Still movin'Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

Wow, this is taking a lot longer than we thought. Yes, The Big Move is under way, consolidating the Editorial and Photo departments onto the same floor as the rest of the Publications staff, and although progress is good, it's far from over.

Desks are being assembled (or reassembled), boxes unpacked, bookshelves restocked, drawers refilled, phones rerouted, Internet connections sorted out, etc., etc.

The bulk of Tuesday was spent at the NHRA holiday party at the NHRA Parks Museum, where The Big Deal of the Day was the American Idol contest involving five groups of NHRA employees lip-syncing and dancing (and air-guitaring) to hits from the 1980s. The National DRAGSTER team – me, Managing Editor Juan Torres, Associate Editor Brad Littlefield, Purchasing Supervisor Robyn Morton, and Dragmart Classifieds Coordinator Theresa Taylor – finished a respectable second and collected a cool $100 for our efforts. I'll have more on that whole episode next week.

Anyway, as I semi-predicted last week, my move has been slowed by my ADD when it comes to drag racing flotsam and jetsam I have accumulated over the years. I can’t resist thumbing through that 1972 Drag Racing USA magazine or shuffling through that deck of collector drag racing cards and reading all of the backs.

I'm still unpacking and cataloging (and scanning) some of the cool stuff I came across during the rummaging process, but I hope to have it all together by Friday (fingers crossed).

Besides, you all have better things to do than sitting here reading this column. Christmas is just 10 days away, which means we guys only have nine more days to get ready to head out to do our shopping.

Getting my move on ...Friday, December 10, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess
Boxes o' stuff in my office
Issues? Yeah, I've got some issues ...

I hate moving.

I've had to move my residence seven times in my adult life, but the last time was way back in 1990. I'm moving again next week, but I'm actually looking forward to it this time because the move is a short one: from upstairs in the NHRA Publications building to downstairs. No, it's not a demotion (other than in altitude, office size, and window acreage), but rather a long-overdue consolidation of all Publications departments – editorial, photo, production, advertising, and administrative – to the floor that previously only housed the latter three.

With the final issue of National DRAGSTER safely out the door yesterday and the majority (but not all) of the writing done for the annual Fan Guide, my office is now filled with boxes being crammed with the detritus of more than a dozen years in the same room. As the Publications and headquarters staff grew in the 1990s, the Publications Department moved out of the Financial Way HQ building in July 1993 to about a block down Route 66 to give everyone a little more elbow room.

So, for the last 17 years, I've been accumulating stuff, cramming it into drawers and onto bookshelves and countertops. Apparently, I did very little throwing away. I have my own personal collection of National DRAGSTERs from 2000 through present in a variety of magazine racks and stands. That's more than 500 issues, and I don’t know why I have them in my office when the full library of NDs is just about 25 steps away.

Seeing as how my new crib is going to be slightly smaller, it's a good time to off-load all of the issues to free up some space, but I've been enjoying going through some of the older ones as I stack them like cordwood in the library room to fill in any gaps in the archive before they are unceremoniously ejected from the building.

Back to my original point, the reason I'm really looking forward to the move – which begins today and carries over into next week (not counting Tuesday, which is the day of NHRA's annual holiday party at the NHRA Museum, where I and four fellow DRAGSTER staffers will be performing a karaoke version of a famous rock song as part of a talent contest; it's sure to be a YouTube sensation) – is because the Indiana Jones in me expects to unearth cool old stuff I've had buried away and forgotten about for almost two decades. All I need is a fedora and a bullwhip …

Hey, lookee here. It's an AOL 3.5 diskette, version 2.5. No idea why I still have this. Instructions: "Insert disk in your floppy disk drive (A or B); click on the File menu on your Windows Program Manager; select Run; then type A:\SETUP (or B:\SETUP) and press OK."

