The Chrisman Legacy: Always Faster by Tom Madigan

The Chrisman Legacy: Always Faster by Tom Madigan
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Book Review by Richard Parks, Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz

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I was waiting eagerly for my new copy of the Tom Madigan book on Art Chrisman, called The Chrisman Legacy; Always Faster. Madigan is one of my favorite authors and Chrisman is one of the pioneers in land speed, drags and car building. Also there were a lot of my friends involved in this project and I was curious to see what kind of book they had created. I had done a short biography on Art and his family for The Society of Land Speed Racing Historians, but could not accomplish the greater goal of a full length book on the Chrisman family. Tom Madigan is that special kind of writer who can tell a good story, but more than that he has the ability to listen. To tell a story an author has to listen and understand what he is writing about and each time I pick up a book by Madigan to review I know that it will be quality story telling. Madigan is also one of the best when it comes to basic research. I’ve reviewed two other Madigan books; Edelbrock/Made in USA, and Fuel and Guts/The Birth of Top Fuel Drag Racing. Each reached that level of interest that earned itself a good review. When you buy a Tom Madigan book you know that it is going to be good. Other books that Madigan has written include; The Loner/The Story of a Drag Racer, Boss/The Bill  Stroppe Story, Snake vs Mongoose/How a Rivalry Changed Drag Racing Forever, and Hurricane/The Bob Hannah Story.

The publisher of The Chrisman Legacy; Always Faster is EJJE, or Ed Justice Junior Enterprises. From the quality of the layout, printing and publishing, I thought that this must be a division of Motorbooks. You all know my feelings about Motorbooks; they are the standard by which we judge good works of published books. EJJE Publishing has the same high standards when it comes to great books in the automotive field. Ed Justice Jr is the son of Ed Justice Sr, who co-founded Justice Brothers Car Care Products (JB), located in Duarte, California. Ed Justice Senior and his two brothers were dedicated to racing and they found just the right business product to pursue their love of motorsports through JB oil and gasoline additives. Ed Justice Jr expanded upon his father and uncles’ work to make JB a major brand and their sponsorships much sought after by car racers. The three brothers are now gone and we are all poorer for losing them, but Ed Jr has kept the family business strong and growing. You would think that Ed Jr would have enough work as president of JB, but then you would be wrong. Ed Jr has an inquisitive mind and when he finds something that interests him he puts his full energies into mastering the skill. He has his own radio show and is constantly attending shows to find people to interview. He does his own artwork for his JB products and you can often see him in commercials for JB products that he has made and starred in. Now he has entered the realm of publishing with his EJJE division and The Chrisman Legacy; Always Faster is a first class addition to his other businesses. Publishing is still alive, but it is struggling against competition from the internet. Ed Justice Jr is going into a market full of stresses and declining market share and yet if anyone can make a quality book and do it profitably it is Ed.

The photographers deserve mention here as well. Among the photographers there are; Roger Rohrdanz, Tom Madigan, Ed Justice Jr, Chrisman archives, Lana Chrisman, Greg Sharp collection, Kelly Brown, Harry Hibler, Willie Stroppe, Hot Rod magazine archives, Steve Reyes, Bob McClurg, Neonrod Photography, S. Suganuma/Mooneyes, Sam Smead, Danny Eames, Eric Rickman, Lester Nehamkin, Bob D’Olivo, Ford Motor Company archives, Jack Chinn, and the Sulphur Springs Museum collection. Roger pointed out several photographs that were originally in color but had been printed in a black and white format to present a theme. While we think of the Chrisman family as pioneers in the sport of land speed and drag racing, they are just as energetic and involved today as they were in the past. Still, the thematic license is important here; the Chrisman family held the center stage at many a racing event in the early days of straight line racing. The photographers listed here are important historians in their own right and their work brings out important elements. Rohrdanz is active today in photographing the car shows and drag races that form a part of our lives, but he was on the scene in the late 1950’s. He knows the importance of the Chrisman family in racing. Greg Sharp retired as a policeman and involved himself in finding and saving the history of motorsports throughout the country. As curator of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum he is responsible for preserving their archives and in assisting others with their research projects. We will never be able to say enough about the accomplishments of Eric Rickman. He was everywhere and photographed events that would often be mere footnotes in history if he hadn’t covered those races. So many organizations over the years have honored Rickman for going to their events and lending credibility to their various forms of racing. Hibler, Reyes, McClurg, D’Olivo are names that are easily recognizable to us for their contributions in motorsports racing photography and editing.

