The images in this album provide
a quick glimpse of how simple and straightforward drag racing
used to be before the time of corporate sponsorships, computers,
super transporters, and the "spec" race car. Granted,
the sport today is many times safer than fifty years ago, but
there was just something more genuine and unique about the drag
cars built by the backyard mechanics, fabricators, and gas station
jockeys back in the 1950s and early 1960s. With the aftermarket
industry for high performance parts and accessories still in
its infancy, ingenuity was a valuable asset for the drag racer
as he had to design and build most, if not all, of his race car.
The result was a cornucopia of coupes, sedans, roadsters, and
slingshots -a dazzling array of high-powered machines of every
These photographs document some
of the drag racing action on and off the strips of Northern California
between 1957 and1964. Even though NorCal would not be able to
boast the same number of tracks active in SoCal at that time,
there were eight drag strips that grabbed a lot of ink in Drag
News, National Dragster, and Drag Sport Illustrated during that
time. Four were located inland (Kingdon, Sacramento, Redding,
and Vaca Valley) and four were on the coast (Salinas, Half Moon
Bay, Fremont, and Cotati).
Al Hubbard's "Flying Bedstead"
vs. Hank Vincent's "Top Banana" at Vaca Valley. Hubbard
would later team up with the Forsberg Bros., an association that
would eventually set (4) Standard 1320 records. Vincent, also
a record holder in B/FD, lost his life in May 1960 in a racing
accident at Fremont Drag Strip.
A comely roadster launches off
the starting line at Half Moon Bay with track owner/partner Don
Smith (white pants) watching in the background. This image pretty
much sums up how primitive the sport was in the late 1950s-I
doubt if this guy would pass tech today.
Emory Cook was in a heap of trouble
right off the line against Jim McLennan in the Gotelli- Champion
Speed Shop Spl. at Kingdon in 1959.
After a humbling defeat at the
first Smoker's Meet at Famoso, Don Garlits hastily equipped his
"Swamp Rat" dragster with a supercharger and won the
next big race at Kingdon two weeks later. By 1960, Fremont, Half
Moon Bay, and Kingdon would all host big winter races hoping
to attract the stars of the sport from the East that had begun
touring the West Coast in the winter.
The counter at Vic Hubbard's
Speed Shop, Hayward CA, in late 1960. Right to left: Judie (Light)
Forsberg; Jerry Light (owner); Bob Zarth; Jerry Forsberg; Chet
Norris; Denny Forsberg; John Middleton; Bruce Carmen (in shades);
and three customers.
Outside Vic Hubbard's sometime
between June and December 1960. Left to right: no ID (kneeling);
Bruce Carmen; Jerry Light; Denny Forsberg; and, Jerry Forsberg
(in car). Note: The Forsberg Bros. held four different Standard
1320 records in B/GAR, B/FAR, and B/FD in the early 1960s.
This is an interesting shot for
one major reason: standing at the right rear are Jerry and Denny
Forsberg who were sponsored by the Vic Hubbard Speed Shop in
Hayward. The problem? This is the shop area of Champion Speed
Shop in South San Francisco and that is Jim McLennan closest
to the camera, Denny Milani with hands on the front tire, and
Bob Morgan kneeling next to him. It would be an understatement
to say that Jerry Light, VH owner, was not pleased when he saw
this photo in Drag News.
Jerry Card of El Cerrito owned
Card Automotive Specialty in San Pablo, California, and campaigned
a series of A/FMCs in the late '50s and early '60s. Card set
a Standard 1320 record in the Sumner-Burt A/GMC in 1961. He also
drove Ted Gotelli's first Fuller car briefly--shown here in 1959
This image provides a nice perspective
of Cotati Drag Strip in 1959 looking east toward the hills behind
Champion Speed Shop was located
at 1685 Old Mission Road in South San Francisco. The building
is still there today, home to Image Auto Body and Andy's Wheels
Jim McLennan grabbed this Drag
News cover after setting a new B/FD record of 8.77-171.45 at
Jim McLennan driving the Champion
Speed Shop-Gotelli Spl. B/FD at the 1960 Smoker's Meet at Famoso.
SoCal racer Jack Chrisman in
the Howard Cam Spl. at Half Moon Bay in 1960. Note: the small
planes parked in the background as the strip was actually the
taxi runway at the county airport.
OK; which guy is really Sam?
The infamous Organ Grinders Racing Team, of which every member
was named Sam. Sam was actually their mascot donkey that always
accompanied the guys to the track. Back row: Larry Gotelli; no
ID; Andy Brizio; Ted Gotelli; Bud Barnett; Marcel Lemmelet. Middle
row: Jim McLennan; Fremont trophy girl; Bruno Gianoli; Vic Gotelli
(Ted's brother); Bottom Row: Lou.
Starting line at Half Moon Bay
looking west; Left to right: Don Smith; Ted Gotelli; Scotty Fenn
(chassis designer); Jim McLennan; and, Larry Gotelli. Note: white
pants, never seen today, still ruled as the de rigueur fashion
of the day.