Ha! Remember floppy disks? Yeah, most computers don’t even come with floppy drives anymore. And you young'uns who were weaned on Windows 95 and up never had the joy of learning DOS prompts that required you to type in the letter of the drive, then the appropriate command to launch the setup program (which wasn't always "setup"). There were no auto-play CDs (or DVDs) that began the install process once you slipped them into the tray. Being a video gamer back then required even more DOS skills to install and configure your sound card and controllers. But I digress …

Oooh, and here are some 1995 issues of Net Guide magazine ("The Guide of the Internet and Online services") and Computer Life ("Internet Revealed!") that I began studying while trying to figure out this Internet thing back when we prepared to launch NHRA.com (then NHRA Online) in 1995. Oh, boy, this is rich. It's an article about how video is coming to the World Wide Web (back when everyone still called it that). "Longer clips can reach sizes of 11 or 12 megabytes and take several hours to download." Today I can download a 12MB clip faster than I can type this sentence. And how many of you remember when even getting hooked up to the Net required you to know about SLIP and PPP connections? Man, those were the days … not.

So, I know it's going take twice as long to pack as it would normally because I'll have to look everything over and reread those musty old back issues cover to cover before I pack them away again. I really have no idea what I'm going to find.

I did a series of columns here way back in 2007 that I called SIMO – Stuff In My Office -- that showed off the various cool racing keepsakes I've accumulated over the years (revisit them here, here, here, here, and here), like a champagne flute from Don Prudhomme's retirement party at the Playboy Mansion, my old OCIR mug, a piece of concrete from the original Pomona timing tower, etc. --  but that was just the surface stuff that sits out on display. This time, I'm going in deeper, into the drawers and long-ago taped-closed cardboard boxes. I know I have 1970s vintage Drag Racing USA magazines and newspaper articles and collector cards and who-knows-what-else in there. Oooh, I'm getting all tingly just thinking about it.

I'll be back next week, somewhere between making a move and bustin' a move, to report on what I found.

Final farewell to a legendTuesday, December 07, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

 1 of 5 
James Warren and Mike Aaby
The California drag racing community came together last Saturday to lay to rest Roger Coburn, the tuning genius behind James Warren's romp through the SoCal fuel dragster classes in the late 1960s and 1970s, and, as befitting the legend, the turnout was strong and star-quality.

Warren, of course, was in attendance, with his wife, Juanita (Coburn's sister), and they were joined by a familiar group of racers past and present, including Don Prudhomme, Jack Beckman, Larry Bowers, Marvin Graham, Danny Broussard, Tom Jobe, Wayne King, Doug Kerhulas, Tony Waters, John Edmunds, Bob Crowe, Gary Guinn, Noel Reese, Mike and Jeff Miller (sons of "Ridge Route Terrors" partner Marvin Miller), Kennard Warren, Joel Gruzen, Mark Prudhomme, plus original Smoker’s starter Kenny Lowen, founding Smoker’s member Hut Watkins, and Steve Gibbs, who can be found in the photos at right that he sent from the camera of still-a-fan Beckman (which explains why he's in most of them).

Mike Aaby, who owns the restoration of the Warren-Coburn-Miller slingshot, had the car there, and it was cackled, with Warren fittingly in the cockpit.

The rest of the column contains farewells to Coburn, in the form of remembrances and photos sent by the readers of this column. I also wrotea nice sendoff article for this week's National DRAGSTER, with the story of the Rodge Route Terrors. RIP, Roger.

This photo, taken by Bill Schneider at the 2009 California Hot Rod Reunion presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, shows the boys, Coburn and Warren, in their usual spots, in Aaby's re-creation of "The Ridge Route Terrors" car. The two remained close through their senior years.

Kirk Peters, a journeyman crew chief who has tuned a host of nitro cars, tipped his hat to Coburn. "There were three guys in my racing career that influenced me. First was my uncle, Barry Lewis, who showed me how to build engines; Don Prudhomme, who told me nitro racing was about fuel and clutch management; and Roger, who showed me how to run a nitro car. Without those three, there wouldn't have been the list of drivers such as Doug Kerhulas, Ray Stutz, Brad Tuttle, Richard Holcomb, and Al Hofmann, who I was able to send down racetracks with some success. Roger's easygoing smile has been missed around racetracks for some time, but we will now be missing it in life. And just as Jon Asher stated, I am guilty about saying every year that I was going to the Bakersfield event and stop by and say hi to Roger. RIP, Roger … miss you, big guy!

