Did you know that the guy that
invented drag racing was the same guy that invented "heads-up"
drag racing? I bet that some of you hadn't realized that fact.
Through a friend of a friend
of a friend, I was able to arrange a meeting with this great
man. He's quite old now, walks with a cane, is a little hard
of hearing and still lives in the same house he's lived in for
the last 50 years.
After I introduced myself and
told him a little about my background (went to my first drag
race in 1953 at San Fernando, CA) and discussed "old times",
I got up the nerve to ask him about the beginnings of drag racing.
Like, how did he come to invent it in the first place?
After some contemplation, he
told me that after he and his buddies came back from the war
(WW II) they nothing to do on the weekends. "Disneyland
hadn't opened yet, there was no sports on TV, the dry lakes weren't
open every weekend, so what else was there to do?" He continued,
"We were guys and we had cars, so I invented drag racing."
He told me that he hadn't been
following drag racing for a while and we talked a little about
some of the changes. I told him that I was involved with creating
"rules" for one of the heads-up organizations that
had a drag race series. He seemed confused about the term "heads-up"
("Is there any other kind?", he asked), but told me
that he had also created a rulebook many years ago. He slowly
walked (hobbled) over to an old bookcase and after rummaging
around for a while, produced a pamphlet entitled Drag Racing
Rules. This was unbelievable. I was looking at one of the first
(perhaps the actual first) Rule Book. I eagerly opened it up
and read the rules.
The first paragraph was titled
FORMAT. It said, and I quote; "Two vehicles will line up
side by side at the beginning of a quarter mile strip. When the
starter raises his flag, both cars will be permitted to accelerate
to the end of the quarter mile strip. The first to cross the
finish line is declared the winner. The winning vehicle will
be eligible to repeat this process until there are only two vehicles
remaining in competition. The last vehicle to cross the finish
line first will be declared the Top Eliminator."
The next paragraph was called
AWARDS. It said; "The Top Eliminator will receive a trophy
and have his picture taken with the Trophy Girl. Please keep
your hands off the Trophy Girl."
That's it. There was no mention
of payouts, round money, runner-up money, semi-money, contingency
money, money for getting through tech, money for showing up at
the starting line, tow money, nothing about money at all.
And the final paragraph was simply
titled SAFETY. This I studied carefully, as I'm an official SFI
Certified Technical Inspector. It said, and I kid you not; "Race
at your own risk."
I told him that his rule book
was a little "thin" and he hadn't addressed different
drag racing classes. He agreed and said that if he had it to
do over again, he would have created classes. He went on to say
that he would have had a class for vehicles "with fenders
and a class without fenders."
I told him that today's racers
required approximately 8 to 10 classes, each with a variety of
weight breaks to compensate for different displacements, suspension
systems, tire sizes, power adders, transmission types, etc.,
etc., etc. He seemed shocked at this and in fact was surprised
that drag strips even had scales to weigh the cars ("What
for?" he asked.) I explained that some racers used parts
that were less competitive than parts that some other racers
used, and demanded that they be awarded a weight break, so that
they would be happy (which they never seemed to be, anyway).
He told me that that problem had come up years ago, also. He
recalled that there was "this guy" who wanted "some
other guy" penalized because he had three Stromberg 48s,
and his car only had two. I asked him how he handled this problem.
"Simple", he replied. "I told the first guy to
add another carb."
I wondered how racers today would
accept this response. If, for instance, racer "A" expected
a 200 pound weight break because he was running an automatic
trans and racer "B" was using a clutchless 5-speed,
could I just tell racer "A" to "get a stick"
and get away with it? Probably not.
He asked me why a racer could
purposely choose to use parts that provided less performance
and then expect to get a "weight advantage" over a
guy who used higher performance parts? I didn't have a ready
answer for that one other than to mumble something about "keeping
competition even". He asked why that was important, "shouldn't
the fastest guy win?" and I didn't have a ready answer for
that one, either.
I told him that sometimes it
seemed that some of today's heads-up racers seemed more concerned
with penalizing the quicker combinations and what the money payouts
were going to be, than in actually racing.
"Money?" he responded.
"What ever happened to the Trophy Girl?"