NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Monday at the movies

02 Jun 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

So I stumbled across More American Graffiti on HBO the other night and got to watch “Big John” Milner in some faux 1964 footage as he raced at Fremont and kept hoping for that big “factory” ride. Although the film was shot in 1979, they did a fair job of replicating the cars (blooper: Moroso decal on Milner’s valve covers; company not founded until 1968), and it gave me a hankering for some more nostalgic footage that led to a multi-hour odyssey through the good and the bad posted on YouTube.

There’s an awful lot of drag racing stuff out there, not all of it great and not all of it historic, so I’ll save you a bit of legwork (fingerwork?). These aren’t the only good ones out there, just some that I came across, in no particular order. For the multipart videos, you should see links come up in the player to the next part.

This oughta pretty much blow your day and bring the IT police knocking at your cubicle to ask why you’re sucking up all of the company’s bandwidth. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Bust out the popcorn and enjoy.


Title: Traditional Hot Rods and Drag Racing

Duration: 2:12

Background: Apparently a trailer for one of the several vintage drag racing films sold on the Car Films Web site

Footage quality: Excellent

Sound: Yes; interviews and the Rip Chords doing "Three Window Coupe"

Why it’s worth watching: Opens with a pair of great circa 1974 interviews -- Shirley Muldowney talks in-depth about racing in a man's sport (plus we get a quick look at her first Cha-Cha Top Fueler), and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits talks about always being a target for his opponents – then transitions into vintage racing footage from Pomona and Great Bend and lots of quick-cut pit action. Cool footage of Mickey Thompson's sleek Panorama City Special streamliner towing down the return road.


Title: Drag Cars Havin' Fun #2

Duration: 4:45

Background: Professionally shot, based on the variety and position of camera angles; unknown program

Footage quality: Good

Sound: Moody Blues "Knights in White Satin"

Why it’s worth watching: Race footage of Calvin Rice and the J.E. Riley & Son dragster and early Pomona footage, transitioning into footage from the 1971 NHRA Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway, including the Blue Max, Don Prudhomme's Carefree Barracuda, the beautiful California Charger Top Fueler, and tons of front-engine Top Fuelers and Mopar Pro Stockers. Nice in-car footage from front-engine Top Fueler (begins at 1:25). Interesting fish-eye lens use. You'll easily spot many heroes of yesteryear. (This clip is the better follow-up to Drag Cars Havin' Fun, which is heavy on some Dick Landy pit action and in-car shots -- dig those deck shoes he was driving in -- and includes lots of repeat footage from the first clip.)


Title: Auto Racing 1969, Part 2 - Drag Racing

Duration: 5:44

Background: Part of Speedvision's The Wild, Wonderful World of Auto Racing (as evident partway through when the footage is minimized at the five-minute mark for the Speedvision sports "ticker"), with the emphasis as a primer of the sport; filmed at the 1969 Springnationals at Dallas Int'l Motor Speedway

Footage quality: Excellent

Sound: Professional narration

Why it’s worth watching: Good mix of Pro and Sportsman cars and a good look at the fabulous Dallas facility, including the trademark tower. Plenty of good pit stuff of some vintage (and famous) cars and good on-track action of 6.7-second Top Fuelers. Good look at early Funny Car cockpits ("These are vehicles of the space age," the narrator intones) but includes the unfortunate, fatal Funny Car accident between Pat Foster and Gerry Schwartz.


Title: Psychedelic '70s @ York US 30 Dragway

Duration: 3:54 (part 1); 6:12 (part 2)

Background: Promo for Bee on Video's 88-minute full-length video

Footage quality: Average, vignetted at corners

Sound: Ambient sounds (announcer, engine noise)

Why it’s worth watching: Shot mostly from a spectator's viewpoint, nonetheless features some cool scenes, including "Dyno Don" Nicholson's Pro Stock Maverick arriving on a ramp truck, rare footage of the Don Garlits Dodge Charger Funny Car that was driven by Gary Bolger for only a few months (reportedly "Big" had no real involvement in the car; the name was used to book the car and Garlits received a percentage of the booking fee), the wild Durachrome Bug VW Funny Car, "Wild Bill" Shrewsberry's L.A. Dart wheelstander, high-winding small-block Pro Stockers, and Miss Hurst Golden Shifter Linda Vaughn and the famous 10-foot-tall Hurst stick-shift. Part 2, which checks in at more than six minutes, includes more of the same, plus Bill Jenkins' revolutionary Pro Stock Vega, more L.V., two jet cars, and Bob Perry's wild Hell on Wheels tank wheelstander.


