"Promoters and Other Odd Animals"

 


 

A dying breed for sure, many of the drag strip managers/owners/promoters of the 60s and 70s made P.T. Barnum look like Tupperware salesmen. They ranged from certifiably insane to straight out crooks. Some were dumb like a fox, and some were just dumb. They're more of the "characters" that were a bi-product of our sport. The guys who would do anything to put butts in the seats.

If you raced in those decades chances are you were "touched" by the likes of Billy Lee Donor, "Broadway Bob", Gil Cohn, Ben Christ, Ed Eaton, Steve Evans, and for us on the Left Coast (and especially in the Northwest) there was Clark Marshall who paved the way for Diner and Evans. We'll start off with three classic Marshall (and gang) stories from Fred Vosk.

Here's one of the story's that I sent them to read at Clark Marshall's 70th birthday bash... with a little lead in. Clark is one of the guys that created what we were, and many still are, obsessed with ... Clark raced a fuel car in the 50's - and as a car sponsor in the late 50's and early 60's he was the first to put major backing behind a national touring Top Fuel car, the 'Cal-Equip AA/FD - from Seattle (photo below). But his high point (in the car thing) was as a race and car show promoter in the 60's. He was one of the originators of - 'The Big Show'. He used to have an open top fuel show at Puyallup Dragway every week that drew lots a car's and big crowds. It was the Lions of the Northwest - and Clark and Mickey/T swapped lots of those screaming ads - and feature cars, back and forth... all wheelin' and dealin' - - Man - what a book it would make. They and other hustlers like them were a big part of the reason that these cars that we worship came into being. They created the venue - and the excitement. Hey, a place where we thought we could even make money with those things! They gave us a reason for being more then just a bunch of 'work zombies' slowly plowing through our lives ... whether it was Lions, Puyallup - or a hundred other strips across the country.

 

Cal-Equip

This is the 'Cal-Equip' car at Riverside in 59 or 60. There perhaps to defend their #1 Mr. Eliminator spot - which they held for quite a while. That's Clark in the background (behind the car) - white shirt and pants - open black jacket.
Steve Gibbs photo

 

That Saturday night - or Sunday Show ... was the reason for doin' the week. The Northwest was second only to Southern California in Drag Racing action, and in the sheer number of cars running week in and week out, and Clark Marshall was the major reason for that. I've known ol' 'Clarkamoto' for a long time and he's always been the best friend you could have ... but not easy with me sometimes. I can come up with some pretty crazy ideas but Clark always backed me. Hey - From Traveling Circus Tent Car Shows to Spanish Lamp Stores, you name it - and Clark's always said, "Yeah! Let's do it." Now we're both 'old guy's' and neither of us have much money - but we sure did a lot of "stuff"!

Now a stories and as with most stories you will have to paint yourself a mental picture of what was going on (drugs may help): "THE NEVER ENDING CARNIVAL" IT WALKS - IT TALKS - IT BARKS LIKE A DOG - - WATCH IT CRAWL ON IT'S BELLY LIKE A REPTILE!

I'd always stay for the 'Jets', no matter how much traffic we could beat by getting out quick. Be out at the front of the staging area - and feel the heat when they 'hit the burners' Far Out! The sound would shake you right down to your toes, and the flames were so bright you'd see nuthin' but spots for the next half hour. And ya know what? Clark would be standing right there beside me as he couldn't get enough of it either.

Clark used to book in every kind of attraction that you could imagine. Aside from the usual 'Jets' and 'Wheelstanders' - Bill Golden's "Little Red Wagon" was such a big draw it backed up traffic all the way down the hill from the dragstrip to downtown Puyallup, (6 miles). I think there were about 8,000 paid through the gate before the state patrol made him open the gate and let people in for fee to get the traffic moving. Musta been at least 12,000 in that little place, maybe more by the time 'Maverick' ran. So hundreds of people that they were out actually on the track would part like the red sea so he could make a pass - then fill back in behind him. Then he'd turn around and come wheelstanding over the hill with sparks flying - back to the starting line as the crowd got out of the way again. Golden had been drinking all afternoon - and he really put on a show. Clark was up on top of the the tower - and his eyes were as big as 'silver dollars', we had to hang on to him so he didn't fall off the roof! It ain't just the money - promoters get totally cranked by the crowd and from up there, all you could see was people!

Clark used to book in some pretty odd stuff to fill out 'shows'. Drag Racing couldn't always draw in the big gates all by it self and Clark was always bringing in a lot of out of town cars - so it cost a few bucks - all the big hitters of the day ran at Puyallup. We were all 'Drag Racing Junkies' and any car that we wanted to see - Clark would figure a way to get it there. Lot of real fast cars up here then too. In fact, Clark created "The King" nickname for Jerry Ruth just to get the outta town guy's mad enough to come up here and try and beat him ... worked too!. There would be somebody up here every week to try and "knock the 'Kings' crown off.

