A.J. Routt Photo

The craziness and contradictions of this fifth fuel-ban season were exemplified by one star racer's exasperation. Since both of his home tracks, Lions (Saturdays) and San Fernando (Sundays), went all-gasoline in 1957, Tommy Ivo had become a force with injected-Buick dragsters. His first Kent Fuller car won Top Gas at the inaugural '59 Bakersfield March Meet and set track records all over California. In 1960, its twice-motored successor extended the domination nationwide during the actor's maiden eastern tour (with teenaged Don Prudhomme crewing). For this year, TV Tommy calculated that one nailhead was real nice, and two were nicer, so, four ought'a be just right for wowing fans anew on the return tour. 

NHRA figured otherwise—but not until chassis-builder Kent Fuller had nearly finished the four-wheel-drive monster. Wally Parks, still serving as both NHRA president and Petersen Publishing Co. editorial director, supposedly viewed Hot Rod photographer Eric Rickman's buildup negatives and freaked out. So did studio execs who saw the car on the set during HRM's cover shoot and suddenly realized just what kind of "hot rod" their boy had been driving on weekends. Thus, an innovative gas dragster inspired by the fuel ban was banned before it smoked its four slicks by NHRA, as was the intended driver by the studio paying Ivo to costar in ABC's short-lived Margie series. Stranger still, an overweight orphan that couldn't run within a second of some single-engined AA/Gas Dragsters became the unlikely exhibition attraction of the year, even stealing the show at Indianapolis Raceway Park's first NHRA Nationals.                     

The California sanctioning body flexed new muscles this season, despite a fourth full year of NHRA-wide fuel deprivation, while battling new controversies. Parks successfully introduced a second national event and a new, permanent home for the first in Indy. One year after uncomfortably partnering with Bill France in Daytona for the inaugural NASCAR-NHRA Winter Nationals (two words), he brought the concept home to California as the first NHRA-only Winternationals (one word).    

Simultaneously, Wally was drawn into an uncharacteristically public pissing contest with Scotty Fenn, the sport's most-prolific dragster builder and his loudest critic. Tech inspectors may have been justified for rejecting Fenn's unique front-end "biscuits" as potentially unstable and unsafe. However, when NHRA imposed a minimum-wheelbase rule for rails, nearly all of the approximately 2000 "kit cars" ever welded by Fenn's pioneering Chassis Research Company came up just short. 

Not so the standard Dragmaster slingshots newly manufactured by Dragmaster partners Dode Martin and Jim Nelson, Wally's dry-lakes buddy and NHRA's original tech guy. A simmering personal feud boiled over after Fenn publicized a letter asking Parks the infamous "20 Questions." Ultimately, those questions and Wally's respective answers were published in March editions of both Drag News and NHRA's own fledgling weekly, National Dragster

Another public controversy erupted early into the seventh-annual National Drag Championships, newly relocated from Detroit. Through two days of time trials, IRP's PA speakers mysteriously fell silent following runs by a rookie Georgia dragster driver named Pete Robinson. Only later was it leaked that unprecedented-for-gasoline times as low as 8.46 had repeatedly come up on the Chrondeks, baffling officials who variously suspected rear-wheel starts or unsorted bugs in the new track's timing system. They relented and started sharing Pete's numbers only after the former gas-coupe racer convincingly won a round of AA/Dragster class competition. However, they neither accepted nor credited the earlier 8.46—even after Pete had dominated his class on Sunday and gone on to become overall Top Eliminator on Monday. Drag News would reveal that the 8.58 given as Robinson's low e.t. of the meet was actually a recalculation made arbitrarily by officials who stubbornly resisted giving the young engineer due credit.

While NHRA was hogging headlines all season, a newly aggressive American Hot Rod Association was noisily expanding beyond its Midwestern base. This growth by the first serious challenger to NHRA's sanctioning network was being fueled, literally, by the drug that Wally Parks refused to deliver: nitromethane. Stay tuned as a fierce rivalry unfolds in coming columns.