Title: Don Garlits Wins the 1967 U.S. Nationals

Duration: 3:18

Background: Flashback video from last year's ESPN2 coverage of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, introduced by Paul Page, of Keith Jackson's call of this famous moment for ABC's Wide World of Sports program

Footage quality: Very good

Sound: The golden voice of Keith Jackson

Why it’s worth watching: For years, you've heard the legendary story of how "Big Daddy" refused to shave until he ran in the sixes, which he did – and then some – with a 6.77 final-round victory over James Warren, then whipped out the ol' Barbasol on the starting line … now you can see it for yourself, from suit-up to push-start to the no-burnout/tire-wipe to a slow-mo tight shot of the finish-line margin of victory. "So now he'll have to cut off his whiskers," says an excited Jackson as the crowd flocks to the starting line to back-pat their hero and watch him climb on the hood of his truck and lather up. Also includes post-race interview of a humble Garlits.


Title: Drag Racing - Pacific Raceways 1963

Duration: 2:49

Background: Video from the Mother's Day drag races, May 12, 1963, at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash.; home movies shot by Tex Steere and converted by his son

Footage quality: Good

Sound: None

Why it’s worth watching: If you like early dragsters in all shapes, sizes, and flavors, you'll like this one. Injected diggers, early Top Fuelers, boiling smoke off the back tires on their runs; I don't know any of these cars, but there's a good mix of them: blown, injected, and otherwise, spewing smoke off the rear tires. Some nice overall shots of the track, which has been around for more than 40 years. Also worth noting: the total lack of guardrails at the track that now hosts an NHRA POWERade event.


Title: Return To Lions

Duration: 5:21

Background: Posted by Jerry Miles as part of the Cougartown.com effort to remember 1960s Hawthorne, a close neighbor to Long Beach., Calif., home of Lions Drag Strip, this is a slideshow of still photos covering the track from its 1955 opening until the Last Drag Race in December 1972

Footage quality: n/a

Sound: Instrumental track

Why it’s worth watching: A mix of familiar photos and new ones, including a lot of early color images, that gives you a pretty good overall look at the fabled track that made the intersection of 223rd and Alameda Avenue known around the drag racing world. For unfortunates like me who never got a chance to visit, or those who want to remember when they did, it's a nice piece of work with nice transitions between images. Includes some of the famous old cars that ran at "the Beach," including the Super Cuda, Stone-Woods-Cook, Lenarth's Secret Weapon Jeep, Shores & Hess, etc. Pretty cool image of Tom McEwen's Mongoose-bedecked firesuit, too, as well as the ticket booth. Curiously though, it's not all Lions. I saw images from Bristol, Pomona, and Famoso mixed in.


Title: Indianapolis Nationals 1960-1969 PT1

Duration: 9:25

Background: Home movies shot throughout nearly a decade of Indy racing. The original 8mm films were first converted to VHS and then DVD, which hurts the quality

Footage quality: Poor to average

Sound: None

Why it’s worth watching: Lots of staging-lane and pit-area shots of cars throughout the years, including the dual-engine cars of Eddie Hill – the infamous car that dug up the starting line with its dual rear slicks – and the Dragmaster Two Thing. The initial race footage, shot from the stands near the starting line, is limited to poor views of launches, but the action gets cracking around the 2:40 mark when the camera is moved downtrack to film entire runs. You get to see a nice panoramic view of the Indy facility back in the day – a pretty spartan affair except for the DA starting-line tower – and some full-speed runs. The footage suffers from its third-generation nature – inconsistent lighting, sprocket-jump, vignetting at the corners, and dust artifacts (one monster Texas-shaped piece appears at the top left of the image at the 2:40 mark and is there for the duration) – but it's still cool to see the A/Gas Supercharged cars like Stone-Woods-Cook and Jack Chrisman in the infamous Sachs & Son Comet – the forerunner of the Funny Car class -- run down the vaunted IRP quarter-mile. Part 2, which clocks in just shy of 10 minutes, features more Top Fuelers and better camera work (i.e., cars can be seen more clearly). Watching both parts, you can watch IRP grow – more stands, the Hurst crossover bridge, the addition of guardrails, etc. – which is pretty cool. Not a lot creativity – hey, they're home movies -- and would have been awesome with sound, but still a priceless slice of Indy history.