Marshall used to put together some great adds for those races - really packed 'em in. And JR, (Ruth), did his part too - a 'motormouth' if ever there was one. But even with all that, it was hard to make ends meet. It was the extra attractions that brought enough extra people through the gate to pull it off (or at least 'usually pull it off).

There was "Orville The Dare-Devil Clown" who used to blow himself up with dynamite! Strange guy who couldn't hear a word you said - seemed to have damaged his hearing - Somehow! There was a guy who I think called himself 'Captain' somebody who used to get his bike going about 40 miles an hour down the strip - then he'd lock the steering - and climb off the back of the bike - hang on to the back fender and let the bike drag him down the track. The guy had steel plates on the bottom of his boots so he could make sparks which made for a good show at night (mighta had a steel plate in his head too?).

Had "Evil Kinivl there one Saturday night doing some 'trick riding', wheelies down the strip and stuff. Clark was managing 'Evil' at the time (but that's a whole 'nuther story), anyway, Knivel had broke a wrist the night before, (went through the roof of a Greyhound bus in a jump at Monroe Speedway), so Evil had us tie his hand to the handle bar grip and went out and 'did his stuff' ... "The show must go on!!!"

The best act of all and also the scariest was a couple of guys, (can't remember their names), who just called out of the blue one day. Told Clark about this stunt they would do and settled on an amount (maybe a few hundred bucks). They said they'd be there the next Saturday night. Well Clark didn't even include their stunt in the add's that week The whole deal was just too outrageous to be real. But sure enough, on Saturday night - there they were. One guy was an athletic type (wearing sneakers - and kinda 'jock' acting), and the other guy did all the talking. They had a little sports car (early kit car) with them. I think it was one of those 'Kel-Mark' GT-40 replica's. The kid in the sneakers went out and stood in the middle of the strip - about half way down, and the other guy, driving the Kel-Mark, started at the back of the staging area and made a couple of practice pass's by him at exactly 60 miles an hour. We were all on the side of the track right across from where the kid was standing (had the ambulance there too) but we still didn't think they'd try it' Then on the third pass the car headed right for 'The Kid'. Right when it got to him - He jumped up - touched his toes ... and the car went underneath him - at 60 miles an hour! Man! None of us had ever seen anything like that before, (and we'd seen a lot of stuff). The crowd was dead silent - they didn't know what to think. I mean Clark gave them an extra couple of hundred bucks - a big deal, being he hadn't even advertised the stunt. He wanted to book them right back in - for double the money. Then they told us ... it was the first time they'd ever tried it - hadn't ever practiced the actual jump over a car before! The 'Kid' just knew he could do it. "It's all timing, ya know". But he didn't want to do it again - EVER!

 



"SHOWIN' UP IN BOISE"

In the 60s we went to Boise to put on a Drag Race and Car Show with Clark (Marshall). Don Staats and I brought all the (airbrush) T-shirt stuff and towed along a digger we'd just finished - 'The Green Dragon' AA/FD Seattle (Yeah - we were the 'Bardahl Guys'). The car was a new Woody, trick full body, green and silver flake with lots of art work ... it was the Show, and Race feature. To give you an idea of what Boise was like in those days, we did so many T-shirts with tractors on em, that we were starting to know the different makes and models (John Deer seemed to be the most popular). Did one for a kid with his 4-H pig on it! Staats did it as a AA/Fpig with a blower, zoomies and slicks. The kid loved it! The caption I came up with to go under the art work on it was, "When Pigs Fly" I mean this was a strange town, everybody wore Cowboy Hats 'n' Boots. Felt like I'd walked into a 'Lash LaRue' movie.

It was like 100 degree's and by the time we got the digger set up at the show the paint was starting to shrink, (put the last clear on just before we left Seattle), so we were rubbing it out just before the show opened. I was wet sanding it with 1000 grit and didn't have anything to put the water in - so I used an empty 'Coors' can (had plenty of those). After a while I happened to look up, and suddenly noticed that several of the local guys (cowboy types) who had set up around us were polishing their cars with 'Coors' too, guess they didn't realize I had water in the can ... figured if that's what the 'big city guys' do ... it must be 'cool'.

Needless to say, being the show was at the Boise Fair Grounds, in August - the beer attracted 'flies'. Man!, it was fly city! I suggested frogs to catch the flies ... being the car was green, it would have made a nice display ... but nobody else was going for it, so we just lived with the flays! We painted and sold a lot of T-shirts at that show and the race was something else. One of those 200 mile an hour cars on a two lane blacktop back road deals ... but that's another story.................

