When I first started planning this trip I wanted to really immerse myself into the culture and history of Southern California.
Like I did in Japan with drifting I wanted to make my motorsport culture experience reflect what was happening in the growth period of the sport that I came to see.
I love drag racing but I specifically love an era of the sport that has passed.
The perfect compliment to all the action from Auto Club Famoso Raceway and the Hot Rod Reunion is the much more peaceful information filled building of the NHRA Museum.
After the Petersen Museum in the morning I only had 2 hours to see as much as I possibly could.
It proved to be just the right amount of time to do the minimum amount of sightseeing but I could have spent all day in here.
Many of the cars were in “as raced” condition and to see the beginning and progression of drag racing under one roof was a lot to take in.
But it was the glass cabinets that lined the walls that told the majority of the story’s.
The way carburetors morphed into mechanical fuel injection systems in the late 1950’s.
Leading to ever increasing amounts of fuel increasing the horsepower levels and improving times.
It’s this period in drag racing that I love to hear about.
Huge advances were made in technology and it was purely up to the racer to test and work out what worked and what didn’t.
Old war surplus items were used to make every day cars into drag racing machines, the forward thinkers and doers were at the forefront.
Every day workers and their families turned into hot rodding heroes.
In the early 1960’s cars ran their headers low and straight and used a lot of speedway construction methods.
Nothing was a bad idea, you just had to try it out.
Because two is always going to better than one.
Speedway, Oval Track, Landspeed racing and Drag racing all took on a similar feel.
But they were all beautiful works of art.
Simple in design but brilliant in functionality and style.
A 392 Hemi almost always the engine of choice for a drag racer.
It wasn’t all about the cars.
This Knucklehead had some interesting changes made for drag racing in the early 1950’s. It’s owner and builder Chet Herbet was a master of his craft, he built a name for himself in Southern Californian racing scene and still to this day the company Herbert cams still provides racers with an edge over the competition. Chester was paralyzed by Polio at the age of 20, left lying in a hospital for six months in 1948, Herbert developed ideas for manufacturing racing parts in his head. When he was released, he developed the first roller camshafts for race cars and was among the first to try Nitromethene fuel in a dragster after reading how the German army had used it to power torpedoes during World War II. An incredible tale of craftsmanship above all adversity.
It uses a VL frame, a VL fork setup, a duel carb 92 inch Harley Knucklehead engine using Indian flywheels. Of the first 19 events held at the Santa Ana drag strip The Beast ran the meet’s top speed 6 times and that included both bikes and cars.
The Knucklehead cylinders were weak so the guys used Panhead cylinders from late 1940’s era bikes, the heads were from 1936 and 1937 Knuckleheads as they had a smaller combustion chamber, therefore increasing compression ratio with the intake valves opened up to 2 1/4 inch.
It seemed like there were Drag strips popping up everywhere.
Unfortunately almost none of these lasted the test of time.
These jackets providing the lasting memories.
It wasn’t uncommon to be able to travel to a new event each night of the week.
What a time to be alive, kinda bummed I missed it, but the war would have sucked.
Chet Herbet built a number of cars aswell, this is an aluminium bodied land speed racer powered by a 336ci Hemi engine. On its first outing it ran 246mph and smashed 6 records in the process, this is just one of many amazing land speed cars Chester had a hand in building.
I have a helmet addiction, lucky for me the NHRA museum do aswell.
Safety, speed and above all else style.
Three generations of it.
It just goes on and on.
I met Don “The Snake” Prudhomme at Famoso.
His rival Tom “The Mongoose” McEwan’s helmet in all its glory, I just love the show that drag racing must have been.
Indy in the 60’s was just amazing.
As was their dirt track racing brothers.
I met Tommy Ivo at Famoso aswell, he loves Australia and wants to get back to the Gold Coast.
Hey Tommy I would be happy to swap my home for one of your cars!
“TV Tommy Ivo” as hes known starred in many TV and Movie roles in the early 1960’s before racing into the 7 second bracket in the late 70’s. Hes also well known for piloting multiple engined 4 wheel drive drag cars.
It was just really hard to fit this into a 2 hour window.
Need more air? Get the drill out.
In the 70’s it was all about the Funny Car.
But that 392 Hemi still had its place.
And so did the beautiful craftsmanship.