"The starter looks like
Chet Carter (Fremont flagman); the HMB guy could be Andy Brizio.
When they had the East/West Drags, they used starters from both
strips. This is Fremont Drag Strip because of all the telephone
poles and grandstands."
Commentary by Denny Forsberg.
Classic Chevy vs. Chrysler battle
at HMB between Jim McLennan and Garlits-Swingle (1961); starter
was flag man extraordinaire Andy Brizio. Note: "Big Daddy's"
autograph scrawled across the tire smoke.
"Slim" Sumner driving
Sumner-Bert-Mewes against Jim McLennan in the Champion Speed
Shop (the Scotty Fenn car) at Half Moon Bay; 1961.
Jim McLennan; Bud Barnett; and
John Zucca with the second Scotty Fenn car (1961).
This '37 Fiat Topolino was built
and owned by Rich & Earl Heidt of Turlock, CA. They won A/A
class at the 1961 NHRA Winternationals with an unblown 283 cid
Chevy equipped with a Schaller double lobe cam and Hilborn stack
injectors. This shot was taken at Fremont in January 1962 after
a 6:71 blower had been added.
Another team from Turlock was
Farlinger-Hayes. Fred Farlinger yanked the engine out of his
Corvette and put it in this Chassis Research K-88 previously
owned by Tom McEwen. This photo was taken in January 1962 at
Ballico Drag Strip (Turlock). Left to right: Lyle Isbell; Fred
Farlinger; Bus Schaller (kneeling); Dick Hayes; and Gil Rothweiler
In April of 1962, Denny Milani
(later, of Gotelli fame) came to the Ballico Drag Strip to do
battle with the locals.
Ballico was like many of those
small-town airstrips located out in pastureland. Denny, age 21,
in the Cash Auto Parts car versus Farlinger-Hayes in the near
lane. Gary Soderstrom, a crewmember on the Farlinger-Hayes team,
fortunately brought his camera to the drags and captured the
A youthful Denny Milani
in the Cash Auto Parts gas dragster.
Tom Prufer was a regular contender
at Fremont in the early '60s, shown here just before pushing
down at Fremont with his bright red "Power King Too".
Bob Smith drove the car at a later date and once mentioned that
the car was painted with the same batch of red paint used on
Coca Cola machines.
Jim McLennan in Ted Gotelli's
new Fuller A/FD racing the Schrank Bros. B/FD at HMB in 1961.
When McLennan and Gotelli split up later that year, Ted put Glen
Leasher in his mount. Jim purchased a Fuller car of his own,
dropped a 364 cid blown Chevy in it, and turned the driving chores
over to 19 year old Sammy Hale.
After Bud Barnett's fire at Half
Moon Bay in April 1961, Jim McLennan switched from nitromethane
to gasoline for safety reasons. For a brief time that summer,
he campaigned his Scotty Fenn car as a AA/GD--this shot was taken
This is the same car as above
after Jim realized the twin blown gas deal was not the answer.
This is Sammy Hale in the staging lanes at HBM in the 2nd Scotty
Fenn car. At the time, Jim (McLennan) was still the driver, but
turned that job over to Sammy when he had the Fuller car built.
Appears Sammy did, in fact, make some laps in the SF car, too.
"Big" Bob Haines suiting
up for a run in the Masters & Richter "purple"
car from San Leandro in Jan. '62. These guys were always tough
to beat and had the resources of a trucking company to help finance
things. They were also known to help out fellow racers when needed,
a common thing back then. From left, Sid Masters; Haines; and
Rick Richter in the Fremont jacket.
The AA/GD of the Ambassadors
Car Club from Orinda, CA equipped with the highly popular Algon
(Al Gonzalez) injectors. Though not associated with this car,
standing behind the twin in this Fremont pit shot are Bob Sbarbaro
and Tom Walsh.
Another "runner" at
Fremont in '62 was Charlie Mewes with his "Chicken Coupe"
style Fiat; a blower was added at a later date.
Later that same afternoon, Jesse
Schrank of the Schrank Bros. and their DeSoto powered B/FD squared
off against Denny Forsberg in the Forstberg & Hubbard "Mighty
Mouse" for TE; Denny won that day.
Glen Leasher quit driving Ted
Gotelli's A/FD for a ride in Romeo Palamides' "Untouchable"
jet dragster. Because of its size, the F-86D Saber jet-powered
monster had to be pitted on the side of the Fremont staging area
which provided spectators a great view as the team worked on
it. Leasher was killed later that year in a LSR attempt in Palamides'
Masters-Richter on the trailer
at Half Moon Bay after "Big" Bob Haines' off-track
excursion through the vegetation in May of 1962.
Champion Speed Shop in the pits
at Fremont with a young Bobby McLennan next to the blower.
