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When Drag Racing Was King

Car Craft’s 60th Anniversary

By , Photography by CC archives

With this issue, Car Craft passes a significant milestone. There was no red carpet party with Lady Gaga in attendance because there's no money in the Car Craft budget—and the Stones only do benefits for worthy causes. Technically, this is Volume 61, No. 5, but despite the fuzzy chronology, this issue marks the beginning of our 60th consecutive year in publication. Initially launched in May 1953 as a Reader's Digest–sized publication with the lame title Honk!, we must be eternally grateful to Bob Petersen for changing the magazine's name for the Dec. '53 issue to Car Craft. Now that this irreverent, very hands-on magazine has officially entered its sixth decade, we thought this deserved something more than just a quick retrospective. So for the next few months (or until we run out of juicy stories), we will be retrieving snapshots from our past. Think of these stories as if leafing through your family photo album, complete with weird uncles, obsessive-compulsive editors, and the oddest assembly of writers, managers, and reluctant heroes that ever cursed a keyboard—or a manual typewriter if you're old enough to remember such things. Our plan is to relate stories you may not have heard before. Philosophy declares it's not the destination but the journey that should be important. That may be especially true for car crafters, as long as you cut a good reaction time and trip the win light at the finish line.

To many, Car Craft was especially influential during the '70s. Officially, the Feb. '65 issue relaunched Car Craft as the "Automotive Go & Show Magazine," and by the late '60s the book had latched onto drag racing as its primary editorial focus. With no apologies to the East Coast "rags" of the day, CC was the premiere drag-racing magazine. If drag racing was the only sport that mattered, then you got your information from this left-coast magazine that focused on the machines that blasted down the quarter-mile. To this end, Editor Terry Cook took over as head turtle wrangler in the Aug. '69 issue, in charge of a free-spirited crew of writers who certainly embraced the avant garde image of the late '60s. Management's dilemma was walking that fine line between attempting to bridle a clearly precocious staff while also allowing them freedom to work their editorial magic. The Petersen brain trust, headed by President Fred Waingrow, was convinced these long-haired rebels couldn't possibly be capable of the success that the magazine was experiencing. Despite management doubts, Car Craft was growing so fast that it was in danger of encroaching into Hot Rod's sacred-cow circulation territory. The magazine had fully embraced drag racing and subscribers were signing on by the thousands. With this unprecedented growth as a groundswell, CC proposed a new drag-racing class the editors dubbed Econo Rail in the Jul. '70 issue.

The idea was a minimum 90-inch wheelbase, front-engine dragster powered by a single four-barrel small-block engine, a four-speed, and very little else. No Rat motors, no Chrysler Hemis, and certainly no Cammer 427 Fords would be allowed to play. Econo Rails were intended as the everyman's racer. The idea was to allow budget-conscious racers to resurrect old front-engined dragsters into small-block-powered class racers. The cars would be dead simple to build, maintain, and above all be affordable. Borg-Warner jumped in as sponsor, and the plan was to build two cars: the first powered by a small-block Chevy, followed by a small-block, Ford-urged version. The small-block Chevy was a still-new '70 11:1 compression engine fitted with an 850-cfm Holley carburetor, Hedman headers, and a B-W Super T-10 four-speed backed by a 4.10:1-geared Chrysler rear axle assembly. Traction was provided by a pair of 8.90x15 Goodyear slicks.

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