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.          

Don Garlits succeeded Emery Cook at the top of continuous “hero” ads crediting Isky’s so-called fifth combustion cycle for their respective barrier breaking. The rising star’s real advantage is in plain sight here: prototype M&H Racemasters that propelled a primitive rail job—based on ’31 Chevy rails, unblown and carbureted, yet—to 176.40 miles per hour late last season.  
Isky’s May 31, 1958, Drag News ad ironically predicted Doug Cook’s immediate future. Sure enough, one of those “discouraged cam grinders” was about to “lure him away.” 
Ed Iskenderian traces the long-running Gasser Wars to Howard Johansen’s small, provocative ad in the Sept. HRM touting Doug Cook’s shocking defection from Isky Cams—under the exact-same headline that Ed had written for Drag News (above). Considering HRM’s lengthy lead time, Cookie must’ve made the switch almost immediately after Isky’s final hero ad appeared in the more-timely tabloid. In between, Cook’s blown ’37 Chevy evidently shed the full hubcaps of early photos (but not yet its cool spotlights).
To date, the most-significant traction device is the first drag slick that wasn’t a recap. Marvin and Henry Rifchin were already moulding treadless tires for circle burners when the father-son partners in M&H Tire Company asked Don Garlits to test a set of six-inch-wide, soft-compound Racemaster Dragsters near the end of the ’57 season. On November 10, the unknown test pilot simultaneously smashed both Emery Cook’s sacred speed record and the 170-mph barrier (176.40) at Brooksville, Florida.  
Ed Iskenderian really pissed off the pope by intentionally delaying delivery of this critical ad until the rest of the May ’58 Hot Rod page negatives were going to press. The timing got so tight that HRM approved this major advertiser’s request to ship a new ad directly to Petersen Publishing’s outside printer—thereby bypassing the usual proofreading by editorial director Wally Parks and his main proofreader/censor, wife Barbara. What really bothered Ed Iskenderian, a regular advertiser since the second Hot Rod (Feb. ’48), was the magazine’s choice of the second gas dragster invited to privately challenge FIA records. Though Calvin Rice had won NHRA’s national championship with that unnamed car, Mr. Isky felt that its selection amounted to unpaid HRM publicity for his newest camshaft competitor, Racer Brown—previously the magazine’s Technical Editor. Ed took another veiled shot by referencing Garlits, Emery Cook and Cliff Bedwell, much-faster Isky customers burning nitro in defiance of the year-old fuel ban.
Oh, ouch! In the very next (June) issue, the HRM editor and NHRA president devoted his entire column to defending the FIA selections questioned by an advertiser. Without once identifying that company, Wally went on to blast previous ads endorsing “obviously questionable performance records”—implying that speeds clocked on fuel and/or at non-NHRA-sanctioned strips must be “imaginary or one-time flukes.” Ed Iskenderian has said that Parks remained cordial in public, but the once-close relationship between these industry pioneers never recovered from the embarrassing sneak attack. 
At a time when nearly all televisions were black-and-white prime time meant a choice of three national networks, and tobacco advertising was unrestricted, the cast of The Bob Cummings Show (informally called “Love That Bob”) was instantly recognizable to Hot Rod readers. Sixteen years before IHRA cofounder Larry Carrier brought Winston to drag racing, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was promoting the brand to youth-oriented publications. This full-page May ’58 ad was apparently shot on the set where Cummings and costar Ann B. Davis played a playboy photographer and his plain-Jane secretary, “Schultzie,” in the 1955-59 series. 
Lynne Sturmer might’ve been the first female to regularly drive a Top Eliminator car, and possibly a fueler. How a gas-dragster shoe in Chicagoland hooked up with the Bean Bandits is a mystery. (Help, Midwestern readers?) This single photo and caption in the July 12, 1958, Drag News, are all we’ve found about a “matched race” that supposedly occurred at Lynne’s home track, U.S. 30 Dragway. The absence of any times for her reported victory and those disinterested dudes in the background make us wonder whether the stunt consisted of just a staged, static press photo.       
​The Cliff & Bedwell team’s sensational 1957 season with a third-hand Scotty Fenn slingshot had generated nationwide demand for the first production-line drag cars. This year, the transplanted Okie added mail-order kits and accessories. Welded frames were priced from $315. The ad for “Scott-Fab” kits appeared in the July 12, 1958, Drag News. Hundreds of cars were built by the end of the decade. 
Pete Millar’s earliest published work went mostly uncredited. No cartoonist was listed in HRM’s masthead or tech column, and signatures rarely accompanied illustrations commissioned for columns, ads or articles. This exception caught our eye among HRM’s Aug. ’58 Shop Talk letters to freelance columnist Don Clark (also the “C” in C-T Automotive).   
Here’s how Howard Johansen finally responded to a year-long onslaught of 5-Cycle hype by Ed Iskenderian, Howard’s main rival. The ad appeared in the Sept. 20, 1958, Drag News.
As Don Garlits liked to say, “Retiring is easy; I’ve done it lots of times!” His first, and perhaps briefest, retirement from driving was announced in the Aug. 9, 1958, Drag News. Now known as Swamp Rat 1, the original car lives in the Garlits Museum (as does a reproduction of its subsequent, supercharged self). 
The same Nov. ’58 HRM that carried NHRA Nationals coverage contained this classic cartoon ad. Note the strong resemblance to Howard’s clown and bicycle—both transported into the new Chevy pickup won by NHRA Nationals Top Eliminator Ted Cyr, sponsored by Isky.  
Garlits deniers who’d ridiculed last season’s controversial 176.40 loudly faulted L.A.-based Drag News for legitimizing new reports of the 180-mph barrier crumbling at that same, all-asphalt strip in Brooksville, Florida. Isky’s subsequent barrage of hero ads in Drag News and Hot Rod would fuel the fire all winter. Prodded behind the scenes by Ed Iskenderian, three western promoters combined to make Garlits an irresistible package deal for showdowns in California and Arizona. Don, his wife and brother departed Florida only after assurance that Mr. Isky was holding the full negotiated guarantee of either $4500 or $5000 (memories differ), in cash. (“Ed was the only Californian I knew well enough to trust,” Garlits later explained.) Tune in again next time for the rest of that story, when we’ll focus on a revolutionary season that began with the biggest, best dragster meet of 1959—if not of all time.