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Clever wording by Ed and his copywriters compared Einstein's fourth-dimension theories to the fifth combustion cycle allegedly discovered in 1957 by "Von" Iskenderian (a name presumably inspired by Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist-turned-U.S. aerospace pioneer). Also note the earliest published reference we've found to the racing industry's use of a "computor" [sic] in product design.
Two months after the March Meet, this Drag News centerspread credited darkhorse Don Stortroen's inexplicable Bakersfield blitz to a space-age fuel supposedly superior to nitromethane. Note that nitrous oxide is never identified by name. A comprehensive 2016 article in Hot Rod traced development of the chemical, aptly named Second Wind, to 1958 and a couple of Spokane drag racers. (Testing an early SPS system on his daily driver inspired 10,000 RPM Speed Equipment founder Ron Hammel to famously start offering DIY kits in 1964.) 
Though NHRA would continue enforcing the fuel ban at its national and regional events until 1964 (except for an invitational, "experimental" Top Fuel "exhibition" at the '63 Winternationals), this half-page June 10 Drag News ad marked a turning point for individual strips. Under founder-manager Mickey Thompson, Lions had been second to outlaw fuels other than gasoline (quickly endorsing C.J. Hart's controversial Santa Ana ban) in 1957. Four years later, M/T's NHRA-sanctioned facility was more influential than ever, and its manager was world famous as the 406-mile-an-hour man.     

Drag News ran and reran the same Fontana photo at least these four times between March and June, tracking the Zeuschel & Prudhomme rail all the way from "new entry to the fuel dragster ranks" to this classified section. After the sale, Dave Zeuschel hung onto both his stroker motor and his young driver, teaming with Kent Fuller to win Top Fuel at the following year's March Meet (as we'll see in 1962's series installment, next time). Kent Fuller recently replicated the long-gone chassis for cackler Don Prieto, who reverted to Tommy Ivo's original, injected-Buick configuration for push starts on methanol.
So-called "open letters" were a popular method of public communication between rival teams and manufacturers, sure to stir interest and controversy before or after a major match race or open show. Drag News's Mr. Eliminator Top 10 list was the only ranking that mattered to fuel racers. Number One could be challenged only by one of the other nine ranked teams. Don Garlits successfully defended his top spot all season. 
We don't include "house organs" in this series simply because association-owned publications are, by nature, selective and biased. This front-page exception illustrates the enduring ties between land-speed racing on natural surfaces and its pavement offspring. While publisher Parks must've been mighty disappointed by Mickey Thompson's recent relaxation of Lions Drag Strip's fuel ban, Wally's house organ nonetheless celebrated the successful attempts by an American hot rodder to break world records long held by well-financed Europeans. In a single morning at California's March Air Force Base, M/T's 18 runs in four Pontiac-powered cars snagged 14 international and national marks for the standing mile or kilometer. 

What came to be known as "the four-motor car" remains the most-famous of Ivo's many dragsters, even inspiring a top-selling model kit. Ironically, it's the car that he drove the least and sold not once, but twice—as both a dragster and, later, as the Buick Riviera Wagon Master produced by legendary tinsmith Tom Hanna. This sunny Sunday saw Don Prudhomme graduate from Ivo's crewman to paid driver. According to track manager Harry Hibler, the debut drew the biggest crowd in San Fernando's entire history (1955-69). The car survives in a private collection, still wearing the station-wagon body commissioned in 1966 by second-owner Tom McCourry.  
The $10,000 payday promised by Bill France for a 180-mph lap of his 2.5-mile Daytona track inspired Bo Osiecki to drop a blown 413 Chrysler into a much-modified Indy car and hire a brave drag racer to drive his evil Mad Dog IV—in the rain, yet. Four of Art Malone's slippery laps exceeded the previous closed-course world record. He hit an estimated 210-plus on the backstretch enroute to a 181.61 average.
Drag News remained the only national publication welcoming editorial contributions and advertising from any track owner willing to submit printable material, regardless of sanctioning or political affiliations. (Independent publishing competition was just around the corner, though—as we'll see in the upcoming 1962 installment.) A jam-packed Sept. 9 paper carried week-old coverage of the AHRA Nationals and Cordova's World Series, plus fresh news of Pete Robinson's Top Eliminator upset at the gas-only NHRA Nationals (bottom). AHRA's big Texas winners, Ed Garlits (top) in Top Gas and Zane Schubert (center) in Top Fuel, squared off in a Top Eliminator showdown won by one of two injected-Chevy twins entered by Chet Herbert. March Meet champ Lefty Mudersbach settled for the AA/GD trophy in Herbert's sister ship. (This and all other 1955-71 editions of Drag News have been scanned, page by page, onto a series of CDs available from WDIFL.com.)