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Thu, 25 Dec 2014, 13:07 PM

The Israeli Rocket
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2014 Steve Reyes






In 1967, all was well in the land of Northern California Drag Racing. Southern California top fuel teams thought that NorCal's premier drag strip was Fremont Raceway in Fremont, California. I was a nineteen year old stud drag racing photographer who spent lots of time at this mecca of NorCal drag strips. The cool air and great surface beckoned top fuel racers from all over and of course, they came and did battle with the NorCal nitro burners. One such SoCal team was Blair and Goldstein out of San Diego, California.

Sure, I had seen and photographed many a top fuel dragster but on this long ago day in 1967, it was my first time to capture this team on film. I got many photos of the team that day as they marched through the best top fuel field in NorCal to win Top Fuel Eliminator. After the final round and when I was shooting the winner's circle pictures, I struck up a conversation with driver Leroy Goldstein. In his monotone voice he described his final round adventure to me. He said his racer left hard and drove straight and true to the finish line, then at the finish line lights the steering wheel came off in his hands at 200 mph. Leroy told me he calmly reached for the parachute and hoped that it would keep the car straight while he wrestled to put the steering wheel back on its shaft. The car stopped with the steering wheel in his lap. No harm, no foul. Blair and Goldstein went back to San Diego with NorCal top fuel gold.

Over the next eight years, I would photograph and learn more about "The Israeli Rocket." How Leroy street raced in a 1932 Ford Coupe on the street in 1957 and played in the B/G class for a while. Leroy had the need for speed and soon found himself at the wheel of a blown Chevy dragster on nitro. By 1964, he was running 7.80 ET's in Leonard Abbott's top fuel car. Next it was the Blair and Goldstein top fuel car, then he drove for good buddy Jim Nicoll and Nicoll's Der Wienerschitzel top fuel car. When the national stage of drag racing called out to Leroy, he answered the call and drove for the famed Detroit based team of the Ramchargers. So in 1969, Goldstein was in the national spotlight, driving for the Ramchargers and their candy stripe covered top fuel dragster.

Leroy did well for the Ramchargers but the top fuel class was starting to take a backseat to those upstart funny cars. When the Ramchargers decided to go back to their funny car roots, it was a no brainer on who their driver would be, Leroy Goldstein. Now you would think a dyed in the wool old school top fuel driver like Goldstein would have problems adapting to the funny car class. The only problem Goldstein had was where to keep all the awards he won with the Ramchargers.

In 1970, Goldstein and his new Ramchargers funny car ride cranked out a 7.03 ET at the NHRA Springnationals then a 6.92 two weeks later. Things were looking pretty good for the team when in July disaster struck, the car burned to the ground. The team shrugged it off and two weeks later a new car was hitting the track with six second runs on its fourth full pass down the race track. At the NHRA Nationals in 1970, they were the car to beat with 6.8 ET's and it seemed like the Ramchargers and Goldstein would collect it's second NHRA major win but drag racing can be cruel and in the final Don Schumacher sped to victory while the hapless Ramchargers smoked the tires.

Undaunted, Goldstein toured with the candy striped team and in 1971 posted victories at AHRA Grand American Races throughout the USA as well as the Gatornationals that year. Upon leaving the Ramchargers, Leroy found a home with Candies and Hughes. His stint with Candies and Hughes was short but Leroy did well for the Houma, Louisiana team. Leroy returned to Southern California and drove a few more times, once for Mart Higginbotham and his Drag On Vega, for Whipple and Mr. Ed., and the Fresno, California based Satelite funny car. Tired of driving, Leroy stepped into the crew chief duties of Kenny Bernstein's new Chelsea King funny car.

When I went to photograph the Chelsea King funny car for Popular Hot Rodding there was Leroy. It was like old home week. Sure, I'd said hello whenever I saw him but when he was racing, that was all he had time for. Now here we were in a parking lot of a southern California restaurant bench racing about happier times in our careers in the world of drag racing. I think that was in 1974, 1975 or something like that. I never did see Leroy after our photo shoot. When I heard he had passed away in 2002, I knew a little bit of old school drag racing went with him. However, the deeds of his days in the world of drag racing did not go ignored. In 2010, "The Israeli Rocket" took his place among the best in drag racing when he was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame and somewhere Goldstein was looking down and smiling.

