Tex Smith’s Hot Rod History - Book One: the Beginnings By Tom Medley

Tex Smith’s Hot Rod History - Book One: the Beginnings By Tom Medley
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Review By Richard Parks

Tex Smith Hot Rod Library is a publishing company that specializes in the hot rodding culture. The company has many titles of books, pamphlets, and tracts of interest to car fans. Their How-To books and manuals cover the entire gamut of the hot rodding world. This publishing company is expert at knowing what will interest car guys. There are several ways that they put this knowledge to use. One way is to commission expert authors like Tom Medley to write a book on a particular subject. Another way is to accept written works by authors and print them under the banner of Tex Smith’s Hot Rod Library. Either way they have a great selection of material to choose from. Tex Smith’s Hot Rod History; Book One the Beginnings, by Tom Medley is a historical book on Hot Rodding that should be a staple of every hot rodder’s library. The book is in paperback format and measures 8 ½ by 11 inches in size with 202 pages. The book contains 692 black and white photos, 3 Sepia and 4 color photos. The captions are quite good where the author knows the car and driver. There is an adequate amount of text surrounding the photos.

There is no index and that is a huge drawback in finding and locating names and subject matter. The photos go back into the 1920’s and ‘30’s and are very clear for their age. The paper is non-glossy normal bond and the book would not be considered of a coffee table quality. There are 8 ads, some from the past, which are interesting.

The book itself does not look spectacular but that is misleading. The reason to buy this book and read it is because of the author, Tom Medley. A writer, author, cartoonist and reporter, Medley knows hot rodding intimately. His text explains the history of the hot rodding movement and the photos amply cover the story. This is a book you will pick up repeatedly and pore over until you know each car and person portrayed within its covers. Medley had help in putting the book together. Leroi Tex Smith, Richard Johnson, Ron Ceridono and Bob Reece helped in putting this book together. There is a brief table of contents, a foreword by Tex Smith and then 11 chapters, each a biography of a famous hot rodder from the past. In the first chapter, Tex Smith introduces the author, Tom Medley. Medley was born in Oregon, served in the military during World War II, then went to work for Pete Petersen at the new Hot Rod Magazine. He is famous for his cartoon hero “Stroker McGurk.” Medley would let his imagination soar with Stroker, who did all the crazy stuff that hot rodders were famous for. In one cartoon, Stroker has trouble stopping his car and in desperation, attaches a parachute on the back. Hot rodders everywhere took that idea seriously and chutes became a customary safety equipment improvement. In Chapter Two, Medley takes over the interviewing, this time talking with Kong Jackson about the great cam grinder, Ed Winfield. Ed was a generation older than the kids that grew up during the Great Depression and went off to war after Pearl Harbor. Winfield was a mechanical genius and quite a racer in his youth. He inspired men like Kong Jackson and others. His speed equipment is still being produced for those wanting to race Flathead engines. Chapter Three discusses Kong Jackson’s hot rodding experiences. Kong went to the dry lakes in 1937 and remained a faithful SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) member for the rest of his life.

In Chapter Four, Medley talks to the Spalding brothers, Bill and Tom. The brothers first went to the dry lakes of Southern California in 1934. They built the famous Spalding Brothers streamliner that ran at the lakes and at Bonneville. One of the irritations in the book is that the photos do not always fit the story and some of the pictures should have been placed in the back of the book so as not to be confusing. The captions are very good and sometimes that is all that the reader has to understand why a photo pops up in strange sequences. Generally, though, the photos do support the story Medley is trying to tell. Chapter Five is about Wes Cooper who first saw the dry lakes in 1935, and raced there in 1937, before the formation of the SCTA. Chapter Six is about Bruce Johnston, who first raced on the dry lakes at Muroc in 1937. He remembers that his first time was rather wild and several racers were injured and some died. Tragically, Bruce would crash his car at the Muroc Reunion some 60 years later and lose his life in a sport that he loved so dearly. Johnston also raced in the URA, AAA, IMCA and other associations. Bob Stelling is portrayed in Chapter Seven. Bob did a lot of street racing in the 1930’s and first went to the dry lakes in 1935. He was also into midget racing when they first became popular.  Johnny Parsons was one of Stelling’s drivers at the time. Chapter Eight is concerned with Alex Xydias. Alex is remembered for the So-Cal Speed Shop Special, a belly tank streamliner that set records at Bonneville. Xydias would close his famous speed shop in the early 1960’s. Four decades later the So-Cal Speed Shop would be re-opened by the marketing genius of Pete Chapouris and Tony Thacker. The beautiful coupes and belly tank land speed racers would be rebuilt and loving displayed around the country.

Ray Brown is interviewed in Chapter Nine. Brown grew up in the Hollywood area and worked for Eddie Meyer. He raced at the lakes and at Bonneville and was one of the first to use the new Chrysler motors. His innovative speed shop and other businesses helped to promote hot rodding in its early years. Ray was a member of the Road Runners Car club and served as the President of the SCTA in 1953. In Chapter Ten, Medley interviews his old friend and boss, Wally Parks, who after WWII became the first full-time professional editor of Hot Rod Magazine, while leading the reorganization of the SCTA as its President and Secretary. Parks was a member of the Road Runners Car club and in 1951 he created the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association), which became the largest drag racing sanctioning body in the world. Chapter Eleven is about Dick Martin. He is from Oregon and got his first car in 1941. He was impressed with the Porter Muffler shop in Los Angeles and opened several Porter Muffler dealerships in the Oregon and Washington area. Martin raced oval track roadsters and drag raced. Tex Smith’s Hot Rod History; Book One the Beginnings and its sister publication, Tex Smith’s Hot Rod History; Book Two the Glory Years are two books that belong in every hot rodder’s library. They give a good historical overview based on the recollections of the men who were there in the beginning. For more information about where to purchase a copy, email Jim Clark at [email protected] or phone 435-574-2174.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]