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A.J. Routt Photo

Given one word to describe this crazy season, we'd pick "phony." That insulting adjective appeared almost weekly in Drag News and often in Hot Rod magazine, the top two information sources for drag-racing followers in 1960. Among the targets were prominent camgrinders, track operators, sanctioning officials, individual racers, and some unprecedented mile-an-hour clockings by primitive Fosdick timers infamously sensitive to the fluctuating voltage produced by generators or jerry-rigged track-electrical systems. In an era when NHRA allowed gasoline only and the top few "outlaw" fuelers were recording low-to-mid-180s on state-of-the-art Chrondek clocks, dubious double-century speeds were first advertised this season and, thus, seemingly legitimized by sponsoring companies. 

Copycat manufacturing of speed parts was nothing new, but never before had rival manufacturers gone to war as publicly and personally as Ed Iskenderian and Ray Giovannoni did after Don Garlits unilaterally broke a $1000 annual contract with Isky Cams in favor of Giovannoni's irresistible $10,000 offer: $5000 up front, plus a promised $5000 that never materialized. Gone for good was the good-natured needling of earlier Cam Wars ads among friendly rivals. Three years ago in Performance Racing Industry magazine (Feb. '16), Mr. Isky told writer Greg Zyla about a cross-country family vacation that happened to include a stop in the alley behind Giovannoni’s Daytona Beach storefront, after hours. Ed was convinced—and still is—that his former dealer was duplicating Iskenderian profiles. "I saw just a couple cams," he recalled of the unauthorized inspection, "but I did see maybe 100 Giovannoni Cams T-shirts all lined up, so that's what was really going on." To this day, Ed refers to his short-lived competition as "Giovaphony."

This era was also marked by unprecedented casualties. The shocking 1959 losses of leading drivers like Jay Cheatham, Red Case, and Mickey Brown were followed this year by crashes claiming national-record-holders Hank Vincent and Leonard Harris, among others. Nor was the carnage confined to big stars or fast rail jobs: Chrysler engineer and Ramchargers cofounder Wayne Erickson died from injuries suffered in a spectacular, fiery wreck of his C/Gas coupe during Detroit's NHRA Nationals, while 21-year-old Carol Ann Lobdell ran off the end of Puyallup (Washington) Drag Strip under full throttle after clocking 116 mph in a B/Street Roadster. Unknown numbers of additional accidents went unreported outside of regional media. The slick Petersen monthlies were still overseen by editorial director and NHRA president Wally Parks, who always encouraged “positive” reporting and rarely mentioned any racing victim whose death hadn’t already made national news. The vast majority of strips attracted little or no exposure in magazines or even the weekly tabloid Drag News, which relied almost entirely on race coverage submitted by weekend officials who were employed—and effectively controlled—by track operators still struggling for acceptance in many communities wary of this new form of auto racing and its young adherents. 

We owe this installment of Drag Rags mostly to savvy strip owners who saw the benefit of paying a writer and one or more freelance photographers to reward loyal racers and fans with fresh Drag News coverage in all 52 weeks of 1960, at least in warm-weather regions. More than half a century later, veteran journalist and editor Pete Ward commissioned the original, print version of this chronological series while serving as the final director of now-defunct Drag Racer magazine. With Pete’s continuing blessing, we shall turn the clock back to the 1961 season, next.          

Whether or not speed-shop-owner-turned-camgrinder Ray Giovannoni directly copied Iskenderian's profiles may be debatable, but there's no questioning whose advertising style the newcomer copied. Adding insult to injury, Giovannoni lured the Garlits & Malone team away from Isky by offering 10 times as much sponsorship cash.     


A full-page ad in the Feb. 20 Drag News depicted entries representing the Midwest (Karamesines, Postoian), Southeast (Garlits), Southwest (Langley, Fisher), and Northwest (unknown). The second annual March Meet would duplicate 1959's surprise success, attracting a comparable crowd estimated at 30,000-plus.


Another Garlits kid was grabbing headlines of his own, on gasoline. Don recently described his brother as extremely talented and rising fast in Top Gas Eliminator nationally, "until Ed’s wife made him quit." A member of the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, Ed now suffers from advanced Parkinson’s Disease. Don oversees his care in a Florida nursing home.      


Improvised activities entertained spectators during lunch breaks and broom-powered cleanups. Incoming Cotati (California) track operator Jim McLennan (of Champion Speed Shop, Fremont Drag Strip, and Half Moon Bay Drag Strip fame) sponsored this weirdness for the two car clubs with the most members present. After a driver from each club removes one shoe at the starting line, six fellow members push the respective cars to the 200-foot mark. At the starter's flag, each team pushes its car and driver back to the line. The driver jumps out, runs to the fence and back, puts on his shoe, starts the car, and races to the finish line. Kraemer Herzog (shown) ran and drove the Sleepers of Marin to victory over Santa Rosa’s Charioteers. (From DN, Feb. 27.)

After maintaining a biweekly publication schedule for seven issues (see the preceding 1959 installment of Drag Rags), the first slick drag-racing periodical temporarily vanished after its Oct. 3, 1959, edition. This February—four months later—this eighth issue appeared in with assurance that production problems had been solved. Evidently lacking a fresh photo from Pomona, where Tommy Ivo twice shattered the eight-second barrier on pump gas (8.95, 8.98), ex-Drag News editor Dan Roulston substituted older San Fernando shots here and inside. We believe this to be the title’s final edition (in which case a “lucky” contest winner would’ve been lucky to ever collect the cover-blurbed Dragmaster chassis).   
Chassis Research Co. founder Scotty Fenn was a fearless, influential critic who often used his paid ad space to air grievances aimed primarily at NHRA and president Wally Parks, personally. This list of racers’ complaints from 59 seasons ago confirms that in the ever-changing sport of drag racing, some things never change.  