Veteran SoCal race-watcher Cliff Morgan shared two quick memories about the WCM team. "When they built their first back-motor car, the team switched from the 392 Chrysler to a Sid Waterman 426 engine," he recalled. "I remember seeing the car at Lions, and Sid was there. I asked Sid if he was gonna put the car in the (6).20s, which was quick back then. Another time at OCIR, Warren went off against Don Garlits for the Top Fuel final. It was at night, the track was dewy, and both drivers had to pedal, and Warren won. Garlits was always my favorite, but I cheered Warren that night. He was one of the few drivers that could outfox 'the Old Man.' Sigh. RIP, Roger."

Regular Insider reader and contributor Mark Watkins, an OCIR pit rat, remembers seeing Warren and Coburn at an OCIR PDA race. "It was around 7 p.m. in the hot pits, and WCM had their awesome slingshot on jack stands with a tray of barbecue coals under the oil pan. My 10-year-old brain couldn’t comprehend why these racing deities would do such a thing. I remember tall, happy men going about their business working on their car."

Watkins also sent this tribute, penned by his dad: "Other than hanging around their pit, I never really met either one of these men, but I can honestly say I know of no other two guys that I admired more. They were a genuine throwback to the days when it all started. One particular incident comes to mind. It was at a race at OCIR, and it was between rounds, and Roger was pulling one of the heads off when he twisted one of the head bolts off. Warren was sitting in his chair observing, and when Roger held up the twisted-off head bolt, and showed James, he just grinned and shrugged his shoulders. I think if it was anyone else, they would have gone berserk, but that just wasn't their style. If there were ever two more cool guys, I would like to meet them. There are a lot of people that knew Roger and a lot that didn't that are saddened by his passing, me included. Fair winds and smooth seas to you. One of your old fans."

Jon Asher's tale behind the fabled "Garage Photo" was well-appreciated by many, including former Blue Max crewmember and drag racing bon vivant "Waterbed Fred" Miller, who wrote, "In my 40 years in the sport, it is still the best poster I own. That was a great story on Warren and Coburn. They were a great bunch of guys. Guys like them are the reason I go to the Reunion in Bakersfield."

Reader Chuck F. added, "I never knew these two guys, but, man, that photo just jumps right out and says DON'T MESS WITH US. It will now be my new desktop wallpaper. It is just way too cool."

Frankie LoCascio sent this photo ("a not-so-good one from my phone," he admitted) of the WCM front-engine dragster that he took in July. "Apparently, the current owner of the car either lives here in the Phoenix area [he does – PB] or it's an easy drive from SoCal because I've seen the car twice lately," he wrote. "On this particular night, the car was at the celebration of life of Mark Niver. At the wheel of the car is Bob Langston, Mark's brother-in-law. In all the years Mark and Bobby raced together, he never sat in any of the Billet Bullet entries during warm-ups. He was always the one who started the car. Well, on this night, Bobby was at the wheel of the famed car when they fired it up. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, and it wasn't from the nitro. I know it's part of life, but drag racing and Division 7 in particular have lost at least two great names this year. RIP, Roger Coburn."

Stephen Justice sent these two great images. At left is a magazine ad for Rain for Rent, the agricultural-water-services company that sponsored the team for so long. At right is an Isky ad celebrating the team's domination of the Bakersfield March Meet, featuring an awesome drawing by the legendary Pete Millar of "The RRT." That's Coburn on the left, Warren on the right, and "the Camfather" himself, Ed Iskenderian, in the cockpit.

"Nitro Noel" Reese passed along this photo, his favorite of the 1970s back-motor car (my personal favorite of all of them) in action, which was featured in a Petersen Publishing calendar. "This one is my absolute favorite," he said. "The intensity of James staging, full flames, and I’m standing to the right in the white Danekas T-shirt with Roger towering behind me."

That pretty much sums up the way that people thought of Roger Coburn … towering over the landscape. And his presence wasn't just measured in feet and inches (though he had 6 of each!) but in his skills, stature, reputation, kindness, and generosity. He'll be missed.

