How I Got the Wavemaker Handle
by Don Prieto

When I arrived on the scene in LA, I was and still am some would say "outspoken". I only tend to say out loud what lots of folks are already thinkin. As a result of things I had to say at the original UDRA meetings, Joel Purcell of (Broussard Purcell Davis and McEwen) dubbed me the Louisiana Lip. I later wrote a column for Drag Digest (an early effort to compete with drag news) under the title "The Latest from the Lip". It was kinda like a drag racin gossip column with opinions. Guys like my pal Ralph Guldahl, Jeep, and others liked what they read and encouraged me. The paper ultimately failed.

When I went to work for Ralph at Drag Racing Magazine, he encouraged me to write like I spoke. I did. I did a road test on a Pontiac Firebird 400 and in our coverage of the Hot Rod Magazine Drag Race at Riverside, I mentioned that when I put my foot in it, nothin' happened. Pointing out that it has no suds---no get up and go. That comment cost us the Pontiac account. Ralph attributed it to "Prieto, just making Waves."

The publisher Lou Kimsey, like the attention it created and told me to do more of the same. It was only one page of advertising but we got lauded for telling it like it was.

Ralph suggested I write a monthly column on subjects near and dear to the hearts of drag racers but nobody was able to do anything about---like drag strip food, port a johns, incompetent announcers, ideas of shortening drag strip length to 1000 feet, etc.

He then suggested I call it The Wavemaker....and away we went. The response was great. One column on the 1000 foot drag strip prevoked Dale Ham (NHRA Division 4 Director) to offer to take me outside and kick my ass. I confronted him at Pomona and he apparently had second thoughts or he listened to Bernie Partridge who told him to ignore me. It did not deter me at all.

We kept it up until the company changed hands and Ralph and I went to the Petersen Book Division. I got hired first by Bob Green and I brought Ralph in shortly thereafter. We produced several picture books with our photographs under the titles Drag Racing Pictorial and Hot Rod Pictorial. They sold quite well and bring premium prices for old issues nowadays.

The Wavemaker lay dormant while at Petersen, SEMA and MEMA but resurfaced when I returned to California and went to work for the ad agency.

Don Crassweller, ad salesman, for Speed and Custom Dealer, a little publicly-unknown trade publication in the hi performance industry, came to me to write a column and a feature each month. I agreed and began a column under the heading "Finish Line" and it ran on the back page of the magazine. I stuck the needle in the SEMA folks, the NHRA, the Warehouse distributors and assorted other industry sacred cows.

It had a tremendous impact within the Speed Equipment industry and to this day, no less than the illustrious Ed Iskenderian carries around a copy of one column in his wallet. The title of that little ditty was called The Tale of the Scammers and the Dupers. It was parable written in Old English to mislead the principals (mostly about SEMA and the Board of Directors decisions) but get the point across to those who knew who they were. It was great fun and it had the desired effect.

When Scott Cochran introduced Drag Racing and High Performance Illustrated, we talked about including the Wavemaker column. We put a few together mostly on NHRA issues and related items. (One is attached)

One instance, I got a letter from Mike Lewis, then operator of Indy raceway park and VP of NHRA. I had written a synopsis of the money paid out at the end of the year to various sanctioning body champions. I quoted what that years champ-Eddie Hill received from NHRA, and included what the NASCAR champ got and what the CART champ got. The disparity in the amounts was alarming by comparison. Eddie Hill got so little, I thought he would be embarrassed to be compared.

My question was why this disparity existed, since according to their own advertising, NHRA was the largest motor racing organization in the country and by implication the best.

He, Lewis,never addressed the of why the disparity in purse. He did admit that Partridge admonished him to ignore me and my rantings but I guess I get under their skin too often.

I got a lengthy letter from Mike Lewis and I printed it in the letters column. What he failed to do, despite his various ramblings about my lack of knowledge of what NHRA does for the racer. My response to his letter, in print, was "you still haven't answered my question. That was the last I heard from until I went to Indy and there was a note attached to my Credentials. It read "SEE ME" and was signed Denny Darnell---NHRA Director of Communications. He wanted to confront me on the issue. He too, beat around the bush but blustered about it not being good for racing to raise such questions and my replay was to simply ask for an answer to the question regarding the disparity of the money---They still haven't answered the question and probably never will.

After Lewis was essentially fired, he confided in me that he shouldn't have responded to me especially since the NHRA corporate policy was/is to stonewall the question but he enjoyed the discourse.

When I discussed the above issue with Ralph Guldahl and about the stink I raised, he replied; Way to go, Wavemaker".

The current politics at Drag Racer Magazine will not let me write anything controversial---especially about the much feared NHRA---I'm limited to writing what I think to this group and others.

I'm sure that those of you who have experienced my sarcasm regarding NHRA and other issues, already know from where I come. To the newcomers and youngsters, I suggest you read it in the vein that I present it and don't take me too seriously.

After a stint at Hot Rod Industry News, I was hired by Lou Baney (Managing Director) and Vic Edelbrock (Chairman of the Board) to work at SEMA as Director of Communications.

I was there about 2 weeks and we got a call from a SEMA member in Wisconsin. He reported that the Wisconsin legislature was attempting to pass a law that would outlaw any modifications to a cars suspension including changing wheels.
Baney called me in and said: "I just talked to Vic and he wants me to send you to Wisconsin and fixed this deal".

I swallowed hard and said Okay! but we will have to get some information before I go or I'll look like a fool.

Enter SEMA lawyer Dale Hogue, a recent hire, to assist in legislative matters in Washington DC. I called Dale and he laid out a plan which included the facts that " a state can't make a law that overrides federal statute (Interstate Commerce Act) and that accepted OEM standards cannot be overruled by rulesmakers to solve an enforcement problem.

