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Feb 15, 2007

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Three of a Kind

by Phil R. Elliott

If you weren't interested in drag books, you wouldn't be reading this, right?

So, if I say a colorful coffee table book full of great pictures has a couple inaccurate captions, you'll say, "So what," and still grab one for your bookshelf without much question. What the hell do I know anyway? Besides, some of the best movies I've ever seen over the years received horrible reviews from supposed experts.

This time, I'll be reviewing three items: Diggers, Funnies, Gassers & Altereds, Drag Racing's Golden Age, by Bob McClurg; Extreme Muscle Machines, The Factory Lightweight Legacy, by Bill Holder & Phil Kuntz; and Slingshot Dragsters of the 1960s Photo Archive, by Lou Hart. Sorry to lessen the drama here but I'm going to tell you right up front that I liked them, and I'm suggesting you grab them all.

Now let me remind you of my terribly unscientific methods for reviewing books of all kinds:

#1) I let the book in question fall open to three or four spots and I read a couple paragraphs and/or captions -- whatever happens to be there. If I discover faux pas or significant inaccuracies in those quick looks, I lay the book aside for later perusal. This might not be fair for a number of reasons but I figure if there are little things wrong that I know about, I become skeptical of other items in the same book about which I know nothing.

#2) If I like it, I give it high marks. Simple. That might mean pretty pictures or good writing or new information. Whatever, liking the book helps me get through it easier. And I think it will help you too.

DIGGERS, FUNNIES, GASSERS & ALTEREDS, Drag Racing's Golden Age, 2004, by Bob McClurg. CarTech Books Inc., North Branch, Minnesota, $39.95.

Longtime ace lensman Bob McClurg signed a copy of this beautiful book for me at the California Hot Rod Reunion in 2005. Bob has been around since the mid 60s and his photography has been well placed in virtually every drag race publication ever printed. In fact, many of the images printed in DFG&A have been printed before but this time there is a twist --  Bob chose the cropping himself, making the endeavor far more artistically pleasing than what magazine editors often did with what they were handed.

McClurg's exercise is formatted into historic, chronological walks through his own stacks of negatives. When he didn't have a proper photo to help tell his story, Bob borrowed from the NHRA archives, or fro, other greats like GK Callaway.

There are a great many little mistakes that detract from this beautiful book. There are quoted ETs and speeds far better than those historic cars were capable. I have to forgive many of them because such poor records were kept back then. I suspect that many decisions to fill in blanks were made in haste, and most readers will glaze right past them. Other places, wheelbase numbers and classifications are missed, and even the fuel used in very famous cars was mis-identified. And throughout the altered section, those cute little American Bantams are labeled as "Austin Bantams," a rather common mistake with drag race historians and announcers.

But don't let these little items suggest that I don't like DFG&A. Far from it. It is an extremely complete set of action images from one the finest photographers ever to aim a camera at the most picturesque of all motorsports. But it is more. It includes a forward from John Force that gives a whole different insight to the superstar. In a section called "About the Author," I learned that McClurg's early personal history parallels my own on many points, and that Bob worked hard in many freelance and paid assignments to achieve what he has. Drag race fans have won many times because of that hard work, and win once again with Diggers, Funnies, Gassers & Altereds.

DFG&A is available from all the sources CarTech books are sold, including both online and national book chains. Or if you can catch Bob at an event, he'll certainly personalize a copy for you.

EXTREME MUSCLE MACHINES, The Factory Lightweight Legacy, 2006 by Bill Holder & Phil Kuntz. Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin. Softbound, $24.99

Graphically, Extreme Muscle Machines is tremendous. Much of the photographic evidence for the subject matter is from the collection of Bob Plumer who owns the images of a number of talented southern, eastern and Midwest shooters from the 60s.

Perusing it only as a coffee table book will be enough for most lovers of muscle cars, factory Stock and Super Stock cars, Factory Experimentals and early funny cars. Some of the images are current -- of restored or re-pop'd versions of the originals. Little of this detracts from the visual impact of the book.

