Vintage Sports Autographs

Stars of the Past

Magnificent Obsession: The Drag Racing Disease

I grew up in Southern California in the 1950s during the early years of the birth of drag racing. Within twenty miles of my home were a number of drag strips: Pomona, Fontana, Colton, and Irwindale.  Before I even had a driver's license, I would ride my bicycle to watch the drag races at either Fontana or Pomona.  The latter was only a half hour ride by bike for me so I went there very frequently.  The obsession stayed with me for decades and from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, I was a drag race technical official at Bonneville Raceway in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I obtained all my drag race autographs in person during those years.

Larry Bostick

Rocket Car Drag Racer — No. 18 All-Time Quickest Rocket-Powered Dragster: “Concept 1" 5.200 ET, 300 MPH, in 1986



The first time we had a rocket-powered car run at Bonneville, I stood too close and the propellant gave a long-lasting sting to my eyes.  I learned to give them a wide berth. I recall Kitty O'Neil was one who ran at our drag strip. I believe it was about 1977. She had driven a rocket car over 500 MPH in an attempt to break the land speed record. She was totally deaf. She had been told to keep her drag strip run under 300 MPH to conform with our insurance requirements. We blacked out the public speed signs just in case she exceeded the limits. She did. We announced a run of about 297 MPH even though she ran over 300 MPH.  Oh well.

Doug Brown

Jet Car Drag Racer — No. 59 All-Time Quickest Jet-Powered Dragsters: “Wildfire" 5.878 ET, 270.27 MPH, in 1989



Bill Carter

Jet Car Drag Racer — No. 71 All-Time Quickest Jet-Powered Dragsters: “Hot Streak" 6.08 ET, 272.72 MPH, in 2001


That is me sillhouetted in the flame of Jerry Rose's jet dragster, Green Mamba. For about a dozen years I was the designated hose man for jet exhibition cars at Bonneville. The first time I did it, I got too far behind the afterburner and had to take cover behind a 50-gallon water drum. It singed all the hair on my arms, hair, and eyebrows. I kept showering myself with the hose, but 3,000 degrees was just a bit too hot back there.  If I didn't hose down the area about twenty feet behind the afterburner, the heat would have peeled up the asphalt. Nothing like it!  Bill Carter's car is to the left of me.  My wife, Karen, was the track photographer and took this photograph.  Sometimes she got a little too close to these jet cars, too.  We were contributors to National Dragster for a couple of years:  I wrote articles and she took the photos.

John Force (1949-    )

Funny Car Drag Racer—NHRA World Champion 1990-91, 1993-98, 2000-2002, 2003 (owner), 2004, 2006

I never thought of it as dangerous when I started.  It was just people racing Funny Cars.  It was like, we were California kids and street racing was big.  Even though I never did any street racing as a kid, I was around race cars.  I had polio as a kid and I played football in high school, but when I got to college I didn't have the talent to continue doing that.  The race car sort of did the running for me.  It was like, “Wow, I can do this, wear a helmet, and still hear the cheer of the crowd.”
    John Force



I was inside John's trailer when he signed this photo for me. When he was racing at an NHRA divisional meet at our Bonneville drag strip, I was the sole official at the end of our race track during qualifying. I had just helped another funny car driver pull his car out of the sand pit at the end. That driver was crabbing about our "rinky dink" drag strip because he was upset at having ended up in the sand.  Force made a run right afterwards and also ended up in the sand.  Instead of crabbing, John yelled out at me, "What did I turn?  What did I turn?"  Thinking he had a really good run, he wanted to know how fast he'd gone.  To heck with landing in the sand.  He even had sustained some body damage in the sand, but John just said for his crew to hurry back and they'd duct tape the damage in the pits.  What an amazing guy!  When I was in his trailer in about 1992, I told him about this moment.  He said I was just among dozens of track officials around the country who had hauled him out of a sand trap.  

Watch a video with some clips from the A&E TV show Driving Force and other footage showing John Force at his ticked off, ever-loving best.  Watch a video clip of Force and Cruz Pedregon in a peddle-fest in Dallas in 1992.  Watch a video clip of Force firing up his engine in the pits in 2007.

