Archive for ‘literary journalism’

February 17, 2010

Chris Karamesines: Top Fuel Wormhole Volume 2 Fodder?

HOT ROD Magazine’s feature on octogenarian dragster-driver Chris Karamesines is now available both on the newsstand and online.

Nitro-addled cybernauts can point their browsers here: ‘Never Slow Down: Keeping The Candles Lit With Chris “The Golden Greek” Karamesines’

Penned by author and drag strip journalist Cole Coonce, Karamesines rags-to-drag-strip-hero story is timeless — as is, apparently, “The Greek” himself, who, between rounds of competition in Top Fuel at last November’s NHRA Finals, blew out the candles on a birthday cake commemorating his eighty-one years on Planet Earth, packed his parachutes and then consented to his interview with Coonce, in which he looked back at his epic history. While retracing his sixty years of racing, Chris’s biographical retrospective included a thorough analysis of Karamesines’ provocative and debatable 1960 clocking of 204 mph in his Chizler AA/Fuel Dragster — an occurrence that has historians, bleachers bums and members of drag racing Fourth Estate still arguing amongst each other.

Because of Karamesines apparent disregard for — if not subversion of — the dictates of time as we know it, his story seems like perfect fodder for a Second Volume of Top Fuel Wormhole.

September 27, 2009

Racers and Race Fans Ask: “Where Can I Buy Top Fuel Wormhole”?

Racers and Race Fans occasionally ask: “Where Can I Buy Top Fuel Wormhole”? It’s easy, peazy. Amazon. Lulu. AutoBooks-AeroBooks in Burbank. Stories Book Store in Los Angeles. Simple as pi … erm, pie….

Top Fuel Wormhole available on

Top Fuel Wormhole available on

Top Fuel Wormhole is available online and in-store from AutoBooks-AeroBooks in Burbank

Top Fuel Wormhole is available online and in-store from AutoBooks-AeroBooks in Burbank

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September 27, 2009



(photo by Cole Coonce)

(photo by Cole Coonce)

“We did it all, and we’ll never see times like these again.”—Dean Batchelor, The American Hot Rod.

At first I thought it was a mirage. Or an apparition. I was suffering from an acute lack of sleep, my disorientation and sensory deprivation amplified by a lack of proper coffee as well as the blinding reflection of the morning sun as it bounced off of the milky-white, crystallized floor of the dry lakebed. I shook my head, threw back the dregs of the caffeine, and blinked. It was no hallucination. There I was at Edwards AFB, deep in the heart of the cruel and unforgiving Mojave Desert, a landscape that a French philosopher once called a “slow catastrophe,” and three paces from my bones was the man who organized hot rodding after WWII on this very same uninhabitable desert. That’s right: Wally Parks, President of the Southern California Timing Association in 1946. Editor of Petersen Publishing’s Hot Rod Magazinein 1948. President of the National Hot Rod Association during its birthin’ in 1951, until Dallas Gardner stepped in during the Reagan Years. And probably the first man to call the linear pursuit of horsepower a “drag race,” way back in 1939 in the Racing News.

I was stunned and I was silent. I did not know how to approach the man. Or, closer to the heart of the matter, maybe I did not know how to approach the myth and the legend that is Wally Parks as he stood there larger-than-life, towering over the proceedings at the most mystical and legendary plot of real estate in these here United States of America.

Ah yes, the mythology. There has been more history, folklore, and mythology concocted at the Muroc Dry Lake than anywhere else on the planet since the days of Apollo and Aphrodite making noise on Mt. Olympus. For it was at this wasteland where the Muroc Racing Association, predecessor to the SCTA, predecessor to the Russetta Timing Association, predecessor to the NHRA, etc., etc., etc., began in 1932, hosting competition between renegade hot rodders from the far side of the San Gabriel Mountains, men who would test their mettle, bravado and mechanical acumen by racing hari-kari across the lakebed, sometimes four or five abreast, kicking up such a furious tempest of dust and debris in their wake that only the leader of the pack could actually see where he was going. The other drivers? Well, crashing into your colleagues and barrel-rolling, hobbling into the nearest hospital in Palmdale, 30 miles away via an undulating washboard of a dirt road, only to find upon your return—assuming you survived—what was left of your race car had been scavenged and stripped down to the frame rails, that was the price one paid for inferior horsepower out there in the Mojave Desert during the years of Herbert Hoover and FDR. This, race fans, was the true genesis of drag racing.

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September 8, 2009

Top Fuel Wormhole: The “Wild Bill” Alexander Interview


The “Wild Bill” Alexander Interview

by Cole Coonce

"Wild Bill" Alexander (photo by Ron Lewis)

"Wild Bill" Alexander (photo by Ron Lewis)

This story is one of growth, transformation and alchemy as metaphor. Defined as “a medieval chemical philosophy having as its asserted aims the transmutation of base metals into gold,” the process of alchemy involves the charring of metal, a procedure that the man who came to be known as “Wild Bill” Alexander witnessed repeatedly from the cauldron of a cockpit. Indeed, nobody has encountered—and dodged—more molten metal than the bold and angry prince who answered to the name “Alexander.” Every trip down the drag strip was a potentially explosive exercise in metallurgical sorcery, which saw the alchemist himself grow and mutate from Hot Rod Hooligan into hell-bent Speed King and Conqueror to, finally, Elder Statesman of the Nitro Wars.

Alexander began his ascent into adulthood with a bad mojo. As a dyslexic schoolboy from a broken home, Bill sought comfort and camaraderie in the Bel Airs, one of the many ubiquitous car clubs that sprouted up in SoCal during the 1950s. Concurrent with leaving home at 16, he finally found a field he excelled in—and a potential outlet for his prodigious anger: Speed.

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June 29, 2009

“I remember him for being an absolute lunatic… The good kind.”

In its “Folks of Interest” column, The Jalopy Journal evaluates the “Target Speed 29 Palms: The Guerilla Renaissaince is Now!” essay, excerpted from the book Top Fuel Wormhole: The Cole Coonce Drag Strip Reader.

To wit: “I remember him for being an absolute lunatic… The good kind. He thought differently than most, worked differently than just about everybody, and defined the very essence of a “maverick.” Put simply, “Jocko” was an eccentric… a very mysterious eccentric.”

Among the Jalopy Journal reader’s comments:  “‘HOLY CRAP! Who the hell is Cole Coonce? That is bad ass. I particularly enjoyed ‘drag racing is much more punk rock that any slacker gen X shithead with an out of tune guitar.’ Truer words may have never been spoken.” (There is also a small debate in the comments section about how much Hunter S. Thompson influenced Coonce’s work.)

(Top Fuel Wormhole can be found at, and AutoAero Books)

June 17, 2009

Is Top Fuel Wormhole an alternative NHRA history?

Is Top Fuel Wormhole an alternative NHRA history? Could Steve Jobs save drag racing? Or is too late? digs into the Top Fuel Wormhole with talk of Jocko Johnson, The Surfers, and “Wild Bill” Alexander — the outside, bizarre and death-defying figures who once defined drag racing….

Listen to the interview with Cole Coonce here:

(Top Fuel Wormhole can be found on and