Goleta - The First
An excerpt from "High
Performance" by Robert C. Post
"On a crisp Sunday morning
in 1949 a group of hot rodders converged on a stretch of two-lane
road north of Santa Barbara. The road ran westerly toward the
ocean from California's Coast Highway, Highway 101. Ordinarily,
it provided access to a landing field at Goleta, but on this
April weekend a half-mile had been closed off with portable fencing.
Although the site was well known among local street racers, this
was a special occasion--a match race between two out-of-town
celebrities, both of them dry lakes veterans, Tom Cobbs and Fran
Hernandez. Cobbs had been winning races all around Los Angeles
in his Ford roadster, a 1929 Model-A body channeled over a 34
frame. The engine was a 34 V-8 with a Roots blower from
a GMC diesel truck or bus fitted on top as a supercharger. Cobbs
had challenged Hernandez, who raced a fenderless but otherwise
stock-bodied 32 Ford three-window coupe with a new Mercury
V-8 that had been over bored and stroked to 3-3/8 x 4-1/8, 296
cubic inches compared to Cobbs 249. But there was no blower on
top, just three Stromberg carburetors on a special manifold.
"There were marked contrasts
between the two racers themselves as well as their hot rods.
Cobbs was called a clever engineering sort who could afford,
as heir to tobacco fortunes, to experiment and test on Stu Hillborns
dynamometer. Hernandez, who managed Vic Edelbrocks
place on West Jefferson Boulevard in Los Angeles, was a
scrappy master of machine shops. Cobbs hung out in the
beach town of Santa Monica with Hillborn, who manufactured fuel
injectors for dirt-track racers, and Jack Engle, who who was
one of the first Southern Californians to go into business regrinding
Detroit camshafts, changing lobe profiles to alter valve timing.
Hernandezs buddies were Bobby Meeks, who worked for Edelbrock,
too, Ed Iskenderian, a one-time apricot pitter from Fresno who
had a cam grinding shop just down the street from the Edelbrock
Equipment Company, and Lou Baney, who rebuilt engines in a shop
on South Normandie. Nominally, Cobbs roadster was in legal
trim and could be driven on the streets, but Hernandezs
coupe lacked such niceties as headlights and mufflers, so he
had towed it in with a pickup.
"Other hot rodders--nearly
all of them young men around twenty, with just a few girlfriends
in evidence---showed up to participate, to drag it out with one
another, but the Hernandez-Cobbs match was the feature. Everyone
crowded up close for a good view, either at the starting line
or near the finish, where there was a hump and the roadway narrowed
to cross a culvert. The course that had been marked off allowed
the racers three-tenths of a mile to accelerate and sufficient
room to stop before coming to a sharp turn beyond the culvert.
Hernandezs coupe was balky about starting, so it had to
be hand-pushed and fired on compression. When it finally kicked
over, the exhaust fumes immediately betrayed the presence of
something other than gasoline. Cobbs may have been surprised,
but Hernandez already had a reputation as one of the select few
who were expert in setting up Stromberg carbs for nitro.
"Side by side, a few feet
apart, Cobbs and Hernandez edged toward a white line across the
pavement, where the starter stood holding a flag on a wooden
stick pointed towards the ground. Then, just as all four front
tires touched the line, the starter yanked his flag skyward.
Open headers roared and Hernandez jumped out in front while the
roadster spun its tires, filling the air with clouds of white
smoke. Although Cobbs finally regained traction and was closing
the gap toward the end, Hernandezs deuce crossed the culvert
a length ahead. He quickly gathered his things, while his friends
bolted a towbar to the frame of his coupe and hitched it to the
pickup. Then he was gone.
"Word of the outcome quickly
got around, and hot rodders rehashed it long afterwards, a diversion
known as bench racing. Cobbs had changed to lower rear gears,
thinking (mistakenly) that this would give him an advantage out
of the chute--could he have won with lakers gears
like Hernandez had? Did that Jimmie blower really
produce ten pounds of boost, as some people said? What kind of
load was Hernandez running anyway? The collective memory later
coalesced as a tale titled The Day Drag Racing Began,
which was reprinted time and again. While eyewitnesses could
attest to its essential accuracy, it had all the makings of a
classic legend. The details need not be taken literally.
"Clandestine drag racing
had been going on for some time, of course, but what was unique
about this particular event is that officials of the Santa Barbara
Acceleration Association had sought, successfully, to have the
California Highway Patrol confer approval: The races at Goleta
were not against the law."
If you only own one book on
drag racing, make sure it's "High Performance" by Robert
C. Post. Available at better book stores or through the John Hopkins University Press
"This book will be the
bible of drag racing for future generations." -- Don Garlits
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