(first posted 3/5/2014) It was early June in 1970. I had just graduated from college, with honors no less, and was kinda wondering what my next step in life would be.
I had a rusted out 1960 Plymouth and a clapped out 1968 (or older) Bultaco Matador. I had my job with Yellow Cab which provided me with spending green and more than enough clams to pay for my eight-room apartment (42 bucks a month which I split with a roomie) on Chicago’s south side in a neighborhood we called the Dirty Thirties. I literally hit the jackpot in the first Selective Service Lottery – #272, so Vietnam was no longer a problem. I wasn’t going to go to Canada, as a former roomie had, or to Sweden, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to Nam. I had some plans but those were no longer necessary.
But the siren song of Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! At Great Lakes Dragway in lovely Union Grove, Wisconsin (at least lovelier than US 30 in Hobart, Indiana), enticed me with AA dragsters, lower class eliminations, and Wheelstanders!
At that time, drag strip promoters were still paying wheelstanding acts, such as Roy Trevino with his Texas Rare Bear, out of Corpus Christie, TX, to put on full quarter-mile demonstrations, carrying the front wheels the length of the track in the air while dragging a tailgate with plenty of spark generating excitement. McNeely’s sponsor was O’Rielly Chevrolet in Tucson, AZ.
By 1970, most 95s and Greenbriers were rotting in junkyards, the last 95 having been built in 1964, so by this time, any 95 was rare, whether it was doing wheelies or quietly rotting. So the appellation “Rare Bear” would appear to be appropriate.
For a great mini history on Corvair 95 Rampsides, check out Jay Leno’s program – http://www.jaylenosgarage.com/trucks/1961-chevrolet-corvair-95-rampside/#item=72514
One of the better known wheelstanders at this time was the Backup Pickup owned and driven by Hollie Swindle of St. Louis, MO.
The Backup Pickup’s gimmick, if you haven’t guessed by now, was that it ran down the strip backwards while pulling a wheelie. The Econoline was powered by a Ford 427 and was a crowd-pleaser,
Hollie Swindle, owner of Hollie’s Speed Shop, died in 2006.
Another popular wheelstander was The Fugitive driven by Tommy McNeely of Monahans, TX. McNeely was a former FX and Funny Car driver who had joined the exhibition ranks.
On this day, the wheel standers cruised back to the starting line to give the fans in the stands another look. Roy Trevino pulled wheelies in both directions.
Check out this YouTube compilation for some of the better known wheel standing acts including The Little Red Wagon, the Hurst Hemi Under Glass, and the Backup Pickup:
Great Lakes was just to the west and about equidistant from Racine and Kenosha, dontcha know. So there was no lack of Matadors and AMXs.
The Buran Hustler was an AMX owned and driven by Pat Ulick was sponsored by Buran Rambler out of nearby West Allis, WI.
I’m not sure what year this AMX is, but it undoubtedly ran a massaged 390.
I don’t know who won this race, but the SS 396 would seem to have an advantage at this point. Not to quibble, but I’m pretty sure either one would have waxed my 318 Plymouth.
Things really haven’t changed much since 1970. ‘57 Chevys were popular then as they are now. I don’t know what this Chevy was running, but it was enough to lead the ‘57 Corvette in the other lane.
This ‘57 would appear to have been breathed upon–fat rear slicks and a flipper fiberglass front nose.
This ‘59-’60 Vette would seem to have the advantage over the trailing AMX.
Halibarnds up front, TorqueThrust Ds in the rear, and suckin through Hilborns. This was near to the end of an era.
I don’t know when the Chevy II transitioned into the Nova, and don’t really care. They were pretty crappy grocery-getters in stock form, but they were light and could accommodate an SBC. Jack up the suspension, slap on some slicks, maybe add a hood scoop. Hey! we got us a drag car!
For those of you born too late, “Snafu” is a World War II term that stood for “Situation Normal, All Fu*ked Up”. Sorry I had to break it to you this way Tom.
Gas Coupe Sedans. One of my favorite memories of the drags in the sixties. One of these things running an SBC and shifting at 8000 rpm was one of life’s great aural pleasures. I don’t know that this Willys was running, but tests have proven that hood scoops are counter-productive.
The day wouldn’t have been complete without rail jobs. I think that at the time the top class was AA. I want to say “top fuel,” but in 1970 I think that top classes were all still running gasoline, not “fuel” (nitromethane) which was still banned by the NHRA.
Three years (maybe four) previous, Chris Karamesines “The Golden Greek,” was the first drag racer to go faster than 200 mph (322 kph) in the quarter mile in his Chi Town Hustler. In those days, prior to slipper clutches, AA dragsters kept the tires lit up the entire quarter mile. Late in the day at the 1967 World Series of Drag Racing at Cordova Dragway in western Illinois, with setting sun, the smoke off of Karamesines’ car probably reached 60 feet high or more. Eye candy defined.
The primitive wing on the front of this digger hints at the nascent art of aerodynamics, applied not only to drag cars, but Indy and Formula I cars (not to mention the Can-Am Chaparrals). Things would grow exponentially from this point on in all forms of racing.
I don’t care what class you are running, this great a discrepancy at mid course means that the trailing car has really screwed up. But we have no clue, based upon my photograph (smoking tires, smoking zoomies), as to why the trailing car is so far behind.
In 1970 two engines vied for honors in AA: the ubiquitous Chrysler Hemi and the Ford single-overhead cam (Cammer) motor. In time the Hemi would win out. Today, largely due to regulations, the Hemi is the only configuration still found in Top Fuel.
Great Lakes Dragway is the oldest continuously operating drag strip in the US. It opened in 1955.
These slides developed in June 1970.
My companion that day was the lovely Karin. You can see from the wine and picnic basket that she had, among her many attributes, good taste. I had a healthy taste for her as well, but that wouldn’t come to fruition for another couple of years. Good times.
In 1970 Karin was driving a 1967 Falcon that her daddy had bought for her new. Compared to my ‘60 Plymouth, it was a dream car. Later she had a ‘71 Maverick, also supplied by daddy warbucks, with a 250 six, still superior to anything I drove. What does that tell you?