You know me -- it doesn’t take much to distract me and send me plummeting off course down some uncharted lane of drag racing errata. You know how you can go to YouTube to see one video and keep following related videos until you realize it’s 4 in the morning? Yeah, same thing with me when it comes to flipping through old issues of National Dragster.
So there I was late last week, flipping through the 1969 U.S. Nationals issue looking for the identity of someone’s blown engine when I stumbled across the photo below. It took my breath away.
It’s a shot of “Big John” Mazmanian’s Funny Car stripped down to the bare chassis in some Indy-area hotel parking lot for the team to work on. It’s something you’d never see today but was a fairly common sight in the 1960s and even into the 1970s. Hotel parking lots had plenty of level, spare space, usually on asphalt, to tackle the jobs, making for far better working conditions than the typical grass or gravel pit areas of the time. There are horror stories of teams tearing apart engines on hotel beds or using the tub to wash parts, of left-behind towels and sheets soaked with oil and grease. Oh, the humanity.
There's a show that airs on our PBS stations out here called Things That Aren't Here Anymore, which shows archival photos and videos of attractions and landmarks long gone from the landscape, and this photo got me to thinking about how much things have changed -- sometimes for the better, sometimes not – and things that just aren't there anymore in drag racing. It’s just a list off the top of my head, without much more thought than it takes to tap out the letters on my keyboard and guaranteed to be missing some of your personal favorites, but here goes:
When Top Fuel cars smoked the tires for most of the run, and it was a good thing.
Mailboxes used for injector scoops on dragsters.
Practically unlimited qualifying runs, with nitro teams pulling their cars right back into the staging lanes to work on the cars.
Tuning the engine by reading the spark plugs and bearings.
Pits areas defined by nothing but the space between your car and the next, with fans on all sides.
Waiting for weeks to see the race on TV or to learn who won from a magazine.
Pro Stock and Funny Car runs that weren’t the epitome of perfection but had front ends flying high on the leave.
When the finish-line “lights” actually used lights that shined back to sensors in the guardrail instead of infrared beams darting out to reflector-covered foam boxes. When someone took out the lights, it was a long wait for them to be rewired.
The glorious pre-run Funny Car ritual: long burnout, fast backup, dry hop across the line, back up, dry hop, dry hop … stage. Remembering the drama that was built into the sequence, with the engines barking at one another on the hops, still gives me goose bumps.
Real bleach in the “bleach box.”
When you had to strain to hear the announcer call out the e.t. and speed because there were no scoreboards.
Crazy-looking gassers and Modified Coupes and Roadsters that looked as if they were dreamed up by kids with leftover parts from our plastic-model kits.
Breather masks and open-face helmets.
“Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!” radio ads.
Buster Couch, on the starting line.
Steve Evans at the finish line.
The break rule.
Top Fuel wheel pants.
Rear-engine Funny Cars. (Or is it mid-engine?)
The goofy way that Top Fuel was settled at national events in the 1960s, with Saturday’s winner sitting out to face Sunday’s winner.
The whole, mismatched Top Eliminator setup for national events in the 1950s.
The Manufacturers Meet.
Huge television cameras on the starting line.
Engine-builder rivalries: Black vs. Pink vs. Waterman vs. Montrelli.
Manually shifted and -clutched Pro Stockers.
Ronnie Sox and Bill Jenkins, two out of three at Aquasco.
When a leather jacket was the ultimate in driver protection.
Driver nicknames and colorful car names.
The Drag News Mr. Eliminator list.
Six-foot-tall trophies that took two people to lift.
Acrobatic flag starters.
Bernie Partridge, Dave McClelland, and Bob Frey calling the action.
“Jungle Jim” Liberman.
Beer cans covering the ends of the header pipes.
Gold Dust rosin.
The "V for Victory" salute in the lights.
Duallies and fifth-wheel trailers, the ultimate fashion statement of the 1970s Funny Car troops.
Round steering wheels on Funny Cars.
The 10-10-10 tune-up.
D-ring parachute release levers.
The slang: “Dropping the laundry”; “lunching the engine”; “nailing the anchors”; “driving it out the back door”; “brain bucket”; “hauling the mail”; “smoking the hoops”; “running the can”; “putting a leg out,” etc.
The between-runs entertainment: Bob Correll’s Kitecycle, Lee “Iron Man” Irons skiing behind his motorcycle, “Bullet” Bailey being dragged behind a car, “Benny the Bomb,” and so many more.
64 Funny Cars!
Pro Stock engine weight breaks.
Chrysler vs. Ford vs. Chevy vs. Oldsmobile -- in Top Fuel!
Pre-race parade of qualifiers.
Leslie Lovett and Bill Crites.
Wally and Barbara Parks.
Well, that's my list. Let's see yours.
Happy a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend.