While watching the recent March Meet that streamed into my monitor from faraway Bakersfield, it was wonderful to see some of those great, long 1/8th-mile burnouts a few of the contestants were doing – just like the old days, I muttered to myself. A day or so later, I was talking with a friend who loves and attends drag racing, but is young enough so that he never got to witness the pre-burnout days when one would merely pull up to the line, stage, and when the green bulb lit (or the starter jumped up, with flag in hand), nail the pedal and GO! This eventually led to some drag racing history lessons that I love to pass along to the millennials who more and more yearly seem to keep their butts away from our sport’s grandstands. In growing numbers, they seemingly find “sport” only in their indoor world of “electronics” – video games on the 55” flatscreen, or Facebooking, Instagramming, texting, sexting and tweeting their buds and budettes.
I first did admit that the guys match racing in the A/FX class (pre-curser to the funny cars) were using some stuff like rosin in their starting line antics early on; however, Tulsa nitro master and Captain of the Greek Fleet, Bob Creitz, was the pioneer of the burnout. I interviewed Bob a few months before his passing in September of 2011 from cancer. When I asked him about the backstory on this now standard, pre-pass operating procedure, he told me: “We were racing in California in ‘69, and I was talking to Danny Ongais (driver of one of Mickey Thompson’s funny cars), and we started wondering about possibly using a liquid of some sort - like bleach - to clean off the slicks. I then ran with the idea and tucked away a few jugs of Clorox in my trailer.”
His next race was at Riverside Raceway where, as his car pulled up to the line, he would pour an ample amount of bleach in front of each rear tire. He then guided his driver into the puddle, who nailed the throttle HARD for just a couple of seconds before yanking on the brake lever, thereby resulting in “cleaning” the slicks (the realization that “heating” the tires for more grip came later). Bob felt it proved the concept worked as they won round after round, until breaking a rear end in the final!
The following week after Creitz’ now-substantiated “theory” in California, I was towing my Miller & (John) Osborn AA/Gas Dragster from Tulsa up to Manhattan, Kansas for a race there featuring other members of our “Midwest All-Stars Top Gas Circuit.” Along with us was Dick Moritz towing his Ray Lundy-driven dragster. Somewhere on the road, Dick, forgetting something, had to stop at a convenience store to call his wife, Martha, back in Tulsa. In the course of their conversation, she told him that Bob Creitz had called from California and, missing Dick, had told her about pouring bleach in front of the slicks and “burning out” through it thereby “cleaning” the tires. After hanging up, Dick seemed to think it was worth a try. So, we left that store with a confused cashier scratching her head wondering what possible use those guys pulling those long skinny trailers could have with all those bottles of Clorox Bleach!
At Manhattan, we did as Creitz had prescribed. After our push starts and with Ray in the left lane and John on the right and sitting just behind the starting line, Dick jumped out of his Carryall and I out of my Chevy wagon and we poured our bleach in front of one slick then quickly stepped over the main rails to do it to the other one. Moving into the puddles, our drivers then hit their throttles and, on that day on the plains of Kansas, the crowds witnessed the first burnouts east of the left coast's San Andreas Fault line and, boy, were they digging it!
The downside to the process was that after the burnouts the cars were now way past the starting line. We all were direct drive with just a clutch and no reversers, so it meant a lot of huffing and puffing to push the cars back to the line. And, of course, since these were front engine dragsters, we had to be careful not to get ‘spiked’ by the headers that were so close to the back of our legs as they uncomfortably blasted hot exhaust up at us. At least we were burning high-octane (aviation) gas and not nitro! (One time a few years later at Oklahoma City, I did have to push Bob Alberty back in his front engine A/F dragster. It was far from my first dose of nitromethane, but certainly the closest with it blasting at me from his hemi’s four right-side headers, a couple feet away from my poor schnoz and watering eyes!)
After a tremendous storm ended our day early at Manhattan, we loaded up and towed to Omaha where we again raced with members of our circuit. A mere 24 hours later, they all now were sporting their own bottles of bleach. Well, the horse was out of the gate now, Bubba!
As time went on and burnouts became de rigueur, even though bleach is rather inexpensive, it wasn’t long before someone discovered that water worked just as well and the term "bleach burnout" soon faded into drag racing obscurity.
Note: I’d like to send a big shout out to Stan Berry, from Ransom (hey..that’s my middle name!), Kansas. Stan is a long-time drag racing addict and friend to many racers, who has shared a lot of the photos he’s taken at events over the years on Facebook. As a youngster, Stan was at that Manhattan race in 1969, where he was a witness to the introduction of the burnout to the crowd. He had his small, 8mm camera with him that day and, having had that old film eventually transferred to the digital world, a few years ago sent me a DVD of it. I was blown away to see all of us racing on that summer afternoon, several decades ago (it even included a close-up snippet of John behind the wheel as I pushed him back to the pits after a pass). Thanks again, Stan!
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - By Connell R. Miller; Editor-in-Chief