The state wanted to prevent kids from jacking the cars up in the rear like a drag car of the period, and they also didn't like the rear tires hanging out of the fender well---very prevalent in the early seventies.

Armed with this and some California "know-it-all" arrogance I went to Wisconsin and dazzled the legislature with my knowledge of the law and my ever present line of bull shit.

We won handily as the SEMA member that originally called to complain had some allies in the legislature who took up the cause as soon as they were confident the answers and explanation were sustainable.

Baney and I had a field day with the enthusiast press on that the degree that even National Dragster published our exploits.

When ex dragster driver Dick Martin has a similar problem in Oregon, I enlisted Jim Kavanagh of Appliance Plating (chrome wheels) to come along with me and again we dazzled 'em with BS and facts. We won again.

Other SEMA matters that came up during our tenure were the Dragster chassis specs, the 5-1 Wheel spec program, the firesuit spec, the wheel adapter spec and others. I headed the committee to solve the wheel problem but I has some real competent help in the form of Roy Richter, Cragar, Ray Brown Superior, Art Chrisman Appliance/Gasket Jim Kavanagh, American Racing, to name a few. We set the Spec Program in stone which formed the basis for SFI that is the current body of record for drag racing cert programs.

We had a noise committee consisting of muffler manufacturing companies to deal with street vehicle noise and Baney and I had help from Brigham Young University. they loaned us the sound measuring equipment and we took it to Englishtown and measured the drag races from 50ft away. The decibel readings measured some 150 at 50 feet---90 is the threshold of pain. We never had the opportunity to use the info---the regulators have no idea how loud dragsters and funny cars are---and we didn't tell them.

When the California Air Resources Board (CARB) started to close in on engine modifications, Baney and I convinced Vic and the board to sanction a round robin test. We took three cars, a 69 Chevy with small block, a 69 Charger with big block, and a Ford Fairlane with a small block. We had all three cars baseline tested on Vics emission test equipment and then we had 3 engines rebuilt of factory specs---baselined again.

The modifications to be made to these engines intake manifold, exhaust headers, and ignition. One from each manufacturer and one for each engine family.

Vic supplied Edelbrock manifolds, Weiand and Offenhauser also supplied manifolds with Ollie Morris coming with the package. Headers came from Paul Escoe of Doug Thorley headers with Brad Anderson overseeing---Hooker with Jim Hairston and Hedman with Bill Million looking over. The ignitions came from Bob Wyman, Accel, and Hayes as part of Mr. Gasket.

We would mount a set of headers, an ignition and a manifold, tune to spec and test. The next week we would mount a different combination of the same three parts and retest until we had tested every possible combination. We used Vics facility for all testing---imagine nowadays letting your competitor come test his stuff in his facility---Vic was very smart and very generous. I must mention that the tests were done by Vic but the cars and all related rebuilds and installations were funded by all six of the manufacturers as equal partners.

The testing went even better than we expected. Jim MacFarland and I deciphered the test results and prepared a paper for the CARB---stopped 'em cold. That test and subsequent tests by Vic and others led to the current exemption status from smog laws by speed equipment manufactures and allowed the industry to flourish.

After three years of SEMA and a belly full of Els Lohn who was the treasurer and cheaper than Alex Xydias and Nick (siamese Pismo Clam) Arias put together, I accepted an offer to go to Washington DC and lobby for MEMA. The Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association consisted of people like Champion, TRW, Echlin etc.

Baney hires Carl Olsen to replace me and they kept on rolling---Parks pirated Olsen for the NHRA---Baney did not like that---of course he wasn't fond of Parks from the Russetta/SCTA days.

In Washington, I spent a great deal of time with the staff of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce committee on the House side and with the Senate Committee on the environment (lLloyd Bentsen and Richartd Russell). Even went to the White House to meet President Ford. Other than that, It was boring as hell and I hated it. The only redeeming feature was being around all of that power. The parties, the women, (groupies) the deals, in other words the PERKS, otherwise I never got anything done. I was in charge of writing the rules that mfgs would have to meet to certify their parts as equal to the OEM component. I spent three years doing it and turned it in the day I left to return to California---that was 1977 and they still haven't enacted that Title II portion of the clean air act.

While in Washington, I had done a lot of radio talk shows where again I dazzled them with BS on network shows like Bob Grant, and others. While I was in New york for one of the shows, Dick Bauer took me to lunch at the MASCADACS---MADISON AVENUE SPORTS CAR DRIVING AND CHOWDER SOCIETY. I was invited to speak to them at a later date and when I was finished, the attendance threw dinner rolls at me. At first I was appalled---but I later found out that they only threw stuff if they liked what you said.

There I met Earl Gandel, an ad agency guy who drove a Ferrari. He liked me and asked me if I would like to move to California to work on the Toyota Advertising account as the product guy. That meant that I would have to keep the commercial makers from doing something dumb.I lept at the chance and gave my 2 weeks notice.

When I returned to LA, I called Baney and he put me up while I shopped for a house. I spent 6 great weeks living with Lou and Millie and we had a lot of fun.

As a side note, after Lou died and Millie was in poor health and all of the money had run out, I was able to convince SEMA to help Millie with some of the medical bills and some grocery money. They kicked in without hesitation. It was the least I could do for a pair of individuals that helped me so much along the way. Baney was always there for me and many others when he was "bucks UP". The people that made my life so memorable to me included Lou, Donovan, Don Madden, Al Barnes, Liz Howard, Pete Ogden, Art Chrisman, Frank Cannon and Doug Kruse.

Next chapter: Wavemaker returns!


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