Whether or not sponsors and promoters actually believed that reported 200s were legit—at a time when low-to-mid-180s were good for Top Speed money most places—did not deter capitalists from capitalizing on such news. The Greek fell more than 20 mph short of backing up the controversial 204.54 at Alton that same day, as was customary for record acceptance, and never came close during the lucrative national tour that followed. Indeed, the 200-mph barrier was not believably broken for another four years (then thrice on the same weekend—as we shall see when this chronological series advances to the 1964 season).       
On the same day (May 28) that Hank Vincent upped his own Standard 1320 B/Fuel Dragster record to 171.75 (171.10 backup), he crashed and died in this car at Fremont. Reports at the time indicated that when the car flipped, its pushbar penetrated the driver’s lower back. George Santos's Top Banana had often been advertised as the world's fastest Chevy.


More than a month after Vincent's death, the Top Banana still owned three of four B/FD and C/FD Standard 1320 national records in the July 16 DN. Also note the short-lived appearance on top by little-known Kent Chataginier. His controversial 201.78-mph Houston clocking compelled publisher-editor Doris Herbert, the list’s creator and administrator, to start requiring additional backup runs within two percent at a second, Standard 1320-certified strip. Chataginier's name would vanish in September, temporarily vacating the A/FD speed record (until Don Garlits turned 182.18 under the new, two-track rule).
No names are mentioned, but "Method #3" in Isky's Sept. HRM ad clearly implicates Garlits and Giovannoni.


Pete Millar's artwork started appearing regularly in HRM's "Shop Talk" tech-advice column. His cartoons were cleverly tailored to the individual reader letters and respective answers by freelance columnist Don Clark (also the "C" of famed C-T Automotive). 
The state of Illinois and timers by Fosdick produced another 204.54 in September, exactly duplicating the Greek's controversial April speed—by the same Chassis Research rail, no less, now campaigned by Lyle Fisher [misspelled in headline]. His next-best run during Cordova's World Series clocked just 180 mph. In the caption, note that Tommy Ivo had already sold his dominant dual-Buick Top Gasser—and its lucrative remaining 1960 dates—to Chicagoland entrepreneur Ron Pelligrini to help finance the four-motored successor under construction at Kent Fuller Chassis.   


Jet engines do the same job today, but Cordova's innovative Bob Bartel made the most of affordable aircraft technology.
Just as Jack Engle's Oct. HRM "hero" ad was hitting newsstands in early September, SoCal youngsters Gene Adams, Ronnie Scrima, and Leonard Harris were on tour and dominating consecutive weekends at Minneapolis and Detroit's gas-only NHRA Nationals. Back home at Lions, Harris would extend the amazing streak to 13 straight before fatally crashing another owner’s slingshot.


The generally good-natured Gasser Wars of 1958-59 took a nasty turn with public criticism of rival racers and camgrinders in this ad attributed to Doug Cook (though likely dictated by Howard Johansen) in the Sept. 24 DN.
In the subsequent issue, Isky-backed Mike Marinoff directed his own sharp response not to Doug Cook, but rather to the unnamed sponsor whom the Midwestern gasser star evidently suspected was responsible for composing the attack above Cook's signature. Knowing readers assumed his blue-coveralled target to be camgrinder Howard Johansen, who was rarely seen wearing anything else.  
This Oct. 1 cover might be the strangest in the 23-year lifespan of "The Drag Racer's Bible" (1955-78). A rash of unbelievable speeds became such a credibility problem for our young sport that publisher-editor Doris Herbert went beyond questioning accuracy and integrity by instituting the first credible national-record system for sanctioned and independent strips alike, including the fuel classes outlawed by NHRA starting with the 1957 Nationals.   


This major grudge match was inspired by Leonard Harris's Oct. 8 holeshot defeat of Howard's twin (8.95 to 8.95) in his 13th successive—and last—Lions Top Eliminator final. In between, Gene Adams’s and Ron Scrima’s all-conquering Albertson Oldsmobile Special traveled north to Fremont to win its 18th meet at major drag strips on Oct. 16. 
The undisputed King Of Lions was memorialized with his fifth DN cover since April. On Oct. 22, Lions manager Mickey Thompson postponed the "Match Race Of The Century" after warm-up runs damaged Gene Adams's big rocket and one of Howard's side-by-side Chevys. Ironically and tragically, Gene’s sidelined driver agreed to test another team's new dragster and crashed near the finish line. Scrima retired on the spot and soon sold the chassis to Tom McEwen, who partnered with Adams and continued winning. This famous rail survived to enjoy a full restoration and permanent display in NHRA's museum. Gene Adams remains a major force in front-motored fuelers to this day, building nitro-burning Hemis and modifying Hilborn injectors for winning A/Fuel nostalgia racers.  
Questionable speeds were not confined to nitro-burners, as evidenced by camgrinder Jack Engle's letter to publisher Doris Herbert concerning the latest unbelievable time on at yet another Midwestern strip using Fosdick timers (Nov. 5 DN).
Coauthors Mickey Bryant and Todd Hutcheson devoted an entire, 110-page book to Leonard Harris and his key competitors during the former wrestling champion’s incomparable half-season of dragster driving. Reproductions of weekly race reports document unreal winning percentages of 96.1 for individual rounds (123-5) and fully 83.3 percent of events entered (25-5). Copies should still be available from BackInTheDayStore.com.