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Publisher's Note: Duplicate issues of most 1966 drag rags & mags are now available from the Wallace Family Archives ( ). [email protected]
A.J. Routt Photo
The unprecedented variety and numbers of race cars, exhibition vehicles, and even drag bikes made 1966 the most-interesting, most-addicting season yet. Youngsters, imagine this: In a single weekend in winter, March Meet patrons witnessed a 64-car, complete Top Fuel Eliminator program on Saturday, followed by a 32-car field on Sunday—concluding with a showdown between each day's winners that forever canonized the darkhorse Surfers.
Just ask any oldtimer from 1966 who ever cheered the local hero's crudely converted ex-Super Stocker against some big-buck, factory-backed, purpose-built "plastic fantastick," burning nitro, lighter by half a ton. FoMoCo led the battle with flip-top Comets and free bullets for everything from fuel dragsters to blueprinted "stockers" (plus a 33-year-old Willys coupe retrofitted with a rare SOHC 427).
Barely two years after a reskinned Pontiac Tempest and a rebodied Ford Falcon started making new-car customers out of teenagers, those GTOs and Mustangs were now joined in stock-car lanes by muscular models of all makes at approximately 300 U.S. drag strips. Accordingly, hot rodding's publishing industry turned new attention and pages from street to race cars this year, targeting millions of Baby Boomers and the millions in advertising dollars chasing them for the first time.
Established, general-interest publishers such as Petersen and Argus were also reacting to a whole crop of small, specialized, low-budget weeklies, bimonthlies and monthlies focused on drag racing. Never had nationwide newsstands offered so many alternatives to street-oriented periodicals. Sample covers of some of those upstarts are reproduced on these pages. All but one, Super Stock & Drag Illustrated, were being produced in the Los Angeles area at this time, supporting a unique cottage industry of salaried and freelance writers, photographers, editors, graphic artists, ad salesmen, and administrative types.
Not all publishers prospered, however. The initial losers in this media explosion, ironically, were two of the three independent tabloids wholly dedicated to drag racing years before the young sport became fashionable for slick monthlies. This first half of 1966 proved to be the last time that Drag News (established 1955), Drag Sport Illustrated (est. 1963), and Drag World (est. 1965) operated simultaneously and independently. We'll explore what happened to these pioneer publishers next time, when COMPETITION PLUS revisits drag rags and mags from the second half of this season, cover-dated July through December 1966.
The season's first and biggest shocker was the January debut of the most-radical "Factory Experimental" yet. While true to all dimensions of a production '66 Comet Caliente, this replica doorslammer without doors was molded entirely from fiberglass. While Wally Parks pondered for months whether to drastically rewrite NHRA's A/FX rules to accommodate the four "late-model Fuel Altereds" unleashed by Mercury Division's Al Turner, AHRA immediately embraced Dyno Don's Logghe-built flopper at the season-opening AHRA Winter Nationals (where the body unlatched and launched skyward—another historic first for Funny Cars).
Anyone who watched "Wild" Bill Shrewsberry learning to handle George Hurst's original Barracuda knows that cartoonist-satirist-publisher-editor Pete Millar's artwork is not far-fetched. Before forklift-style rear steering was adapted to wheelstanders (by arch-rival Bill "Maverick" Golden), unplanned lane changes, off-track excursions, and the occasional rollover could all be expected. As the booked-in headliner, making the last pass of an event, Shrewsberry sometimes closed the show by roaring back towards the starting line at speed before dumping the nose at the last-possible moment, locking up his brakes, then spinning out in front of the fans who invariably swarmed behind the starting line.
No one was lampooned and harpooned more often by Drag Cartoons than the somber, suit-and-tie-wearing president of the "National Hot Dog Affiliation." Wally played along here for Pete's camera, but this was far from a favorite magazine.
Famoso Drag Strip's annual Fuel & Gas Championships, the biggest dragster race of the 1950s and '60s, was covered differently by each of the national, independent weeklies. When their respective issues hit the street three days later, Drag World scooped its two older competitors by printing complete qualifying and ladder-style results for Saturday's 64-car (!) and Sunday's 32-car Top Fuel shows, plus Top Gas Eliminator; the only interview with the winning trio; and the only cover actually depicting the grand finale. A classic photo captured Mike Sorokin's glove-raising reaction to the red light in opponent James Warren's lane.
