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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Memories of Bakersfield

By John Hamlin

I was there in 1962. At the time, Dick Kalivoda and I were partners with the Norton Brothers and we brought our Top Fuel car down from Seattle. We lost to Vic Hubbard's Chevy powered car in the first round, first pair out. Ed Norton was the driver.

As someone else has mentioned, there were more fuel cars there than we had ever seen before. On Saturday the line extended past the finish line all the way up to where staging lanes are now, right up to what is now the bleach box area. (And we're not talking 300-inch cars here. You could get three cars in the space that one would fit today.) 

When you got to that point, they would periodically let three or so pairs push across the track and all the way down to the finish line where we would turn around, pair up, and then when given the okay push back to the starting line. So, the fire up lane was on the east (spectator) side of the track.

I don't think anyone went back to his "Pit Area" after a run. They just got back in line and had several hours to work on the car before the next pass. The line moved slow enough so that, that was no problem. Some teams had more than one push truck, which they would put in line so that they didn't have to get at the end of the line after a run. 

I remember hearing Frank Cannon make at least three runs in the Chrisman-Cannon "Hustler Car" while we waited in line. We figured that they were actually just going back up the left side of the track after they made a run so that they never crossed over the starting line like the rest of us, but I never saw that. Just speculation.

I remember getting out to the track on Saturday just before sun up. There were no lights except for the push car headlights. We warmed up in the twilight. Everyone push starting just past the finish line on the west side. The asphalt was still good in those days, not like it is now. It was tricky finding enough open space to fire in without crossing in front of another team. 

I had my first look at a Garlits car when getting ready to push our car off. Swingle came up from behind. I looked over to my left from the driver's seat of our push truck, and saw "Garlits, Swingle and Smith" painted on the side of the Swamp Rat as it went by with a guy, I guess was Smith, standing on the bottom frame rails of the car, holding on to the roll bar, riding along with Swingle as he warmed the car. Garlits right behind in the Big Dodge truck.

As soon as the sun peeked over the horizon, the first car went down the track. Guess who -- Frank Cannon in the Hustler. They had to set the record for most runs. Even more than the guys in the final round.

I wasn't in a place where I could see that final round but I was close to the starting line for the semis and I remember that Gottelli was a "nervous wreck" on the starting line. He kept pacing around as the cars were staging and several of his crew had to pull him back behind the ready line. He kept running up on either side of the car. It was quite a scene. I went to watch Fuller, et al, get ready for the next round so I lost my spot at the fence for the final round. As I remember it, they didn't have to do that much. Just ran the valves and re-fueled.

While we didn't get far in eliminations, it was an experience we all enjoyed.

John Hamlin
John_D_Hamlin@email.msn.com

 

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