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Thread: Early Days of Hot Rodding and Racing in Santa Barbara and beyond.

  1. #1
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    Early Days of Hot Rodding and Racing in Santa Barbara and beyond.

    I have mentioned this before but I wanted now to give it a thread of it's own.
    I work in Goleta close to Santa Barbara Airport and I drive by this location every day.
    There is talk of widening the road and expanding the airport and I wanted to capture some of this before it disappears.
    It may not mean much to most of you but this was the site of the first sanctioned drag race in the United States.
    April 10th 1949.

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    A 1949 drag race at Goleta. CA. approaching the finish line across the bridge.

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    The same bridge today and the finish line was at that change in the pavement.
    (Ken H photo. Feb. 2020)

  2. #2
    How's this for an item?

    Interviewed by David Phipps in Motor Racing and published in the December, 1959, issue is this bit from Dan Gurney:

    When he moved to California Dan became a 'hot-rod' enthusiast. At that time he had a "very nice" 1940 Ford saloon which he traded for a 1932 Ford Coupe, which he describes as "half-way hopped up." Although disappointed by the performance of this car, he later assembled his own Mercury engine, which he used in six different cars ranging from a 1927 model T Ford to a 1940 coupe. He took part in 'Drag' races all over California and went to Bonneville in 1950 where, after a week of work, he coaxed 130.43 mph out of his 1929 Model A "street roadster." This, however, was still some 30 mph slower than the best in its class - and would today be about 80 mph down. "They're really getting the horsepower today - Holy Smoke. They really are amazing. They've got power bursting out just everywhere. And the fuels; now they can keep the engines together using up to 98 per cent nitromethane, or around 50 per cent with superchargers. They could easily out-accelerate any of our Formula One cars - one reached 195 mph by the end of a standing start quarter-mile a few weeks ago."

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    World Champion Roger Dowding's Avatar
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    Hot Rodding in So Cal USA .. Yeahh !!

    Great Idea Ken H, and as NZ is a bit beyond Santa Barbara [ Goleta, Los Olivas et al ] guess some NZ stuff can squeeze in.
    There were Race meeting in Santa Barbara too - can't wait to see the photos

    In NZ they Hot Rod / Customs - even made it on Cereal cards.. a very different Zephyr Corvette.

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    PS ate a lot of Weetbix ..

  4. #4
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    A brief history of the beginnings of drag racing in Goleta / Santa Barbara as written by Tony Baker. (Hot Rodding in Santa Barbara County )
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    A 1948 Start line photo at Goleta. At the corner of Firestone and Cass.

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    The same corner today looking toward the bridge at the end of the famous 1/4 mile.
    (Not marked in any way as the site of the first US sanctioned drag race which seems a shame.)
    Ken H photo.
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 02-28-2020 at 08:12 AM.

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    Semi-Pro Racer Paul B's Avatar
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    Very cool Ken, I love the older hot rods with side valve V8s. Great piece of history there

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    Although there had been drag racing at Goleta in 1948 it was this "grudge match " between a young Fran Hernandez, who went to on to fame by running the Ford Trans Am racing division about 20 years after this event in April 1949.
    It had been arranged by Santa Barbara native,Bob Joehnck who could be called the " grandfather of drag racing". He was the one that arranged the insurance and documentation etc. to run the first legal drag-race in the country.
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    Fran Hernandez and his 1932 Ford three-window coupe.
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    Here is a description of the first drag race.
    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.
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    There certainly was not much room after the finish line over the bridge as seen in this photo. I don't think the center pole was there then but the building to the left and the trees on the right certainly were. A few racers went through the locked gate and fence and onto airport property which did not please the airport authorities at the time !
    (Ken H photo.)
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 02-29-2020 at 10:15 PM.

  7. #7
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    The First Drag Race continued.

    " 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

    Tom Cobbs roadster has been beautifully restored by a group including Don Prudhomme.
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    ( From a hotrod.com article.)

    (Ken H.)

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    World Champion Roger Dowding's Avatar
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    Enjoying this Ken - as a younger fellow used to by NZ Hot Rod Magazine - known as the longest running NZ car magazine.
    Keep em coming ..

    Went to Wiri in its early days, competed at Meremere once and at Thunderpark Napier - been back to Meremere about 15 years with my son to see the Mopar Nationals - he is a Mopar fan.
    First Hot Rod experience was probably this grass sprint meeting, near Riverhead.
    Croydon Thompson is his F100 - Custom - Croydon was one of the first guys in NZ to make Custom Mag Wheels back in 1971.

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    Drag Racing at Meremere in 1977. this was a Car Club rather than Hot Rod Club meeting - Jaguar drivers event.

