Nitro Recollections

"At 16 I ran away from home and got a job as a carburetor at the hot rod races"
(Bob Dylan)

Fred and "Uncle Don"
Me, Uncle Don, and the 'Galvanized Garbage Can'


It was 1957 and I was 16 ... Me and my buddy Lloyd were messin' around with cars - and getting into a bit of street racing - mostly 'stop light to stop light' cars, 0 to 50 quicker then you could say it - made a few bucks at it sometimes too ... The Renton 'Loop' was our hunting ground ... Like a lot of gearhead kids in those days - we hung out at a wrecking yard - got our parts and stuff there, and even got to use the shop - and when a 'cool' ride came in on the truck - sometimes we'd snag it... The place was 'Hall's Auto Wrecking', Issaquah Washington, and the proprietor was Don Hall... Like all 'Junk Men' - Hall, (we just called him 'Uncle Don'), was a roundy-rounder - did really well racing at the tracks around Seattle, and knew a lot of 'tricks'... So old 'Uncle Don' had this Model A roadster sitting in the corner of the shop - he'd built it for the short tracks, but by the time he got it done, 'They' had quit running 'Track Roadsters' at the roundy-rounds up here ... So there it sat - unused - and unwanted... Well, Lloyd and I weren't particularly interested in the roundy-round life style - but we, (especially me), were getting real interested in this Drag Racing deal ... and after a bit of talking, convinced Hall to give the drags a try - well he did - and we won! And ol' Uncle Don liked that... The first thing you knew we were racing every Sunday - places like Ellensberg, Shelton, Arlington, Bayview and Bremerton, even went all the way over to Deer Park, (Spokane), now and then ... They were all airport strips, the first 'real' drag strip built up here was 'Puyallup', (we were there when it opened - I think in late 57 or '58')... We were winning every week - pretty much always won our class, (A/Modified Roadster), and took a few Top Eliminator trophy's too ... Ya know - that Roadster was one ugly dude - but it was plenty fast ... Had a big Buick Roadmaster straight 8 in it ... It had a roll bar made out of drive shafts - and a bucket seat cut outa a 25 gallon oil drum ... Uncle Don painted it in silver, (imitation chrome), spray can, (might have been what drove me to become a painter<g>) ... The guys we raced against called it "The Galvanized Garbage Can" ... so you can imagine how they felt getting beat by 'That' ... and they got beat - - A Bunch!!! Racing was pretty much just for trophies in those days, but Uncle Don, being an ol' roundy-rounder - was pretty crafty, and used to make a bunch of bucks on side bets with the guys when we beat 'em, (kept us eating at the best hamburger joints) ... I've always suspected that the 'look' of the car was just part of the plan he'd cooked up to get them to bet 'just a little bit more', (but I never asked), 'cuz it was a money maker, (got me ready for the later 'Funny Car Years'<g>)... After a year or so racing with 'Uncle Don', me and a couple of other guys put together a fuel coupe - and after that it was 'diggers' ... But that time with 'The Galvanized Garbage Can' was lotsa fun - - and educational too...