Can you tell which of Drag World's Bakersfield-results issues is a fake? Look closely at the one-off copy held by Bob Skinner. Mischievous Drag World writer Terry Cook hastily cut-'n'-pasted together the bogus headline from unsold back issues just before the trophy presentation. He staged the photo op in front of rival Drag News contributors, knowing that their film would soon be seen by publisher Doris Herbert.
While short-lived Drag Sport Illustrated is still celebrated for some of the finest B&W action covers ever printed, founding-publisher-editor Phil Bellomy uncharacteristically settled for a single-run photo, overlaid by a strip of white "headliner" film paper stuck to the physical halftone for printing. Drag News was even worse: Though frugal publisher Doris Herbert did pop for a second color this week, a clumsy Xacto'd "cutout" of a generic Surfers photo got lost on a busy cover. Placement of the adjacent "house" ad might indicate a rare failure by salesman Don Rackemann to find a premium-rate buyer for the back cover of probably the most-read issue all year. [Author's note about mailing labels: Decades ago, longtime subscribers Bob Thompson and the late Bruce Boyd each generously donated many back issues of weekly drag tabloids for the expressed purpose of preserving history through future historical articles like this one. —DW]
As good and popular as Drag World consistently was, the youngest L.A. weekly couldn't compete for limited advertising dollars with Drag News and NHRA members' growing house organ, National Dragster. A marked-up Jan. 21, 1966, issue in the author's library indicates founding-editor Mike Doherty's projected ad revenue [at a time when $5 and $26 were equivalent to about $46 and $240, respectively, in 2022].
The post-Bakersfield (Mar. 11) edition of Drag World offered artist's conceptions of the Cycoclac-plastic-bodied AMT Piranha, which the model-car company tried booking as a Funny Car. Nobody ever bought that—including promoters and match racers—but the 392-powered, 120-inch lightweight proved to be one of the quickest, fastest, and most-successful back-motored fuel cars yet built, legitimately topping 190 mph with both Walt Stevens and Connie Swingle bravely steering. Contrary to this early press release, the project went not to Dick Branstner but to AMT's in-house Speed & Custom Division, ably staffed by director Gene Winfield, driver Stevens, ex-Dodge Chargers shoe Jim Johnson, and ex-Dead End Kid Joe Anahory, who built and tuned the Chrysler. (Mature readers may remember a street-legal, Corvair-powered Piranha from 1966-67 episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.)
Besides publishing his monthly comic magazine, campaigning a blown Competition Coupe, and raising three daughters with wife Orah Mae, busy Pete Millar presided over a one-man organization that he called the National Association for the Advancement of Flatheads. Ironically, the president had by now switched from valves-in-block V8s to a despised overhead V8, accepting Ed Iskenderian's offer to trade an early-production, 260-inch Falcon dyno mule for advertising artwork.
The annual Drag Racing Almanac was the first publication to comprehensively combine a previous season's statistics, results, and photos that represented all sanctioning bodies and racers' organizations, plus major independent events. For this debut edition, Drag World's Mike Doherty and Terry Cook put together a national directory and map of drag strips identifying more than 300 active U.S. locations.
Entering its third year, L.A.-based Drag Racing (later Drag Racing USA) magazine continued prioritizing dragsters and was the far-and-away-favorite periodical of "wire-wheel" fans.
The Petersen monthly that targeted preteens and young teenagers with model cars, doodlebugs, go-karts, and slot cars must've mystified the poor kids by devoting a cover story to a drag car (a foreign car, at that). Allowing imports into Gas classes was giving NHRA major headaches this year. Besides their obvious dimensional advantage, English compacts were light enough as produced to accommodate considerable legal ballast, strategically positioned rearward for wheelie-pulling traction. Just as traditionalists warned, Anglias and Austins would soon displace early Fords, Willys, shoebox Chevys, Henry Js, Studebakers, and other homegrown favorites.
PHR was the flagship of nitro-friendly Argus Publishers Corp., founded by two Petersen veterans just as NHRA's infamous fuel ban was falling apart (1962). Its all-inclusive format was loosely patterned on Hot Rod's conservative formula, though this cover illustrates the national fascination with nitromethane since NHRA chief Wally Parks—and the Petersen publications that he'd previously overseen as editorial director—ended prohibition. That Willys is no gasser; Fantasia was a full-fendered AA/Fuel Altered, featured inside. The swoopy yellow Anteater, an AA/Fuel Competition Coupe, was campaigned by Pat Kinne, Dick Rabjohn, and builder-driver Roy Fjasted until Roy let fellow-chassis-builder Pat Foster take a ride that totaled the Fiat.
