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A couple of points about the passing scene
Even as most of the country remains in the grip of a wretchedly cold winter, the 2010 North American drag racing season will get underway this weekend with the first national event of the season, the inaugural IHRA “Nitro Jam” at Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida.
That track, plus Firebird International Raceway in Arizona and The Strip in Las Vegas either have already or will host a pre-season test and tune for pro and sportsman racers alike. Personally I can’t wait for warm weather and the fumes of burnt racing gas, methanol and nitro -- especially nitro!
But before we get into the racing season I have a couple of issues that I need to deal with, one past and one future.
This year will mark the 50th anniversary of Chris Karamesines’ 204.54-mph clocking at Alton (Ill.) Dragway on April 24, 1960.
Let me preface what I am about to write with the confession that I am an unrepentant Chris Karamesines fan. To me he represents the true spirit of drag racing, and of an era when almost anyone could afford to build and race a Top Fuel car, when they actually had 64-car Top Fuel fields.
What motivated me to write about that day is a Chris Karamesines feature in the current edition of the bible of car enthusiast magazines, Hot Rod Magazine. The feature is penned by my friend and sometime DRO contributor, Cole Coonce. Overall it’s a nice, entertaining story, but in one area a bit one-sided. Coonce used quotes from another good friend and drag racing historian, Dave Wallace, who basically says that Karamesines’ 204.54 pass was bogus and a “…myth” perpetrated by myself.
Wallace contends that credit for the first “real” 200-mph drag racing pass should go to journeyman driver Frank Cannon and his fabled engine builder Dave Zeuschel, who, according to Wallace, made the first 200 pass in July of 1964 at Lions Dragway in California. I’m using this column to make a case that it is possible that Karamesines and his engine builder/tuner, Don Maynard, did make the first 200+ pass.
By any standards you choose to measure, Chris Karamesines is one of drag racing’s all-time great Top Fuel competitors. He has won some of the most significant races including the March Meet at Bakersfield, The Drag News Invitational and national events in AHRA, IHRA and NHRA.
In his definitive book on the subject The Top Fuel Handbook, Chris Martin documents Karamesines’ accomplishments during a 6-year period from 1959 through 1965, the period when he not only won Bakersfield but the first AHRA Nationals. Martin also gives “The Greek” credit for the first seven-second run (7.99) at a “major event” -- the 1963 March Meet.