By David G. Firestone
Hot Rod magazine first hit the shelves in January of 1948. Robert E. Petersen of Petersen Publishing Company published it, and NHRA founder Wally Parks was their first editor. It features tech tips, stories and many well designed and built hot rods. The NHRA or National Hot Rod Association and Hot Rod Magazine have been great for the sport of drag racing.
The two had an official partnership in a series of races. The Hot Rod Magazine Championship Drag Races took place at Riverside, California between 1961 and 1969. All the professional categories, and many sportsman categories took part in the event. The 1965 Hot Rod Magazine Championship Drag Races featured the A/FX (Factory Experimental) category, which would evolve into what we call Funny Cars.
In 1965, a film, The Hot Rod Story-Drag Racing, was produced covering the 1965 event. It was produced by Robert E. Petersen, and narrated by Dick Enberg. Surprisingly, there isn’t much information about this movie. Enberg hosts the movie as a sports show.
The opening features a drag race, with what can be called typical California drag racing music over the credits. Dick introduces the show, and then cuts to a historical package about the history of drag racing. The background music in this scene is very ill-fitting, better suited for a last dance at prom scene. The package covers circle track, as well as salt flat racing. The cars all look amazing in this package.
The history of the NHRA is detailed, and the various classes are discussed. Again, for some reason, very ill-fitting music is used in the background. Elapsed time is explained, and more beautiful racing footage is shown.
The scene shifts back to the current events. Enberg interviews Wally Park about the current state of the sport. The original slingshot dragster, here referred to as a “rail job” is discussed in detail. The safety aspects are discussed. The engine is also discussed, in detail.
The scene shifts to the racing action. The scene starts with fans packing the stands, as the drivers prepare their cars for the race. The technical inspection is also shown. The rare duel engine dragster is shown, as well as teams preparing the parachute. The drivers meeting takes place, where the rules are explained.
After the meeting, Enberg discusses the Christmas Tree. Ray Brock explains the way the tree works. After that, the pre-race ceremonies take place, where all the cars are paraded for the fans. Several names of drivers are discussed, including Connie Kalitta, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, and Don “the Snake” Prudhomme. The registration and paperwork aspects of racing are discussed. The weight is measured, and the safety team inspects the cars. A beautiful scene of driver Les Allen painting the number on his car is shown. An even more amazing scene of Les Allen putting his fire protection on follows.
Les drives to the starting line, and completes a run. Enberg questions Allen, who is disappointed in the run. He ran 169 MPH but he wants a run of 185. He plans on running every weekend. Qualifying continues, with more and more drivers making runs. The stock category is discussed next . There are many shots of races, all of which have beautiful cars and awesome racing. Shirley Shahan, one of the few women in the event, is interviewed. A/FX Factory Experimental is also discussed.
Top gas, a category similar to Top Fuel is discussed. It should be noted that by 1971, Top Gas had been dropped as a category. Some of the waiting drivers including Don Prudhome, and Tom McEwen, and Ed “The Ace” McCullochare interviewed by Enberg.
The “rail job” races are up next. The racing action is great, but the music is ominous for some reason. After some more racing, Connie Kalitta is discussed. The Bounty Hunter is shown racing his Ford dragster. It’s mentioned that the engine has a shelf life of 12 races. At the time of production, the speed record in top fuel was 206 MPH. Kalitta discusses how a broken engine part messed up his run. He also discusses how the turn around worked in 1965.
Back to racing again, now the focus is on the parachutes. A scene where a driver gets loose is shown. The scene shifts to the pits as eliminations starts. The teams furiously work over their engines. One dragster is getting a new rear end from another dragster in order to race. For some reason, a scene featuring top gas is reused.
The official in the tower is shown. A race is shown from the perspective of the car, first from behind the front wheel, and second, facing the parachute. Another race is from the perspective of the driver. The point that anyone can win is proven when an underdog wins, trophies are presented, and the movie comes to an end.
I am giving this movie an A-. My one complaint is that at times, the music isn’t really suited to what’s being shown on screen. Aside from that, everything else about the movie is great. The narration, footage, and pacing all work well. The movie does a great job explaining the basics. Some parts haven’t aged well, but all in all, this is a great movie for drag racing fans.
Next week, a Jack Hill drama.