So it's getting towards the end of that first season, (57), and things are pretty alright ... Here I am - 16, goin' to the drags every week with a car that wins a bunch ... Granted - an ugly car - - But it's BAD! and it Wins!! ... We had that old eight in a line really hummin'... Won a buncha trophies - and collected more then a few bucks on the side bets ... so I was kinda 'cool' when school started that September ... I mean - our 'Junk Yard Roadster' wasn't much for looks - - but then, contrary to popular belief - kids didn't all drive 57 Chevy's in 57, (or even 55's), Old people drove 'em! Kids drove mostly primered 'beater' type deals i.e. the present 'Rat Rod' movement - which is actually much more 'period correct' then most of the street rods of today... Then at one of the last races of the year it happened! We got beat for class, (A/Modified Roadster), and worse yet - we got beat by a "Big Oz", (as Hall called them) ... The OHV V8's were startin' to get faster, (more and more speed equipment available for them all the time), - and 'bummer', we got beat by a pretty car - guy from Shelton named 'Weaver' with a real nice little red Olds powered 'T' with a six carbs on it ... And worse of all - Uncle Don lost the 50 bucks he had bet on the race ... No burgers on the way home!!! Well, ol' Don stewed and mumbled about this all the way home ... "There had to be some simple reason for this defeat" ... we were gettin' a lot of wheel spin - if this dude would just 'hook up' it would be unbeatable! ... By the time we got back to the wrecking yard he had the answer - Kinetic Energy! ... We needed more rotating weight!! ... We needed 'Bigger Meats'!!! ... Jack Cross had an extra set of 'Big' 8" Bruce's off his dragster - the biggest slicks available ... they were recaps - but guys like Haines & Cross were runnin Big numbers on 'em - - and besides, that's all there was... So we made a set of wide wheels, and hung those big dudes on the roadster - - and went out and got beat by "The Big Oz" again! ... but we were closer!! And Old Uncle Don knew - we were on the right track!!! ... It was a simple question of 'dynamics' - more rotating weight was required ... Hmmmmmmm, how to get more tire weight? ... Then it came to him in a flash of brilliance!! - it was so simple - 'fill the slicks with water!!! So the next week - off we went to do battle with the 'Big Oz' - with a couple of 200 pound slicks on the roadster ... Right off the bat we knew they were doing something - because the extra weight made the trailer tow like one of those little yellow toy ducks on a string kids drag around... But we made it over the mountains to the Ellensburg Airport ... Managed to get the thing unloaded without anybody being tipped off to our 'secret weapon' ... Our first run was for the class trophy - Us against that 'Big Oz'... Well, there was one thing that the engineering department didn't take into account in those days before 'wrinkle walls' - that was that when you have 200 pound tires - they best be well attached to the rims ... Sure enough - the rims spun in the tires! ... This - interestingly enough - caused the valve stems on the tubes to rip off!! ... The car was moving right along, (not as fast as the rims were going however), and this caused it to throw up twin roostertails of spray above the car - and being it was a sunny day, (pretty much always is in Ellensburg), it created the nicest 'Rainbow' you ever saw - all the way through the lights!!! We got beat again by 'The Big Oz' ... but for that one time, 'The Galvanized Garbage Can' was the best looking car out there... All that Silver, (Imitation Chrome), paint and a Rainbow 20 feet high was a sight to behold!!! ... Too bad it was back in the days before 'track photographers' ... Might have been in the days before cameras<ggg>

Old 'Uncle Don' loved Hudsons ... He used to call them 'Judsons', and he always used a 'Judson' for a tow car...
It was another race at Ellensburg - so we were on the road bright and early ... E-burg was less then three hours from Issaquah - but it was on the other side of a major mountain pass ... We stopped at the store on the way outa town, where Hall bought a big Watermelon - which he cut up into large chunks, and as we headed up the pass he proceeded to eat them - spitting the seeds on the floor - and throwing the rinds in the back seat ... I wasn't hungry ... As we approached the Snoqualmie Pass summit it seemed like the old Judson was making a little more noise then usual, Uncle Don had been using this 'Hornet' for a couple of months, and usually after a few weeks the tow car went back to the junk yard and a fresh one was hooked up to the trailer... The noise was pretty steady now - like something was trying to get out of the engine ... Once we got over the top - and were heading down the other side of the pass, it quieted down pretty good ... But ol' Uncle Don was worried - so we stopped in Ellensburg and he called 'Grace', (the Missis), and told her to bring the DeSoto, (back up tow car), over ... then we headed on out to the strip, (airport), for the race - which we won - and Grace showed up with the DeSoto, which Hall hooked to the trailer ... I'd drive the Hudson back... As we headed up the pass the noise started to get loud again ... I turned up the radio - but it was getting 'LOUD'! Then, all of a sudden it quit ... got nice and quiet ... Weird! I looked in the rear view mirror - and I couldn't see anything - not even the DeSoto - - just a big cloud of smoke!! Better Stop!!! We look under the hood ... "Hey! why's there a rod laying down there on the frame?" - "Hmmmmmm..... it looks like a Hudson rod" - "Uh-Oh"... "Freddy!", says Uncle Don - - "You blew up my Judson!!" ... "Kinda already had a lose rod", I reply ... Hall just came back with a "Harrumph!!!" - and hooked the Hudson to the back of the race car trailer ... We towed that way to the top of the pass, where Uncle Don stuffed an old pair of coveralls in the (sizable) hole in the block - drained the oil out of the roadster - and poured it in the Hudson - push started it - and sent me on my way ... It was about a 35 mile trip back down the hill to the wrecking yard ... And Man! did I lay down some smoke!! In fact even the inside of the car was full of smoke - but that wasn't so bad - - because it drove away the fly's that the Watermelon rinds were attracting ... Felt like Barney Oldfield trying to make the last lap at Indy!!! Made it though ... drove that dude right to Uncle Don's gate - and it quit right there ... Just kinda went Klonk!!! After that, every time we went racing - Hall would remind me of the time I 'blew up' his favorite 'Judson'... A few (maybe 20 or 30) years later ... Old Uncle Don came around the shop of a friend of mine selling some kind of racing oil or additive or something like that ... and my name came up in the course of the conversation - and Uncle Don 'allowed' that maybe I wasn't really 'totally' responsible for the death of his 'Favorite Judson'... My - how time mellows...<g>

