NDW Interviews Ed Miller of the Texas Timing Association
We recently sat down with Ed Miller, long-time drag racer and Race Director of the Texas Timing Association, and came away with some interesting stories about early events and personalities in the Lone Star state, as well as the history of the Texas State Championships and his revival of that fabled series.....
NDW – Ed, you’ve been around drag racing for a long time. What got you interested in it and when?
My interest in drag racing stemmed from having an uncle who drove a sports car, went to races, and had a Model-T under restoration. His son was a gearhead, and was closer to me than my own brothers, and he and I rapidly moved deeper and deeper into the then, hot new automotive rage of the mid-1950s, drag racing.
As early teenagers still too young to have driver’s licenses, my cousin and I used to prevail upon my long-suffering mother to make the hundred-mile-long round trip out from Dallas to the now-legendary Caddo Mills drag strip to see the local Texas hot shoes battle for quarter mile supremacy. After a while, as Caddo’s reputation soared, we got to see visiting national heavy-weights such as Cook and Bedwell; even Don Garlits and his brother Ed came to Texas to try on Bobby Langley, Vance Hunt, Jack Moss, and Eddie Hill for size.
Those early experiences instilled in us a love for tire smoke, nitromethane fumes, front-engined dragsters, gassers, altered coupes and sedans, and fuel roadsters. The highlights of the day were always Langley’s trademark smoke-‘em-all-the-way runs for Top Eliminator and the inevitably dramatic three-way monthly battle for the B/Altered trophy between Buddy Anderson’s Widdle White Wabbit Fiat coupe, Don Breithaupt’s blown 265 Chevy powered ’32 DCB coupe, and the Carson brother’s Olds-powered Swamp Buggy deuce sedan.
NDW – What was a Sunday like at Caddo Mills compared to the big events today?
Caddo was an abandoned WWII Army Air Corps reserve landing field. It was a concrete triangle one mile to a side. One leg was used as the race track, another as the pit area, and the third unused and overgrown. There was no infrastructure, no grandstands, no concession stand, no timing tower, and you went out in the field to pee in the tall grass. Spectators sat on the hood of their vehicles. Cars pulled up to a barbed wire fence which served not only to keep cows off the track, but also as the putative guard rail. The timing stand was a guy sitting on top of a panel truck with a stop watch.
Today, these new super-duper tracks have air conditioned restrooms, high-amenity sponsor suites with couches and kitchens, huge food courts, multi-story timing towers, sky-high grandstands, Jumbotrons, and other futuristic devices that previously existed only in the imaginary science fiction realm of the Jetson’s.
NDW – When the purpose-built Green Valley opened up, did you immediately see that the famed old airport track at Caddo Mills was doomed?
When Green Valley opened in about ‘61, none of us could understand why. We already had a great track at Caddo Mills that was by then nationally known, and had no idea why anybody could possibly think another one was needed. We had no concept of the imminent future. It was just unforeseeable to us the changes it would bring.
Other than Caddo at the time, we ran short, narrow little un-sanctioned tracks like Circle, Midway, Kennedale, Cedar Hill, Forest Hill, and McKinney. These little tracks around the Dallas and Ft. Worth area gave us Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon racing, with the really big time event on the first Sunday of each month at Caddo Mills during the season. Who could ever want anything more than that?
The idea of indoor plumbing, grandstands, concessions, and timing equipment that was anything more than two rubber hoses across the track at the finish line that recorded an average top speed of the winning car were just unimaginable and seemed to us like some sort of completely uncalled for fancy-pants BS.
NDW – Tell us about your cars from the early years and your 1968 AHRA National Championship win at Green Valley
I started out racing a street-driven ’37 Ford Smoothback with a 265 cubic inch Chevy engine in D/Gas that I drove to high school. I was “top eliminator” in 1961 racing around the school before classes each morning, beating 12 of the 13 hot 327 Chevys and Corvettes at my school (the 13th car’s owner was too wise or cowardly to ever run with us). I learned a whole lot more about the old Ford torque-tube drive trains and axle keys in that car behind a V-8 Chevy engine than I had any interest in knowing.
I soon graduated to a partnership with a friend who had a ’38 Chevy coupe into which we dropped a 283 bored out to 301 with six carburetors that we ran in C/Gas. We had the car jacked up so high for weight transfer that you could crawl underneath it on your hands and knees and never touch the undercarriage. We were runner up in our hotly contested class at the ’61 AHRA Nationals.
In the same way that Bobby Langley stirred my soul with nitromethane, I was inspired by former National Champion Carl Stone (B/Street Roadster) to run a roadster, and by six-time former National Champion Buddy Anderson to move to altereds. I got into them the same year that the altered coupe/sedans and roadsters were all folded into a single class.
I moved right into A/Altered, with a highboy ’27-T roadster on a Model-A frame with a 283 engine bored and stroked to 352. The car used pump gas, had a Halibrand quickchange, and ran in second and high gear through an unending series of short-lived pre-war Ford floorshift transmissions.
The car had a classic early ‘50s look to it, even though my partner Jack Whitney and I campaigned it during the mid 1960s. We were runner-up at the ’67 AHRA Nationals in A/Altered. Three weeks later, we beat the National Champion who outran us to win A/Altered at the final running of the original series of the Texas State Championships that had begun more than 15 years earlier at Caddo Mills. It was held in 1967 at Austin Raceway Park. Our nemesis broke some pushrods and rocker arms, and we lent him our spares so we could outrun him fair and square.
Altereds were fun, but I wanted the car to go ever faster, so I moved away from running gasoline by taking in a new third partner who had some experience with nitromethane. I got a tube-chassised ‘23-T, put that 352 between the rails, and started pouring percentage into the Moon tank.
Fuel altereds were a whole new game. It was just a small-block, but with a light weight roadster and a heavy load of nitro, we were a high-gear car. Scream it off the line with the tires blazing and drive out of the smoke on the way down the track, just like the big boys. This was before slipper clutches, so we used a dual disk clutch, lit up the M&H’s, and adjusted the traction with tire pressure.
We were quite competitive at the 1968 AHRA Nationals. We broke the welded stroker crank in my 352 motor winning the first round on Saturday night, so I made a 100-mile round trip back to our shop in Dallas to get the only fresh block and standard crank we had left. We built a 301 on a tarp over the grass beside the pits at Green Valley. Poured can, lid, and label in the tank, fired off the brand new motor, and got the job done through the final rounds on Sunday to emerge with the National Championship in A/Fuel Altered. It was the last race I ran in the 20th century. cont...on next page