"The Automotive Go & Show Magazine" surely had more tag lines than any other enthusiast publication. Bob Petersen cleverly positioned Car Craft in-between Rod & Custom and Hot Rod to hopefully hold onto teenagers transitioning into drivers and first-car owners. A rare, all-drag-racing cover proved to be an early indicator of the magazine's gradual evolution into "Drag Racing's Complete Magazine" of the 1970s.
How hairy did early exhibition cars get? Consider the dual-engined, fuel-burning Hurst Hairy Oldsmobiles of 1966-67. George Hurst coaxed slingshot-veteran Joe Schubeck out of retirement to tour the original, from which he ejected through the driver's door, at speed, breaking a foot, after one motor car caught fire. The heavy 4-4-2 continued beyond the shutdown area into a farmer's field, where it burned to the ground. (Gentleman Joe would briefly return to pilot an equally hairy '67 model before hanging up his tuxedo-style firesuit for good.)
Just as Popular Hot Rodding had copied Hot Rod's formula in 1962, Modern Rod/Drag Strip (sister title to Drag Racing mag) started out as a PHR imitator, to the point of immodestly—and inaccurately—proclaiming itself to be the "No. 2 Hot Rod Magazine" on covers. This May issue's sudden format and title changes evidenced the interest that fast doorslammers now commanded within the wider hot-rodding hobby and industry.
No other periodical published outside of southern California had the impact or long-term success of this one. Conceived by nightclub-operator Monk Reynolds and racer-ad-man Jim Davis in the door-car hotbed spanning both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, Super Stock & Drag Illustrated put the East Coast on the magazine map. Moreover, it served as the springboard for eastern writers, editors, and photographers ultimately bound for bigger West Coast titles (e.g., future PPC staffers John Raffa, Jim McCraw, Ro McGonegal, Neil Britt, Mike Brenner).
Yes, your reporter makes regular use of a hardbound book published this year. As might be expected of NHRA's cofounder and longtime president, it's more a rose-colored account of that organization's experience than a fair history of a motorsport already underway nationwide by the time Wally Parks staged NHRA's first drag race in 1953. It's a valuable resource, nonetheless, particularly regarding the 1954-56 Drag and Safety Safaris that established standardized rules and a nationwide network of sanctioned tracks. Several familiar photos were borrowed from Petersen Publishing Co., where Wally worked from 1949 until resigning as editorial director to run NHRA fulltime in 1963. Many of those haven't been seen since—literally—because the book publisher inadvertently destroyed hundreds of B&W prints submitted for this project, according to Parks.
PREVIOUS DRAG RAGS
THE EARLIEST EDITIONS
BANS WERE BIG IN '57
ISKY STIRS THE POT
DRAG RAGS OF 1960 – TRAGEDY, POPCORN SPEEDS AND A CAMSHAFT RIVALRY
DRAG RAGS OF 1961: CONTROVERSY STALKS NHRA
DRAG RAGS: 1959 - GARLITS GOES FROM ZERO TO HERO, TURNS PRO
DRAG RAGS: 1959, PART 2 — HOW THE SMOKERS BEAT THE FUEL BAN
DRAG RAGS OF 1962: GARLITS IS NO. 1, WALLY IS ALL GAS
DRAG RAGS OF 1963: FUEL IS BACK - OR IS IT? JETS RUN WILD
DRAG RAGS OF JAN.-JUNE 1964: INNOVATION WITHOUT LIMITATION
DRAG RAGS OF JULY-DEC. 1964: ZOOMIES PUSH THROUGH THE 200-MPH BARRIER
DRAG RAGS OF EARLY '65: EXPLOSION OF WEEKLY PUBLICATIONS
DRAG RAGS OF JULY-DEC 1965: FUELERS, FUNNIES AND GASSERS APLENTY
DRAG RAGS 1965: TERRY COOK TELLS HOW THE WEEKLY SAUSAGE GOT MADE
DRAG RAGS: DRAG RAGS OF EARLY 1966: FUNNY CARS FLIP OUT, "SURFERS" STAR