Champion Speed Shop at home at
Half Moon Bay; Left to right: Sammy Hale's dad (Sam Sr.); Gary
Rowen; and Sammy Hale (in the whites).
Leonard Freitas of Salinas, CA,
brought his 462" Olds powered dragster for its debut to
Fremont in July of 1962. Crew member Gary Hansen is shown looking
at the engine. Gary said that the Plexiglas windscreen was formed
in Freitas' wife's oven and the belly pan was from the hood of
an old Hudson.
Here is a little tale of their
racing adventures as told by Gary: "This was the first time
we ran the car. I think the first run was 9.5/175 or something
like that. Later in 1962, with little preparation or experience,
we switched over to fuel. McEwen and Adams came to Fremont with
their Olds powered Fuller chassis "Shark" car to run
a Drag News "Mr. Eliminator" match race. Their opponent
either broke or didn't show up and Adams convinced us to run
a little "pop" and race them so they could get the
race in the books. We had met Adams earlier in the year at Hilborn
where he worked . The four hole tall Hilborn injector came from
Ted Gotelli , so we went down to L.A. to learn all the tricks.
We asked Stu Hilborn what we needed to do to run gas with the
"fuel" pump set-up. At least he didn't laugh at us
and Adams fixed us up with a trade for a "gas" pump.
At Fremont we converted back to "fuel" (30% as I remember)
with Adam's help and parts, and we promptly made two four cylinder
Olds engines - we were a bunch of amateurs playing a pro's game
and we got bit."
Van Dyke & Wulf out of Sacramento
showed up in their gold machine driven by Jim Herbert. Dig the
black blower case and those weedburners!
Another view of the Van Dyke
& Wulf, with local racer Bill Prahl's "shark" car
on the right; wonder what the deal was with the oil pan?
On October 13, 1963, Fremont
held a meet that attracted many of the big boys from SoCal. Put
into historical context, this was just five weeks before Kennedy's
assassination. Masters & Richter were there to defend NorCal
honor with their Fuller-chassied dragster, the former Champion
Speed Shop car. Here they are maneuvering the car in the pits
with their familiar yellow push truck in the background.
Weekly, Rivero, Fox & Holding
were in attendance that day (Oct. '63), shown here in the pits.
The Frantic 4 sits alongside
the "Black Beauty" of Wenderski & Winkel in the
staging area before pushing out onto the track.
Continuing on with Oct. 13, 1963,
the "Black Beauty" of John Wenderski & Ron Winkel
garnered several photos on my limited film budget. Upper: side
view with the car's signature chute pack tail. John's black '59
Chevy El Camino is behind with the dragster's nosepiece straddling
the bed. Lower: The car viewed from behind... it was dazzling
in its day. That blue '59 El Camino in the background might well
belong to the Safford-Gaide-Ratican team as they were pitted
nearby that day.
Upper: The boys pack the chute
and do engine maintenance between rounds. Lower: Under clear
October skies, the "Black Beauty" thundering out of
the hole on a hard launch that autumn afternoon; Ted Gotelli
with Denny Milani driving won top eliminator that day.
Fremont held a large race the
weekend following the March Meet at Bakersfield in '64. Many
of the same contenders hit both meets. Here is the new Zeuschel-Fuller-Moody
car still fresh in bare metal at the Fremont competition. The
shape was quite futuristic at a time when style mattered. Don
Moody went rounds, but was bested by the Logghe-Marsh-Steffey
car from Michigan in a quarterfinal. Don may have made a small
excursion on the track's edge, enough to allow Jim Marsh to trip
the lights first at the top end.
Its a little hard to see, but
Sid Masters of the Masters & Richter team is tracing the
outline of the blower top onto a white cardboard hotdog tray
as a make-do gasket for the injector. Gotta do what you gotta
do to go rounds.
Rich Guasco pushes his Chevy
powered Pure Hell Fuel Altered forward in the pits. What a crowd
Arguably, one of the most recognizable
front pages ever printed in Drag News. It was taken by Al Caldwell,
DN's iconic columnist (Northern Briefs) and photographer, during
Kingdon's annual big winter event. Top to bottom and left to
right: Don Garlits; Denny Milani; "Jet Car" Bob Smith;
Jesse Schrank; Tommy Ivo; Chris Karamesines; "Big"
Bob Haines; Art Malone; Frank Silva; Bob Sullivan; and, Connie
"Shorty" (Larry) Leventon
posing with a dolly promoting Half Moon Bay's West Coast Championships
in March 1964; Leventon drove The Vagabonds from 1963 to 1964
Ted Gotelli's '63 black/red Fuller
car will always be synonymous with driver Denny Milani, but Sammy
Hale (inset) also spent some time behind the wheel for Gotelli
Don "The Snake" Prudhomme
sharing the winner's circle with HMB's hostess/"theme girl"
(ok, trophy girl) Tammy Taylor. When this shot was taken in 1964,
the G-B-P fueler had been lengthened and repainted (again) a