What about the book, isn’t that what a review is all about? The Chrisman Legacy; Always Faster is a hard cover book measuring 9 ¼ by 12 ¼ inches in size with 224 pages on excellent photographic paper. The book is cloth bound down the spine for extra strength. The book is black with gold lettering. The book jacket cover or sleeve, sometimes called a dust cover, is striking, showing the three famous Chrisman cars; #25 roadster, #176 coupe and the Hustler 1 slingshot dragster. As I mention in all my reviews, keep the cover or sleeve in good condition and do not tear it or throw it away. The dust covers are intended to protect the book and they do a good job of that, but they are also valuable in their own right. So many covers are lost, damaged or thrown away that collectors of books pay a huge premium for a book that is in good condition with a pristine book cover intact. Throw away the dust cover jacket and the book’s value drops in half. The hard cover is rather unappealing, but the dust cover jacket on this book is spectacular, showing the cars framed on a dry lake with the California snow capped mountains in the distance. This jacket is a real keeper. The Preface is written by the author, Tom Madigan, and it lays out the reasons behind the book. The Foreword is by Greg Sharp and is informative in Sharp’s usually brief style. Few can say so much in so few words as Greg does. The Presentation is by Ed Justice Jr, one of those men blessed with the ability to observe and then tell us in that great old-fashioned story telling way. There are seven chapters, an Epilogue, a page of Acknowledgments and an Index. Always look at the Acknowledgments to see who the sources are that the writer used. It is a good way to see beforehand if the research is up to the quality that a good book needs to tell the story. The three-page Index of names and terms tells me that this is going to be a well-written book. It shows that the author isn’t going to stint on quality. I found the index to be complete and helpful.

You can order the book through EJJE Publishing, but I have not found out exactly how many copies of the book are in the first edition. Use the ISBN #13 978-0-9828999-0-8 or the title of the book; The Chrisman Legacy; Always FasterYou may find copies available at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum gift shop, in Pomona, California, or by calling JB Products in Duarte, California. The price is around $50, which is a reasonable one for a small, first run issue. My copy came with a numbered plate and a black and white photograph of the Hustler I, suitable for framing. There were 45 color and 249 black and white photographs and almost all of them were of high quality and the clarity was very good. I counted one poster, one Bob McCoy drawing and 18 magazine covers or magazine pages with multiple photographs listed. The size of the book presents a problem; it is too large for the normal bookcase and about right as a centerpiece or “coffee table book.” Perhaps that was the thought of the author as he crafted this book, or maybe he needed this particular large size to adequately portray the photographs. It has a nice thumb thru quality to it. By that I mean that a reader can scan the book quickly and enjoy the photographs and then put it aside. Or you can read word for word and page by page, because this is a very easy and fun book to read.

The book isn’t really broken down into chapters as such; but into segments that flow seamlessly. Part I is called the Early Years and the history of the Chrisman family is both unique and common. I say common in respect, for the family struggled through the WWI, Great Depression, WWII and the Post-War eras just like the rest of us did. Unique in that the Chrisman family was often the trend-setters in whatever field of racing that they entered. Evert Chrisman, known as “Pops” brought his family out to California from Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, at the urging of his father, Henry Chrisman. The war had just broken out and jobs were plentiful, and Evert found work in the shipyards in Southern California. The family consisted of Lloyd, Art and four sisters. Uncle Jack, who was just a year older than Art, often confused people who thought of him as another sibling. After the war Pops opened a garage in Compton in the Willowbrook neighborhood, where so many other hot rodders lived at the time. Lloyd and Art worked for their father, but there was also time for girls and hot rods. The Chrisman’s’ were a tight family. Art raced at El Mirage and was one of the first to drag race at the Santa Ana drag strip. The family thrived in this new area and the people they knew or raced against are legendary names; Ed Iskenderian, Vic Edelbrock, Wally Parks, Pete Petersen, Leroy Neumayer, Rosie Roussel, Chet Herbert, Ak Miller, Mickey Thompson, C. J. Hart, Lou Baney, Tony Capanna and many others.

They made their name famous in early drag racing, at El Mirage, the Bonneville Salt Flats, on oval tracks. The brothers crewed for Tony Capanna at the Indy 500. The brothers ran at the first National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Nationals in 1955. I really enjoy books that give lots of information on the early days and this first part contains 88 pages and outstanding early photographs. Part II is titled The Autolite Years and runs to 46 pages. Uncle Jack Chrisman was making a name for himself in drag racing. Evert, Lloyd and Art were still working at the family garage when the Autolite division of Ford Motor Car Company offered Art the job as west coast representative for their spark plug company in 1962. Many other well-known racers of the day went to work for Ford when that company invested heavily in their racing teams. This brought Art into contact with all levels of racing from dirt track, Bonneville, Daytona Beach, off-road, hydroplane, Pikes Peak, endurance, drag, Road Course, motorcycle, oval track, Can-Am, Indy, land speed, sprints, midgets and much more. He would know or work with Carroll Shelby, Parnelli Jones, Bill Stroppe, Steve McQueen, Eddie Kuzma, Dan Gurney, A. J. Foyt, Jim Clark, Colin Chapman, Chuck Hulse, Rodger Ward, Eddie Sachs, Roger McCluskey, Jerry Kugel, Danny Ongais, Rudy Ramos, and Bob Ellis, etal.

