuelers, the A/FXers left an indelible blotch on my sanity.

Flyin' Phil

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