the request of Competition Plus, Dave Wallace has updated a story
that appeared in Hot Rod Nostalgia’s print “magalog”
just prior to Pete Millar’s death on February 28, 2003. To
order this magalog (Volume Five) online, visit www.hotrodnostalgia.com.
To view a controversial ‹ and fully animated ‹ Pete
Millar cartoon addressing NHRA’s attempts to slow down Top
Fuel cars back in 1997, go to Hot
Rod Nostalgia. - Editor
Pete Millar, The master
at work, 1965.
An unexpected highlight of last October’s
NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion occurred at the end of Saturday
afternoon’s AA/Fuel Dragster qualifying session, when Pete
Millar’s ashes blew out of a parachute at half-track in full
view of Famoso Raceway’s capacity crowd.
“Pete always said that he wanted his ashes scattered at Bakersfield,”
explained his wife of five decades, Orah Mae Millar (pronounced
“Mah-Larr”). On her behalf, a mutual friend and event
announcer put the special request to driver Bob Muravez (a.k.a.
Floyd Lippencott Jr.), an old friend and frequent subject of the
recently-deceased cartoonist. Muravez, in turn, approached car-owner
Jon Halstead, who instantly granted the widow’s request. Better
yet, because the team had planned a half pass to check out its all-new
engine combination, Halstead instructed Muravez to dump the laundry
at the eighth-mile mark. All parties promised to keep the secret
overnight, lest track officials get wind of the plot and forbid
the intentional dumping.
Decades later, Drag
Cartoons endures as accurate documentation of the
burning issues of the day. Here are the first and last segments
mid-’60s strip about a traditional racer being displaced
by the first Funny
Cars. Not shown are the middle panels, depicting this would-be
intentional wheelstand ‹ which turns into a blowover
that destroys his Fuel
Coupe and ejects him onto the track. Look closely to find
trademark talking insect (lower-left corner, second panel).
In consideration of the other Nostalgia Top Fuel teams attempting
to qualify, Halstead hung back in the staging lanes, assuring that
his would be the last fueler to run in the session. When the signal
was given to fire his motor, the announcer shared the plan with
the crowd (at least, with those within range of Famoso’s “nostalgic”
PA speakers). Muravez did a blazing burnout, then recorded his quickest-ever
launch. At half-track, Bob simultaneously clicked the throttle and
popped his dual ‘chutes, sending a large cloud of gray ash
skyward at 200 mph. For the first time in memory, witnesses to such
a ceremony were both aware of what was occurring and in
position to watch it unfold. For possibly the only time all weekend,
Famoso Raceway fell completely silent, all eyes focused on the ash
settling back to earth.
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The scattering of his
old pal’s ashes at Bakersfield inspired artist Tom
Hunnicutt’s depiction of the emotional event. Hunnicutt
mimicked the distinctive Drag Cartoons style ‹ and gave
Tom new appreciation for the painstaking technical detail
that went into every Millar cartoon.
Pete Millar’s widow, their three daughters and their grandson,
Peter, were among the thousands who remained in their seats as the
track sweeper rolled up and down a left-hand lane that was coated
in gray all the way to 1000 feet. As someone would later comment,
this surreal scene “looked like a page out of Drag Cartoons.”
It would also inspire Tom Hunnicutt to create (in the style of his
late friend and colleague) the “Ashes To Ashes” illustration
that is seen for the first time in this issue.
In a series of 1998-2002 interviews that would prove to be his last,
Millar recalled the highlights and low points of a unique career
that spanned half a century. Excerpts from those conversations follow.
Along with these interviews, Pete left behind a huge body of published
work. In recent years, prices of Drag Cartoons, in particular, have
accelerated. If you’re lucky enough to come across an issue
that you can afford, our advice is to buy this rare combination
of entertainment and investment value.
|The day after longtime-friend Bob Muravez
(with wife, Sharon) scattered
Pete’s ashes at 200 mph, he was thanked by the Millar
women. Also known as
Floyd Lippencott Jr., Muravez enjoyed a near-perfect weekend
that saw him
named grand marshal of the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion; lay down his
five-second runs; and advance to the Nostalgia Top Fuel final
bowing to breakage.
Referring to Pete Millar as a cartoonist is like calling Von Dutch
a pinstriper, or Sam Barris a body man, or Wally Parks a former-dry-lakes
racer. While Millar is indisputedly the greatest drag-racing cartoonist
of all time, the perfect strokes laid down by his ancient, crow-quill
pens are merely the visible tip of his talent. Beneath each image
lies a depth of observation and humor that has never been approached
by any of the competitors who has come and gone since 1953, when
Pete penned what would become his first published hot-rod cartoon.
“I was an engineer in San Diego, and moved up to L.A.,”
he said of the events leading to his publishing breakthrough. “I
went to Hot Rod magazine to show my drawings (which were very crude,
by today’s standards) to Tom Medley, who was listed in the
masthead as cartoon editor. He said, "No, we’re not buying
cartoons,’ and suggested that I shouldn’t quit my fulltime
job. So I went down the street to Rod & Custom, which was still
being published by Quinn Publications. Spencer Murray was the editor,
and he bought my cartoons immediately. I guess he wanted some competition
for Medley’s Stroker McGurk in Hot Rod. Spence suggested a
cartoon character called Arin Cee, after the alphabet letters, "R
“When Petersen bought Quinn, they asked if I would also do
the illustrations for the tech letters in Hot Rod. That was when
Wally Parks was the editor and Barbara [the future Mrs. Parks ‹Ed.]
was his secretary. I was still working as an engineer and doing
this stuff at night. What I wanted was to quit my engineering job
and become a fulltime cartoon-book editor; that had been my dream
from a little kid.
“Then I had the idea of doing a complete cartoon book on cars.
So I got ahold of Carl Kohler, an extremely-talented writer and
cartoonist. We dreamed up a magazine. We were gonna call it CAR’toons.
Carl had known Robert Petersen personally, so we got an appointment
to meet him. We made the presentation, and he said, 'OK, I like
it; we’ll give it a try.’ He gave us a contract, which
I still have. He would pay us 2500 bucks to produce a book in the
small size (the old Rod & Custom size) with 64 pages; no ads.
“Like most cartoonists, Kohler always needed money. I still
had my engineer’s job to support my family. He had a wife,
four kids. Plus, we had to take that $2500 and split it among the
other cartoonists that we’d hired to come in and help us put
the book together. When the money didn’t
arrive properly, Kohler called the head of some division at Petersen,
Ken Bayless, and demanded that the check be sent over immediately,
by special messenger. Bayless refused; Kohler said there would be
no book, then called me. I couldn’t believe it! I called the
guy and told him that Kohler was not speaking for me. Bayless told
me to come in, and gave me the contract.
So I did four small ones, then went up into the larger CAR’toons;
all done at home. When Petersen took it in-house, I was hoping to
become the fulltime editor, but Dick Day got the job. I told Bayless
what he could do with CAR’toons."
|With the exception of the fuel-burning,
Chrysler-equipped Gangreen Willys, Millar’s race cars
were always powered by Ford. That’s Pete’s flathead
dragster directly behind the bikini-clad actress at Pomona,
during filming of Bikini Beach Party.
In next month's issue, Pete Millar mortgages his house to create
Drag Cartoons. Tune back in for Part Two! --EDITOR