Don Garlits (1932-    )

Top Fuel Drag Racer—NHRA World Champion 1975,1985-86  [first Top Fuel driver to surpass 170 (1957), 180 (1958), 190 mph (1963), 200 mph (1964), 240 mph (1973), 250 mph (1975), 270 mph (1986); has won 35 NHRA Top Fuel events, 4 IHRA world titles, 10 AHRA world titles, ranked number 1 on Hot Rod Magazine's list of the top 50 drivers; credited with developing rear engine dragster; Motorsports Hall of Fame of America 1989, International Motorsports Hall of Fame 1997, Hot Rod Magazine Hall of Fame 1997, Automotive Hall of Fame 2004]



I first saw Garlits in about 1959 when he was on a West Coast tour doing match races. It was at Pomona.  I remember at the Winternationals when he came to voice his displeasure with Wally Parks's decision to not permit fuel cars to run. We booked him to run match races at Bonneville drag strip in the 1970s and 1980s.  My wife, Karen, rode with him in his truck to the race track from an appearance he was making in downtown Salt Lake.  She was the race track photographer for a couple of years.  In one of his appearances at Bonneville, I had him sign a copy of his autobiography.  I had to wait until he had cooled off from chewing out one of the guys on his pit crew.

Watch a video clip of Don Garlits's Swamp Rat XXX going completely airborn in a wheel stand that turns the car completely over and backward--a literal blowover.  Watch a video clip of Garlits fire up Swamp Rat VIII the old fashioned waywith a push startand do a couple of burnouts in Kansas City.  Watch a video clip of Garlits firing up one of the Swamp Rat cars in the pits in 2008 in Kansas City.  Watch a video clip of Garlits firing up his car on the line at night.  Watch a video clip of Garlits firing up his car at night at Bakersfield at the 2008 Cacklefest.  Watch a video clip of Garlits and other drag racers in a montage of 1950s drag racing.  Watch a video clip of Garlits firing up one of the early front-motor Swamp Rats with the wing over the engine down the return road of the 2009 Gatornationals.  Watch a video clip of Garlits and Tommy Ivo bumping into each other during a cacklefest in Columbus, Ohio, in 2007.

"T.V." Tommy Ivo (1936-    )

Gas/Top Fuel/Jet Car Drag Racer/Actor—"Mickey Mouse Club" Television Series  [first driver to break the nine-second barrier in gas-powered dragster, Motorsports Hall of Fame of America 2005]

I saw Howard’s "Twin Bear" at Bakersfield in ’59 and decided that a side-by-side combination would transfer more of the car’s static weight on the rear tires rather than a tandem design. But I did it differently. Howard had simply turned one engine around. I reversed the engine’s rotation and ran it backwards. We simply meshed double-wide starter gears on the flywheels together and use a multi-disc clutch to directly drive the car through an offset third member. The engines would torque ‘outside-in’ so the car would go up and down when I cracked the throttle and not torque steer when I lifted. Better yet, it ran nine-flat the first time out and then became the first gas-burning dragster to run in the eights—and the first to run 170, then 180 on gas. Best of all it handled great and was nearly bulletproof.

      Tommy Ivo



Watch a video clip of Tommy Ivo waking up the neighborhood when he fires up his car in 2007.  Watch a vidco clip of Ivo and another vintage front-motored dragster do a bit of cackling on the streets of downtown Escondido.  Watch a video clip of Ivo firing up his car at the 2008 Cacklefest at Bakersfield.  Watch a video clip of Ivo's rear-engined beauty at the 2008 Cacklefest at Bakersfield. 

Chris “The Crazy Greek” Karamesines (1928-    )

Top Fuel Drag Racer—[Unofficial first over 200 mph in Top Fuel Dragster in Quarter Mile, 8.87/204.54, Alton Dragway, April 1960; International Drag Racing Hall of Fame 1997]

I went off the track at San Gabriel while racing Ivo because of the smoking tires and because the front-engine location blocked my vision. At no time on the run did I feel I was driving over my head. I think the reason that I got known for the wild races back then was that all of the racing press was located in Southern California, and, of course, they loved stuff like that.

     Chris Karamesines



The Greek signed this autograph for me when I weighed his car following a run he made at Bonneville at an AHRA meet.

Watch a video clip of Chris Karamesines going up in smoke at the 1984 Springnationals at Columbus, Ohio, against Doug Kerhulas whose parachute doesn't employ and he crashes through the catch fence in a terrible accident.  Watch a video clip of Karamesines, age 75, warming up his car in the pits in 2008.  Watch a video clip of Karamesines upsetting Joe Amato in the semi-finals at Sanair in Montreal.

Lou Meyer  (1904-1995)

Auto Race Driver—National Driving Champion, 1928,1929,1933; Indianapolis 500 winner: 1928 (99.48 mph), 1933 (104.16 mph), 1936 (109.07 mph)   [Engineer—partner with Dale Drake in building Offenhauser engines that powered 18 consecutive winning cars at Indy; Automobile Racing Hall of Fame 1974, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame 1963, International Motorsports Hall of Fame 1992, National Sprint Car Hall of Fame 1991, Motorsports Hall of Fame of America 1993]




Lou Meyer autographed this 1936 Art Krenz cartoon.  It is one of four Meyer-signed cartoons in my collection.  I also have another Krenz cartoon and two by Jack Sords.

