As a little kid growing up in central New Jersey in the 1950s, I was always
enamored with cars and racing, specifically drag racing. I often thought how cool it
would be to live in California where there were, it seemed like, drag strips in
In 1956, the NHRA announced that their Safety Safari would hold a major-league
drag race on the runways of Linden (NJ) airport. This was it, my nirvana, I had to
be there! Being 10 years old and having no way to get there, I talked my Uncle Carl
into taking me in exchange for a tank of gas (about three or four bucks back then).
We hopped into his '55 Chevy hardtop with a power-pack 265 and took off. When we got
there I thought I'd died and gone to drag racing heaven.
Rail jobs everywhere! I'd never seen in person one of these diggers, only in
magazines. Plus there were gassers, modifieds, altereds, stockers and (Gasp!)
I wandered the pits, taking photos of everything with my Brownie camera. Where
was my Uncle? In the tech line! He'd gotten so pumped up when he saw what was going
on he decided to give it a try. When I got back to the car, there numbers and
letters written in shoe polish on the windows, and his prized possession, phony wire
wheel hub caps were removed; he was ready to race! Now I was really tipped over! I
was gonna ride in the staging lanes to the starting line in my Uncle's "race car."
No longer was I just an average kid at the drags, I was part of a race crew.
When Carl's time trial came up, I hopped out and watched as he smoked the right
rear tire for what seemed like half the track. When he returned to the pits, he said
that he was out-classed and decided not to run eliminations, so we spent the rest of
the afternoon into the evening watching every run down the track. We returned home
and on the way Uncle Carl and I decided that we should build a real race car.
The next week a 1951 Ford Tudor with a flat-head was in our family's barn and we
spent most of the summer getting it ready for the track. We had decided to build a
gasser so we stripped out everything we could remove and ordered a tri-power
manifold from J.C. Whitney. After a considerable amount of time was spent getting it
to run right, we were ready to hit the track.
Now there weren't a lot of drag strips in Jersey back then, but there was an
"Outlaw" track in Manville that we picked to make our debut. We flat-towed our
Gasser behind one of my father's delivery trucks (he owned a flower shop) and used
it to hold all our tools.
First time trial good, second time trial bad. The first pass was OK, it made it
down the track in a reasonable amount of time, I don't remember the ET or speed, (it
was 45 years ago, OK?). The second run was the beginning of the end for our flattie.
Something broke in the engine and caused it to backfire and backfire it did. Our
leaky Strombergs fed what seemed to be a Hindenburg-size fire. Uncle Carl got out
fast and we watched as the car burnt to the ground as the track crew feebly tried to
put it out. After the flames subsided we decided that there wasn't anything worth
saving and sold the remains right then and there to a junk dealer who was at the
The fire, by the way, burned a hole in the track about 50 feet off the line that
had to be repaired before racing could resume in that lane; needless to say, we
weren't the most popular guys there that day. The ride home was ugly, both Carl and
I were broken-hearted, all our time and money was burnt to a crisp. But did I let it
get me down? Noooooo!!!
I went on to build a 1960 Chevy stocker that I ran with a little success in the
early '60s until shipping out for Viet Nam. When I returned in '68, I started my
"career" at Englishtown, working my way up from laying numbers on windshields to
becoming the track's announcer/manager until I left to "pursue other opportunities."
After a stint with Mazda Motorsports IMSA GTO and GTP teams, I now am the coolest
satellite dealer in Charlotte, NC. Old friends can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article has been reprinted with permission of dragracingonline.com.