NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

The Photo Hoarder

17 Oct 2014
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

People collect all sorts of things, from cars to beer cans to movie posters and magazines, all of which require a lot of research and an outlay of dollars to build a substantial collection. For race fans like us, amassing an impressive collection of some of the things that mean the most to us is as simple as right-clicking your computer mouse.

What I’m talking about, of course, are drag racing photos that are posted all over the Internet (including, of course, this column). The photos are either saved for personal enjoyment or reposted and shared elsewhere. There are message boards, like The H.A.M.B., that have entire threads devoted to showing off great photos from the past (one thread, cited by a poster as "the best photo history of drag racing anywhere," has more than 1,200 pages!), and I get that. I know you do it (heck, there’s one guy on Nitromater who seems to republish only the photos that appear in this column, with nary a credit), and I understand the thrill of the hunt, the joy of finding a photo that evokes a personal memory, and sometimes sharing it with others.

I’m right there with you guys, though my “collection” is really small (as compared to a certain former National Dragster staffer and current Top Alcohol Funny Car racer whose collection exceeds 20,000 images for his own personal consumption), but that’s probably because I’m a bit spoiled. Just across the hall from my office is the NHRA photo library, with nearly 50 four-drawer file cabinets stacked two-high to the ceiling on all four walls each packed with thousandths of images. Just down the hall is the collection of books containing the proof sheets of every photo taken at every NHRA event from the mid-1950s through the early 2000s (when we fully converted to digital photography), which we estimate at more than 2.5 million images. And we're adding about 7,000 digital images at every national event, which are stored on massive hard drives to which I have easy access, so, as you can see, if I want to spend the afternoon looking at cool photos, I don’t need the Internet. When I do cruise the Internet for research or even enjoyment, I’ll save a photo here and there, either because I really dig it — for artistic, historic, or personal reasons — or because I’m looking ahead to a future column.

So by this time, I bet you're wondering, “So what makes Phil (right) click?” (You’re also probably wondering, “Can we just get on with it already?”) Before I show my hand, first a quick disclaimer:

This column relies on photos taken by others, including the collection of relentless vagabond road warriors who roamed the country in the 1960s and 1970s, preserving this time for us to enjoy decades later. I’m honored to have forged such great relationships and trust with guys like Steve Reyes, Jere Alhadeff, Tom West, Bob Snyder, Bob Plumer, and many others who have given me just about carte blanche to reuse their photos as I see fit because they know my intentions and my goals and that I always, always attach photo credits when I know the photographer. The Internet has trampled on photographer copyright in every walk of life, and the ease with which the images can be captured (and even cropped to remove watermarked credit) has certainly made that easier. I think many have given up any hope of controlling the images once they’re “in the wild,” but I still think giving photo credit goes a long, long way toward making them feel a little better about it. The problem is that the creator’s name is seldom attached to the image, and with each republishing moves further and further away from its origins and its identity. If your photo is included below (or you know the photographer), please drop me an email and I will credit it immediately. It’s my goal to have every one of them credited, so when you save and “reuse” them (and I know you will), the credit might stay with the image.

So, without further ado, here’s Part 1 of a collection of photos worth talking about.

I’m not sure which photographer had the guts to get down low with “Stormin’ Norman” Weekly ready to blast off the line at Pomona, but I’m very impressed with his ability to hang in there.


Calvin Rice cemented his name in the NHRA history books when he drove the J.E. Riley and Sons dragster to victory at the first NHRA Nationals in Great Bend, Kan. I haven’t seen many color photos of the car.


Another great, rare color photo from the 1950s, this is the famed Cook & Bedwell dragster, owned by Cliff Bedwell and driven by Emery Cook. According to legend, it was this team’s stunning 166.97-mph run at Lions Drag Strip in February 1957 that prompted concern over lack of stopping distance at dragstrips and led to the “fuel ban” of 1957-1963.


What did it cost to build the car that won Top Eliminator at the 1962 Nationals? If I’ve done my math right, well less than $8,000. That’s priced according to this great photo-illustration of Jack Chrisman’s dragster


Don Garlits didn’t get the nickname “Big Daddy” for nothing. The devoted father and loving wife Pat would bring their two daughters, Gay Lynn and Donna, to the track, and many of his foes took to deriding him as over the hill — “Daddy Don” some of them called him. As the story goes, NHRA announcer Bernie Partridge created the famous nickname at the 1962 Nationals after a spectacular run, saying something to the effect of “Well, looks like we’re going to have to start calling him ‘Big Daddy’ now.” I love this photo of the girls, Gay Lynn, left, and Donna, riding with “Big” on a parade lap, in what looks like 1967.


Like Garlits, Connie Kalitta earned his nickname. “The Bounty Hunter” famously painted the names of his most serious competition on the side of his dragster, then crossed them off as he beat them. Looks like a pretty good record so far.


In my “Things That Aren’t Here Anymore” column, I talked about the days when teams would thrash on their cars in the parking lots of their hotels. Sometimes it was out of convenience — especially on the day leading up to a race before the track was open — and sometimes the tracks wouldn’t let the teams keep their cars in the pits overnight. Here are two of the sport’s heroes — Don Garlits (above) and Tom McEwen (below) — hard at work.




Here’s something you don’t see every day: a shirtless Don “the Snake” Prudhomme working on Don Garlits’ dragster.


Here’s another Snake”-driven rarity. Although he was running Funny Cars exclusively by this time, when Prudhomme landed the Army deal for the 1974 season, he painted his old Top Fuel dragster in Army colors. Although the front wing is different, I think this might even be the Kent Fuller-built Yellow Feather car from late 1971. This car never ran in competition -- this photo was only for a handout card from Wynn’s -- but that didn't stop Revell from making a model of it.


If there’s any doubt about how wild the Fuel Altereds of the 1970s were, this four-up photo of Dave Hough taking flight in the Nanook should give you an idea.


Longtime fans will recognize the name Beeline Dragway as the longtime home to the AHRA Winternationals (and, briefly, NHRA’s pre-Winternationals Winter Classic). The Arizona track was well-known for its impressive three-story timing tower — perhaps one of the first ever built — that was located behind the starting line, but this is the first shot I’ve seen from before the tower was built.


Call these two photos the beginning and the end of Orange County Int’l Raceway. (Above) A great photo, shot from the adjacent Interstate 5 freeway, as the iconic tower was under construction. This would have been the spring of 1967. (Below) An aerial photo that I believe was taken shortly after the track closed in late 1983. The tree-lined pits and the I-5 clearly visible, as well as the famous three-quarter-track drainage ditch that crossed under the track. The grass is yellowing, and the place is no longer the grand palace it once was.


Coming next week: Part 2

P.S.: I’ll be at the California Hot Rod Reunion this weekend in Bakersfield. Flag me down if you see me!