As I mentioned in previous articles, from the very beginning, my drag racing led to promoting my auto repair and hot rod business. Being involved with motorsports truly was, "Race on Sunday and Sell on Monday"! Little did I realize Bob Tasca of Tasca Ford in Connecticut was touting "WIN on Sunday and Sell on Monday", about the same time period. Running respectable was really enough and winning was the frosting. Luckily I garnered frequent frosting. Back in 1969 I realized that doing well racing was essential to my reputation and my business.
Even non-motorsport people were aware of my racing; like the local banker, insurance agent and the country club set (who probably wouldn’t pay $5 to see me match race the President of the United States across our Illinois River dike) would tell me that reading or hearing about my racing success inspired them to bring their work to me. Needless to say, besides attracting my usual stock vehicle customers, my racing prowess attracted many hot rodders and other racers.
The first trophy won at first race in
1D Hot Rod at Oswego, July 20th. 1969.
Daughter Jackie 3 years old holding it.
The first couple years of my organized drag racing, 1969 to mid-1971, I ran my ‘57 Merc, ‘The Big Animal’, in trophy classes at Oswego, Illinois. My 406 Tri Power put me in 1D Hot Rod Class where I frequently brought home the trophy.
(L) Trademark Picture of The Big Animal at Oswego
(R) Me with the Big Animal 57 Merc and the late Frank Marshall in his 58 Chevy-Daddy's Thing.
1975 Oswego RTE. This picture is in Tommy Lee Byrd's 2013 book Lost Drag Strips. Photo is by Brent Fregin.
By mid ‘71, a new class that paid money was established at Oswego, US 30 in Gary, Indiana, and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. These three tracks were sanctioned by the National Association of Motor Sports (NAMS). This new class was called Run Tough Eliminator (RTE). It was a form of bracket racing but with some different quirks.
Bracket racing was fairly new in 1971 but the rules were pretty much the same as today except for the Bye-Run. Just breaking the beam is accepted today, no full run is required. Back in the ‘70s you had to make a decent run on a Bye.
The normal bracket race procedure was for the racer to establish their own handicap by making a couple time runs and choosing an ET break out. The winner was whoever of the pairing got to the finish first without breaking out (going quicker than the dial in on their window), red lighting or crossing boundaries. If both contestants fouled or broke out the lesser infraction would be the winner of that round.
All the bracket drag racing in the ‘70s was ‘BE’, before electronics, no delay boxes, trans brake or throttle stops. Hurst and Mr. Gasket did offer line locks to lock front brakes to aid burn-outs and staging. Back then time slips only gave et - mph and winner. No reaction time or other info.
Four of my cars in Oct 94. Two pro mods. Probe and WunderBird. Zeke and Big Animal. I still have Zeke and the Big Animal.
RTE had a few different rules that made competition a bit trickier. All fouls counted! If both racers broke out, they were both out. A red light and a break out, both were out. If both racers crossed a centerline or far side boundary, broke out or red lit, both racers where out. Even on a Bye run, the racer not only had to make a run (not just breaking the beam like today's rules), a decent run was required and the run had to be without any foul or break out. Those RTE rules sometimes made for a quicker diminishing field.
One time, I got the Bye with five of us left. I'll be damned, the four other racers went first and all four fouled in one way or another. My crewman and I were busy getting ready in the staging lanes when they ran so I was not aware of the fouls. Then my turn to run came.
While I was staging, the starter, who was also my friend, Bubba Thurlby, opened my door and tried to convey the situation to me, to be careful not to foul on my run but I couldn’t hear him over my engine’s roar or understand what he was trying to tell me. He shut my door and pointed for me to stage. I made a clean run. Driving back on the return road, friends and fans in the stands and along the fence were cheering and giving me thumbs up (yes, we had fans in the stands even for bracket racing back then!).
My win did not register with me until I saw the cute ET ticket girl (yum) by the tower waving the gold win card. I had just beat four cars in one run!
Me at Oswego banquet 75/76??? Dig the Western outfit. LOL!
Over my serious RTE years, 1971 through 1976, I split the winning finals several times due to a double break out or foul. For that situation, at Oswego, Illinois, where I did most of my early drag racing, they would add win and RU money and points with each finalist awarded half.