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Thread: Article: Perks Of The Job

  1. #1

    Article: Perks Of The Job

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    This collection of photos was taken by Randy Hernandez, son of the great Fran Hernandez. Randy kindly sent them to me some months ago to share.

    Francisco ‘Fran’ Hernandez was a Southern California hot rodder who made his name on the dry lakes in the 1940s. Having served in the Navy during WWII, he teamed up with fellow Navy veteran Fred Offenhauser following the War to establish Offenhauser Sales Corporation. After a few years he sold his share of the business to Offenhauser, and went to work for Vic Edelbrock.

    On April 10, 1949, the Santa Barbara Acceleration Association arranged a legal drag racing event at the Goleta airstrip. Up to that time, drag racing was a highly illegal pass-time, with races taking place on public roads, and hot rodders widely viewed as little short of outlaw gang members. The very first race that took place at that event was a grudge match between Tom Cobbs in a supercharged flathead V8 powered Model A coupe, against Fran Hernandez in a 296 cu.in Mercury flathead powered ’32 Ford. Hernandez won comfortably. This is widely considered to be the very first organized legal drag race.

    During the 1950s, Hernandez continued to build very fast Ford powered machinery, though was spending less time behind the wheel. He went on to join Bill Stroppe’s racing team, who was a consultant for Autolite’s racing program. When Ford purchased Autolite in 1961, Stroppe elected to go it alone, while Hernandez remained with the company, becoming the Director for the Autolite Racing Division.

    From there, he became head for Lincoln-Mercury’s racing division, establishing a full-bore drag racing program that thrust the company to the very top levels of the sport, building a number record breaking A/FX Comets driven by the likes of Don Nicholson and Ronnie Sox. It was through these programs he built relationships with Dearborn Steel Tubing and Logghe Stamping Company, the latter of which created the first flip-top Mercury Funnycars in 1966.

    Hernandez then went on to head Lincoln-Mercury’s entry into the SCCA Trans-Am series for 1967, contracting Dearborn Steel Tubing the construct the Mercury Cougars that would be run by the extremely competent Bud Moore’s racing team. With a fleet of top level drivers including Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Peter Revson, David Pearson, and Ed Leslie, the red and silver Bud Moore machines became the pace-setters in the series, and only narrowly missed out on winning the championship. Ford’s head office decided they didn’t want to see the Cougars competing against the Mustangs, so sent Bud Moore to work with Bill France to establish the NASCAR Grand Touring series for 1968.

    Meanwhile, Hernandez went on to become the Manager for Ford’s racing programs, spending much of his time at the Kar-Kraft facility where the early 1969 Mustang Trans-Am cars were constructed, and where the BOSS 429 Mustangs were also modified, among other projects.

    One of the perks of the job was that Hernandez had ready access to a bevy of high-end Ford road cars, and would regularly come home with interesting offerings. On this particular day in July 1967, Fran brought home a road going Ford GT40. Such was its impact on the quiet suburban street where the Hernandez family resided, that a bunch of the neighbourhood kids all turned up to have a look, and have their photos taken with the car.

    These photos were snapped by Fran’s son Randy. In the first of them Fran is pictured, wearing the thick-rimmed glasses, as is Randy’s mother with the blond hair, and his younger brother, wearing the green Giants t-shirt. The rest are local neighbourhood kids, while the guy standing behind the car is one of the neighbours.

    Randy, who was about 17 at the time, recalls “I took these in July 1967 when Dad brought the car home. The neighborhood kids showed up like ants at a picnic. The cars in front of our house were Comets. The light blue one was mine, the convertible was my Mother's and the dark blue one was my Dad's daily driver when he wasn't in a Company car. He brought home cars that probably shouldn't have been street legal, e.g: 427s, 427 SOHC, Cougars and Mustangs with full race T/A engines, 1966 Indy Pace Car. I drove them all except for the GT-40, however I did get quite the ride. First time I ever saw speedometer go past 150 MPH”. Must have been a fun time!

    My thanks again to Randy Hernandez for sharing these amazing images.

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  12. #12
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    Lucky Kids!! #11 Chev Corvair up the driveway?
    Last edited by bry3500; 08-18-2016 at 12:36 PM.

  13. #13
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    Monza Spider?.

  14. #14
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    Steve,
    That is a really neat set of photos.
    I work at Moss Motors which is less than a mile from the site of that first legal drag race at the Goleta airstrip.

    BTW. Were all original GT 40s built as RHD ?


    (Ken Hyndman )
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 08-19-2016 at 04:57 AM.

  15. #15
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    Goleta Drag racing site.

    http://wikimapia.org/21086368/Goleta-Drag-Strip-site

    I drive by this area every day. It has changed a little bit !
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    ( Photos about 1949-50 )

    As the first official USA drag race site looks today. August 18 2016. There was no STOP sign in 1949 !
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    (Ken Hyndman photo. Taken on my lunch break today)
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 08-18-2016 at 08:14 PM.

  16. #16
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    "Santa Barbara Acceleration Association"...Priceless...

  17. #17
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    I watched a group of at least a dozen McLaren Supercars climbing the hills above Santa Barbara on the way to work this morning as they headed north to Laguna Seca.
    I took that photo in Goleta at lunch time looking back at the hills behind Santa Barbara and a beautiful clear sky.
    This is what it looks like now just 4 hours later. The mountain road is now closed.
    So this is life in California at the moment. We need some NZ rain !
    Pray it does not get worse.
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    (Ken Hyndman photo outside Moss Motors.)
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 08-19-2016 at 05:00 AM.

  18. #18
    Thanks for adding these great photos Ken! They really are cool. Its amazing how much the area has changed.

    But those fires are just plain scary!

