At its peek of interest during the early 1960’s, the sport of drag racing was incredibly popular with fans and leaping in ingenuity and breakthroughs among racers. As you look at the photo below, you will recognize the fuel dragsters racing each other at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Things to note here are the grandstands filled with eager and excited crowds of spectators. Notice too the tire smoke. This is not a burnout. The driver would “slip” the clutch, with the car in high gear only and instantly smoke the tires. In this era, the dragsters left the starting line with tires smoking through the entire quarter mile. It wasn’t until later in the decade that tire manufacturers and racers figured out how to make the car hook up to the track without loosing valuable seconds spinning the tires. Another thing to notice here are the exhaust headers. Known as “weed burners”, they sweep down and past the rear drag slicks. It isn’t until a year or so after this picture was taken that mechanics developed the “zoomie” style headers that are still used today. The exhaust exists up and over the drag slicks. The shortness of the dragster chassis and the full body with swoopy tail of the dragster in the far lane is yet another detail that pinpoints the exact era of this race as 1963.
As innovation and experiments led to longer and faster dragsters, the look and feel of the sport began to change as well. A short 10 years after this picture was taken, dragsters and drag racing had evolved into a more professional but different sport, where the divisions from professional and amateur drag racers were more pronounced. Although the cars went faster, it didn’t really mean the sport was better. Safer, yes, but not better. Somehow, the excitement of the early 1960’s drag racing got lost in the shuffle.
(Hot Rod Magazine photo)