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From the burnout box to your mailbox for 50 years

27 Aug 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Welcome to our exhibit!
The walls of the Parks NHRA Museum are now adorned with covers and articles from past issues of National DRAGSTER.
NHRA Vice President-Publications Adriane Ridder welcomed those attending the opening. Behind her is a giant replica of a dramatic 1966 ND cover.
Dick Wells, left, ND's first editor, and yours truly traded barbs in a free-rolling comparison of the differences and similarities of our roles.
Five National DRAGSTER editors got together for a family photo. Back row, from left: George Phillips (1982-85), me (1986-present), and Bill Holland (1969-74); front row, Jim Edmunds (1974-1982) and Wells (1960, 1961-63).
From left, ND photographer Marc Gewertz, Museum curator Greg Sharp, Drag Racer magazine's Randy Fish, "T.V. Tommy" Ivo, and Phillips shared laughs and memories.
The seldom-seen "issue zero" trial issue that was sent out in early 1960 to promote the coming of National DRAGSTER.
Former National DRAGSTER Photo Editor Leslie Lovett is fondly rememebred in this display featuring mementoes from his career.

Wednesday's shindig at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California – the opening of our exhibit, "National DRAGSTER: From the burnout box to your mailbox for 50 years" – was a rousing and well-attended success. The press turnout was great for a Wednesday afternoon, and we were graced by the presence of several luminaries who came to share the day with us.

The exhibit runs along the south (front) wall of the museum to the right when you enter the museum. You can’t miss it because there's the world-famous Albertson Olds of the late, great Leonard Harris poised in front of a giant wall appliqué of the famous photo taken years ago at Indy of a National DRAGSTER photog capturing a Top Fuel burnout. A larger-than-life version of the front page of National DRAGSTER's coverage of the car winning the 1960 Nationals sits on an easel next to the car.

Rounding the corner, the first thing you see – that you can’t help but see – is a 15-foot by 15-foot version of the Feb. 18, 1966, National DRAGSTER front page with a tight photo of a burnout-smoking Top Fuel tire. On the long stretch of wall between the two bookends are large-scale reproductions of numerous National DRAGSTER covers and features that tell the story of how ND has covered the sport in the last 50 years. There are special groupings for women in drag racing, performance barriers, and the like. A special case salutes late ND Photo Editor Leslie Lovett that includes some of his cameras, National DRAGSTER shirts, photo credentials, and photos; another case is filled with old issues of Tie Rod (DRAGSTER's mid-1950s predecessor) and old tools of the trade, such as a photo-sizing wheel and grease pencil. Above that is hung a list of the 15 editors of our great publication alongside "issue zero," which was a preview of National DRAGSTER's first issue, a nice sales tool to send to advertisers and sponsors.

There's also a nice tribute section to National DRAGSTER's first editor, Dick Wells, who was my co-host for the afternoon's festivities and currently serves on NHRA's board of directors. We also were proud to have on hand three other former ND editors: Bill Holland (1969-74), Jim Edmunds (1974-1982), and George Phillips (1982-86), representing the editorial leadership of the magazine's last 40 years (our 11 predecessors lasted less than nine years total!).

As mentioned, the turnout was great from our fellow members of the Fourth Estate, including Drag Racer''s Randy Fish, hot rod know-it-all Pat Ganahl, publishing magnate (and former Funny Car driver) Jim Adolph, local newspaper motorsports writer Louie Brewster, and others. I was also honored to see that Dave Wallace, one of the deans of drag journalism and a longtime buddy and sounding board for me, made the several-hundred-mile trek to be with us and to hang out for the afternoon's Twilight Museum Cruise.

Adolph wasn't the only racer in the place, as we also were graced with the presence of a couple of Winternationals legends, "T.V. Tommy" Ivo and Carl Olson, plus second-generation racer John Lombardo Jr., hot rodding legend Alex Xydias, and Miss Hurst Golden Shifter herself, Linda Vaughn. (We had sent invites to the other local stars like John Force Don Prudhomme, Ron Capps, etc., but they were in Indy for testing). In the mixer time before festivities kicked off, I got a great chance to talk to Ivo about his infamous 1974 Winternationals top-end rollover, an episode that he looks back on fondly (no doubt in part due to its positive outcome!) as just another of the grand adventures in his life. I promised him we would speak at greater length about it in the future as it's sure to be among the nominees on the list of greatest Winternationals moments that y'all will be voting on later this year.

Once we got everyone seated, my boss, NHRA Vice President-Publications Adriane Ridder, welcomed everyone to the proceedings and spoke about the dedication of the employees past and present and acknowledged the hard work of those who helped prepare the exhibit under the leadership of Paula Gewertz and Teresa Long. Rey Oruga, who is the art director of National DRAGSTER, also directed the exhibit with help from members of the current staff (in alphabetical order), Nicole Cintron, Barbara Doonan, Jerry Foss, Marc Gewertz, Lisa Handy, Matt Hurd, Carl Landkammer, Jeff Mellem, Debbie Pierce, Juan Torres, Lorraine Vestal, Richard Wong, and yours truly) as well as the museum staff.

Adriane then introduced Wells and me, and what followed was a long segment, all unrehearsed, with us trading tales about our relationships with Wally Parks, the challenges of the job in our eras  – to which we both agreed probably had an equal degree of difficulty, but in far different ways – and shared funny stories. Wells is a gifted storyteller and shared some great tales, including how the print-shop foreman refused to print the first issue because they hadn’t been paid, so Wells had to roust Wally out of bed in the wee hours of the morning; Parks paid with a personal check to get the first issue printed.

There was a lot of Wally reminiscing, and, of course, the subject of his infamous memos came up. I've mentioned here how Wally wouldn’t think twice about pointing out – sometimes harshly, sometimes kindly – errors or missed opportunities, and it turns out that he didn’t limit his critiques to the DRAGSTER staff, according to Wallace and Ganahl. From all of that came one of those light-bulb moments for me as Wells told how Parks used to send critical letters to Drag News, DRAGSTER's scrappy rival, under the pen name Parks Wengard. That unusual name was also part of Parks' e-mail address for years, and I never thought to ask what it meant; I mean, the first part seemed obvious, right? It's the man's last name, right? Nooooo ….

Turns out that Parks Wengard spelled backwards is, well .... Drag News Krap, Wally's own little dig at his main competitor. And so now I know …

Our little chat went very well and smoothly; I'm not a big public speaker, but I had fun, and it looked like Wells did, too, and the audience seemed to enjoy our interaction and stories and appreciated our ongoing reverence for Parks and our mission.

We fielded a few questions and comments, then everyone feasted on a buffet lunch accompanied by much bench racing and "remember whens." I hung out as long as I could, but we still had the current issue of ND to ship (hey, who picked Wednesday to do this deal anyway?). I came back to the office, put the issue to bed, then headed back to the Museum to watch the Ewald brothers do a mini Cacklefest and to take part in the car show as a celebrity guest. Adriane and I picked a very clean '57 Nomad that you'll be able to see in the pre-race parade at the Auto Club NHRA Finals later this year.

Our exhibit is scheduled to be at the museum for a good long time, at least through next year's Winternationals, so be sure to stop by and check it out. I'm sure it will stir up your great old memories, too.