Much like the “Blues” or “Jazz,” Drag Racing is a pure American Art-Form. Only in America could individuals raid the local junkyard, scrape together parts and pieces and create their own one-of-a-kind vehicle. Stripped down to the bare bones, these no frills hand-crafted jalopies earned the nickname “Hot Rods.”
Hot Rods quickly morphed into Drag Racing vehicles and became form-to-function works-of-art, crafted for one thing only, to go fast. Their sleek designs created for speed, made them a thing of beauty. The builders of these vehicles understood this visual aspect perfectly well and they decorated these cars with beautiful paint jobs, as well as giving them names to create individualized identities. They were as spellbinding to look at, as their performance was astonishing to watch.
When I was a kid, I viewed these cars as some sort of magical dragon-like beasts. They appeared larger than life, and were certainly louder than life as they shook and pounded the asphalt with a monstrous roar. Their purpose was easy to comprehend: create more power and go faster. I always saw these cars as works-of-art as they were perfect examples of human ingenuity and creativity. To me they represented the absolute best of the human spirit, the spirit to overcome the limitations of technology by employing imagination, craftsmanship, and just plain hard work and gumption.
As Hot Rodding progressed over the years, little did anyone realize the generational impact Drag Racing would have on America. It spawned generations of automotive enthusiasts, as well as Custom Car builders, designers, racers, and a whole industry dedicated to the “Art of Speed.” The “Beach Boys” would write songs about their “Little Deuce Coupe,” and Hollywood got in the act with movies like “Beach Blanket Bingo” and “Drag Strip Girl.”
What had started as a rebellious niche hobby by few crafty individuals, soon turned into a Multi-Billion dollar industry. Hot Rodding went from the leather-jacketed ”hoodlums” of the fifties, into the mainstream Industries of Custom Car, Drag Racing and youth culture of the sixties, seventies and so on.
From the late fifties into the sixties Hot Rods became America’s “Pop-Art,” and the “Custom Cars Shows” were the place to be, as Hot Rodding developed itself into what became known as the “Show and Go” genre. Hot Rods were not only beautiful artistic Custom Creations, but they also were “Speed Demons” meant to look good and go-fast.
Many of the nation’s top performers at the Drag Strip also spent time in the halls of the “Custom Car Show” circuit. While the “Show Cars” had names like “The Undertaker,” the “Silhouette,” the “Uncertain-T,” their racing brethren were no different, names like the “Orange Crate,” “Pure Hell” and “Yellow Fang,” would take on characters of their own like some mythical Titans.
Much like a Pop Star or a Rock Band, many of these cars developed their own fan-base of loyal followers. Fans would pack the auditoriums hosting “Custom Car Shows” just to see their favorite automotive creations, then would fill the bleachers lining the Drag Strips to see these monsters of ingenuity perform. Drag Racing itself had become the perfect confluence of going fast and looking good.
Men like Ed Roth, George Barris and Carl Casper, would become “Super-Star” Custom Car builders, and at the strip, nicknames like “Big Daddy,” the “Snake” and the “Mongoose,” would become household names to millions of adoring kids and adult fans alike. Still, the best was yet to come.
With the advent of what became known as “Funny Cars,” from the mid 1960s to the early 70s, the popularity of these vehicles and Drag Racing in general, reached a level of astronomical heights. Cars with names like the “Ramchargers,” “Color Me Gone,” and later the ”Chi-Town-Hustler,” the “Blue Max,” and even someone named “Jungle Jim” became well known by everyone. Model Kit Companies and Toy manufacturers were creating replicas of these cars for kids to collect, as the radio ads blared “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” the battle cry for up-and-coming events at the Strip…Yes, Hot Rodding and Drag Racing had now become “Mainstream” America!
Just like other kids in the sixties, I was completely enamored with Drag Racing machinery. I would wait anxiously by the mailbox for the latest issue of Drag Racing Magazine to arrive; knowing I was going see something astonishing. The magazine would come covered in a brown paper wrapper and I would sit calmly with it in my lap to get in the perfect frame of mind before I looked at the cover. I knew that under that brown wrapper was going to be an image that would “Blow my Mind” and set my imagination soaring.
It’s no wonder I spent the majority of my life involved in Drag Racing Art, and it’s no wonder that as far as Motorsports Art is concerned, Hot Rodding and Drag Racing have inspired more artwork than all the other Motorsports combined.
Drag Racing is exotic, exhilarating, exciting, explosive, colorful, thunderous, and breathtakingly dangerous, but most of all, it’s Pure American Pop-Art…