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KINGS OF THE QUARTER MILE

By Lou Hart
(Iconografix/P.O. Box 446/Hudson, Wisconsin 54016 - $34.95) – 160 pages

One of the guys who has been in the forefront of glossy publications running great unpublished photos is Californian Lou Hart, who has cranked out four previous picture volumes, ranging from Top Fuel dragsters to gas supercharged cars.

If his latest effort, KINGS OF THE QUARTER-MILE, is typical of the previous four, then I can say without equivocation, that these are worthy of your bookshelf or coffee table. Really quality stuff.

In general, the new all-Top Fuel pictorial runs the gamut of straight line performance beginning with Mickey Thompson’s “Attempt I” streamliner/Dragmaster chassied entry at Martin Air Force base (probably 1960-61) all the way to the last page where Don Garlits’1973(I think) dragster and Shirley Muldowney’s 1980 champ car.

In between these two pages are a mass of shots featuring famous names and not-so-famous dragsters. The majority are West Coast cars from the late 1960s and 1970s. Cars east of the Mississippi are included and not just any east coasters either.

Midway through the book are shots of a significant race that occurred at dirty U.S. 30 near Gary, Indiana in April of 1967. The former-California-based United Drag Racers Association (UDRA) had moved its operation to Illinois under the guidance of Ed Rachanski, who turned the organization into a touring Midwest show featuring 16- and 8-car shows.

The U.S. 30 program was the very first UDRA tour show. I can’t remember ever having seen any pictures of this race and it was a genuine treat to see what Hart had come up with. Close up shots of the race winner Vern Anderson in the Walton & Allen dragster, a car I had seen race before, was accompanied other unseen cars, those being race runner-up Chuck Hepler (It’s Hepler not ‘Helper’ as stated in the book) in Dick Huffer’s “Quietus,” Sid Seeley’s “Moline Madman,” and “Oz” Hay and Duane Nichols’ “Nitro-Holic.” I like those kinds of surprises and there are a number similar to that throughout the book. (By the way, no slam intended on the “Hepler” note. This book is very, very accurate historically, Hart did a first-rate job getting the dates, race sites, and times right.)

My favorite picture was of maybe the sport’s most photographed racer, Don Garlits. The featured car was his nose-less 1971 dragster that stood the drag racing world on its ear, and the photographer Bob Thompson, caught the car in just its second appearance, the 1971 Orange County All-Pro series race.

What I dug about it was that Thompson caught the car in a somewhat smokeless opening burnout. The shot revived a memory of the scraggly 215-inch dragster that had faded under layers of booze and drugs. The Garlits’ car was unbelievably quick at the start, a genuine sprinter with the reactions of a water spider and that profile is captured superbly here.

Thompson had fewer than a half-dozen shots in this book. The real star lensman here, though, is Tom West, who accounts for 80- to 90-percent of the pictures in the book. I met him though the late NHRA photog Les Lovett, but it was a casual howdya-do and life went on. I had no idea he was as good as seen here. Off of what’s in this book, he ranks up there with the sport’s best. His shots taken at the Lions Last Drag Race in December 1972 are spectacular, timed exposure black and whites that are worth almost half the asking price for the book.

The other photogs and their work make the price tag reasonable. If the blood from the death of U.S. capitalism hasn’t spilled on your doorstep, get to the bookstore. This one’s worth it.

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