First in a Series of Flashbacks to Independent Publications of the 1950s and ’60s

A.J. Routt Photo

While electronic engine management is disproving the old notion of “no replacement for displacement,” there’s still nothing better than old, yellowed newsprint for evaluating drag racing’s formative years. The sport’s rapid rise from the mid-1950s through the ’60s was duly documented only by the tabloid press, the first independent medium to pay us regular attention. A half-century ago, the pen was mightier than all of today’s websites, blogs and podcasts, television and cable networks, terrestrial and satellite radio stations—combined.

Beyond the fun and value delivered at the time to mailboxes, news racks, and speed shops, unaffiliated “drag rags”—i.e., cheap periodicals controlled neither by a sanctioning body nor NHRA-leaning Petersen Publishing Co. (whose editorial director until 1963 was Wally Parks), recorded the truest accounts to be found of this new American motorsport and its supporting industry. In 1964-65, the peak of L.A. publishing’s golden age, no fewer than three independent tabloids competed nationally for readers and advertisers week after week, right through winter, collectively producing 150 issues per year. Classic clippings from these Drag News, Drag Sport Illustrated, and Drag World weeklies comprise most of the artwork for our series.

Additionally, we’ll be mining some nuggets from glossy, long-defunct magazines including Drag Racing/Drag Racing USA, Super Stock & Drag Illustrated, Modern Rod/Drag Strip, Drag Cartoons, and the original (1959) Drag Racer. A few larger-circulation, “horizontal” monthlies that selectively covered major meets and drag racers will also be represented.

Speaking of the title Drag Racer, readers of the modern version will recognize clippings previously published in the Paper Trails series that started with the Sept. 2015 issue and concluded—unexpectedly, prematurely—with the sudden demise of the last national newsstand magazine devoted exclusively to drag racing. Considering Drag Racer’s comparatively small print circulation and zero online presence, it follows that many of you missed some or all 19 of those installments. Reviving and revising those articles for CP’s worldwide readership is an opportunity to add “new-old” material—and, yes, make corrections and updates based on knowledge gained since those pages were inked. We’ll capitalize on the relatively infinite room available here by retrieving worthy rejects from the cutting-room floor that didn’t fit the strict physical confines of eight-to-10 magazine pages. (Drag Racer’s final editor, Pete Ward, gave his blessing to CP’s digital revival of a series that he commissioned.) Now that you know what’s cooking, watch for a fresh, season-by-season episode every couple of weeks, starting with 1957 in Part Two. Even the youngest amongst us will appreciate obscure hunks of history that may well have vanished without a trace, had it not been for untrained editors who mostly went broke producing 25-cent newspapers known as drag rags. Revealing recent interviews with three of those former editors, all in their mid-70s now, are among the treats ahead.



It all started with Drag News. The first national, independent publication devoted exclusively to drag racing debuted as a slick, biweekly magazine with this eight-page Mar. 4, 1955, edition. Cofounders Dean Brown, the publisher-editor, and Dick McMullen, his ad salesman, soon increased to weekly frequency and switched to newsprint before selling out to Doris Herbert. As publisher, the sister of Chet and aunt of Doug Herbert would become one of the sport’s most powerful persons of the 1960s and ’70s.      
On a single Sunday at Lions Drag Strip, driver Emery Cook, owner Cliff Bedwell, and engine-builder Bruce Crower repeatedly disproved the long-held theory that no vehicle could legitimately exceed 160 mph in a standing quarter-mile. In so doing, the San Diego trio triggered the fuel ban of 1957-63. That week’s Drag News (Feb. 9, 1957) carried Isky’s “hero” ad.  
Ed Iskenderian’s heavy promotion of a questionable “world record” by an unknown Floridian’s crude rail riled skeptical Californians into financing drag racing’s first east-to-west-coast tour early in 1959. (A first-round runnerup at the inaugural U.S. Fuel & Gas Championships, Don Garlits rebounded with consecutive wins in Lodi, Calif., and Arizona.)   
Was this tiny ad in the Sept. 1958 Hot Rod the spark that lit off the Gasser Wars? Rival-camgrinder Ed Iskenderian thinks so, and he should know. Find out why in a coming installment.  
Dan Raulston, who was replaced as Drag News editor  by incoming owner Doris Herbert in April 1959, fired the first serious shot at Drag News’s supremacy two months later. For the same quarter, the biweekly Drag Racer delivered magazine quality and a two-color cover—albeit briefly: Seven issues were published between June and October 1959, but Vol. I, No. 8, didn’t appear until the following February. Raulston’s editorial therein blamed the “temporary suspension” on production problems that he insisted had been solved. However, we’ve found no evidence of any subsequent editions.
Five months after Chris Karamesines received—and Isky started heavily promoting—a questionable 204.54-mph clocking at Alton, Illinois, publisher-editor Doris Herbert released her strangest, strongest cover ever. Her successful solution was establishing universal timing standards for reputable strips, whether sanctioned or independent, and maintaining the nationwide Drag News Standard 1320 Record List. This Oct. 1, 1960, edition credited Garlits as officially world’s fastest for a believable, backed-up 182.18 in the oceanfront air of Half Moon Bay, Calif. It would be nearly four more years before Garlits, Frank Cannon, and Paul Sutherland recorded the first widely accepted “Twos,” in that order.  
Russian missile sites had just been detected from our U-2 spy plane when Drag News published this “house” ad in the Sept. 12, 1962, issue. Nobody was laughing by October, when Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev squared off against JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Their brief stalemate raised worldwide fears of nuclear war. 
Imagine walking into your local Ford store with four grand, shaking salesman Gaspar “Gas” Ronda’s hand, then taking a factory hot rod home. One hundred handbuilt ’64 Thunderbolts greatly accelerated the evolution of production-based vehicles into Factory Experimentals and, ultimately, purpose-built Funny Cars. We’ll revisit those factory-fueled trends in the 1963-66 installments of this series. 
For the cost of two T-shirts, cartoonist-publisher-racer Pete Millar (center) secured some impressive celebrity endorsements for his National Association For The Advancement Of Flatheads. The artist’s own Intruder was among the SoCal slingshots invited to Pomona to film action scenes for Bikini Beach, the 1965 movie starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.   
Gary Dyer’s 8.63 on Lions Drag Strip’s clocks left no doubt about Dodge dealer Norm Kraus’s shop car being the world’s quickest stock-bodied vehicle at the end of 1965, inspiring aspiring heroes throughout North America to travel to Chicago to buy their own Hemi haulers on the corner of Grand and Spaulding.
As seen in Drag Cartoons, Aug. 1966.


During research for now-defunct Drag Racer magazine’s Paper Trails series, we stumbled upon that magazine’s future founding editor, the late Scott Cochran. In 1966, the hairy kid was crewing for L.A. racers including Frank Pedregon, Joe Winter, and Drag Cartoons publisher Pete Millar.
Our future Top Fuel world champion was so little known outside her native Northeast in 1966 that Drag News misidentified her as “Cha Cha Muldooney.”
Youngsters raised in the age of social media may find it impossible to believe that a sport’s entire press corps conspired to keep a star player’s face and true name out of print for years, as the masked man wished. Find out why Bob Muravez successfully masqueraded as Floyd Lippencott Jr. as this seasonal series spins through the ’60s.
Newsstands of the 1950s and ’60s offered periodicals for every gearhead’s peculiar passion. Cartoonist Pete Millar drew this idyllic selection for a Drag Cartoons subscription ad appearing in the Mar. 5, 1965, Drag World—one of three independent, national weeklies coming out of L.A. Only one would survive the brutal tabloid wars in the mid-’60s.