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    Somewhere in my archives is a booklet on Drag Racing in the USA in the 1960's and the set of NHRA rules - must dig it out.

  9. #9
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    As mentioned before; Bob Joehnck,
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    As written by Tony Baker.

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    Bob in 1929 Ford Roadster approaching the Goleta start line. (About 1950 )

    A good article about a 1932 Bob Joehnck built coupe.
    http://hotrodcraft.com/theGarage/ind...-3w-coupe.310/

    Although he is now 95 yrs. old he can still be seen sometimes at his shop in Santa Barbara. (Bob Joehnck Automotive.)
    In this photo it looks like another project under the covers !
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    (Ken H photo.)

  10. #10
    World Champion Roger Dowding's Avatar
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    Ken H, you live / work in a good place for a " Petrolhead / Motoristi "- must see if I have some California related stuff in my archives.
    Thanks for your " inputs "- haven't I read that here before !! - ??.

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    Semi-Pro Racer Paul B's Avatar
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    Ken, Love the 29 Roadsters. Great pics!!
    Cheers

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    Here is a bit about Bob Joehnck and Ed Edelbrock combining their talents to prepare this famous 1963 Chevrolet Corvette at Bob's garage in Santa Barbara.
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    http://www.superchevy.com/features/1...true-contender


    ( Ken H)

  13. #13
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    Before they went off to WW 2 some of the local lads would gather with their hot rods around Santa Barbara.
    The 1929 Ford roadster was popular then and many were put into "mothballs" until they returned.
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    This roadster has a 1932 grill and 1930 headlights as it cruises on State Street.

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    A 1929 Ford roadster with a 1932 Duece coupe grill with 1932 I-beam front axle that dropped it 1.5 inches lower than the 1929 axle.

    I used to work with Alan Jennings two sons. Alan was a very quiet and nice man.
    This is Alan before he went off to war in his 1929 Ford roadster and if it was anything like his sons workmanship it would have been immaculate.
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    (J. Chard photos )

    (Ken H..)
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 03-10-2020 at 11:44 PM.

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    A drag race about to begin at Goleta. CA.
    Two 1934 Ford coupes.
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    A dear friend, Willard Partch, in a 1932 Ford roadster in 1954.
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    ( Ken H..)

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    Semi-Pro Racer Paul B's Avatar
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    something about the 30s coupes Ken, very cool machines, they will likely never go out of popularity. Nice pics.

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    In the early 1950s many of these young car enthusiasts had helped their dads getting their cars back out of their "mothballs" and also had gone through the excellent automotive classes taught at Santa Barbara High School.(Sadly not much of that is being taught today !)
    Here is a group outside Santa Barbara High ready to have some fun. The gentleman second in on the left is a young Sam Foose who went on to become one of the best at customizing cars and his son Chip has carried on the tradition which can be seen in the TV series
    "Overhaulin".
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    An early example of Sam's work can be seen here on a 1922 Ford Model T touring car.
    The owner Frank Viera, seen walking toward it the background, has it for sale in this 1958 photo.
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    Another early example of Sam's work on a 1947 Ford.
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    Some more examples of Sam Foose's custom workmanship at this site.
    Not everyone agreed with it but it was certainly interesting.

    https://public.fotki.com/Rikster/11_...36_ford_coupe/

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    (Note the car show in the background )


    (Ken H)
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 03-12-2020 at 06:15 AM.

  17. #17
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    By 1951 the drag racing had moved from Goleta, 65 miles north, to the open spaces of the Santa Maria airport area.
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    This did not stop the enterprising Santa Barbara Airport manager, William Swain, from organizing the first Annual Santa Barbara Road Race in September 1953 and it was a huge success.
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    In this map of Goleta; Moss Motors is located at the # 1 area. The airport races were held at the # 2 area and the first drag races were held at the # 3 area.

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    (Ken H.. )
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 03-14-2020 at 07:38 AM.

  18. #18
    I see they use the green flag for a "strat" whatever that is.

  19. #19
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    Allan,
    That was a test to see if anyone was reading my inputs
    You passed the test..well done.

    Ken

  20. #20
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    What helped get the crowds to gather was that a movie starring Tony Curtis was using race scenes from the Santa Barbara races.
    So the females flocked to see Tony and the men went to enjoy the inaugural race meet.
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    (Note how much Ken Miles was involved as well as driving !

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    AN aerial view of the first race day. Sept. 1953.
    I marked in red where I took some recent photos of the Turn 2 around the building with the black roof. (it is still there.)
    Then up to the Turn 3 right- hander that leads onto the only road part that qualified it as a road course.

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    (Turn 2 around the building.)

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    (Looking toward Turn 3..)

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    Onto the straight along the public road.
    (Ken H photos.)
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