Diggers, Funnies, Gassers & Altereds Drag Racing’s Golden Age By Bob McClurg
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Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz
A drag racer's delight is Diggers, Funnies, Gassers & Altereds; Drag Racing's Golden Age, by Bob McClurg. This is a hard-bound book measuring 10 1/2 by 10 1/2 inches in size and suitable as a coffee table book or as a historical work on the subject of drag racing. The pages are high quality waxed photographic paper, which are bound to the spine of the book with a cloth binding. The dust cover jacket is very colorful with a sling-shot dragster on the line and flames coming out of the headers as it awaits the green light from the Christmas Tree. If you lose the jacket there is an identical photographic display on the cover of the book and the same on the reverse back cover. But don't lose the dust cover jacket, because it adds value to the book. The book was published in 2004 by Car Tech Auto Books and Manuals and the ISBN# is 1-884089-90-9. No price was quoted and if you can't find this book at your local book dealer, try calling the publisher at 1-800-551-4754 or go on-line at www.cartechbooks.com. Diggers, Funnies, Gassers & Altereds has 204 pages, a foreword by John Force, an introduction and short bio on the author, eight chapters and a comprehensive three page index. Many books of this nature are simply "fill and chill" books, meaning that the writer grabbed some captioned photographs, added some text and had the material published. When an author takes the time to add an index, it is a sign that you can expect a professionally done book. McClurg has a good reputation and an index only heightens one's expectations. We shall see if those expectations are true or false. Diggers, Funnies, Gassers & Altereds has 254 color and 127 black and white photographs, all of excellent quality. There are also 27 posters and five magazine covers. Most of the photographs have ample and complete captions, but a few have no captions at all. There is also a substantial amount of textual material with photographs interspersed throughout, making it easy to read with a casual glance at the supporting pictures. The book is free of graphs, charts and maps. It is the quality of the photographs that stand out and make this book riveting to look at. I found myself picking the book up constantly and scanning through the photographs and then reading the textual material. But this is more than just eye candy for the serious drag racing fan.
The foreword by John Force is worth the read. Anything by John Force is worth the effort. He revolutionized what it meant to be a drag racer. There are drag racers that have big egos, or are almost as flamboyant, but none quite like Force. Not only is he the winningest drag racer who ever lived, in terms of National event wins and season's championships, but he is also the marketing departments answer to the second coming of the Messiah. I like John Force, but then I'm joined by millions more who like him. Strangely, there are a dozen people out there who don't like him and Force is still trying to figure out why they don't. When Force thinks back to ancient history, that is the 1960's and '70's in drag racing, he becomes downright melodramatic. It's worth buying this book just for the foreword by Force. In fact, it's a keeper because of it. Bob McClurg then gives us a two page introduction. He has a good understanding of the rise and growth of drag racing. Maybe that's because McClurg has been around nearly forever. He seems so ageless, but his credentials go back to his friendship with Jack Hart in the '50's and by the mid-1960's McClurg found that being a photojournalist was a way to enjoy drag racing. Bob started out as a photographer for a local school newspaper and earned his credentials to cover the races. This led to jobs with racing magazines and newspapers and then into freelancing his work. He went to work for Petersen Publishing in 1976 and a year later was promoted to the job of photo editor at Hot Rod magazine. As with all journalists, McClurg worked for \many publishing companies, promoting, transferring and often returning to the same job years later. He also managed to write the following books; The Complete 50-State Book to Street Rod & Kit Car Registration, Classics in Colour #6 Mustang, Mustang the Next Generation, and Mustang -Marketing the Legend.
Chapter one is called The Roadsters. Few people understand the importance of the roadster in the history of drag racing. The roadster was the force du jour, the hot rod of the 1930's and a statement made by the youth of my father's generation to tell the world that we exist and we are here. Take an old Ford, or a Chevy or some other coupe, and chop it up. Those hot rodders from yesteryear removed the top from the body of the car and all the fenders and panels that weren't necessary and created their version of the roadster. Yes, roadsters did exist and they were flashy and expensive, but those young men of the Great Depression era didn't have the money to buy those cars. Function, speed, style and creativity made a coupe into a roadster. If you were into the "in" crowd then you drove a roadster. Everybody knew that a roadster was faster and way more cool. If you had a coupe, don't bother showing up was the cry. Of course, that wasn't true, coupes did alright on the dry lakes, but nobody wanted to admit that. Roadsters were the basis of early drag racing. The first drag racers, like Dick Kraft, lengthened the frames and bodies and cut away even more of the roadster, until all that was left was a "rail." Essentially a steel frame, wheels, axles, drive shaft and engine was all that was left. The drag racers experimented until the turned the old roadsters into today's dragster and funny cars. That's what we love about the sport of drag racing; the innovation sparked by creative minds. The basic building block was the roadster; the original DNA of drag racing cars to this very day. Chapter two is titled The Gassers and this is perhaps one of the most endearing of all the types of drag cars that have ever drag raced. Some people prefer the funny cars and some the top fuelers or "rail cars," but perhaps there was never a more exciting or colorful bunch of cars and people than the Gassers. Who can forget Stone/Woods/Cook, K.S. Pittman, Ohio George Montgomery, Big John Mazmanian and others of the 1960's and early '70's.
