Fortunately for some of us, growing up in Southern California meant many of us also grew up around hot rods, racing and performance. As drag racing evolved at a number of Los Angeles area strips, a racer or spectator could find a place to drag race on a Friday or Saturday or Sunday, long before what some fans see as evil corporate involvement with big-money sponsorships.
With the arrival of 8-mm film to the consumer level for home movies, ABC Wide World of Sports and other big network sports departments weren’t the only ones to document drag strip events. A few remaining home movies filmed the action and the up-close personal nature of mid-60’s fuel meets, like this video from the 1965 Hot Rod Magazine Championship Drag Races at Riverside International Raceway. The immense track closed in 1989 to become a shopping center development. Ever heard that before?
At this drag race, one of the biggest of the year – except for the Winternationals at Pomona, a young, hot-shoe driver nicknamed “the Mongoose” smoked his way down the Riverside quarter mile, stopping the clocks with a killer 7.52 elapsed time at a speed of 211.76 mph. With that run, he set low elapsed time and top speed of the meet! You’ll notice Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen in his patented RayBan shades and white, short sleeved Engle Racing Cams Mongoose T-shirt. The Yeakel Plymouth Center Top Fueler with the “Goose” onboard won the event in a final against Don “the Snake” Prudhomme!
A member of the Baney or Rossi Family, who fielded the beautiful Woody Gilmore chassis, Doug Kruse aluminum bodied, purple Yeakel Plymouth Center-sponsored Top Fuel dragster had the camera rolling for the ’65 Hot Rod Magazine Championship Drags. They captured the simplicity of the time, long before modern big rig hospitality and technology centers, back when you worked on your racecar back in the local hotel parking lot at night, not under LED lights, awnings or a padded floor and air tools. You actually washed your racing parts in the hotel bathtub, if needed!
The push start cars staged in order to fire-up on the big sweeping curve, actually the turn at the end of the giant straightaway, they pushed down with a shop truck or family station wagon, pulling up to the starting line to race. They smoked the tires almost all the way to the old Champion Spark Plugs crossover bridge.
To replace the old 392-based Hemi engine of the 50’s, the new Chrysler 426 Hemi was being rolled out into the marketplace for the street and strip, and the phrase Win on Sunday – Sell on Monday was the mantra. Lou Baney, General Manager at Yeakel Plymouth Center knew how to promote and sell cars, while racing the top fueler with partner Vince Rossi and the “Mongoose” driving!
Towards the end, the same home movie camera was rolling when the ground breaking Hemi Cuda rear-engined ’65 Plymouth Barracuda, sponsored by SoCal Plymouth Dealers, was making shakedown passes, on nitro at legendary Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach with the “Mongoose” driving. The tow car was an awesome, matching 1965 Plymouth Belvedere station wagon, and this was way before fiberglass bodied funny cars were introduced in ’66.
Enjoy the video!
Today you can shop for a new car at Raceway Ford, in-between freeway off-ramps and without a race track nearby, for at least twenty miles South. Riverside International Raceway was a multi-use facility, open from September 1957, to July 1989. Not only was RIR the home for the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix for sports cars and the season opening NASCAR road course event of the year, there were also regularly schedule drag racing meets and the straightaway was so long that Half Mile Drags were also contested.