Monthly Archives: February 2010

Weather’s Interesting

During these cold, snowy and nasty days of Winter, minds start wandering to more warmer and peaceful weather climes. One of the most common regions for good weather is the Desert Southwest. My mind is always thinking about racing so with that …

Some will ask why did drag racing start in Southern California? Actually you could have surmised many reasons but I have a little different take on it – it was weather.

Think about it for just a minute. When it comes to the outdoors, drag racing is at its worse when combating weather. And that’s not just rain; you have snow, humidity, cold/hot temperatures and more. When you combine the fact California, especially Southern California, is essentially all a desert, with dry, relatively warm conditions, it’s ideal for racing. The “Dry Lakes“, where drag racing origins started, were mainly in the deserts of Southern California.

Sure, as they say, even in California, “when it pours, man it pours”. But still, there’s no place in the U.S. that has as consistent dry weather as Southern California. OK, all of you in New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada might have an argument but back in the middle of the 20th Century, there were maybe 12 people in those states then – easy, just making fun. Plus those places get HOT in the Summer but in the Greater L. A. area, where we’re really talking about, temperatures are relatively mild, even in the Summer. Also, the air is great for generating more horsepower – being near sea level. And consider the first two tracks, Santa Ana and Goleta; the weather in Orange County and Santa Barbara is about as mild as it gets – year round (every Sunday).

For instance; Bender & Hier junior fueler of the 50’s reported several times racing at Famoso in the Winter and they also remember running right through the Winter months, noting how some of those cool evenings at places like Lions in Long Beach, were perfect weather for making cars run at their optimum.


So there you have it, next time you talk about weather, maybe it’s more interesting than you think as it mightily contributed to why Southern California was the birth place of drag racing. OK, back to your snow-blowers.

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Back in the good ol’ days – or – What the heck were we thinking?

I probably shouldn’t be telling this story but when you look at the whole picture, it’s kind of funny.  Here is one from back-in-the-old-days that will give you some insight into just how drag racing was when it first started.

Back about ‘52, Hank Bender and I built a ‘39 Fiat Topolino with a Ford flat head and a Hilborn injector that we ran on 100% Nitro, built specifically to beat Jim “Jazzy” Nelson.  We bought the frame and body from a guy who was trying to do the same thing but he ran out of money and sold it to us.  Together with Joe Ito (who might be still alive?), we finished it and it wound up looking very similar to Jazzy’s.  Well, we raced Jazzy a lot because back then you raced until the two fastest cars were left and then you raced each other.  The little Fiat was fast and we came close many times but those of you who remember Jazzy Nelson, not too many people beat him, including us.  We won a lot of races with that little car and it was really a fun time in our lives.

We never beat Jazzy so we decided to “step up” and build a dragster for our flathead.  Before we began building the dragster we had to save up enough money to get it started (probably at least two hundred bucks).  We sold the Fiat without the engine and trans, (we had the trick “Zephyr” trans with second and high gear only so we couldn’t let THAT go), so we were close on the finances but had to wait awhile – about a hundred bucks apiece for each of us.

Ray Alley (one-time NHRA Top Fuel Competition Director & Crew Chief) is a good friend of ours from back in the good ole’ days.  Ray was the exhaust and muffler installer for Quincy Automotive (Bill Cox), on Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica.  With a little lull in our race program we decided we would join with Ray and build a dragster.  What the heck, with all that exhaust tubing around, it shouldn’t be a problem.  Can you believe it?  Ray and Hank actually built a dragster frame out of exhaust tubing!  We put our injected flathead in it and headed for the “Rock Quarry” – the San Fernando drags.  We made a half-pass and it felt fine.  The brake handle felt a little hard but it was only a short run and it stopped so didn’t give it much thought.  We didn’t use parachutes back then, or driving suits, or gloves, or boots, or fire bottles, or a roll bar that came up over your head but we were having a ball (actually all of us were nuts but we didn’t know it).

Enough testing, lets make a bonsai run.  So I donned my Quincy Automotive T-shirt and my trusty helmet (that was my driving suit) and loaded ‘er up with 100% nitro, a touch of benzene and a few spoonfuls of ethyl ether for “effect” and up to the starting line we went for a “single”.  Well everything went well – at first.  My first full pass in a dragster and the baby was really haulin’ the freight.  I don’t remember exactly how fast we went but it was in the 120-130 mph range, which was very good at the time.  As I said earlier, the brakes on the previous run felt a little funny.  Well, as a matter of fact the brakes just barely worked and I wound up in the rocks (Big! Rocks!) down at the end and bent up the front half of the car pretty bad.  We decided not to fix it and that was the end of the Alley, Bender, Hier and Quincy Automotive exhaust tubing dragster (I don’t think Bill Cox knew he was a partner).  Oh!  I was ok.  But don’t try this at home!

Thanks for visiting and …

See you at the races!

Ronnie Hier

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History Of The March Meet

The March Meet is historically one of the biggest and most famous meets in drag racing.  Its history really goes back long before the actual race began.  The Smokers, a car club from Bakersfield Ca. that started some 60 years ago, acquired the lease at Famoso for drag racing.  Famoso, like many early drag strips, was an abandoned WW II airstrip.

Factually, The March Meet wasn’t the “March Meet” but rather the “U.S. Fuel and Gas Championship” – held in March.  It’s designation as The March Meet didn’t officially begin until about 10 years later.
Don Garlits was instrumental in the March Meets’ beginning as the Smokers wanted an East vs West race to decide who was fastest.  Plus, the nitro ban had limited fuelers from running at many races. Art Chrisman won the first March Meet (1959) and Tommy Ivo won the gas portion (BTW, Ivo never beat the Bender & Hier car, as hard as he might try – that’s Ronnie Hier in the picture).  By the early 60‘s, the race had become truly a national meet.  These early years had huge entries with 64 car fields.  Garlits eventually won more March Meets than anyone else.

The years after had many highs and some lows but without national ties to the major associations, independent events such as The March Meet lost entries and luster.  The event ended in the late 80’s but started up again in the mid 90’s with the advent of Nostalgia drag racing and Goodguys VRA (Fuller & Dunlap winning in ’94).

Thanks in part to the Bowser’s, who run Famoso, The March Meet now is one of the largest drag racing events in the country – certainly the biggest in Nostalgia Drag Racing circles.  With Nostalgia Drag Racing’s fast growing popularity (internationally too), The March Meet is all-the-rage with people more interested now than ever before as ONE OF THE ONLY SPORTS THAT CONTINUES TO GROW!

Now if they’d only figure out some parking and seating additions … Just get there early.

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Want to know more about the history of drag racing?  Check out these two books:

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In The Beginning

It’s been debated over the years when drag racing started – roughly starting in the early 1950’s and technically that would be right as far as 1/4 mile sanctioned racing goes (key word being sanctioned) – using airports and/or runways that were no longer needed for the war effort (WW2).

 

Actually drag racing’s roots started in the 1930’s using dry lakes (salt lakes); typically found in the deserts of the West.  Muroc dry lake, in California, was one of the first of this kind with SCTA being established (in 1947) to govern these two-at-a-time races.

 

Then around 1950, Santa Ana drag strip was the first to have competitive sanctioned 1/4 mile races.  The NHRA was founded in 1951 and the rest is history.  Oh and yes, some say Goleta was first but we’ll stick with the consensus.

 

By the way, in a plug for the clan, one of the earliest racers at Santa Ana were Hank Bender and Ron Hier, who went on to be a successful Jr Fuel and Top Fuel team from the 1950’s into the early 1960’s.

 

Life was simpler then.

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