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Fan Fotos: Connecticut Dragway

27 Jul 2014
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

 If you’re like me (and you probably wouldn’t be here if you weren’t), one of the great joys of longtime drag racing fans is looking at old drag racing photos. There are websites and Facebook pages aplenty filled with some ol’ time goodness from the days when Top Fuelers had the engine in the front, Funny Cars still looked like cars, and gassers and even the stockers commanded huge followings.

Although plenty of the photos you see plastered all over the Web are well-known from decades past, what I love are the collections that seemingly come out of someone’s old shoebox, stored away and perhaps forgotten decades ago in a dusty attic until unearthed by some spring cleaning or perhaps a move.

Insider reader Tom Edwards (whose business card reads “Writer-Photographer-Comedian”) sent me such a collection, a CD full of his old photos from Connecticut Dragway, circa 1968. I know this column sometimes has a bit of a West Coast bias due to my own upbringing, so I’m always eager to be able to feature stuff from “back East.”

Edwards discovered our amazing sport in 1965 at Connecticut Dragway. “Having spent only a few minutes in the pit area, I knew drag racing was the type of motorsport I would enjoy the most, and that was before I saw my first pass,” he wrote. “From that race until I joined the military in 1968, I saw Don Garlits; Connie Kalitta; the Ramchargers; Stone, Woods & Cook; 'Big John' Mazmanian; K.S. Pittman; Bruce Larson; ‘Grumpy’ Jenkins; Sox & Martin; Don Gay; Malcolm Durham; Bill Lawton’s Tasca Ford; Bill Flynn’s Yankee Peddler; ‘Dyno Don’ Nicholson; and ‘Fast Eddie’ Schartman. Many of the sport’s biggest stars found time during the season for a stop at the track in the Nutmeg State.

“Connecticut Dragway was a fan-friendly track,” he added. “The bleachers, which were on the pit side only, were about 20 rows high, began near the starting line, and were perhaps 50 yards in length. From the end of the stands to the finish-line area, fans that arrived early enough could park their cars in the front row facing the track. I still remember how much fun it was to be, in effect, at a drive-in-style dragstrip. A small food stand near the entrance to the pits offered ‘hot dogs, hamburgs, and grinders’ for your dining pleasure. I always had an unobstructed view of the track from the flash of the green light on the Christmas Tree and, in the case of high-performance cars, the deployment of parachutes to bring the cars to a stop.”

Here’s a dozen photos from Edwards’ collection for you to enjoy.

Here’s the view from behind the starting line looking downtrack. The yellow two-story timing tower and starter’s booth are well visible as a tire-smoking fueler rockets down the track.

 
 

As Edwards mentioned, the stars all came to Connecticut Dragway, including “Big Daddy” himself, Don Garlits, who later autographed this candid photo (right) that Edwards took.

I’m especially stoked by Edwards' photo above of Garlits about to be push-started. You can see “Big Daddy” signaling “Come on” to the push-truck driver, who was probably Bob Taaffe. Because I’m pretty sure these photos are from 1968, it’s probably Swamp Rat 12-B, which replaced the very short (137-inch-wheelbase!) 12-A they had built for their early-season West Coast tour; they figured a shorter car would be lighter and work well on the good-hooking left coast, but the car did not perform well, so 12-B was built at 215 inches and won the Springnationals and U.S. Nationals.

 
 

Connie Kalitta, right, looked over the SOHC 427 Ford in his Bounty Hunter. Not sure who he’s talking to. I like how Kalitta thoughtfully signed this one down the side so as not to take away from the photo’s subjects.

 

Here’s Bub Reese’s Top Fueler. The back end kinda looks like the La Cosa Nosta car that he fielded with the team of Gaines-Marino-Webb that year, but this has his name on it where it used to say La Cosa Nosta. Reese, who hailed from Maryland, got his start in racing with his brother, Phil, before going on to drive for a number of other teams.

 

Long before Jaws terrorized the Eastern seaboard, Frank Federici’s The Shark! Corvette was a staple of East Coast match race action, from the late 1960s through the early 1970s. The photo below shows what’s under the Corvette body, a supercharged 392 Chrysler powerplant. The photo also gives a good look at how some Funny Car bodies were constructed (and supported) back then before the modern-style tree and tin were developed.

 

Gassers were a favorite at Connecticut Dragway, and what gasser show would be complete without the Stone, Woods, & Cook Willys? I think Chuck Finders was driving for the team at this time.

 

And what Stone, Woods, & Cook appearances would be complete without “Big John” Mazmanian there to keep them honest? This is the Jr. Thompson-driven ’50 Austin that followed Mazmanian’s own Willys. By the end of the next season, Mazmanian was solidly in the Funny Car business.

 

And if S-W-C and “Big John” were in the house, you knew that K.S. Pittman couldn’t be far behind with his ’33 Willys. Love this shot of the car on the open trailer entering the pits.

 

And, of course, the local favorites would be on hand to defend their turf. This is Jack Merkel’s New York-based ’33 Willys.

 

I don’t know and couldn’t find much info on John Lopiano and his ’33 Willys, other than that he was a local favorite, but I also chose this photo for the background, a cool old snack bar just like the one that Edwards described in his introduction.

 

Thanks for sharing, Tom. I know the readers here appreciate seeing photos they might never have. I know I do. Keep ‘em coming, people.