I love the way EMM is laid out. Instead of chronology, the editors chose to separate the cars by makes, and in alphabetical order. It begins with AMC, skips Buick, moves to Chevrolet, then Dodge and so forth. Old print ads for the brands are included and if the model in question had a magazine cover, that is here too.

And please trust me, all the name drivers are here, as are decent descriptions of the fabled horsepower race that evolved from comfortable family transportation to lightweight, race-only craziness.

Both the body copy and captions are laced with typos and mistakes of all kinds. It would be a mistake to use EMM as the only source for an historic search, but I don't believe this was the intent of the authors. I have never seen such an interesting angle on the many very special editions of auto experimentation. And, the stories from the racers are strong and truly priceless. And, there is coverage of lightweight "specials" from the Thomas Flyer to the new generation of Camaro and Challenger -- still to come.

I found EMM enjoyable throughout, and well worth the price.

Extreme Muscle Machines is available at all the online and national book chains, such as Barnes & Noble, Borders, Walden, Amazon, etc., or direct from the publisher (800) 345-3168, (715) 445-2214 ext. 455.

SLINGSHOT DRAGSTERS of the 1960s Photo Archive, 2005 by Lou Hart, Iconografix, Hudson, Wisconsin. Softbound. $29.95

Here is a nice collection of dragster photographs from, as the title infers, the 1960s. The images are mostly never-before-seen, and are split between black and white and color.

Most familiar drag race photos are taken from a front angle, with tires smoking. The professional photographers were trying to make a living after all, and the "commercial" angle was the one the buyers wanted. Most of those in Slingshot Dragsters are what spectators might take of their favorite cars in the pits and staging lanes.

Am I suggesting that this is a boring book full of sub par photography? Absolutely not. In fact, what we are so used to in those commercial style action photos often does not give the detail needed or wanted.

In the Forward to SD, Tom McEwen pretty well sets the tone for the overall project. "This book will astonish and inform newcomers to drag racing and provide a trip back to the 'good old days' for the seasoned veterans of the dragster wars."

McEwen goes on to explain the beginnings of his own career, the start of the Mongoose vs. Snake rivalry and several other interesting anecdotes that led to the huge Mattel sponsorship.

Lou Hart does not claim to be a writer, more of a compiler of great images. But he comes off pretty well in the descriptive Introduction while hitting the highlights of one of the wildest decades in motorsports. Hart also points out those that contributed to the book with personal photos, stories or both.

The book is about 130 pages of great photos of not only famous dragsters and drivers, but some of rarely seen, obscure machinery that made up the truly formative years of drag racing.

There are a few errors in classes, and even a few typos. I got the feeling too that some of the strange wording in a few of the descriptions was due to a foreign translator -- the book was printed in China. But any minor errors are compensated for by the ultra rare photos throughout the book, such as one of Tony Nancy's gorgeous 22 Jr. A/MR with wedge Plymouth power instead of its normal Buick. There is another great shot of the seldom seen "Frantic Four" AA/FMR making the turn behind the fabled Fontana tower. And Hart got it right that Chuck Winsler was the chauffeur that day, and that the purple T with an enclosed cockpit was an experiment by Jim Fox and Dennis Holding. One of my favorite images in SD is of Mike Snively and Tom McEwen ribbing John Mulligan as he tries to pack the parachute during the 68 HRM meet at Riverside.

If there is a drawback to Hart's Slingshot Dragsters, it is that the captions don't provide enough information about many of the cars and people! Otherwise, it is a fun book that will make a great addition to any motorsports library. This is Hart's third published book, the first two were both on funny cars, one about 60s FCs, the other 70s FCs. Another two are about to be released, one on Altereds and the other on Gassers.

Slingshot Dragsters is available at all the online and national book chains, such as Barnes & Noble, Borders, Walden, Amazon, etc., or direct from Hart. Email him directly click1320@sbcglobal.net

As I said initially, I highly recommend all three of these books. Please grab them all, sit back and enjoy.Phil

Phil Elliott
Comments? Questions? Visit Phil's House


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