Jim Baker's Then and Now

DRO 19.6  Then & Now, GLORY DAYS, REALLY?

Recently, this writer, has seen more and more proclamations about how Drag Racing is past it’s GLORY DAYS! Competing during seven decades, gives me the knowledge and experience to counter the Glory Days notion.


Yes, there were some good drag races and a larger number of strips. I hear almost daily about how many more racers there were ‘back then’. Really, I doubt that! While there were 100 Fuel Dragsters at Lions once, due to expenses etc. the popular dragster is now the Super Comp. or Top Dragster car. There are hundreds of them at special races such as the Spring Fling.


Since my last essay about Orange County International Raceway, we have collected a lot of material to share with DRO readers. As good as OCIR seemed at the time, it could not have pitted a field as large as Chris Forsyth & Shawn Langdon’s just completed West Coast Classic held at Auto Club Raceway in Fontana CA!


This writer raced Pro Stock at old Fontana several times and they never approached the car total that entered the Classic.

Dale Taros, shown above, raced at Chris Forsyth & Shawn Langdon’s West Coast Classic in Fontana, as he did 35 years ago at OCIR. He remembers several ‘big’ Funny Car shows when Bill Doner & Steve Evans ran the so called ‘Super Strip’, but in those days there were perhaps 64 bought in Funny Cars plus less than 100 bracket cars in competition. Yes the pits were packed, but they would not have had room for today’s giant haulers, motor homes, and memorabilia stands.

In fact, the over the top promotions such as the Fox Hunts, had a devastating effect on the parent Irvine Corp. who decided in 1983 to close the strip. Can anyone even imagine what OCIR would do with today’s huge tow rigs? There was no way to expand at OCIR, the Santa Fe railroad was on one side and Interstate 5 on the other.


Today’s ‘Super Tracks’ truly are super! Nowhere in the West ever had a plant with the ambiance and functionality of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. At OCIR in the so-called ‘Glory Days’, a huge problem surfaced when the lady’s comfort station could not handle the crowds. At LVMS there are three ‘state of the art’ rest room facilities.


Places like Irwindale, Cordova, Ill., & Green Valley, TX had port-a-potties as did Lions and many other early 60’s and 70’s plants. If LVMS is well built for today, so too are all the Bruton Smith tracks, places like the Z-MAX at Charlotte, North Carolina. No tracks had purpose built four lane capacities, ‘back in the day’, like Z MAX & LVMS do today. Other locations have seen the need and spent big dollars to modernize. Little tracks such as Eddyville, Iowa & Central Illinois 1/8 mile courses have spent thousands on ‘keeping up’ with today’s status quo.

Drivers like Willie Borsch made a reputation driving with one hand! There were about twenty such cars in Southern California. Today, there are at least three organizations operating Fuel Altered programs, the Western Fuel Altereds; Southwest Altereds; and the California Hot Rod reunion. In fact, at the recent Bakersfield March Meet, 30 AA/FAs were in competition. The so-called ‘Glory Days’ of Wild Willie and Gabby Bleeker never had near that # of entries. I ran AA/FA at the 1963 AHRA Green Valley Nationals in Texas and there were three cars in the class!


Let’s talk about equipment. ‘Back in the Day’ about the only crankshafts available were those from OEM applications. Most of us knew which ones were cast iron and which were forged steel. Forged lasted better, but they all failed! Today there are vast improvements including total billet cranks carved from a block of high quality steel. Such items are available from places like Bryant Crankshafts in Anaheim, CA. A problem is wait time. There is so much demand today that you must wait 6-8 weeks for a new crank.


Blocks and cyl. heads are CNC machined from solid blocks of aircraft aluminum. Again the wait time is considerable. On the East Coast, engine builder Pat Musi offers a 903 cubic inch big block style Chevrolet. Steve Nicholson installed one in this 1963 Corvette and won the Outlaw 10.5 competition at Mel Roth’s Street Car Super Nationals at LVMS. He ran over 200 mph every run, all this in a ‘door’ car.

In the so-called ‘Glory Days’ there were lots of FED dragsters, but very few that could muster 200 mph. Today there are hundreds of S/C and Top Dragsters along with fully restored Nostalgia ‘cackle cars’. Plus Pro Mods, Outlaw door slammers, and BIG Tire cars that can crack 200 MPH with ease.


When I managed Tri State Dragway in Missouri, any time we attracted 100 or more race cars, it was a ‘red letter’ day! Tony Sheffler, announcer at Atlanta Dragway, told me the reason he closed Lee County Dragway was due to never having 100 or more cars. That is not true at Eddyville or Mid-State in Havana, Ill., today.


‘Back in the Glory Days’ there was no national event tour for professionals & amateurs. Slowly NHRA & AHRA added Nationals to their offerings. Today, NHRA offers 24 such races in most geographic locations, everyone in the USA are within driving distance of a NHRA National event. (Except Alaska & Hawaii)

‘Back in the Day’, F/Cs like Tim Meyer’s Young Patriot were very limited as to where they could race. Today there are many organizations etc. that offer AA/FC Nostalgia races plus Chris Haverly’s Funny Car Chaos which would welcome Tim’s car with open arms.


How we got there? In the beginning, we flat towed our cars or hauled them on single axle trailers. The dangers of this was paramount, not glorious. Today there are huge #s of Motorhomes, Toter homes, and 18 wheeler rigs in use by nearly 100% of Pro teams and many sportsman and bracket racers.

Johnny Loper and Tripp Schumate made many trips to OCIR and other Southern California strips during the Funny Car extravaganzas of the ‘70s. However they had to drive on partially finished I-10. Today most tracks are adjacent or close to major 4 lane expressways.

Today, all the Pros and a large number of Sportsmen travel to the races in complete comfort. I can state verbatim that during the so-called ‘Glory Days’ that was not the case.


My belief is that the history of drag racing is Nostalgic. Certainly it was far from ‘glorious’. Yes, we enjoyed those times and because of the challenge to go faster, the sport continues to grow. Enjoy it today! 40 years from now, a writer will post that the decade of the teens were the ‘glory’ days of Drag Racing!


Until Next Time, Be On Time! 



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