By: Mickey Bryant

It is considered the Woodstock of drag racing. Most seasoned drag race veterans remember it as the launch pad and real starting point for national recognition as a major league sport. It is called March Meet 1, and it was held the weekend of February 28 and March 1, 1959 in Bakersfield, CA. That was the two days of competition, but the buildup to this colossal clash started almost two years before.

The year 1958 opens and the fast cats on the west coast are getting a little restless. This Don Garlits guy stunned them all with his 1957 performances, namely the mind blowing combo of 176.40 mph at 8.79 in early November. However, they pretty much looked at what he had done to this point as a nuisance. The consensus by the So Cal bunch was any super times ran way over there on those concrete tracks on the east coast, with their questionable timing systems, were simply bogus. They had a point. All the hot shoes who contested this top class had just recently broken the 160 mph barrier and were satisfied with a mid-one sixty run anytime. Then some guy not only is the first to one-seventy, he crushes it. "Not fair, it was a concrete track", shouted the boys of asphalt. "Let's see him do it where we can see it" they demanded.

The new top speed mark that all top fuel racers were after at this particular juncture in drag racing was 170 mph. Only Garlits had gotten there, but only he counted it.

As was with all the previous speed goals, whoever topped this magic milestone would be granted top dog status and probably the most feared at subsequent meets. Maybe better, he would have bragging rights ant the respect of every guy in this top fuel class.

But as the year 1958 began unfolding, more noise was heard from that south Florida camp known now as Don's Speed Shop. Over the weekend of February 8 and 9 in Kissimmee, Florida, Garlits posted a top speed mark of 163.33 on his way to top eliminator. Not close to the 170 mark, however, no one else at the time was running this fast and the top boys on the left coast were having a tough time topping 160. You just knew there were a lot of late nights in the So Cal shops looking for more speed to shut this guy up.

The acknowledged number one fastest top fueler on the west coast here in early 1958 was the immaculate digger of Chrisman Bros and Cannon, driven by Art Chrisman. They were the one car no one wanted to see at any given race. Then on April 13th at historic Bakersfield a someone else reared their head and threw their hat into the ring. Hashim-Hylton-Crossley's top fuel dragster cranked out a 161.57 but most impressive was the fact that it was one of six runs at over 160 mph by this car at this meet! A week later at Santa Ana Art Chrisman took top eliminator honors, so he wasn't going away, even though in this meet he was using gas and not fuel.

Then things started heating up. The white hot HH&C put a lap in of 165.44 at another California track, Kingdon, on June 1st. The same day, at a different race, up jumps Jack Ewell driving the Kamboor-Jado machine with a stout 165.13 to let the world know there is one more fast cat out here!

While all this was going on over the past few months, something else was quietly being put in motion. It seems the Texas contingent decided to take matters in their own hands and would do what it took to get Mr. Don Garlits to come to their biggie race, scheduled for June 6 and 7 in Wichita Falls, Texas. It is to be sanctioned by the NHRA and there were promises from some So Cal top fuel guys that they would, in deed, be there if Mr. Garlits would be there. "Now what would it take to pull this off", they pondered. "450 bucks and I'm there", Garlits told them. "Deal", shot back the Texas bunch.

And they did not waste any time letting the drag racing world about their score. "If you want this guy come get 'em", was now the challenge they threw at all folks who campaigned a top fuel dragster - and any gasser who wanted to switch to fuel just for this opportunity to take on that guy from somewhere east. Don Garlits will be at the 1st Annual Southern Invitational Drag Races June 6 and 7, 1958.

An ad came out in Drag News Magazine in April touting this event so everyone had time to arrange their schedule to make sure they were there. Like that was a problem. It was now going to be very interesting to see who doesn't show. One guy who definitely would be there is Bobby Langley. Langley was a home grown Texas boy and as fast as any guy out there. What about Hashim-Hilton-Crossley? They were running the fastest times of all the California dudes, would they miss this? And Chrisman Bros.-Cannon - how could they pass on a showdown of this magnitude?

Well both were a no-show. No HH&C and no Chrisman. The famous roadster Speed Sport Special did make the trip from California though. It's probably just as well. No one was a match for Garlits. On his trek to the winners circle he beat Bobby Langley, besting Langley's state top speed and ET records in the process, and beating the SSS roadster in the fuel final. Garlits would head home with a top eliminator trophy, top time and ET for the race, and owner of new speed and ET records for the great state of Texas.

This particular weekend in Texas would later become the lightning rod for the all drag racers that competed in the sports fastest class. The man was paid to come as close as mid-Texas from way over there in Florida to race but none of the big guns from Southern California felt it necessary or worthwhile to pounce on an opportunity to show Garlits who is boss.

Big mistake. The events that transpired over the last half of the year 1958 would only fuel the budding rivalry between Garlits and the So Cal bunch and the necessity for a showdown would build to a fever pitch, especially since they all had a chance to race the man from the Swamps ,right here in Texas, but passed.

August 3, 1958. Hashim-Hilton-Crossley hits that coveted and elusive one-hundred-and-seventy miles per hour mark! One small problem though. In his congratulatory exuberance the beat writer referred to this achievement as the absolute best, "In the western drag racing circles".

Oh, me. That can't sit too well. Now, doesn't that pretty much acknowledge Garlits' big run of 176 back in late 1957?

At this stage, the drag racing world is begging for a showdown. So Garlits makes a move to fan the flame a little more. He concludes there is only one way to bring this thing to a head.

He puts Swamp Rat 1 up for sale.

In the August 9, 1958 Drag News page three has a little two-inch square box that says, FOR SALE - WORLDS FASTEST DRAGSTER …complete with a nice picture of the car, contact information, and this statement:

"Going into retirement, business obligations make it impossible to continue racing the car".

Can you imagine the reaction over there in all those So Cal race shops? Had they lost their chance at this guy? Should one of them buy it and destroy it?

Well, before anyone could react, Mr. Garlits either didn't get what he wanted in the two weeks it was available, or he added to his staff at Don's Speed Shop. He decided to stay in the top fuel business and showed up at the big race in Cordova, IL.

And wouldn't you know it, this happens. At Cordova August 24, Garlits tears off three runs over 170 with a best of 172.08. Then the Drag News cover for the September 20th issue has Don and Pat Garlits proudly standing next to the world record holder herself - Swamp Rat 1 top fuel dragster.

On we go. At Montgomery, NY Garlits shatters the ET record with an off-the-chart 8.36.

Hashim-Hilton-Crossley 171.10 at Riverside November 9th, and then 172.08 two weeks later in Vaca Valley.

Where's Chrisman? Well, Chrisman is competing and winning but he is running gas. That is about to change.

As the end of 1958 nears the inevitable is taking shape. All these boys from So Cal and that guy from swampland have to meet at one location and have at each other to decide just who is the baddest top fuel dragster on the planet.

We know now this did happen, in March of 1959, at the most anticipated drag race in the history of the sport, and is simply know as March Meet 1. One big reason that clash of titans finally occurred was due in a big part to what transpired in the lead up years of 1957 and 1958. Had the So Cal guys jumped on the chance to settle something back in June of 1958 at Wichita Falls, TX, and let a little air out of the balloon, MM1 would not have been so meaningful.

But then, for us who attended that March Meet 1, are we glad they didn't.


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