DRAG STRIP, 1958
© 2014 Chuck Klein
“I was on my way to the Hop,
When I squealed to a stop
at the light
Ah, ready for a fight. . .”
It was a beautiful, late summer Sunday morning. A few towering bulbous, ermine white clouds and a morning temp of about 75 greeted me when I arrived to pick up Laine, my steady girl. Her daddy, standing on the porch, looked on dubiously as she stepped over the side of my Almquist bodied sports car and settled into the homemade bucket seat. I smiled and waved to him; voice communication being impossible over the noise blasting out of the 750-cubed, straight-piped engine (that’s 750 cubic centimeters – not inches). It was well before 8:00 a.m. and I’m sure we woke many of his neighbors in this tree-shaded Cincinnati suburb.
Being a member of S.O.T.A., I need to arrive early at the Beechmont Drag Strip as I would be working with my fellow members of the Knights of the 20th Century hot rod club. We and other Cincinnati area club members formed the Southern Ohio Timing Association that owned the recently N.H.R.A. sanctioned strip. The summer of 1958 was our first full year of operation and today was the regional meet – which meant the trophies would be larger and engraved.
The sports car started out as a 15th birthday present from my father in the form of a 1952 Crosley two-door sedan with its tiny four-cylinder engine that barely ran. It was, however, a real dream to me. The dream being to convert this slow, top heavy and unattractive little-old-lady's cream-puff into a screaming, low slung sports car. To accomplish this would require replacing the metal body with a new, racing-style fiberglass shell and hopping up the engine.
The advertisements for the plastic body in the magazine declared that the average installation time was fourteen hours. They lied. My father surely knew this because what could a fifteen-year-old, sans license, do with a real sports car?
“I looked to my right
And there sat Bev in his Chev
Ah revin’ ‘er up. . .”
By the time I had stripped the sedan to the bare chassis the fiberglass body arrived. There were no instructions, just a shell and a copy of the invoice showing that the amount of $295.00 had been paid. For the finished car to look right and handle correctly the frame would have to be "Z'd" and "C'd" and the engine would have to be moved back and down, stuff I had only read about in hot rod magazines. It took me a full year, but man was it cool.
At the entry gate, we were greeted by one of the Cam-Lifters who immediately put me to work painting, with Bon-Ami shoe polish, number and class on entrant’s windows. I was soon relieved so as I could secure a spot in the pits. Once staked out, Laine and I made it over to the timing stand where she got to see the layout from this eagle’s-eye view and to meet the announcer, Isky - so nicknamed because he always wore Iskenderian Cam t-shirts. Once up in the tower Isky told me, "We're shorthanded today, so you'll have to work the pit gate."
"Ah, man. Who's going to protect this fine lookin' young thing while I'm on the gate?"
"Why you can just leave her with ole Isky."
"Hey, I wouldn't trust you with my dog," I said, continuing the jesting.
"You don't have a dog, man."
"Got the picture, daddy-o?"
"Okay, I'll tell you what. The cat from the Enquirer is going to be here to take pictures for the paper and I'll set it up so Laine is the one to hand out the trophies to the winners. They'll probably take her picture for the paper and all that stuff."
I looked at Laine. She was shaking her head up and down with a big smile on her face.
"Man, you got me over a barrel."
"Now get to work and leave me alone with this sweet young thing," Isky smiled, putting his arm around Laine.
Climbing down the ladder I got the last put-down in: "Just remember, ole buddy, whatever you'll be doing to my chick up there, I'll be doing to your rod in the pits, ya dig?"
“The light turned green,
That Chev looked mean,
But I put my foot down
As if it were bound. . .”
I ended up in the staging area trying to line up the cars and man, was it hot, dirty, dusty and sweaty! Exhaust fumes, burning rubber, swirling clouds of dust engulfed me for the next couple of hours – until I begged relief to get in a few qualifying runs in the “E” Sports Car. The rules were that there had to be at least three vehicles in a class to warrant a trophy. I checked the pits and found three other E/SP – two Crosley Hot-Shots and a brand new Austin-Healey Sprite. I didn’t sweat Hot-Shots, but the Sprite had a bigger engine and I didn’t know how fast it would be. All of them were heavier than my fiberglass-bodied sports car, plus I had a Harmon-Collins full-race cam and a few other goodies under the hood. The hopped-up engine went off the scale of a 10,000 rpm Stewart-Warner tach!
Two qualifying runs and another stint in the staging area led to my first competition – the Sprite. With a 5.11 rear gear, I easily got him off the line; however, as we approached the traps his 948 cc engine was coming on strong – but not strong enough. For the trophy run, I effortlessly pulled away from one of the Hot-Shots, doubled clutched into2nd, let her wind all the way out past 10,000 RPM and then ducked down behind the tiny windscreen after double clutching the crash-box into third. I grinned all the way back down the dirt return strip to get a trophy from my girl. Life doesn’t get any better!
“Then as I shifted from
Strange range to queer gear,
I shed a little tear for Bev and his Chev…”
Some of the vehicles owned by members of the Knights of the 20th Century Hot Rod Club, circa 1957. (Most were daily drivers and in various stages of completion)…..
Studebaker-powered '36 Ford
Cadillac-powered '54 Studebaker (Stude-a-lac)
Cadillac-powered '50 Mercury (Merc-a-lac)
Full-race '52 Olds
Full-race flathead Mercury (w/6-deuces) powered '49 Ford
V8 Chev-powered '39 Ford
Chrysler-powered '57 Chev
Chrysler-powered '40 Ford
Olds-powered '40 Ford Pick-up
Partially customized '53 Plymouth
Radically customized '56 Chev
Fiberglass-bodied, Crosley-powered sports car
One "B" Dragster and a bevy of ‘55-‘58 Chevys and Fords
This Regional Meet was captured on 8mm film and has been posted to YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTo8ddJoIms ). There are two films on this site; the first portion being the Regional Meet. I’m sure of the date because I have a trophy, just like the ones shown on the trophy table. The date engraved is 14 Sep 1958 and the trophy girl was my girl. In addition, I have the newspaper clipping from September 15, 1958 showing her handing out the trophies.
| Crosley Engine ready for Assembly
|| Almquist bodies, Crosley Sports Car
||Chuck Klein, age 16. Spring 1958
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Nostalgia Drag World - by Chuck Klein; photos courtesy of Chuck Klein
Chuck Klein is the author of CIRCA 1957 and THE WAY IT WAS, Nostalgic Tales of Hot Rods and Romance. He may be reached through his web site: www.chuckklein.com
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