See his grave in Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California. 

Shirley Muldowney  (1940-  )

Top Fuel Drag Racer—National Hot Rod Association World Champion 1977, 1980, 1982; American Hot Rod Association World Champion 1981 [NHRA first licensed woman dragster driver 1965; Motorsports Hall of Fame of America 1990, International Motorsports Hall of Fame 2004]

Now, if you ask who do I have the most respect for, I'd say Shirley Muldowney. She went against all odds. They didn't want her to race Top Fuel, the association, the racers, nobody...Just Shirley.

       Don Garlits




We had an AHRA divisional race at our Bonneville drag strip in the early 1980s. I was the lone official at the end of the track for the final run.  I undid her safety harness and hitched a ride back to the starting line with she and her crew as they celebrated winning the race.  She told her crew to watch their language around me as Utah was Mormon country.  I have several of her autographs.

Watch a video clip of Shirley Muldowney in her funny car days going up against the Jackson Brothers.  Watch a video clip of Muldowney in 1976 and 1977.

Hayden Proffitt (1928-    )

Super Stock/Funny Car/Rocket Car/Jet Car Drag Racer  [International Drag Racing Hall of Fame 2009]



In about 1977 or 1978, Proffitt ran his jet dragster at our Bonneville drag strip. I recall him taking his hands off the steering wheel during the run for a bit of showmanship. 

Watch a video clip of Hayden Proffitt being inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame.  Watch a video clip of Proffitt's old A/FX Mercury.

Doug Rose (ca. 1938-   )

Jet Car Drag Racer — No. 61 All-Time Quickest Jet-Powered Dragsters: “Green Mamba" 5.895 ET, 258.62 MPH, in 2001; 11-time National Jet Car Champion.


He first drove jet cars for Walt Arfons' Green Monster in 1962 until accident in 1966 caused both of his legs to be amputated. He began driving again in 1968 in the Green Mamba.  He was a regular at our Bonneville drag strip.  I recall his wife standing well behind the flame to "read" it?  Probably just a bit of showmanship.  Exhibition cars were all about putting on a good show.

Watch a video clip of Doug Rose profiling his career and jet car.  Watch a video clip of Rose telling a funny story about he and jet car driver Doug Brown.  Watch a video clip of Rose's jet car obliterating a Lincoln Town Car with his afterburner flame.  Watch a video clip of Rose melting an ambulance with his jet car.

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (1932-2001)

Automobile Customizer/Cartoonist





I cultivated a short-lived relationship with Roth just before his death. My wife and I were wandering through a cemetery in Manti, Utah, in the late 1990s and stumbled on Roth's grave marker.  It was a bit different than the stone currently marking his grave. He had the marker placed a few years before he died.  I had seen Roth at the L.A. County Fair in Pomona doing his T-shirt art and displaying his Outlaw rod (above). I was wowed!  But years later, he joined the Mormon Church and moved to Manti.  I didn't know this when I stumbled on his grave.  I researched his life and found out about his Mormon conversion.  Since I worked for the Mormon Church historical library, I thought it would be important for us to document his life. I contacted him to inquire about doing an oral history interview with him.  I visited his home to do that, but found he was at a car show in California.  I ran into him at a car show in Logan, Utah, and we talked about getting together for an interview.  He sent me a couple of books for our library, but before we could do the interview, he died.  He signed this autograph for me on the back of his business card when we met in Logan.

See his grave in Manti Cemetery, Manti, Utah.

Dave Uyehara

Top Fuel Drag Racer/Chassis Builder [International Drag Racing Hall of Fame 2007]



Dave Uyehara is driving the Good, Bad, and Ugly T/F dragster in this photo taken by my wife at Bonneville in the mid-1980s.  They wanted to take her on tour.  She was tempted.  We had fun working together there.  That's me in the white official outfit standing in the background left.

Dave Uyehara has been a drag racer in Northern California since the mid-'60s. Teamed with Frank Martinez, he began his career in a Jr. Fuel dragster. Since then he has driven and built countless dragster and funny car chassis and in the late ‘80s he was one of the most prominent chassis builders in the sport with a long list of customers including Eddie Hill. Today, his Nostalgia Top Fuel cars are the standard of the sport.

Henry Velasco

Top Fuel Drag Racer/Engine Tuner [International Drag Racing Hall of Fame 2004]



This is a close-up of the signatures in the Good, Bad, and Ugly dragster photo (above) showing Henry Velasco and Dave Uyehara autographs.

Velasco began his career building welded strokers in the 1950s for dragsters at Reath Automotive in Long Beach.  In 1971, he opened Velasco Crankshaft Service in Downey, California.  He also served as an engine tuner for various racing teams, including John Force and Gary Densham.  One of his early crankshaft designs is on display at the Smithsonian Museum.