Don Hall loved to gamble ... at the drags he'd always have a buck or twenty riding on his races ... He called it, "Puttin' your money where yer mouth is"... He'd bet on races between other guys too - in fact he was more then happy to bet on most anything - played high stakes poker every week with a bunch of other local business men ... and he usually came out ahead - Way Ahead! Well ... out in the wrecking yard there was a shed - where Hall kept his best transmissions - it was dark in there, and kinda dank - and guess what liked it in there besides transmissions? ... Spiders! ... Generation after generation of big light brown spiders... So one extra hot summer, Uncle Don noticed that there was one spider that was bigger then the rest - in fact he was WAY bigger then the rest - it was the biggest spider he'd ever seen! musta been some kinda mutant or something!! Hall made note of the fact that the other spiders stayed away from him, if they got to close - they were dead spiders! This was not only the biggest spider ever ... it was also a Killer Spider!!! Hall named the spider 'Century', in honor of his favorite Buick ... and at the poker game that week - he talked up his spider... Well sure enough, the first thing you knew - a couple of the other players were saying they had some pretty big spiders around their place's too ... So that Saturday - they brought their eight leggers out to the wrecking yard to see what they could do... Uncle Don's spider was a terror - just like he figured, just touch those other spids' and they'd curl up and die ... Lotta money changed hands that day - and word got around... Pretty soon guys were just showing up outa the blue with a spider - and a pocket full of cash - lookin' to knock off 'The King', 'specially guys from other wrecking yards - no place grows spiders like a junk yard, they all took their shot - and they all went down!!!

My buddy Lloyd and I were working down at the airport that summer at my Dad's shop, he ran a small airfreight outfit, (mostly C-46's and DC-4's), and also wheeled and dealed in parts and the occasional beater plane or copter... So Lloyd and I are unloading a bunch of wheels that had just come in from California ... Lloyd picks up a wheel - and drops it! yelling "Spiders!!", I look - and the wheel is full of spider webs - and dead spiders ... and way in the back - is this bad looking black spider - with a little bit of orange on it ... Lloyd and I look at each other ... "We may have a contender here!!! So we made a neat little cage out of a wooden cigar box with screen on the front and, (very carefully), got the spider, (we named her 'Lizzy'), out of the wheel - and into her new home ... We tested her on a couple of other spiders we caught - she had 'The Gift' alright ... The other spiders would die as soon as they saw her ... She was Lethal!!! We went out to Hall's the next day and started working 'Old Uncle Don' ... Told him we had a spider 'in training' - feeding it a special diet that Lloyd had learned about at collage ... Well, Hall thought that was just about the funniest thing he'd ever heard - he knew nothin' could take his spider - and he told us so... We set up the 'match' for the next Saturday ... Then Hall said, "how much you gonna put on this?', we didn't have much money - but then we weren't too worried about losing either! so we settled on a few hundred dollars - which we could work off at the wrecking yard - against a couple of cars hall had we wanted... The big day came - and a bunch of guys showed up - they knew Lloyd and I were up to something, they just weren't quite sure what... They were all 'Spider Fight' fans, and a lot of money was changing hands - - Lloyd and I made more then a few side bets ... If we lost this deal - we were gonna be sneaking out the back<g> Then Lloyd went over to the car and brought out 'Lizzy'... It was like bringing out the 'Sonny Liston' of spiders ... and Hall's piece wasn't no 'Cassis Clay' ... Uncle Don looked in the cage and his eyes got big ... He cried FOUL! ... you can't run no 'widows' here!! ... We had to remind him - "You said 'Century' could take 'any spider' ... everybody who was there reminded him of that fact - - even the guys who had money on Hall's spider were enjoying this...... Well - the outcome was pretty cut and dried ... 'Century' took one look at 'Lizzy' and dropped like a stone ... wasn't quite as easy to get our winnings though - but we eventually did ... Two Buick Century's - a 41, and a 42 ... So 'Lizzy the Spider' was good to us... But we got out of the fight game after that...