Our drag sport, illustratedFriday, December 03, 2010
Posted by: Phil Burgess

National DRAGSTER may have the longevity record for drag racing weeklies, and Drag News will always be considered by some to have been the sport's authoritative tome, but there still was room for others to try their hand at the sometimes-tricky business of publishing racing news and photos.

In early 1963, Phil Bellomy, a kid from Southern California's San Gabriel Valley, did just that, launching an ambitious publication called Drag Sport Illustrated. Bellomy partnered with well-known photographer Jim Kelly to launch the new publication, whose first issue was cover-dated March 3, 1963. As implied by the name and enhanced by Kelly's photographic expertise, DSI was heavy on photos while DRAGSTER, which was launched in 1960, and Drag News, which debuted in 1955, had more in-depth stories and perhaps fewer photos. In many ways, the reportage, which was sometimes more folksy than factual (especially the headlines) but nonetheless featured an all-star lineup such as Ralph Guldahl, Dave Wallace, Forrest Bond, Mike Kotowski, and Steve Gibbs, was less important than the photos, which was just fine with a lot of folks who, like today, were getting their news from a variety of sources anyway.

With the support and encouragement and expertise of local printer Carl Bennitt, DSI was printed on high-grade Electrabrite newsprint – much better than what was offered by Drag News or ND – to enhance the appearance of the photography submitted by greats such as Kelly, Dave Shipman, Tim Marshall, Bill Turney, Charles Strutt, and others.

Issues ranged from as few as eight pages in the first year to 30 pages and covered everything from dragsters to stockers to gassers, motorcycles, and altereds. Although prime coverage was given to SoCal venues such as Lions, Fontana, and San Fernando, DSI also covered action across the country, including from the few NHRA national events at the time. Despite gaining popular favor, the dream died in July 1966 when DSI was abruptly shut down.

A lot of folks have never heard of DSI let alone seen its contents, but thanks to the dedicated efforts of Ron Johnson and Don Ewald, fans can now view 103 issues in PDF format on a new two-CD set recently released and available for just $25 here and in the gift shops at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Musuem presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California and at the Petersen Automotive Museum. The collection spans from that March 1963 issue through March 1965.

Johnson borrowed from Bob Thompson his complete collection and enlisted Ewald, webmaster for both Cacklefest.com and his We Did It For Love (wdifl.com) sites, to do the heavy lifting of scanning the issues. The project probably started in June, and Ewald finished the first two years of issues in September so that they could get a CD set produced for the California Hot Rod Reunion presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California. Ewald estimated that he spent about 230 hours scanning and touching up in Photoshop each page for maximum presentation.

Ewald also had to contact Bellomy, who still held the original copyright, to work out that issue. Johnson paid the fees for the right to reproduce and sell the scanned collection for a limited time.

I had a chance to review the set and peruse some of the great articles. We've scanned dozens of issues of National DRAGSTER ourselves with the ambition of someday making a compete set (which, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, already is nearing 2,400 issues), and it's no easy feat to scan them and make them look good. There are a few bleed-through issues with some of the DSI files (print from one side of the page ghosting onto the other in the scanning process), but it's minimal and not really invasive.

You can find great coverage from an incredible period in our sport's history when Top Fuelers ruled the roost at local tracks far and wide and enjoy photos of some of that era's great cars.

The second CD also features DSI's 1965 calendar, a wonderful full-color keepsake. As you know, the newsweeklies back then didn't have any color photography, and we don’t get many chances to see cars such as the Greer-Black-Prudhomme entry, Connie Kalitta's Bounty Hunter, the Yeakel Plymouth dragster, the Chizler, "Big John" Mazmanian's Willys, and others in full-glory color.

You can also still order the Drag News collection from wdifl.com here. With these two collections, you'll be able to hold your own when it comes to those weekend bench racing sessions and to call me out on my work, too! I know I'll be adding it to my arsenal of tools for deciphering our sport's history.

Someday, we'll have a collection of National DRAGSTER issues you can buy – we've been toying with the idea of single-issue downloads of our coverage from historic events like the 1967 Nationals, 1972 Supernationals, 1975 World Finals, et al – but until then, you’re going to have to just trust me on some of this stuff.

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