1963 Monthly Headlines
With most dragstrips closed for the winter, much of the early-season action took place in Southern California and the South. The first big event of the season took place in Pomona, less than a month before the third annual Winternationals. Emory Cook won Top Fuel eliminator over Chuck Branham's Starlight entry. Cook, in the Cook-Blair A/FD, also set low elapsed time with an 8.46. Tony Nancy drove his blown small-block roadster to the Middle eliminator title. ...Two weeks later in Pomona, future wheelstander pioneer Bill "Maverick" Golden drove his Dodge to the Stock title over a field that included Tommy Grove's Melrose Missile, Bob McDaniels, and Jim Nelson. ... The festivities surrounding the third annual Winternationals Championship Drag Races in Pomona included a custom car show and an appearance by a little-known Los Angeles-based musical group called the Beach Boys.
The Winternationals was a huge success as more than 60,000 fans watched Don Garlits set low elapsed time of the meet with an 8.11 from his winged Swamp Rat V dragster en route to the Top Fuel eliminator win. John Peters won Top Gas eliminator over Connie Kalitta's Bounty Hunter, but was it really John Peters? Some time later, it was revealed that Peters was merely the car owner, and that the driver was Bob Muravez, who used Peters' name on the entry form because he didn't want his parents to know he had been racing. Later, at the suggestion of NHRA's Steve Gibbs, Muravez adopted the alias Floyd Lippencott Jr. Al Eckstrand wheeled the potent Ramchargers Dodge S/SA entry to the Stock title over a huge field that included Dave Strickler and Bob Lambeck, among others. ... Wally Parks resigned as editorial director for Petersen Publishing's five automotive-related magazines to assume a more active role in NHRA matters.
"Colonel" Art Malone, a protégé of Don Garlits, claimed the Top Eliminator title at the West Coast Championships at Fremont Dragway with a stunning 8.02. Malone, who drove one of Andy Granatelli's entries in the Indy 500 later that year, drove his Golden Rod dragster to a final-round win over Chris Karamesines. ... In Amarillo, Texas, Benny Osborn drove his twin-engine Chevy-powered Brand X dragster to the Top Eliminator title over Printess Cunningham, at an event that drew more than 500 competitors. ... Although many tracks were running nitromethane-powered cars, NHRA reiterated its commitment to gas dragsters. A feature in the March 22 issue of National DRAGSTER noted that while nitro-burning cars would continue to be allowed to compete for record runs at major events, they would not be part of the seasonal points program in 1963.
NHRA announced the formation of a divisional points program, similar to today's Federal-Mogul Drag Racing Series. Seven events were contested in each of NHRA's seven geographic divisions. Competitors who took part in the divisional series had to be registered with NHRA at a cost of $3. ... Shortly after the divisional program was announced, National DRAGSTER began running regular updates on news and race results from each division. The single column updates were penned by each of NHRA's division directors. ... On the nation's dragstrips, future Indy car racer Danny Ongais won the Top Eliminator title at a meet at Madera Airport in Madera, Calif. Ongais drove Jim Nelson's Dragmaster Dart to a best of 8.58, 174.58 for the win.
Under track manager C.J. Hart, famed Lions Dragstrip in Long Beach, Calif., returned as an NHRA member track and hosted a match race. Don Prudhomme drove the Greer-Black-Prudhomme entry to a best of 8.15 to beat Denny Milani in Ted Gotelli's entry. ... The following afternoon, Prudhomme won again at Pomona Raceway with a narrow 8.20 to 8.24 win over John Peters in the Peters and Frank Freight Train twin-engine Chevy. ... Don Garlits swept Top Eliminator honors and set a speed record of 189.03 mph at the inaugural Indianapolis 500 Gas and Fuel Challenge at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Connie Swingle, driving for Art Malone, set low elapsed time of the meet.
Divisional events went into full swing during the summer of 1963, when racers flocked to Denver; Cecil County, Md.; Sturgis, Ky.; Omaha, Neb.; and Oklahoma City for the regional points events. ... At the Oklahoma City meet, Benny Osborn set the AA/D record with an 8.68 from his gas-burning dragster before beating Jimmy Nix in the final. In his Plymouth, Don Grotheer won the Stock title over Fenner Tubbs. ... At the South Central divisional in Amarillo, Texas, Don Garlits defeated Buddy Benedict in the AA/FD runoff, and Nix won the gas dragster title over Richard Lee. ...
