Heroes of Hot Rodding by David Featherston

Heroes of Hot Rodding by David Featherston
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Book review by Richard Parks,
photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

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Heroes of Hot Rodding, by David Fetherston, is a paperback book with photographs and interviews with some of the well-known and popular hot rodders and car racers of the 20th Century. Heroes of Hot Rodding measures 8 ¼ by 10 ¾, and has an appealing color photograph of a red roadster at Bonneville. The book is 192 pages in length and was published by Motorbooks International, located in Osceola, Wisconsin. Motorbooks has an exceptional reputation for automotive books and Heroes of Hot Rodding fits right in with their high standards. The ISBN # is 0-87938-384-4 and the book was first published in 1992. You may be able to find copies at bookstores or in used bookstores. The photographs are mostly black and white, but very clear and processed on the highest quality paper. There are 271 black and white and 2 color photographs. In addition there are five cartoons, one magazine cover, three ads, one list, two drawings and one catalog cover and insert. The book does not have a dust cover jacket and the binding is glued, not cloth woven. There is an easy to read table of contents and a preface by the author, then he jumps right into the subject chapters. The chapters are easy to grasp, since each famous personality gets their own, except for Bobby and Bill Summers who share a chapter between them.  Thirty-three of the most interesting and important hot rodders and car guys are protrayed in this well-researched and informative book. The text is ample, full and complete. The photographs complement the story lines. Fetherston wastes no time in getting right to the subjects themselves and their stories and lives are what give this book its title. Fetherston barely mentions his efforts on this book and I would have liked to have known a little more about him as an author and researcher and what other books he may have written. There is a two page index at the back of the book and it should have been more comprehensive than that. It is a minor flaw.

The thirty-three heroes of hot rodding are; Joe Bailon, Craig Breedlove, Andy Brizio, Art Chrisman, Bill Cushenberry, Jim Deist, Bill Devin, Vic Edelbrock, Don Garlits, C. J. Hart, Joe Hunt, Ermie Immerso, Ed Iskenderian, Tommy Ivo, Dean Jeffries, Robert “Jocko” Johnson, Dick Landy, Tom Medley, Bruce Meyers, Ak Miller, Dean Moon, Tony Nancy, Wally Parks, Robert E. “Pete” Petersen, Ed Roth, Bill Stroppe, Bobby and Bill Summers, Mickey Thompson, Linda Vaughn, “Von Dutch” (Kenny Howard) and Gene Winfield. That’s an all-star cast if ever there was one. The first bio that I read was the one on Linda Vaughn, the only lady among the numerous men portrayed. Right from the very beginning of her career it became apparent that Linda was more than just a pretty face. Now everyone will agree that she was knock-down gorgeous, with those long and graceful legs, that beautiful face and a bosom that few women can ever match. But what made Linda Vaughn stand out in our minds to this very day is her personality and character. It isn’t only her bubbly and expressive personality, or her southern belle charm, but a deeper sense of caring and concern that makes every hot rodder adore this lady. Young men fantasized over her photographs and bought copies of her “gentleman’s magazine” showing a tastefully, but only partially clad Linda in various poses. But once you meet Linda Vaughn you realize that there is something so profound and emotionally satisfying that you no longer just fixate on her looks. She was an adman’s dream and a public relations bonanza. She looks as gorgeous today, nearly 50 years later, than she did as a teenager winning beauty pageants. Linda simply steals your heart away and of the starlets of the age, Linda Vaughn and Marilyn Monroe are the only blondes most of us can remember.

I read the bios on Wally Parks and Pete Petersen, two larger than life men who came from humble conditions and who circled each other like celestial moons around a planet. At one time Petersen worked for Parks, and then Parks went to work for Petersen. It really didn’t matter what their titles were, they needed each other and though they had their arguments, they also had a deep respect for each other. Parks was the older of the two and in control of the SCTA, a land speed timing association in Southern California. The SCTA was as large as any other racing organization at the time, but felt that their image was being destroyed by the illegal street racing of that era. Petersen and his associates were hired to do publicity work and Petersen created a pamphlet sized magazine which he called Hot Rod, since it was to promote the Hot Rod Exposition at the Armory in Los Angeles in 1948. The show was a mild success, but Hot Rod magazine took off like a rocket. Petersen offered Parks a partnership, which was turned down, for no one expected hot rodding to last very long. Petersen on the other hand had doubts at all; he knew from the beginning that he would make a success of his growing businesses. Parks wasn’t so sure, for several times the economy and the weather almost brought down his fledgling NHRA, formed to get young kids off the street racing and onto safe and sanctioned tracks. Both men passed away within a year of each other, leaving behind a legacy that few can match. Their reputed feuds overstated while their mutual help and support made each of them a success.

The seven pages allotted to Ak Miller just don’t seem to be enough for this very important man. He was always seen as only a good natured man who would drop what he was doing and go racing at the blink of an eye. Or that’s the story that I heard from Dorothy Miller, Ak’s sister-in-law. He was a man of legendary proportions and he did just about everything and anything that a hot rodder or race car driver could do, except maybe run at the Indy 500. A lot of great talent never ran at Indy. It takes good fortune, a good car and talent to race there. Ak simply wasn’t interested in going around in circles, or “turning left” as he called it. He preferred land speed racing, car and motorcycle road racing and simply outrunning the cops. He later joined with Wally Parks to be a Vice President of the National Hot Rod Association or NHRA and lobby against illegal street racing. He led the SCTA as its president when that group had a huge impact on the hot rodding culture. Ak Miller and Wally Parks were a team their entire life. He had a charisma and a charm that wooed everyone that came into his sphere of influence, and especially the ladies. My father once told me that Bill Stroppe was the best mechanic that he ever met. That’s pretty good praise, but makes me wonder where that puts Danny Oakes and a host of other great mechanics and race car builders. Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and “Von Dutch” vied for the craziest personalities of the last century. Both were bigger than life and the stories told about them, whether true or false, are what made them cult figures for today’s youth. They still have a following that goes beyond what they achieved. They are men for the ages and ageless in their abilities and craftsmanship.

Heroes of Hot Rodding is a book that keeps the hot rodder in mind. Fetherston wastes no time in bringing the readers a group of likable guys and one gal and stories and photos that give the essence of the people being portrayed. The text is easy to read and yet it can also be considered a historical text for it saves and records the golden years of hot rodding and the people who made it happen. Many readers will appreciate the alphabetical nature of the chapters, with Joe Bailon first and Gene Winfield last. This is a book that hot rodders can read a chapter or two, put down, then come back later to read more. The systematic approach to doing short biographies makes this a fast, but pleasant reading. It also makes it easy for the author to do a second and third book as he interviews more hot rodders. I especially liked the chapters on Don Garlits, Tommy Ivo and Tom Medley. I don’t get the opportunity to see Garlits that much as he lives on the east coast and so every story that I can get on Don is a treasure. There is no end to the stories that Ivo and Medley can tell us. Ivo once told us about the time that he was bugging Dave Zeuschel at his shop. Ivo’s curiosity knows no bounds and evidently Zeuschel’s patience was likely short, for he put a hook on Tommy’s belt and hoisted him up to the ceiling, then turned off the lights, locked the door and left his shop, leaving Ivo to swing in the air. Dave did come back soon thereafter and let Ivo down, but the retelling of the story keeps getting better and better. Heroes of Hot Rodding is a book worth adding to your library. It rates a 7 out of 8 spark plugs and a buy recommendation 

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected].

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I rate this book a 7 out of 8 sparkplugs.

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Pick One Up Today!

You can buy the book at www.motorbooks.com or at a major book store near you. There are also some used copies online.