  19. #19
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    Friday August 19 2016.
    The fire was thankfully put out overnight by the use special air tankers. Thanks for your concerns.

    After reading some more on the first drag race and found I was about 1/2 mile from that site with the photo yesterday, so here is another facing west from the start area toward the bridge hump in the distance.
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    (Ken Hyndman photo. Today. Cass Place and Firestone Ave. Goleta)

    I enclose some articles about that race featuring Fran Hernandez.
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    "One notes the finish line was a small narrow bridge and spectators could tell who won by seeing which one bumped over the bridge first ! They were also surprised to see Hernandez load his strange smelling Coupe immediately after the race revealing to no one the secret of nitro !" (ghosttrackusa.com)

    This is an interesting article on that day also.

    Goleta - The First Drag Race
    An excerpt from "High Performance" by Robert C. Post

    "On a crisp Sunday morning in 1949 a group of hot rodders converged on a stretch of two-lane road north of Santa Barbara. The road ran westerly toward the ocean from California's Coast Highway, Highway 101. Ordinarily, it provided access to a landing field at Goleta, but on this April weekend a half-mile had been closed off with portable fencing. Although the site was well known among local street racers, this was a special occasion--a match race between two out-of-town celebrities, both of them dry lakes veterans, Tom Cobbs and Fran Hernandez. Cobbs had been winning races all around Los Angeles in his Ford roadster, a 1929 Model-A body channeled over a ‘34 frame. The engine was a ‘34 V-8 with a Roots blower from a GMC diesel truck or bus fitted on top as a supercharger. Cobbs had challenged Hernandez, who raced a fenderless but otherwise stock-bodied ‘32 Ford three-window coupe with a new Mercury V-8 that had been over bored and stroked to 3-3/8 x 4-1/8, 296 cubic inches compared to Cobbs 249. But there was no blower on top, just three Stromberg carburetors on a special manifold.
    "There were marked contrasts between the two racers themselves as well as their hot rods. Cobbs was called “a clever engineering sort who could afford, as heir to tobacco fortunes, to experiment and test on Stu Hillborn’s dynamometer.” Hernandez, who managed Vic Edelbrock’s place on West Jefferson Boulevard in Los Angeles, was “a scrappy master of machine shops.” Cobbs hung out in the beach town of Santa Monica with Hillborn, who manufactured fuel injectors for dirt-track racers, and Jack Engle, who who was one of the first Southern Californians to go into business regrinding Detroit camshafts, changing lobe profiles to alter valve timing. Hernandez’s buddies were Bobby Meeks, who worked for Edelbrock, too, Ed Iskenderian, a one-time apricot pitter from Fresno who had a cam grinding shop just down the street from the Edelbrock Equipment Company, and Lou Baney, who rebuilt engines in a shop on South Normandie. Nominally, Cobbs roadster was in “legal” trim and could be driven on the streets, but Hernandez’s coupe lacked such niceties as headlights and mufflers, so he had towed it in with a pickup.
    "Other hot rodders--nearly all of them young men around twenty, with just a few girlfriends in evidence---showed up to participate, to drag it out with one another, but the Hernandez-Cobbs match was the feature. Everyone crowded up close for a good view, either at the starting line or near the finish, where there was a hump and the roadway narrowed to cross a culvert. The course that had been marked off allowed the racers three-tenths of a mile to accelerate and sufficient room to stop before coming to a sharp turn beyond the culvert. Hernandez’s coupe was balky about starting, so it had to be hand-pushed and fired on compression. When it finally kicked over, the exhaust fumes immediately betrayed the presence of something other than gasoline. Cobbs may have been surprised, but Hernandez already had a reputation as one of the select few who were expert in setting up Stromberg carbs for nitro.
    "Side by side, a few feet apart, Cobbs and Hernandez edged toward a white line across the pavement, where the starter stood holding a flag on a wooden stick pointed towards the ground. Then, just as all four front tires touched the line, the starter yanked his flag skyward. Open headers roared and Hernandez jumped out in front while the roadster spun its tires, filling the air with clouds of white smoke. Although Cobbs finally regained traction and was closing the gap toward the end, Hernandez’s deuce crossed the culvert a length ahead. He quickly gathered his things, while his friends bolted a towbar to the frame of his coupe and hitched it to the pickup. Then he was gone.
    "Word of the outcome quickly got around, and hot rodders rehashed it long afterwards, a diversion known as bench racing. Cobbs had changed to lower rear gears, thinking (mistakenly) that this would give him an advantage out of the chute--could he have won with “lakers gears” like Hernandez had? Did that “Jimmie” blower really produce ten pounds of boost, as some people said? What kind of load was Hernandez running anyway? The collective memory later coalesced as a tale titled “The Day Drag Racing Began,” which was reprinted time and again. While eyewitnesses could attest to its essential accuracy, it had all the makings of a classic legend. The details need not be taken literally.
    "Clandestine drag racing had been going on for some time, of course, but what was unique about this particular event is that officials of the Santa Barbara Acceleration Association had sought, successfully, to have the California Highway Patrol confer approval: The races at Goleta were not against the law."
    If you only own one book on drag racing, make sure it's "High Performance" by Robert C. Post. Available at better book stores or through the John Hopkins University Press
    "This book will be the bible of drag racing for future generations." -- Don Garlits

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    Fran Hernandez posing with his 1932 Ford three-window coupe, most likely the same one sporting a 296-cu.in. Mercury flathead V-8 that he used to beat Tom Cobbs at the first Santa Barbara Acceleration Association’s legal drag races at Goleta airstrip on April 10, 1949. (Hemmings Magazine )

    (Ken Hyndman )
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 08-19-2016 at 09:16 PM.

  20. #20
    Thats fantastic Ken! I wonder if that '32 still exists?

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