NHRA announced it would use an "electronic flagger," better known as a Christmas Tree, for the first time at the 1963 Nationals. The arrival of the Tree not only assured fairness but enabled Sportsman competitors to receive handicap starts. It was also announced that all handicaps would be based on current NHRA national records for each class. ... Butch Leal scored a big win at Lions Dragstrip when he drove Del Munson's Chevy to the Stock title. ... At the North Central divisional event in West Salem, Ohio, Gordon Collett set the AA/D elapsed-time record with an 8.49. Though Bob Erfman had low e.t. of the meet with an 8.47, it was not backed up for the record.
Dean Brown began his stint as editor of National DRAGSTER with the Aug. 23 issue. Brown, who founded Drag News in 1955 and ran that publication until 1959, took over for Cec Draney, who left to join the staff of Rod & Custom. Brown immediately began writing an editorial column in each issue, a feature that would later become Staging Light. ... An NHRA rules revision dated Aug. 1 required all drivers of fuel-burning dragsters at NHRA-sanctioned facilities to wear aluminized firesuits in competition, another sign that the fuel ban was slowly coming to an end. ... Charlie Smith of Oklahoma City, the overall points leader in the NHRA divisional series, extended his lead when he drove his A/A '23-T Ford to the Middle eliminator win at the regional event in Caddo Mills, Texas. Smith also set the A/A record with a 145.16 effort.
In one of the biggest upsets in drag racing history, Bobby Vodnik, an unknown 19-year-old from Chicago, won the 1963 Nationals Top Eliminator title when he drove the Hirata-Hobbs entry past "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, who fouled. Other winners were John Yount (Competition), George Montgomery (Middle), Dave Strickler (Little), Scott Reider (Junior), and Herman Mozer (Stock). Overall, the Nationals was a huge success, with more than 1,000 race cars and 75,000 fans on hand. ... NHRA took a bold stand when it announced an immediate ban on all jet- and rocket-powered dragsters. The ban was made "in the interest of public safety," and track operators who violated it were subject to a one-year suspension of their NHRA-sanctioned status.
On Oct. 19, one week later than planned, ABC aired coverage from the Nationals in Indy on its Wide World of Sports show, marking the first appearance of a drag racing event on television. Print magazines, including Life and The Saturday Evening Post, also covered the sport's premiere event. ... The Gold Card program, which gives divisional champions free entry to NHRA events for one year, began. Points champions also received prizes, including complete engines, parts, and gift certificates, for winning their respective divisions. ... Charlie Smith and Ronnie Broadhead were crowned world points champions in the Hot Car and Stock Car categories, respectively.
With an estimated crowd of 10,000, San Diego Raceway in Ramona, Calif., held its first event Nov. 2-3. ... Don Garlits penned a letter to National DRAGSTER expressing his concern about the use of lifts or jacks, which were being used to help get cars off the starting line. Garlits argued that the devices should be banned, and NHRA agreed, adding a clause in the 1964 Rulebook barring the use of lifting devices. ... NHRA announced that fuel classes would be included in the 1964 Winternationals, effectively ending the fuel ban. ... Chris Karamesines went on a rampage in Southern California, winning virtually all of the big fuel shows in November, until Don Prudhomme stopped him in a best-of-three match race in Fontana Nov. 23.
NHRA announced that beginning in March 1964, National DRAGSTER would become a weekly. Jack Chrisman, the 1962 Nationals champion, was named advertising manager for National DRAGSTER. ... NHRA was enlisted to help time straightaway speeds for the Riverside 500 NASCAR event at Riverside Speedway. ... An article in the Dec. 27 issue of National DRAGSTER cautioned racers heading to the 1964 Winternationals to adhere to the posted speed limits on their way to Pomona. The article included speed limits for all 50 states. ... At Masters Field Drag Strip in Miami, Connie Swingle downed his boss, Don Garlits, in a best-of-three match race. Swingle ran a best of 191.80 in the match.
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