Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Every Sunday Drag Races; Orange County Airport, Santa Ana, by Leslie Long and Don Tuttle is not really a book, but a soft cover pamphlet, copied by the authors from newspaper clippings. It doesn’t have an index, the pages aren’t numbered, and the photographs are grainy and barely legible. The names are often misspelled and the data is sometimes suspect, and there are many reasons why I shouldn’t recommend this to dragracing fans. There is only one reason that I can think of to recommend this to the public; it is the only source that I know of that is so complete and full for those interested in what happened at the first professional dragstrip in the country and the world. Don Tuttle and Leslie Long are consumed by a desire to preserve the past. Tuttle has passed away, but Long is still collecting, sorting and cataloguing a wealth of information about land speed racing at the California dry lakes, and the early days of drag racing. This isn’t a written work, and the two men do not claim to be authors, but editors of this simple and precious pamphlet. Over the years they kept newspaper clippings, many of them originally written by Don Tuttle himself. Tuttle was the announcer at the Santa Ana Drag Strip, after he was discharged from the Navy in 1952. He compiled the results and printed them in the local newspaper, where he worked. The editors didn’t say which newspaper, but it was probably the Orange County Register.
Tuttle and Long saved these news clippings from the first race on July 2, 1950, through August 27, 1956. There is no indication as to when the dragstrip closed, nor if there is another revised issue, or second pamphlet. The text consists entirely of the results of the race as the reporter submitted them to the newspaper, or where captions were placed under the photos. In many cases the reader will be lost unless he has some knowledge of the time and place and the significance of the Santa Ana dragstrip in its importance to drag racing. Three men and one woman are given credit for opening this dragstrip, and even today their contributions are sometimes questioned by historians. The men are C. J. Hart, Frank Stillwell and Creighton Hunter, and the woman was Peggy Hart. This is a book review and not a history, nor does Every Sunday Drag Races; Orange County Airport, Santa Ana, tell us the answers to those questions. What is recognized by historians is that C. J. Hart and his wife Peggy believed in the idea that opening and running a local dragstrip would help the local authorities control illegal and dangerous street racing. The Harts had their own garage, and there was no certainty that running a dragstrip would make them any money. They had no instructional booklet telling them how to create a sport that basically existed only on the streets, at the dry lakes, and for a race or two at Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara, California, a few months prior to their opening of the Santa Ana dragstrip. The Harts basically tried, failed, tried again, until they had a system that worked and the kids accepted. Stillwell lasted only a short time, and was gone. Hunter was a young man and assisted the Harts in running the track.
The Harts might have guessed that they had created a sport that would be wildly popular, or they might have figured that it was just a one-shot deal that would eventually go bust. It really doesn’t matter, for within days of the first race the word spread like a dry California brush fire on a windy summer day. News leaped clear across the country and young men and women made the trek out to California to watch this new sport being born right before their eyes. They took the concept, modified it a bit and carried it home where local Timing Associations of car clubs formed overnight. Authors used the plot to write books purchased by eager young fans, and movie producers came out with B movies. They were pulp-fiction, Saturday night Drive-In action thrillers, with titles like Dragstrip Girl and Hot Rod Girl. The premise was always the same; fast cars, young men, young women, lusty libidos and a disregard for the peace and safety of the public on the highways. Tragedy was always around the corner, but cooler heads prevailed and an adult came forward who “understood” the youthful need for speed. C. J. and Peggy Hart would stand as the models for the “understanding” adults, and Peggy would take on all comers on the dragstrip and usually beat them handily. Dragracing would find respectability on the organized strips, and safety would improve with the founding of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) in 1951, by Wally and Barbara Parks. The Harts’ and Parks’ would usher in a new sport, with rules, safety regulations, insurance and sponsorship.
Every Sunday Drag Races; Orange County Airport, Santa Ana cannot be appreciated as a book. It is, after all, only a series of newspaper clippings, but if you use it as a reference booklet to help interpret other histories on dragracing, it is priceless. There are 46 pages, including the two covers, and 65 photos. Leslie Long may have added more pages, photos and newspaper clippings to a revised issue. Since it isn’t published, but xeroxed whenever the need arises to sell more pamphlets, Long can add whatever he finds from that period. This makes it difficult to tell whether you have the complete issue or a later one. It doesn’t really matter, as Long will copy and sell you the latest issue. Simple as Every Sunday Drag Races; Orange County Airport, Santa Ana, might be, it is pure gold and priceless. Only a few of those young men and women who created a sport are still alive to tell us about the wonders of it all. There is Don Cook, Art Chrisman, Pat Berardini, Otto Ryssman, Ollie Morris, Tommy Auger, Mel Dodd, Dick Kraft, Doug Hartelt, Joaquin Arnett and the Bean Bandits, Chet Herbert, Dick Roseberry and a handful of survivors left. So many great early day drag racers have left us that the Santa Ana Drags Reunion, run for years by Creighton Hunter, has disbanded. Every Sunday Drag Races; Orange County Airport, Santa Ana, is a booklet that I go back to whenever I write on the subject of drag racing. It is not only indispensable, but also a joy to read.
From The Book
Typical pages from the book aren’t numbered, and the photographs are grainy and barely legible, but it is the only source that I know of that is so complete and full for those interested in what happened at the first professional dragstrip in the country and the world!