Drag-strip journalist Cole Coonce on the nitro-guzzling Cacklefest phenomenon: “As (Bill) Pitts pushes the MagiCar down the dragstrip during the parade, the crowd is silent and reverent. The announcers’ descriptions reverberate through tinny speakers, like Gary Cooper giving his farewell speech in Pride of the Yankees. Finally, Pitts makes the turnout, and the MagiCar creeps down the return road. Behind the scoreboards, the push-cars and the dragsters are stopped and lined up at the behest of Gibbs, who will orchestrate the Cacklefest. On the other side of a chain-link fence, campfires burn as gearheads huddle around to stay warm, like peasants in a Russian novel. Whatever the announcers are saying is indistinguishable in the nether regions of the track. More fuelers gather at the top end of the dragstrip on the return road. It really feels like the moments before an epic battle. It’s all laughter and nervous energy, as Pitts helps Jeep Hampshire put on his firesuit, gloves, helmet, and goggles. It is a muted ritual all the assembled teams perform in the moments before show time.”
In “Nitro Marauders Motor on and Famoso Fuelers Fight Back,” Cole Coonce reports in Car Craft’s Elapsed Times about the state of NHRA’s Heritage Series drag racing.
Read the story here: http://www.carcraft.com/dragtimes/1342_march_meet_2013/
“Lions Drag Strip’s undoing was that America changed in the ’70s, and too much was no longer enough for some people. Hip capitalism was passé, and the new ethos became making as much money as you can—and who gives a damn about the neighbors and what they think? No more free lunches, ma’am. Like Mike Kuhl was to his Top Fuel engine: Just flog it until it dies. You’ll either win or leave a trail of absolute carnage. Or both. ‘Who cares? It’s behind you!’ Yes, 1960s drag racing, if not the 1960s in totum, died that bleary-eyed night in December, 1972. Cold and stoned.”
by Cole Coonce
(This story originally ran in Drag Racing Monthly in 1998. Excerpted from TOP FUEL WORMHOLE: The Cole Coonce Drag Strip Reader, Vol. 1. The piece was later expanded into the feature-length book, Infinity Over Zero.)
In the Northwest corner of Nevada, in the shadow of Granite Peak on the Black Rock Mountain Range, there dwells a valley whose innards are the desiccated bowels of a prehistoric lakebed that stretches nearly 80 miles longitudinally.
One gets the feeling that this here prehistoric lakebed has seen its share of paradigm shifts—and weathered them all. It is a very cynical landscape: A cracked, upturned seabed that is mostly gypsum and lithium and is surrounded by abandoned mining claims etched into gargantuan lava rock whose elements make up half of the periodic table. It is hard to fuck with.
And this charred chunk of alkali has a history that resonates both spiritually and in a secular fashion: 100,000 years ago when the Ice Age melted into the Stone Age, the condensation yielded the leviathan Lake Lahontan, a body of water with a mass greater than most sovereign states in the Northeast of the US of A. This wonder of nature eventually evaporated into playa dust, not too long before the local Pauite Injuns were pulverized by “Superior Caucasian Forces” from Virginia City, forces who understood that the Black Rock desert was a strategic fork in the road, both for Bible-totin’ homesteaders who could bear right into the Oregon territories and for till-the-wheels-fall-off 49ers who could hang a louie, follow the Truckee River into Donner Pass and do some righteous prospectin’ in Gold Country out California way. Parenthetically, this intersection’s dusty tributary is known as Nobles’ Trail, named after a golddiggin’ trailblazer.
All of this went down on a lakebed that is so uninhabitable only scorpions would call it home. Yet in the presence of all that history in the American Outback, you get the feeling that time is completely still—a notion reinforced by the service in the local coffee shop—or that the universe is expanding at a velocity us mortals can’t fathom. Either way, you realize this is the perfect tableau for humanity’s attempt at emulating a supernova via traversing land faster than the speed of sound…
And although ol’ Nobles has been picked-over coyote meat for over a century now, the terrain that bears his name is still a launch pad into unchartered territory, most recently for two teams of Land Speed Record crusaders, one from across the pond in the United Kingdom and the other hailing from the far side of the Donner Pass. The trail these folks set out to blaze had a mother lode somewhat more esoteric than Nobles’ cache. For the teams of Thrust SSC (UK) and the Spirit of America, paydirt was thus: the honor of traveling at the Speed of Sound. Mach 1. On Land. Continue reading
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 7, 2010, K-Bomb Centcom, Los Angeles, CA—In what is arguably a drag-strip journalism first, both Cole Coonce’s Top Fuel Wormhole (his collection of drag racing essays), and its predecessor, Infinity Over Zero (an impressionistic history of the Land Speed Record), have both gone electric. Which is to say these may or may not be the first books on the topics to have a presence on Amazon.com’s Kindle store, but, arguably, these are the first essential ones.
With new, paper-less versions of both of Coonce’s rocket-fueled books now specially formatted for e-readers, modern motor-sports esthetes can download these delicious digital documents and enjoy them with the knowledge that the trees spared by the lack of pulp-processing can now serve as emissions credits for burning rubber and fouling spark plugs.
To that end, K-Bomb Publishing, the imprint that produced both the electric and paper versions of these thick tomes, encourages all consumers to brandish their Kindles at the drag races and, as the next pair of monopropellant-powered Funny Cars blasts by, exclaim to anybody who can hear over the noise that with enough pulp-free purchases of Top Fuel Wormhole, drag racing could ultimately be considered carbon neutral.
Indeed, with an electronic acquisition of Top Fuel Wormhole, the drag-racing reader can enjoy Coonce’s exhaustive essays on San Fernando Raceway, Arley Langlo, Lions Drag Strip, “Wild Willie” Borsch, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, “Jocko” Johnson, Blaine Johnson, the “Surfers,” Tony Pedregon, Mendy Fry, John Force and others, guilt-free! A similar, relaxed experience is available with the consumption of Infinity Over Zero, which recounts Andy Green’s smashing of both the Land Speed Record and the actual Sound Barrier in a jet-powered car, and explores the intrepid exploits of other fearless land-speed racers such as John Cobb, Mickey Thompson, Glen Leasher, Craig Breedlove, Art Arfons, Gary Gabelich and more.
Beyond memories and quotes from notorious compatriots such as Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and “240 Gordie” Bonin, in this feature Leong really opened up to writer Cole Coonce with his thoughts about his life as a nitro-addled greenhorn driver in the early 1960s; his early successes dominating NHRA’s Top Fuel Eliminator with his Hawaiian slingshot dragster; his professional life as a barnstorming Funny Car maven in the 1970s; his involvement in NHRA cutthroat, corporate-enabled circuit of the 1990s; and now as a tuner and consultant in the exploding nostalgia-style AA/Funny Car scene. Essential reading. Mahalo. -30-