NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Photo Follies Follow up

Reaction to Dec. 31, 2007 photos, including some Stone-Woods-Cook trivia; a look at the National Dragster photo archives
04 Jan 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

Response to Monday's "Photo Follies" entry was heart-warming and informative. Seems like a lot of you really dig seeing photos of old cars and, as noted by CSK bloggisimo Bob Wilber, there's something a little more "real" about seeing fan shots than the oh-so-perfect professional photos.

One of the more interesting pieces of correspondence came from motorsports illustrator James Ibusuki, who has over the past decade created some real works of art, photo-realistic paintings of great cars and moments in racing history, many of which adorn the walls here at ND. I've known James for a long time, so I took well his schooling on some misinformation in one of the captions.

He pointed out that, contrary to my caption, it wasn't Doug "Cookie" Cook behind the wheel of the Swindler IV Mustang, and that it probably wasn't 1972. To wit:

"Cook had a bad crash in the first SWC Funny Car, a '67 Mustang that was half steel and 'glass. Cookie quit racing for Tim Woods after he got out of the hospital. From late '68 and onward Doug tuned for most of "Big John" Mazmanian's Cuda FCs ('68-'71). Meanwhile, Tim Woods wanted to keep the famous three-name title intact on his Funny Cars. How could he do this if Doug Cook had departed? He did something sneaky and clever: He used the name of his secretary, who happened to be named Abie Cooke! If you look at any Stone-Woods-Cook Funny Car after the initial '67 effort you will notice the "E" in Cook. One of Mustangs, around '69 or '70, even had her first name lettered very small above her last name. I think Mike Van Sant was driving the '72 Mach I shown in your photo. I have a photo dated '72 with the car lettered Swindler III showing Mike's name. Because of that I wonder if your Swindler IV photo was taken in early '73. I'm thinking this may be true because the front wheel covers on rear engine TF'ers didn't come along until the same year (referring to your WCM photo from the same event)."

Yessiree, folks, a history lesson in every blog. Thanks, James. By the way, James' newest project is a painting of Bill Jenkins' '66 red/white Nova racing Jere Stahl's Hemi Belvedere at Island Dragway. It was Jenkins' first drag car to carry the "Grumpy's Toy" name and, according to James, the '66 Nova seems to have a cult following, as opposed to the massive Camaro fan base. (Photo courtesy Bill Holland)

I also heard from Pat "Ma" Green, and it turns out that, in fact, I can still get in trouble for sneaking down to the starting line at Irwindale, even 30-something years later. "I can't believe you guys got by me. Must have been slipping!" she wrote. "You can't believe how many people have told me I kicked them out, or wouldn't let them into Irwindale. Oh well, they probably deserved it." Ma, mother of fuel crewman to the stars Randy Green, was for many years the keeper of the credentials at places like Irwindale and OCIR. I remember well calling her my first years at ND, while OCIR was still in business, to get credentials for every match race that the County held in 1982 and '83.

Dave Emerson, who used to field a front-engined dragster, the aptly named Hand Grenade, in the late 1960s, called to talk about the Beadle-Bernstein pit thrash from the '81 Winternationals, an event fondly referred to around here as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He pointed out Hank Buck, in the cowboy hat at right, who had quite a reputation back in the early 1980s as a master fiberglass repairman, doing work for the likes of Roland Leong (Mike Dunn really banged Roland's cars in those early years but I don’t think even Buck wanted to put Humpty Dumpty back together again after the '83 Finals obliteration), who threw his hat into the Beadle fray.

I also got quite a few requests for another gallery of Phil's Photo Follies that I may fulfill in the future, but before that I hope to introduce another semi-regular feature to the column showcasing the work of some of drag racing's best lenspeople. I've already spoken to the likes of Norman Blake, Tim Marshall, and Joel Gelfand, as well as our own National DRAGSTER staff, about sending me their five favorite shots along with a little story behind each of them. It should be lots of fun.

Speaking of photos to share, I'd be remiss if I didn't share the credit for being able to illustrate this column, other NHRA.com stories, and, of course, National DRAGSTER, with great photos of yesteryear from an amazing library of images we have on hand. Teresa Long, Jerry Foss, Marc Gewertz, Richard Wong, and Lisa Handy do an amazing job of filing (and, more importantly, being able to find) the tens of thousands of old photos we've accumulated in 47 years of publishing ND.

It's rare that I can't myself find what I'm looking for, but when I can't, one of them seems to have a good recall of where they might have shot something or where to look for something they may have come across previously.

I kid you not when I say it's an amazing treasure trove of images. This room is perhaps of the coolest, lined floor to ceiling on both sides (note ladder in background) with file cabinets bursting with images – most of these black and white prints -- from the last 50 years. On the left are the alphabetic driver files – everyone from Johnny Abbott to Richie Zul – and on the right are the event files. We could charge admission to this room.

Individual driver files for longtime drivers have subfolders inside of them (these are real folders, not computer folders) organized by year as either shots of the driver or the car. The really, really big-name drivers – the Prudhommes, Bernsteins, Garlitses, Muldowneys, and Forces – are kept in their own file cabinet in another room, with each of them taking up nearly a drawer of their own, filled front to back with color and black and white images.

Color transparencies (slides) are kept in yet another file cabinet, as are the invaluable black and white negatives and modern CDs (all stored in fireproof cabinets). Every event dating back to the 1960s has an accompanying book of contact sheets with thousands more images that have never been printed nor seen by the public. It's fun to cruise through them and see the "outtakes" that didn't make it to print or the sequences of images taken just before and after some of the sport's great freeze-frame moments.

As we all now work in a digital age – the photos we use in DRAGSTER all have to be scanned for printing – the photo staff has been assembling an impressive digital library as well that's available to us on our internal network. Organized by year or by category, it's easy to find a ready-to-print image for NHRA.com or DRAGSTER. Each driver file is again broken down by year and we have a great inventory already of all of the current drivers.

After each event, the photo team will cherrypick the best images of each driver and car and add them to their file -– Tony Schumacher's file has nearly 300 images from 2007 alone -– and, as photos are requested from their files and scanned for use in ND or online (such as for my recent item here about Simon Menzies), they're also added to the digital library. It's an amazing collection.

Lots of good stories coming next week, including chats with "old-timers" Don Ewald, John Collins, and "Backdoor Bob" Struksnes.