When I first slipped into the editor's chair at National DRAGSTER some 21 years ago, the hard work was already done. The 14 gentlemen who had preceded me at the top of the weekly masthead had set the pace and the tone of the publication since its March 1960 debut and in the years since I've worked hard to keep it fresh and timely in an age of competing media by introducing dozens of new columns and features and even reintroducing some initiated by my predecessors. I followed a list of names that includes many that may be familiar to you and many that aren't, but each, in his own way, helped shape today's publication. Dick Wells, now on NHRA's board of directors, was its first editor, but over the years the job has been held by Bruce Tawson, Cec Draney, Dean Brown, Dan Roulston, Chuck Chandler, Bruce Young, Steve Evans, Lane Evans, Joe Rusz, Bill Holland, Jim Edmunds, George Phillips, and even Wally Parks himself. Some of them lasted just a few issues; others, like Edmunds, remained for seven years.
Holland, who served as ND's editor from 1969 through July 1974, holds the honor of the third longest tenure behind Edmunds and myself, and is still an active part of National DRAGSTER as the owner of Holland Communications, the advertising agency for companies that include Mark Williams, Crane, ARP, ATI, and Manley. He's also a regular reader of this column and, as of right now, a guest columnist. Take it away, Bill.
I was chatting with Phil Burgess about this column and asked him if readers might be interested in how things were at DRAGSTER back in “The Good Old Days.” He said, “Go for it.” I did.
I became Editor of National DRAGSTER in April of 1969, back in the days when Top Fuel dragster drivers sat behind the engine (typically a cast iron 392 Chrysler), Funny Cars looked more-or-less like their street-driven counterparts, and Pro Stock was but an idea being put forth by guys like "Grumpy" Jenkins.
Myself, I came to DRAGSTER from the Valley Times and Hollywood Citizen-News daily newspapers, where I wrote an automotive column (“The Wonderful World of Wheels”) and was an advertising Account Executive. I was also partners in a Top Fuel dragster and had been racing at NHRA Division 7 and select national events for a few years. This background gave Wally and Barbara Parks sufficient confidence to turn the reins of DRAGSTER over to me when the late Steve Evans left to pursue other opportunities.
Having come from the newspaper world, I was familiar with the production technology of the day, which I can assure you did NOT involve computers. DRAGSTER's composition was done using a Linotype machine, which essentially generated lead type one line at a time. These were assembled in galleys, and proofed by inking the type, laying a clean sheet of paper on top, and using a roller to make the impression. We’d proofread the galleys, looking for errors. A “typo” would be fixed by generating a new slug of type and slipped it into position. Let me also point out that a supply of molten lead was required to feed the Linotype, so the place stank to high heaven.
I hadn’t been on the job too long when I got a phone call from DRAGSTER's printer, which was a firm in Glendale, Calif., called News Type Service. The company owner, Dick Jutras, asked me how I felt about unions and would I cross a picket line. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make that decision as the printer came to terms with the union and made provisions for the transition to this newfangled technology called “cold type.” They replaced the big, smelly Linotype “hot type” machines with the first generation of phototypositors. Operators would use a typewriter-like device to make a punch tape. The tape would be fed into the “Photon,” which would expose the letters onto photo-sensitive paper. And it was the output of this refrigerator-sized machine that would be pasted into the proper position on each page using hot wax as the adhesive. Photos were added through the use of “halftones,” which are essentially scaled reproductions of glossy photos with a screen used to create a dot pattern. The overwhelming number of pages were printed in B&W, and full process color used only in extremely rare occasions (like the U.S. Nationals Souvenir Edition cover).
It’s important to point out that in those days National DRAGSTER was the primary source for timely news about drag racing. There was no Internet. No same-day TV shows. And very little coverage afforded by the mainstream media. We were it! Accordingly, there was a sense of urgency in the way we went about producing the paper. You could count on burning the midnight oil on Mondays and Tuesdays, because the presses would be rolling in the early a.m. hours of Wednesday. A few progressive retailers like Jeg’s had a bundle of hot-off-the-press DRAGSTERs air-freighted to them so they’d have all the latest news and product information on Thursdays, which served to attract racers to their facility.
Back in those days the staff of National DRAGSTER was decidedly smaller than it is now. There were all of five bodies putting out the paper when I got there, with the late, great Leslie Lovett handling the photos. One of drag racing’s more interesting characters, Don Rackemann, was the ad sales guy, and he was replaced by none other than Steve Gibbs. However, it wasn’t too long until Wally decided that “Big Hook’s” talents were better spent on the event side of things and Bob Vandergriff Sr. took over ad sales. Who’d have guessed that his baby son would grow up to be one of drag racing’s elite Top Fuel drivers.
John Jodauga, who’s the lone survivor from that group of free spirits, also joined the DRAGSTER staff in 1969. Needless to say, his artistic and journalistic skills were put to good use. For many years John’s illustrations of the sport’s top racers for our driver profile stories graced DRAGSTER's quarter-fold cover.
This was a time before political correctness. We could get away with running a full page of feminine pulchritude in the coverage of national events. We came up with the April Fool’s edition (National DIGGER) and had great fun at the expense of some good-natured racers. We also invented the mythical “Eldorado Nationals” where Caddie owners from all over came to race. Much to our surprise, recent CHRR honoree Mike Jones and the folks at OCIR decided to make it a real event.
Looking back at things, there were a tremendous amount of changes that occurred during those halcyon days. NHRA’s event calendar began to swell. Drag racing was, after all, “The Sport Of The 70s.” We ushered in Pro Stock, rear-engined dragsters, and aftermarket aluminum engine blocks. During my five-year tenure, the circulation of National DRAGSTER tripled, with NHRA memberships growing from 17,000 to more than 50,000. I’d like to think that the quality of the paper helped stimulate that growth.
The rancid smells of molten lead and hot wax notwithstanding, those were, indeed, “The Good Old Days.” It was a time and place I’ll never forget.