Part 3: Gas-only rule fuels wild finish
As always, NHRA tried to keep abreast of the times and the technology with rules modifications. In early 1957, the Stock Car section was expanded, reversing the previous year's rule that had boosted some limited-run stockers (those with less than 15 pounds per horsepower) into the Gas classes, creating a new A/Stock class (12,60 to 14.99) and a new class, "Super Stock," for the hottest stockers. (0-12.59). All of the remaining classes were move down one spot, old A to new B, etc. The new classes had been tested the previous winter at the Southern California Championship at Morrow Field in Colton, Calif. Among the new safety regulations were the prohibition of water pipe as a roll bar, and the requirement that the rollbar be at least as tall as the top of the driver's head.
The Hot Rod Magazine staff, assisted by Chrondek's Ollie Riley, conducted an interesting experiment, setting up 11 timing traps on the Pomona quarter-mile and inviting only a few select teams to participate. This is the oldest known usage of today's commonly accepted "interval" timing.
The technological advances of the times also were deemed by some a detriment to the fun of the sport of hot rodding, and quite a stir was created when it was announced later in the year that the National Championship Drag Races would be contested utilizing only pump gasoline.
Editorialized in the April 1957 edition of Tie Rod, the monthly newsletter of the NHRA, the decision was explained: "It is agreed by the majority that an event of the Nationals' premier caliber should have its ultimate winner determined under conditions that have made the hot rod sport great -- in a proven display of engineering ingenuity, rather than a close association with the explosives branch of modern chemistry."
With exotic-fuel prices soaring to $5 per gallon and usage up to a gallon per run, it was perceived that the separation between the "haves" and the "have-nots" was growing. The move, which came to be known as the "fuel ban," was administered "in the sport's best overall interest," according to Parks' editorial in Hot Rod, with an emphasis on safety, especially in the critical first 100 yards of acceleration, and tuning skills "rather than pouring power out of a bottle."
The now infamous "fuel ban" came from a proposal by California track operators, who voted 20 to 1 for the restrictions. NHRA, which cast no vote nor offered any opinions, agreed to accept their decision and apply it at NHRA's national events, and to "recommend" it to NHRA affiliate tracks.
The decision was met with some dissent but received favorable response from the body of membership, most of which did not run exotic fuels. Tie Rod went as far as to proclaim in its April issue that the decision was "the most progressive single act NHRA has yet performed to improve the sport."
"The action is in line with current move to popularize the sport's safety aspects," explained the NHRA Bulletin on the May issue of Hot Rod, "plus which it was felt that the limitation of fuels to the commonly used, economical grades will add up to fairer distribution of the sport's benefits. Most California strips have already banned the use of special fuels, with the result that participation and interest have had an immediate increase."