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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

The Atmosphere at Bakersfield '62

By Pete Starrett

There were lots of little incidents surrounding Bakersfield '62 that come to mind in thinking about the event.

I was working for Art Malone that winter and we, like a lot of others, were working out of Isky's place in Inglewood prior to the March meet. The Wednesday night before the race we were in Isky's shop and who shows up but the Mongoose, Stump Davis, and Gene Adams. They have an idea that they want to discuss with Art. The Mongoose wants to run the Shark car on fuel at Bakersfield (remember those guys were almost unbeatable on gas at that time), and wants to know what Art thought about it. Art, Porky, and I all said it sounded like a crazy idea since they would probably have the field covered running gas. They had never even tried running fuel before. 

Gene wasn't too excited about making the change either since the motor was setup to run hard on gas and they didn't have time to do much more than flow the injectors for fuel and leave the motor the way it was (lots of compression). We couldn't talk them out of it, so off they went to change the car over.

We went up to the track on Saturday morning, and the first thing we hear at the pit gate is, "Are you guys running two cars?" We didn't have any idea what the guy was talking about and thought he was crazy. Art said, "Where did you get an idea like that?" The pit gate guy says, "Well your car just came through here about an hour ago and it's exactly like this one." We explained that we only had the digger behind the tow car; he must have seen someone else's car that was the same color, and this was a one of a kind car. After getting into the pits we went looking for a place to pit and unloaded the car. People kept coming up to us, asked about the other car, and asked if we were running two cars.

We hadn't seen the other car so Art asked one of the people where this other car was. One of the guys told us that it was over on the backside of the pits and down at the far end. We walked down through the pits and sure enough, there was an almost exact duplicate of the Goldenrod. A couple of guys from over near the coast (Santa Maria, maybe? I don't remember) had built a copy of Art's car from pictures they had gotten from magazines. They were a little nervous when Art asked them about it and thought he might be mad for doing it. The only real difference was it was the original wheelbase and we had stretched Art's car before coming to the coast.

We made a couple of passes that day and needed to check the bearings that night. As was the norm for any of Isky's guys, we managed to get into Hashim's shop to work on the car. Ernie Hashim was always extremely hospitable to guys who were running Isky's stuff. Ed was right there to make sure all his guys were ready to go for Sunday. He would make food runs, and whatever we needed, Ed got for us. Between checking the bottom end and all the BS being slung around it was a fun atmosphere. Until...in walks Garlits. 

The sound of silence was deafening. Ed says, "Hi, Garlits. What are you doing here?" in a very sarcastic tone. Gar tried to act casual and responded to Ed's greeting, but it went over like a fart in church. Nobody, and I mean Nobody, said a word or moved until Ed told Garlits he wasn't welcome there and Gar left. Now that was atmosphere that could have been cut with a knife as well.

Sunday was cold and overcast in the morning, we warmed the engine oil by laying the oil cans on the motor of the tow truck before we put it in the engine so we could warm up the digger. We didn't do so well and when we went out to run first round we never got the motor running right and we lost. I don't remember who we lost to; all I remember was there were more dragsters at that race than I had ever seen in one place in my life.

The best race of the first round for me was when Swingle driving for Gar got beat by the 'Goose in the Shark car. The Mongoose strapped an 8.37 on Swingle and sent him to the showers early that day. What was even cooler was the fact that Adams was running the Olds on only about 30 percent, since he was still using the small pump. I think they made it to the semis before finally breaking the motor. Everybody knows who was in the final round and I think it must have been one of Fullers best days when they (Fuller, Zuechel, and Prudhomme) beat Gotelli's car with Glen Leasher driving. I'm not sure about this, but part of the reason that Gotelli was so angry was that he had a Fuller car too. I'm sure he never had one after that...

After the races we went back to the motel and Malone wanted to sleep, so Porky and I went over to the bar at the Bakersfield Inn to have a couple of adult beverages. Things were going along nicely with all of us getting into the painless stage when the two Connies (Swingle and Kalitta) get this great idea that we should send a "lady of the evening" over to Art's room. Actually it was Kalitta's idea and he was trying to get me to do the dirty work... I was a little drunk, but not at the stupid stage yet. Luckily it didn't happen (Art would have killed us all!).

That's pretty much the highlights of the March meet of '62 for me. Damn those were fun times.

Pete Starrett


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