The other thing - besides spiders, (and Hall's kids), that grew in the junk yard were 'White Cats' - long haired white cats ... Halls Auto wrecking was an 'outside-of-town' kinda junk yard, so there were plenty of mice - thousands of the little squeakers, and the white cat population rose and fell in direct relation to the mouse population... The white cats were everywhere - including plenty of them in the shop ... so when Hall was out there putting together one of his 'Killer' Buicks - and had to get some oil or grease off his hands - he'd just grab a convenient white cat ... Hey! ... self-propelled shop rags ... So besides keeping the mouse population under control - the white cats also earned their keep by doing shop rag duty The cats had somehow genetically mutated, (probably explains their color), and the grease didn't seem to affect them ... A geneticist would have had a field day at that place<g>

Race On

I'd been racing up here since 57 ... worked our way up to a Bantam fuel comp coupe - and then de-tuned to gas in late 60 ... So I figured it was time for more - had a modified roadster, (rear engined Model-A), sold the engine out of it to pay for the trip, (10,000 RPM 6 carb 265), hitched the car trailer to my buddy Norty's chopped flamed 53 Old's 98 hardtop and we headed for LA ... Had to drop the race car off someplace - so I looked in the phone book for someplace Cool ... It needed a paint job so I looked under 'Custom Paint Shops' - the first one in the book was Joe Andersen's Custom on Florance Ave in Inglewood and they had a place around the corner to put it ... Then went straight to Lions! - - and it was all Drag News said it was - saw every car I ever read about, and as Foster used to say - "And many Others" ... There we were - in LA - at Lions - very little money and no jobs... But LA was the land of Milk and Honey - We found an OK cheap apartment building a few blocks off Wilshire, you could walk to the Brown Derby, (but couldn't afford to eat there), and within 3 days we both had jobs ... Norty at the big Standard Station in Hollywood by Jeffery's shop - and I plugged into the management trainee program at the LA times - started my rotation there in the press room and met all of M/T's old buddies - and suddenly I was right in the middle of the LA Drag Racing scene - had to work a lot of Saturday Nights - 'cuz most of the guy's there were running cars, and I was low man on the totem pole so I had to cover - but I got there a bit - for sure! - - bought a stock 41 Willis coupe to drive... Because the newspaper had such a weird shift schedule sometimes I had a lot of Daylight time off - so I started working at Andersen's in my extra time, (Geez - weren't we busy 50 years ago?), and learned how to paint Pearl's, Candy's, Flake, and stuff like that - I was pretty artistic already so the pretty designs kinda came naturally... A lot of the Inglewood racers hung at Andersen's - so I got to know Stump and Mood, Scrima and those guys and we painted a lot of stuff outta M/T's and KB's shops and did all of Adams cars so I got to know a lot of those guys too - did a lot a diggers and Show cars - and some Bad Indy cars and Sports racers too ... Ya know - LA, and especially Inglewood and Long Beach were like a bright light in those days - - and we were all Moths... I'll see if I can remember more later...

Every place you went there were Drag Racers ... not all drivers - mechanic's, or even tire wipers - - Drag Racing Junkies!!! ... They came from everywhere - I was one of the few that was actually born in LA - - even though I had just moved back ... It put the later Hippie gatherings to shame...  Unbelievable fuel ban Gas shows at Lions on Saturday night - and Fuel shows at San Gabe and sometimes Pomona on Sunday ... New cars every week - everybody trying something new ... Things got so busy at the paint shop that I dumped the deal at the Times - so much for a career - had pretty much lost interest in the place anyway... Lions was King ... and the Gas diggers were BAD! ... every week cars would show up from back east - remember those "The Guzzler is Coming!!!" ads(g) ... Kalitta - Garlits - Collett, Robinson, they all showed up advertised or not - they would tow all the way across the country for one Saturday night at 'The Beach', then hang around the shops for a couple of days to get the 'latest' stuff - and tow all the way back east to keep up their match race schedule the next weekend - just for a shot at knocking off guys like Gene Adams and whoever his driver was at the moment, (Gene called 'em "Seat Monkeys"), or Davis and Moody who we sponsored out of Andersen's - they took TE ten weeks in a row once ... And the race results were always on the front page of the sports section - especially in the Times(g) ... I remember one Saturday night a couple of the guys who worked in the press room won TE, (Hurda & Swanson) - and there it was on the front page of sports, 'Times pressmen win Top Eliminator at Long Beach' - - however they were supposed to be working that night - they were punche d in and we were covering for them (oops!) - the bosses just laughed ... they all raced too!
When the fuel ban ended Lions went Ballistic ... There were already lots of Fuel cars running in So-Cal at the other strips so they just moved to The Beach ... I was there helping Stellings the night he set the Fuel mph record a couple of weeks after they brought Fuel back, (pre Red-Stamp car) ... With the return of Fuel the action became non-stop at Lions...

copyright Fred Vosk 2012

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