I guess you could say I was 'hooked' before I attended my first race.
It all started for me in 1959 while attending 7th Grade, when a friend
lent me one of the 'pocket' type car mags to check out during (you fill in
the blank) class. Those little jewels could be hidden inside an English or
Civics, or (again, you fill in the blank) book, without being detected by
the average teacher. I believe it was a conspiracy by the people in charge
of the schools that led to the eventual downfall of these magazines...
Heaven forbid, one of the students actually learns something during class!
My God... this is starting to sound political already... apologies to all!
Now believe it or not, I can still remember the cover of the first 'Hot
Rod' type mag I ever saw. Gracing the cover was a blown V8 powered, copper
colored early Ford pickup with at least three (maybe more) V-belts turning
the blower. Having had an interest in heavy trucks over the past few years
(my Dad was a trucker), I knew what a Roots type blower was, but had never
seen one attached to the intake side of an engine before. What a concept!
Had to check into this further...
I didn't live quite far enough from school to qualify for riding the bus
(but the kids next door did!) and had to walk past a Mom and Pop type Drug
Store every day. I spent a small fortune on magazines in that place. And as
time passed and I learned more about the hot rodding and drag racing
culture, this store became my pipeline to the rest of the country.
During October of '61, '62, and '63, I drove these folks nuts, stopping
by every day to see if the new Hot Rod had arrived... bringing with it the
results of the U.S. Nationals. No Internet with instant round by round
coverage back then. I didn't learn about Drag News or National dragster
My friend who lent me that magazine was the only other person I knew who
had an interest in this stuff. Shame is, I can't recall his name. I'd like
to thank him. While I'm thinking of it, I'd like to thank Pete Millar
publicly for all of his wonderful illustrations that appeared in the
magazines back then. I believe I learned more about the workings of the
internal combustion engine from his cartoons than from any reference book
published at that time.
Names like Garlits, Karamesines, Ivo, Postonian, Cyr and Hopper... and
dragsters that actually had names, like Swamp Rat, Chizler, Guzler, Big
Wheel, and Speed Sport became the center of my universe (along with a few
High School girlfriends whose names I CAN'T recall). Would I ever have the
opportunity to observe personally the exploits of these people and their
The answer to this question arrived when I learned there was a drag strip
that had just opened within a few miles of my home. My new obsession?
Spending a Sunday afternoon at Atco (NJ) Dragway. So, as soon as spring
arrived... I'm THERE!
When the warm weather finally arrived, I hitched a ride from Lindenwold
(my hometown) to Berlin. Walked the mile or so to Jackson Rd. and hitched a
ride to the track.
And what a ride it was! If I hadn't known better, I'd have sworn that
James Dean and his girlfriend picked me up! And they were riding in a
metallic green '55 Chevy that screamed! Man, it even had a Hurst Floor
Shifter! The guy driving wore a black leather jacket and didn't have much to
say. The girl glued up against him only cracked her chewing gum once in a
while and stared at herself in the rear-view mirror. Man, these two were
COOL! And get this... he was going to run the car at the track!
They dropped me off at the spectator gate on their way to the pit
entrance. Hey, how cool was I? Exiting this car at the entrance to the
track. I wished my newfound friends 'good luck,' bought a ticket (a bad
mistake, but eventually I learned better), and went straight towards the
starting line. I couldn't help but notice that where the fence separating
the vehicle inspection area from the spectator area came together, there was
a gap that someone of my slim stature (hey, this was forty years ago!) could
I know a leisurely stroll through the pits followed, but I don't remember
a thing about any of the cars I checked out that afternoon. I do remember
hearing Norm Grimm (the track announcer) yelling about the upcoming trophy
race for AA/D and seeing a lot of people running to get a closer look. I
figured I'd better go check this out. Somehow, I positioned myself just
behind the starting line in the sand beside the left lane. I managed to miss
the push-start ritual and arrived at my position just as two dragsters were
Well, here it was! I'd been waiting a few years to see a drag race, and
my first one was going to be 'up close and personal.' This is something I'll
never forget. As a matter of fact, I can watch this race over again anytime
I want to... in my mind's eye. In the left lane sat Mike Drill in his gas
dragster and in the right, "Stroker" Slim Riser in the
Philadelphia based D&J speed shop car. As starter Bill Buscham flagged
them off, Slim disappeared downtrack while the other dragster faltered. This
was about the time I realized that pieces of Mike's car were flying
As I'm standing there, a large piece of something landed with a thump
right at my feet! It seems about the time ol' Mike popped the pedal, the
clutch exited the car, right through the bell housing and scattershield! So
here I am, looking down at a HUGE piece of pressure plate right in front of
Bear in mind that, at the time, I knew about as much about the internal
workings of an automobile as I knew about the internal workings of a female.
(And, after all this time, I've got at least ONE of the two figured out!) I
knew this piece would make a great souvenir, BUT, I also thought this thing
might be valuable or still be useable and thought maybe I'd get in some kind
of trouble if I grabbed it. My fears were overcome as I watched them push
the car back towards the pits while the starting line crew swept all of the
'junk' from the starting line. I've always assumed that this long wait
before I picked this piece up is what saved me from a burned hand!
This was the one and only time I saw Mike Drill race. Evidently, this
clutch explosion was the 'last straw' of his racing career. Slim raced a few
more seasons before he disappeared into obscurity.
I hitchhiked home safely with my "trophy," which sat in a place
of honor on top of my desk for years in my room. I even impressed a lot of
guys with the story of how I obtained it!
What was the question again? What got me hooked on this stuff? Hell, now
that I think about it, I'm not really sure, but I'd bet whatever it was, I
mentioned it somewhere in this story.
More old B.S. later.