Two individuals from opposite coasts who’d yet to meet in person, Don Garlits and Ed Iskenderian, dominate this installment just as they did Drag News throughout 1958. The season opened to full-page “hero” ads shouting that the 170-mph barrier really had been blasted by some unknown Floridian in a crude, homemade fueler built from Chevrolet frame rails. The year ended with a controversial Dec. 27 cover story declaring that the 180-mph barrier had just tumbled to the same guy, at—suspiciously—the same Florida track.
Of course, nobody out west swallowed either speed; possibly not even the savvy L.A. camgrinder promoting his newest hero in full-page Hot Rod and Drag News ads. If Ed Iskenderian did have doubts of his own, deep down, he’s never admitted to any. A time slip showing some big number was documentation enough for Isky’s promotions, whatever the prevailing track conditions and timing system. Never mind the customary backup run required of a track or “world” record (within two percent, at that time).
This is not to suggest that either run advertised by multiple Garlits sponsors as the first 170 and the first 180 was bogus (as implied by editor Wally Parks’s infamous July ’58 HRM editorial). Years later, when Garlits owned records everywhere, even Californians conceded the possibility that a combination of the Brooksville strip’s concrete bite and prototype M&H slicks might’ve done the trick—maybe? Their skepticism was understandable in an era notorious for inconsistent clocks and unscrupulous promoters. If not for Isky’s “hero” ads, we wonder how many folks outside southern Florida would’ve even heard of these times, let alone accepted them as “world records” (or kept debating them in bench races for six decades—and counting!).
Meanwhile, manufacturers on opposite edges of America were introducing two of the most-significant innovations ever developed for drag racers: M&H Tire Company’s purpose-built, non-recap Racemaster and Chassis Research Company’s mail-order slingshot kit. Some of the earliest ads for these historic product lines follow.
Excluding “house organs” controlled by membership groups, just two national publications consistently covered the sport in this second season of the fuel ban. Any similarity between the still-biweekly Drag News and monthly Hot Rod began and ended with a common cover price of 25 cents. In this first full season of NHRA’s nationwide fuel ban, sanctioning-body president and Hot Rod editor Wally Parks used the powerful Petersen glossies to glorify gasoline-burning cars and NHRA racers while shunning “outlaw” fuelers and nonsanctioned strips. The independent tabloid, meanwhile, delivered fuel dragsters, fuel coupes, fuel roadsters, and fuel bikes to fuel-starved readers on cheap, black-and-white newsprint as soon as 72 hours after each Sunday’s final nitro cloud evaporated. Despite its miniscule freelance-buyout budget and a circulation less than one-hundredth of HRM’s half-million, Drag News punched well above its weight within our small, tight-knit community for more than two decades. (Surviving copies are scarce and fragile, but WDIFL.com offers CDs of 1955-71 Drag News page scans.)
A third publication joins these print pioneers next time, when COMPETITON PLUS resets the time machine to 1959. Among other milestones, we’ll be revisiting the utter humiliation—then glorious revenge—of “Don Garbage” in Bakersfield and Lodi, California.