The auto makers turned the 1960’s into one of the most exciting eras in motorsports racing. It was the time when fans rooted for their favorite cars; with Ford, Chevy, Pontiac, Dodge, Plymouth and other brands investing considerable amounts in their racing programs. As with all fads, this one faded out as corporate accountants decided that such advertising programs were not cost effective. One program after another was eliminated or pared back and Autolite was no exception. In Part III, named Life After Autolite, Art teamed up with Ed Pink to build engines, then went to work for W. R. Grace and then Forgedtrue Industries. His heart though was in mechanics and he left to form his own company, C.A.R.S. with his son Mike. This father and son business was just like the Evert, Lloyd and Art Chrisman garage in Compton. Though it was hard work and long hours, it was a chance to develop strong ties with the next generation and do the work that he loved to do. The shop and business is still successful and now Art is the mentor to his son, just as his father was to him. It is a place where hot rodders and racers love to visit, especially on the Wednesday night open house which has become a tradition. In this section are seen smiling faces of Art and his wife Dorothy and son Mike.

The new business turned out great hot rods, winning the Grand National Roadster Show’s AMBR award, for America’s most beautiful roadster. Joe MacPherson owned the car and was a supporter and backer for many of the projects taken on by the Chrisman’s. Joe established a museum that housed many of the finest hot rods, bikes and race cars on his car dealership in Tustin, California. Joe’s Garage, an outstanding car and racing museum, was a Mecca for car guys in Southern California where reunions were regularly held. The museum shut down soon after MacPherson’s death. Mike Chrisman runs the shop now and also drives a vintage fuel dragster, continuing the family tradition in car building and racing. Art and other members of the Chrisman family have been honored by many groups and associations with memberships in Hall of Fames. Part IV is called Uncle Jack and gives the story of Jack Chrisman. Many people are confused about Jack and think of him as Art and Lloyd’s brother. He was Evert’s younger brother and Art and Lloyd’s uncle, although they were nearly the same age. Evert was the first born of Henry and Henrietta Chrisman, then came 12 sisters and finally Jack was born. By the time Jack was born, Evert had married and started on a family of his own. Jack married Dee and they had two sons and a daughter; Larry, Steve and Lana. Steve took over the business, Chrisman Driveline Components, from Jack and also drives a top fuel dragster in the NHRA. Lana runs the John Force retail stores in Indiana and California. Larry is a businessman.

Jack was a successful top fuel drag racer, winning the NHRA Winternationals in 1961 and the NHRA points championship that same year. One of the first drag cars was Jack’s ’29 Model A Ford Tudor sedan, built by Jack, Art and Lloyd. They raced together and Jack also raced solo around the country. The sedan was much more stylish than aerodynamic, but it was a terror on the drag strips. Jack and his partners, Chuck Jones and Joe Mailliard built and designed the rear-engined Sidewinders, I and II, but a serious accident kept the cars from establishing a trend. It would take a decade or more before Don Garlits perfected the concept. Rear-engined cars were built as far back as the 1930’s and possibly earlier, and a number of innovators worked on the design. The crash of the Sidewinder almost took Jack’s life, but he recovered and kept on racing professionally in the NHRA. He was a respected innovator and was one of the men responsible for the development of the Funny Car. Many people claim to be the originator of the Funny Car of Flopper as they were known, but the author feels that Jack should have the credit. For many years Jack Chrisman was a staunch supporter and successful competitor in this new class of drag racing. 

One thing that the book is rich in is interviews and a whole chapter is devoted to these accolades and they are a favorite of mine, for they give us a glimpse into the Chrisman family that makes them seem very real to us. There are interviews with the Stroppe’s, Paul Pfaff, Kelly Brown, Harry Hibler, Ed Pink, Tom McEwen, Tommy Ivo, Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Bobby Spere, Tony Thacker, Stu Hilborn, Danny Eames, John Force, Lou Senter, Carl Olson, Jerry Kugel, Dorothy Chrisman and the children of Jack and Art, Tom Prufer, Bob Muravez, and Jerry Toliver. Jerry is the son of Juanita Chrisman and the nephew of Art and Lloyd Chrisman. The Chrisman family has been around racing all their lives. It is impossible to take them out of racing without altering the entire landscape of the 20th century. In this review I have managed to only touch the surface of how important their contributions were to all forms of racing. The book by Madigan is rich in detail, easily read and acts as an encyclopedia of an important era and an equally important racing family. The Chrisman Legacy; Always Faster is a book that I highly recommend and I give it a perfect 8 out of 8 sparkplugs, one of only a handful of books that are this good.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]

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(l-r) Mike Chrisman, Art Chrisman, Steve Davis, Junior Conway, and Joe MacPherson.With Joe’s Grand National Roadster Show winner of the “Americas Most Beautiful Roadster”.

 

Chrisman & Sons garage in Compton, CA. (r-l) “Pops” Evert, Lloyd & Art.

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I rate this book a 8 out of 8 sparkplugs.

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Art (sunglasses), Lou Baney (straw hat), engine builder Ed “The Old Master” Pink get Lou’s Top Fuel dragster ready to do battle. (circa 1966)