Historic Drag Cars from the Museum of American Speed
Organized drag racing was born on July 2nd, 1950. Drag racing was happening on the streets, in the LA Riverbed, and at other loosely organized events that are rumored to have existed, but that July race at Santa Ana is widely accepted to be the official starting line for the sport.
As we celebrate the 71st birthday of that first race and the NHRA’s 70th season in 2021, we thought this would be a great time to look back at some drag racing history through a few cars in the Museum of American Speed.
The Ridler award is one of the most prestigious awards in hot rodding. Contemporary builders and car owners spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars just to make it into the Great 8. Ever wonder what the first car to win it was? You might be surprised to learn that it wasn’t a swoopy custom, but instead a hard charging dragster.
Built by legendary drag racer and body fabricator Al Bergler,“More Aggravation” won the first Ridler in 1964. But it’s not just a pretty face. With Bergler at the wheel, “More Aggravation” won Super Eliminator at the ’66 NHRA Springnationals, runner-up at the ’66 NHRA World Finals, and the ’66 NHRA Division 3 Super Eliminator points title.
Before drag cars started to look alike and winning formulas were agreed upon, drag racing in the 60’s was a Wild West of innovation and outside the box thinking. Why not run a Jimmy 6 on a 30% load of nitro in a slingshot rail?
This car changed hands a few times, but in this configuration it was campaigned by the legendary Al Teague and his brother Harvey. If Al’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he would go on to become hot rod royalty by breaking the Summers Brother’s 26-year-old record for the fastest wheel-driven vehicle at Bonneville. But before he was blasting across the salt at 400 and some change, he was behind the wheel of this digger.
Laugh all you want to at the buzzin’ half dozen, this car hauled. It went 9.60’s at 152 and regularly beat the Offy-powered rails and even gave the E-class small block Chevys fits.
You can argue and offer evidence to the contrary, but this might just be the first “funny car.” The ever-inventive Dick Landy was one of the first to cut his perfectly good stocker into a bunch of little pieces and move the rear axle forward in the quest for better weight distribution. That Race Hemi was not a lightweight piece of equipment, so some drastic measures had to be taken. This practice would evolve through the kooky “loophole machines” in ’65 and set the course toward the modern flopper.
As would often be the case throughout his long career, Landy’s crazy idea worked. This was the first stocker to break 130mph and the first factory 426 Hemi car to win a sanctioned drag race. More of the story can be found here.
Roger Lindamood was the man behind the long and successful line of “Color Me Gone” drag cars. After a successful career as a circle track racer earlier in his life, Lindamood went on to work at Chrysler’s transmission lab and hit the drag circuit in the early 60’s running a Plymouth stocker. He then jumped into the emerging funny car arms race, following the trend through steel bodied cars and later to fiberglass bodied floppers.
Ever wonder where the name came from? While it might be old news to some, those of us who weren’t around in the early 60’s may never have heard the song My Coloring Book. It was a big hit in ’63, and the last line says, “color him gone.” Apparently, Lindamood or someone on his crew shoe-polished “I’m a Plymouth…Color Me Gone” on the car at an event and the track promoters urged them to make it a permanent thing.
This car had a remarkable career at the hands of Jim Nace, Marvin Ruetz, and Dave Bohl. It was shot by Eric Rickman and featured in Hot Rod Magazine in May of ’62. It did 10’s at 140mph powered by a 402-inch Hemi and was an exceptionally nice race car.
But, it may be that the most remarkable thing about this car as it sits is its near-death experience and the talented and passionate crew that saved it. Dave Crane was a prolific collector of drag cars, parts, and memorabilia. When he heard that an old Bantam body was about to be turned into a trailer for a street rod, he had no choice but to intervene. Turns out, he recognized the car immediately as the Nace, Ruetz, and Bohl car that he used to tech at Martin Dragway years before. After Dave’s passing, his friends Rich Martin and John McLellan finished the restoration to the gleaming orange Competition Coupe that you see in these photos. More of the story and images can be found here.
The Dave Hales S&S Willys was a highly competitive, beautifully finished race car. It was a serious competitor in the hallowed glory days of the legendary NHRA Gas class. And it was built in the home garage by a dedicated group of young guys who were confident that they had the stuff to take on the world.
Look up “gasser” in the dictionary and there might just be a picture of this car, leaving the line on some long-ago dragstrip that many of us will only know from the stories that are passed down. Dave campaigned the Willys with the equally legendary S&S Racing Team and set numerous records in C and D Gas. The car ran a series of high-winding small block Chevys that Dave would twist to 9-grand before banging the next gear in the T-10. Check out the whole story here.
All photos by Jason Lubken.