As one who has been paying senior prices at the local Golden Corral for a good number of years now, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised at the fact that there have been 65 new calendars printed since my gear-head dad in 1952 drove us out to the old military training base at Caddo Mills, about 30 miles northeast from Dallas, where I witnessed my first drag race. Man, I was instantly hooked and have remained so all those years later! Now, while I try not to live too much in the past (my wife does her best to, um, help remind me of that), I will say that the 1950s and 1960s were some of the best years to go racing...while it was still fun and one could build a winning car without having to rob your local bank or liquor store (I’ve heard some stories there, though!).
Every first Sunday of the month, from March to about November was race day at this venerable old track, arguably the second organized drag strip in the country and ably run by members of the old North Texas Timing Association. The yearly major race put on by the group was the Texas State Championship, which would always bring cars in from a several state area, many times including some of the hot cars from the west coast. There were no fancy enclosed trailers with awnings and generators, toter-homes or 18-wheelers. Most of the cars were driven, arrived being pulled by towbar or luxuriously carted in on a simple two-wheel trailer (rarely did you see a four-wheeler) .
Back in the day, in sheer numbers alone, the Gas Coupe and Sedan classes ruled the strips. Far from the days of TIG-welded chromemoly chassis and cages, fiberglass body parts, $20K engines, $4K transmissions, $3K rear ends and electronics (other than a Sun tach on the dash), billet or carbon-fiber anything, one could buy a car from the ‘30s for $25-75, put a Chevy V8 in it (sorry Mopar and FoMoCo fans - Stovebolts were the most popular by far) and contend for a trophy on a budget. Also competing were the late model daily drivers. Just add a scattershield, traction bars, some carbs and headers, a “Duntov” cam (Chevy), add a 4.11 or 4.56 rear end and drive it to the track, race it, drive it home and then to work the next day.
The first two photos are of the D/Gas class final - 60 years ago - at the 1957 Texas State Championship at Caddo. That’s my late cousin, highschooler Jimmy Boren in the white car, who came up just a tad short at the finish line. The third photo is of his engine: 265 cu. in. (the car came with it and not a 283), JE pistons, Isky X-2 cam, 3-Rochester 2GC carbs, Vertex mag, Headman headers and Ed Fletchall-reworked heads (Jimmy had them done while he raced in California that summer). He had a Wilcap flywheel, Cad-LaSalle 3-speed floorshift transmission, Traction Master traction bars and a very low 5.12 rear end. The engine was built by Jimmy Carson (he and his brother Bob raced the well-known Olds-powered ’32 Ford sedan, the “Swamp Buggy” B/Altered).
For 1958, I spent a lot of that summer at C.J. Carson and Sons garage helping my cousin and Dubby Erwin get ready for the NHRA Nationals as we plopped that same engine, but with the addition of a hotter, long-duration “Bonneville grind” Iskenderian E-3 cam and kit into Dubby’s ’40 Mercury sedan, the “Green Bean.” Norris Baronian was manager at Isky and, wanting to help with the project, comped us the cam along with several t-shirts…cool! With 5.86 Getz gears in the rear end that little 265 was a real screamer through the traps! We were beaten by Ronnie Helfenstine at the Nats (the ’40 coupe in the fourth photo), but came back and won D/Gas at the Texas State Championship which was held the following weekend. The last photo is of the “Green Bean” on the scales before the race, Dubby at the wheel, my cousin Jimmy in the plaid shirt pulling, and another helper, Mike Boggs, on the other side.
In conversations with younger folks at drag races and in comments from our readers here at Nostalgia Drag World and on our Facebook page, many want to know about and wish they could have experienced those halcyon times in the early days of our sport. I wish we could cram all of them into an Acme Mfg. “Time Traveler Express” gondola and ask the conductor for a ticket to 1952 A.D so they could experience what we “old guys” have had the pleasure of growing up with. (By the time one is invented, however, there may be no more actual drag racing left as members of the younger generation today are more content to do their “racing” with games on the computer or flatscreen in the air-conditioned sanctity of their own home! In my editorials over the years I’ve continually pleaded with folks to “bring a kid to the track” and help keep the sport alive.)
Unfortunately, we lost Dubby – a great guy and a friend – in a dragster crash at Tyler in the sixties, and Jimmy – a real cool and funny guy – ten years later. R.I.P. to both…I miss you guys!
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - Words and photos by Connell R. Miller