Chapter three is called The Altereds. These cars were very much like the Gassers with short wheel bases, and were loaded up on chemically enhanced fuels, with huge engines. They squirmed and slid as much sideways as they rocketed down the straight-a-way. It was awesome and it left a mark on our memories that can never be erased. They raced, they toured, they wowed the pants off the drag racing public and we loved them for it. It was more than just the cars that thundered by; it was also the personalities of the men who drove these slippery cars. Some of the drivers in this class included Wild Willie Borsch, Leroy Chadderton, Leon Fitzgerald, Rich Guasco; and they drove cars named Rat Trap, Pure Heaven, Nanook and Pure Hell. Chapter four is named Front-Engine Dragsters and the first two photographs show Dick Kraft in the Bug and the #25 car, the elongated Art Chrisman roadster. You can see the evolution of the top fuel rails in these early cars. The beautiful #25 car is actually older than the ugly looking Bug. Looking at the Bug you would think that this junk-yard dog was simply an afterthought meant as a joke. But Kraft knew what he was doing. Stripping away all the excess weight, including the radiator and installing a 296 c.i. Ford flathead engine gave this light weight car a huge advantage at the Santa Ana drag strip when drag racing was first codifying its rules. Few cars could beat the Bug and it became the prototype for the new dragsters that were to follow. Chrisman's car also set the styling patter for the 1950's. Originally a dry lakes land speed car, its sleek look inspired a number of drag racers to experiment with styling a more aerodynamic shape for drag cars. Drag cars exploded in many designs and styles, some with more than one engine and with all sorts of body shapes, but the trend was for longer and lower looking bodies and less weight.
Chapter five is titled The Funny Car and these stock cars were called that because they simply looked a little funny compared to the showroom models. There was nothing funny about their speeds and performance and it is the funny car that finally drove the fuel altereds into oblivion. The moods of the public and fans changed and funny cars took off in popularity that has not abated to this day. The early funny car drivers included; Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, Hubert Platt, Jere Stahl, Al Eckstrand, Sox and Martin and other early stock car racers who made the transition into the funny car class. Having the Detroit automakers behind you as sponsors made this class very successful. In the stands you would see fans that rooted in sections for their "brand" of car. Ford, Chevy, Dodge and Plymouth fans avoided straying into each other's territory and the spectators yelled raucously for their heroes and car company to beat the other guy and his brand. Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen, Kenny Bernstein and John Force would become the next generation of funny car heroes. Chapter six is named Rear-Engine Dragsters and this is simply a subclass of the top fuel and alcohol rails that are called "dragsters," for their long and sleek looks. They evolved from roadsters and sling shot rail jobs where the drivers sat behind a huge engine over the rear wheels. Many racers toyed with the concept of moving the engine behind the driver. It's only a small pain to pilot a front engined dragster down a drag strip at speed, but it becomes a huge pain when the engine explodes or throws hot oil and parts in your face. After a serious and almost fatal accident, Don Garlits had enough of these monsters and put his creative mind to finding a solution once and for all. He succeeded and the sling shot style became extinct, except in nostalgia drag racing. Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney and Don Garlits would become the dominant drivers in this category.
Chapter seven is called Pro Stockers. Like the Funny Cars, these stock cars are supposed to be cars that you can buy right off the show room floor, but it's doubtful you will ever find one of these fast and beautiful cars. Bob Glidden would dominate this class like no other racer ever dominated any other class, until John Force and Warren Johnson came along. Force took control of the Funny Car class and Johnson dominated in the stock car class. Others in the Pro Stock class who made lasting contributions included; "Dyno" Don Nicholson, Butch Leal, Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins, Dick Landy, Bruce Larsen, Hubert Platt, the Coughlin family, Sox and Martin and many others. The last chapter is a sort of catch-all category and is named Drag Racing Nostalgia. What goes wrong in all motorsports is speed. Innovation in engine power, aerodynamics, speed and safety equipment, fuel, tires and other breakthroughs enables the drag cars to constantly improve their speed and elapsed times. But it comes at a price. There are more accidents and the cost to race goes way up. Sponsors are hard to find and other race team owners with big sponsorships hire away the best mechanics and drivers to form multiple teams. The fun simply leaves the sport as competition becomes fierce. When the speeds become excessively dangerous the sanctioning bodies create rules to lower the speeds, increase the safety and standardize the cars. It's a constant job to find ways within the rules to let your team go just a little faster than everyone else and when your secrets are found out they are copied by everyone else. Many racers and fans of drag racing simply leave the competitive nature of professional drag racing and build a car in one of the nostalgia associations. The costs are less and the nostalgia racer can build a car in almost any fashion that he chooses under a broad set of rules, never as onerous or controlling as in the pro series. Diggers, Funnies, Gassers & Altereds; Drag Racing's Golden Age is an excellent book, either as a history or as a coffee table pictorial. I give it a 7 1/2 rating out of a possible 8 spark plugs.
I rate this book a 7 1/2 out of 8 sparkplugs.
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The book was published in 2004 by Car Tech Auto Books and Manuals and the ISBN# is 1-884089-90-9. No price was quoted and if you can't find this book at your local book dealer, try calling the publisher at 1-800-551-4754 or go on-line at www.cartechbooks.com.