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When Drag Racing Was King

Car Craft’s 60th Anniversary

By , Photography by CC archives

The first car experienced some teething pains on its initial outing. Ro McGonegal reported that the car puked water all over the starting line because they forgot to add a surge tank to the cooling system, as there was no radiator nor a water pump. McGonegal also reported the shifter was a little too far away, stating that you would need arms "like an orangutan" to reach the shifter. Despite the difficulties, the car was quick with low 10s at 125 mph as the early norm. Later, rules were amended to dictate 3.5 pounds-per-cubic inch (lb/ci), which meant a 350ci Chevy could run at a minimum of 1,225 pounds. The key to the class was iron cylinder heads with no porting allowed. This was intended as a way to control costs and make racing more attractive to a larger number of competitors. Borg-Warner and Car Craft toured the country with the two Econo cars and NHRA soon adopted the class that is now called Econo Dragster in Competition Eliminator. Perhaps no car more exemplified the spirit of this class than the Bobby Cross and Bubba Corzine C/ED and later an A/ED built by Don Ness that was a terror through the late '70s. During a two-year span between 1978 and 1980, the pair captured eight NHRA Competition Eliminator national titles with several more final-round appearances. The rules and cars have evolved in the subsequent four decades from archaic front-engined cars to sophisticated rear-engined cars with wildly more powerful engines—both ends of the current A/ED record is held by Robert Bailey with a 6.59 at 204.57 mph! The current Econo Dragsters are difficult to connect with their "economy" origins, but the idea was born straight out of Car Craft's 8490 Sunset Boulevard office.

Editor Terry Cook left Car Craft at the conclusion of the Mar. '72 issue in an attempt to revitalize Hot Rod's stodgy image, turning his Number Two Ticonderoga editor's pencil to Ro McGonegal, who steered the book until John Dianna assumed the editorship in the Jun. '73 issue. By 1975, the staff included Jon Asher, Ro McGonegal, and Rick Voegelin with contributions from New Jersey drag racer Norman Mayersohn. In 1974, the seed for the idea of Pro Modified germinated out of a conversation between Voegelin and Dianna while bouncing along in Dianna's transporter between Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Detroit. Later, the idea became a cover story entitled "Cutting the High Cost of Racing," in which Car Craft proposed an eliminator bracket "that encourages racers to build fast, exciting cars on a low budget. It needs a place for sportsmen who would like to campaign a heads-up, stock-bodied cars without committing the financial suicide of going Pro Stock racing." The plan proposed a single four-barrel class with stock iron cylinder heads, no porting, and originally a 10.5 lb/ci weight rule. For example a 302 small-block Chevy would have run with a minimum weight of 3,171 pounds. The story proposed Pro Modified as a separate heads-up eliminator, but while NHRA embraced the concept in 1975, NHRA's Jim Dale changed the name to Super Modified and placed A/SM within what was then called Modified Eliminator positioned between Super Stock and Competition. While NHRA eventually changed several aspects of the class from what Car Craft proposed, the class encouraged racers to build a car that would (in theory) reduce the financial requirements.

The NHRA later amended the rules, creating A/SM with 9 lb/ci, a 2,850-pound minimum (without driver), and 10.5-inch tires. The idea rang so strongly that Voegelin immediately began the quest to build a car. This became the "30-Day Wonder Instant Race Car" story in the Feb. '75 issue. He found a '67 RS Camaro (minus engine and trans) for $300 (remember, this is 1975) and undertook the task of creating a race car in one month. The first race for the A/SM Camaro was the '75 NHRA Winternationals with a 316ci small-block Chevy and a Muncie four-speed, driven by Norman Mayersohn. The 8,500-rpm combination was surprisingly simple, with a stock steel 3.25-inch stroke, 327 crank, a junkyard 307 block, a set of reworked TRW pistons, a pair of 461 "double hump" iron heads, a mechanical roller cam, Edelbrock Tarantula manifold, Holley 750-cfm carburetor, and some careful assembly techniques. With wife Kay Voegelin as crew chief, the Camaro won class at the Winternationals and later set a class record 10.49 at 128.03 mph in June of that same year. Class popularity quickly spiked from three A/SM cars at the Winternationals in February to more than 20 cars at the U.S. Nationals in September.

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