 


 

BACK ROADIN' IT

As far as we knew there hadn't ever been an organized Drag Race (with clocks) in the state of Idaho before. And there'd never been an AA/FD there for sure ... we brought two! It was the first outing for 'Green Dragon' AA/FD since the new paint and a few other improvements. Clark had brought along another fueler to run against us ... a hard touring car, (and guy) 'Dave McKenzie. Clark staged the race on a straight stretch of two lane country road where the local kids did their 'street racing' out by the army base on the edge of town. We set the clocks up on a folding table by the start and the finish lights set up where the kids had the end of their 1/4 marked. We are talking 200 mile an hour dragsters on a rather bad stretch of 'two lane black top'. McKenzie's car was an oldie, and pretty short, but our car was the latest from 'Woody', and was quite long for those days.

There weren't any wide spots in the road so we pushed down then had to get out of the truck - and four of us would grab the front axle and pivot the car around ... that wasn't bad - The 'scary' part was after we'd fired up (coming back down to the starting line) the four of us had to pick up the front end again, and walk it around to point it back down the strip.

I'll never forget walking that car around, looking down the nose at a running fuel hemi ... like looking down the barrel of a loaded gun! I can still remember which way the slots were pointed on the screws that held the butterfly's and could see 'Ronnie' (Rolstad) peeking around the blower ... with his foot on the clutch - - not shaking - I hoped! It was myself, Butch Bowers, B.J. Manning and Russ Griffith (Drag News Photographer) walking the car around. Bet they still remember too! You could feel the car - trying to creep ... Scary! Probably one of the dumber things any of us ever did ... and got away with!

Nobody went down and checked the road real close before we ran, (the local kids said, "she's as flat as the kitchen table"). Ronnie discovered in the first round that right after the finish line there was a dip in the road. In fact it was a big DIP in the road ... Ronnie got two feet of air! We could see he was off the ground from the start line! Seems the Army kept their Tanks on one side of the road, and the testing track was on the other ... and that was where they crossed. The locals said they raced out there all the time, and "never had any problem" ... probably weren't doing quite 200.

We won the match and Harold (Zeek),who was running the clocks, gave us a 203. We took it and Staats lettered 'IDAHO STATE LAND SPEED RECORD HOLDER' on the side of the truck and we headed for home. First thing we did when we got back was stop at Ruth's place and show him. JR musta sputtered and studdered for a week. I think as soon as they had an actual Drag Strip in Idaho he was there - - just to take our record away. It was the start of the never ending battle for the 'Idaho State Land Speed Record'..........

 


 

For all the fond - fun memories Fred had of Clark Marshall, there were others who feel under the "crook" category. Here's Tom West's experiences with Gil Cohn and Ed Eaton:

I have to say that the most memorable guy for me personally was Gil Cohn, who operated Long Island National, Detroit Dragway and Motor City Dragway along with Ed Eaton. Neither of them would have been on my list to have dinner with, believe me.

He was also the promoter for the first Bakersfield that I figured that I should be able to get into as a photographer. I had been doing a lot of magazine stuff by that point and figured that I should be allowed out there as a photographer. Gil figured that I was trying to scam him for the admission, so I never did get in that year ... probably '67, I would guess.

I was not happy to see them dissociate themselves from the race very quickly. When I was in Michigan going to school, I ran into the same thing with him, as he thought I was trying to scam him for free admission to the track. I told him that was not a problem and that I just needed access to the line. He couldn't figure out what the angle was if I didn't want something free so he refused. I just went ahead and took all of my big camera stuff out there and started talking with the guys on the starting line and was never questioned about it. I probably went up there twice and was even more grateful for the various So Cal track managers that I was used to.

I finally moved to New York, and who do I run into? Eaton and Cohn again. I went out there a few times, and it always appeared that he was going to have a stroke worrying about whether he was going to get rained out and loose all of his book-in money. Again, I went through the ticket thing until I ran into George Houraney, who took care of me from then on at NY National.

Of course, then I moved back to Detroit and ran into the group again for a home track. Maybe that was one of the reasons that I got out of the sport completely for a few years. Not exactly my favorite ... but I did remember them.

PS. Further those comments on Cohn, I know there were races back on Long Island where they had to take him to the hospital with Ulcer attacks. He was so worried about the weather that he would literally eat himself up with worry.
For those of you who don't know who he is, picture a guy who looks like a real Mr. Peepers accountant type of guy. He used to do the announcing for the Pro cars when they ran, and he would be screaming and hollering up there in the tower, waving his arms around so much I thought he would pass out then. And, this is a comment from a guy who tends to talk with his hands, too.

I know that one event that I had headed out on the starting line in Detroit that I had run into him probably five different times trying to get a "photo credential" before I finally just went out there and schmoozed with the starting line crew. Right before second round, or whenever, he comes charging out of the tower toward the line, hands stuffed in his pockets and his head down. I was standing there next to my camera stuff and he literally ran right into me. Sort of bounced off, looked up at me, and walked around me without saying a word and headed toward the starter. Walked back to the tower the same way, but just a little further to my right, if I remember correctly. And still never said a word to me, or anyone else evidently, about this guy who went out there without his credentials.
OK, it isn't classic, but it was about a promoter.

 


 

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