Northern Ohio Drag Racing Memories I & II

Northern Ohio Drag Racing Memories I & 2
An Illustrated History of Northern Ohio Drag Racers

By: John Shapiro

Foreword by: “Gentleman” Joe Schubeck

Volume I of Ohio Drag Racing Memories is an illustrated history of Northern Ohio’s drag racing pioneers as they appeared in the pages of the Cruisin’ Times Magazine. 

 

Names like: “Gentleman” Joe Schubeck, “Fast Eddie” Schartman and the Hrudka Brothers, companies like Mr. Gasket and Lakewood Industries, car clubs like the Choppers Hot Rod Association and drag strips all over the Midwest, helped usher in a cadre of young men and women who would help make drag racing what it is today.

Introduction:

    Each year I marvel at the growing attendance at the annual fall Drag Racers Reunion held at the American Legion Clifton post on Brookpark Road, Cleveland Oh. (Fairview Park).  Started years ago by Milton Depuy, as more of a party for Dick Jarvis of Midwest Auto Parts (Cleveland), Milton decided to make it a “reunion of sorts”, holding it every 5 years.  As time went on, it has become an annual get-together.

    The reason may have been because we have so much fun or it may have been because we’re all getting older and the possibility of losing our friends becomes more apparent.  In either case it has now emerged as a who’s who of drag racing and hot rodding in Northern Ohio.

     Over 166 people come from as far away as South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Las Vegas, to rekindle old memories and friendships while many first timers came just to “take in the nostalgia”, meet the legends of the area and to get their autographs.  The reunion includes dinner, a fine spread cooked up by “Bonneville” Red Mathei as well as a load of door prizes and all the camaraderie and racing memories you can stand.  Many racers bring their old scrap books, pictures and memorabilia.

     It occurred to me while I looked out over the sea of attendees that we should certainly do a monthly story in the pages of the Cruisin’ Times Magazine about these local drag racing favorites, giving them a little more recognition and just to record it for historical purposes.  

     One year later, I’m proud to say that we did just that, calling our monthly feature story, “Ohio Drag Racing Memories: The Early Years”.  As you might imagine, those stories received more response than any other article we have ever done in 8 years.  We decided to commemorate the occasion by publishing a collection of those articles in a coffee table style book.        Ohio Drag Racing Memories includes many additional stories and photos that either weren’t included in the original stories or ones we just received.  While doing the research we received so many pictures and feature story ideas that we’re now in the middle of Volume 2, which will be published in the fall of 2005.  Names like: Arlen Vanke, Ron Hutter, the Mr. Gasket story, Barbara Hamilton, Ken Veney, Ohio George Montgomery, will be included in that edition, plus a special chapter on exhibition cars that will include wheelstanders and jet cars from Northern Ohio.

     The staff here at Cruisin’ Times Magazine salute those pioneers of the quarter mile who paved the way for what is, today, one of the largest automotive events anywhere.  It is with great pleasure that we bring to you the book version, Ohio Drag Racing Memories an Illustrated history of Northern Ohio Drag Racing Pioneers, Volume I.   John Shapiro   Editor

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Northern Ohio Drag Racing Memories II
An Illustrated History of Northern Ohio Drag Racers

By: John Shapiro

Volume II of Ohio Drag Racing Memories is an illustrated history of Northern Ohio’s drag racing pioneers like Barbara Hamilton, Ken Veney, Virgil Cates, Ed Schartman, Chuck Finders & Larry Sikora.


Take a trip back to the 60's when Northern Ohio was a hot rod bed of drag racing. Read about what brought the end of the gasser and fuel altered era, the evolution of Super Stock into ProStock and how nostalgia is coming back to drag strips all over America.

Introduction:

    The 60’s & 70’s brought about the biggest growth in drag racing. It ushered in the Super Stock category that now boasts, in one form or another, the largest group of race cars competing each week throughout the country.  From that, the ProStock class evolved. Although Top Fuel got it’s start earlier, it was the 60’s & 70’s that saw speed records broken on a regular basis. The era gave notice to the world that the almighty gassers and fuel altereds were definite crowd favorites, only the burgeoning funny car interrupted their heyday.
   This particular time span had 5 sanctioning bodies vying for quarter mile supremacy. Besides the NHRA, there was the AHRA (American Hot Rod Association), the IHRA (International Hot Rod Association), the UDRA (United Drag Racers Association) and, believe it or not, NASCAR ran their own drag race sanctioning body for a couple of years.  
   The 60’s and 70’s also brought about one of the most popular promotional marketing devices ever thought of to increase spectator attendance and that was the booked-in Match Races, where by fans could see their 1320 heroes without traveling great distances to a national event. It isn’t clear who is credited with coming up with the idea.  It might have been a few savvy track owners. The promotional barn storming present day PT Barnum’s. It might also have been couple of drag racers who quickly “ran the numbers” and figured out there was a an easier way to make money between running for the points at national sanctioned events.    
   It is clear that along the way a few booking agencies began selling the idea to tracks and showed them the way to bring in top shows in order to acquaint spectators with their racing facilities, which in turn, brought them back week after week. It worked and fans came in droves to Thompson, Dragway 42, Quaker City and Norwalk to see the wheel standing, ground pounding, 200 mile an hour, side by side action.  It might have been a grudge match between Ford & Chevy, an 8 car Chicago style funny car show, a top fuel Garlits vs Muldowney for bragging rights extravaganza or a jet car showdown.
   Once the adverting hit, teenagers everywhere were creating the buzz and calling their buddies. Phones were ringing off the hook to drag racers too, from people like Tom “Smoker” Smith who booked racers for shows as well as an all-female Miss Universe of Drag Racing circuit. There was the Nick Boninfante funny car circuit that gave many local funny car talent the experience at running tracks all over the Northeast. There was the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars who mixed local drivers in with top national touring drivers all over the nation.  And there was the top agencies like Rachanski-Witz and Ira Litchey’s Gold Agency who managed to handle most of the “booked in shows” that included ProStock, Funnies and Top Fuel.  These highly connected promoters contracted racers to book them for as long as they could take the grueling task of driving 500 miles to make 3 runs, then pack up and drive another 500 miles and do the same thing, again and again. 
    During the 60’s, the flavor of the touring professional drag racer had not yet been soured by corporate correctness, sealed off by an army of marketing specialists or overdone by megabuck budgets. Yesterday’s “dragabonds” actually looked forward to going from track to track to match race jets, rocket-powered go-karts, stockers, gassers, fuel altereds, floppers and diggers.  These sideshows allowed the racers to recoup some of  the loot they lost competing at a “national” event.    Every weekend hot rodders and otherwise addicted drag racing nuts listened for their weekly call to arms.  That being the now famous... “Sunday, Sunday” radio commercials or “Saturday Night Under the Lights” proclaiming which “Gladiators” of the asphalt would be performing at a drag strip near you.  It was truly a great time for racers and spectators alike. 
    I hope this book helps you turn back the hand of time and add some pictures and stories to your already fond memories of the quarter mile.  Perhaps it will rekindle your old drag racing spirit, cause you to visit a drag strip in the near future or motivate you to “fire up” a nostalgia car of your own and blaze the quarter mile one more time.   Hope you enjoy Volume II. 
       

John Shapiro  
Editor

 


 

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