Who’s Going to Win?
I think that everyone can agree that during World War 2, every country was in some sort of turmoil. Here in America, we were not impacted physically nearly as much as Europe and Japan; however, there were many of our men who fought overseas, obviously. If you put yourself in their shoes, and imagine either flying over enemy lines while being shot at, or being in the group of men that landed at Normandy in France, it is easy to see how exhilarating it might have been and the massive adrenaline rush that these men might have felt. Once the war was finally over, many soldiers wanted to get that adrenaline rush again, so they turned to the 2 ton machines that were parked in their driveways. They drove out to dry lake beds and abandoned air strips to race their friends to see who had the faster ride. The early stages of drag racing and hot rodding were coming into form.
Backtracking a bit to the 1930’s, there was some racing that took place, but nothing like the amount that took place after the war. Young men loved racing, because they were able to feel the rush once again, all while not being shot at. The racing environment in the 1940’s was pretty raw and wild. There was no safety equipment, no timing equipment, and not even an official track. Many drag cars were either driven to the race, or towed on some sort of makeshift trailer. Besides the obvious danger of drag racing itself, many racers took part in the sport on the public streets, endangering not only themselves, but also pedestrians and other drivers around them. Something had to be done.
Organized races began to show up more to entice drivers to race safely. “The first [Southern California Timing Association] ‘Speed Week,’ held at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in 1949, was the result of a diligent effort of Parks, then its executive secretary. It was here that racers first began running ‘against the clock’ – actually, a stopwatch – coaxing their vehicles to accelerate quicker rather than simply to attain high top speeds. The first dragstrip, the Santa Ana Drags, began running on an airfield in Southern California in 1950 and quickly gained popularity among the Muroc crowd because of its revolutionary computerized speed clocks. Not only were drag strips and organized races becoming more popular, but in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) came to be, making the drag racing environment safer, and more accessible to many racers. Many of you have probably heard of the NHRA, and maybe even watched some of their races. The small group of guys that would meet at lake beds and race their buddies in their stock 2-door coupe never imagined that there would be a national drag race that included top fuel dragsters that can reach 320 miles per hour in a quarter mile.
In order to win; however, you needed to have a fast car. The stock automobiles of the 30’s and 40’s were just not fast enough in the eyes of racers. There was a constant need for improvement for power, and a need to make the quarter mile run in less and less time. Guys would spend countless hours working on their cars, doing everything from changing the valve timing to jetting the carburetor to provide more fuel and air to create more power. This is where hot rods came from: cars that were modified to have more performance, and were truly an extension of the owner’s personality. In today’s mindset, hot rods are always old, loud, inefficient, and outdated. But think about it. When someone went to the Dodge dealership in 1968 and ordered a brand-new Charger to turn into a racecar, they were fitting it with the best of the best technology……for the time. Hot rodding has evolved right along with the regular auto industry. Today, you can go to a Dodge dealership and buy a 2016 Charger Hellcat with over 700 horsepower, and still get 25 miles per gallon. But honestly, where’s the fun in driving a hot rod for fuel efficiency?
Drag racing and hot rodding was, and still is one of America’s most popular activities. It gave the soldiers after the war the rush that they were looking for, and it never has ceased to give thrills to all generations. As racing and cars evolved from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, so did people’s perspective on them, and the Government began to realize that there might be something wrong with the automobile, because it started to butt heads with good old Mother Nature.