If you wish to purchase prints of the photos below, they may be obtained by contacting us at breyes@reyesontour.com. Other photos may be viewed by following the link at the bottom of the page at www.reyesontour.com.



Blair and Goldstein bask in their victory at Fremont Drag Strip in 1967.
They waded through a stellar field of Northern California top fuel cars.
Here Hodges and Olson feel the sting of the Israeli Rocket.
Leroy had fun when his steering wheel came off at speed on the final round at the finish line.



Blair and Goldstein were in the thick of things in the Top Fuel Eliminators
at Lion's Drag Strip in 1967. Goldstein being one of those drivers who wasn't afraid
to get dirty around the ol' race car, can be found on his back turning wrenches.



The new and improved Blair and Goldstein top fuel car again appeared at Fremont in 1968.
Yes, Leroy spanked the local nitro racers and won top fuel eliminator.
Later in 1968, the duo painted their silver bullet and debuted their freshly painted
and lettered race car at Doug Kruse's PDA race in Sacramento, California.




1968 was an interesting year for Goldstein when he pulled double duty
in the top fuel ranks where he drove both the Der Wienerschitsnel for
his buddy Jim Nicoll and the Blair and Goldstein car for his own team.
At Bakersfield in 1968, the team of Don Bowman, Jim Nicoll and Leroy Goldstein
were runner-up to Ron Rivero and the K & G Associates top fuel car for Top Fuel Eliminator.
Nicoll had borrowed the engine from Bowman's crashed top fuel car so they could run in the final.
Alas, the borrowed engine failed to fire due to a broken fuel pump.
Rivero ran a single to win the March Meet event.



In 1969, when the Ramchargers called, Leroy answered.
He started to drive on the national circuit of drag racing with the Ramchargers
and they thundered across the United States.
Fans and foes took notice of the Israeli Rocket and records fell
at race tracks all over the country.



The Ramchargers went back to their funny car roots in 1970 and Leroy
and the funny cars were a perfect fit. The Ramchargers quickly established
that they were the car to beat in the funny car ranks. At New York National Speedway,
Goldstein and the Ramchargers laid down the first six second runs ever clocked in
the funny car class. That year, a bad fire burned the car to the ground a month before
the NHRA Nationals. However, a new car was on the track quickly, cranking out 6's
on its fourth full pass. The Ramchargers had the field covered on paper at the NHRA Nationals,
but like all races, they must be decided on the race track.
Tire smoke in the final and Don Schumacher took home Funny Car Eliminator honors.


Goldstein and his fearless style of driving had funny car fans wanting more.
His tire churning burnouts and fearless approach to driving put him in a class
with only a few other drivers of the day. When I asked Leroy about the two small
windows that were installed in the firewall, he simply stated that he wanted to see
when it was on fire, not if it was on fire. The Ramchargers won the NHRA Gatornationals
in 1971 and they weren't on fire
.


Besides racing the NHRA National circuit, the Ramchargers also could be
found on the AHRA Grand American circuit. Between those two circuits,
match racing and more match racing all over the United States, they also found
time to attend a few IHRA National events in their already tight year of racing.






Who said funny cars weren't exciting?
Things got very exciting for Leroy and the Ramchargers at Green Valley, Texas in 1971.
While racing Cecil Langford and his Brand X Mustang, the complete rear end
left the Ramchargers funny car at about 900 feet down the race track.
The body flew off and Goldstein had loads of fun driving a funny car sans
its body and rear end down the track. Yeah, he got it stopped okay and relayed
the adventure to fellow driver Tom Prock.


While the Ramchargers had their race car parked for part of the winter
in Detroit, Goldstein was at the West Coast weekly funny car events.
Here Leroy helped Kenney "Action Man" Goodell with a little driving advice
and maybe a little tuning advice as well. One thing Goldstein could do well
besides drive is read the condition of the race track and its surface.
He had raced enough "bad" surface tracks, so he learned fast what to look
for so he could have an advantage.



Goldstein made the jump to the Candies and Hughes Team from Houma, Louisiana,
who were almost as well known as the Ramchargers in the funny car ranks.
In 1973, the move paid off with a victory at NHRA National event at Englishtown, New Jersey.
In the winner's circle: Jeff Crowther, Leonard Hughes, Paul Candies, Leroy Goldstein and Wally Parks.


If you talked to Goldstein about funny car fires, he would just tell you,
"They're no big deal." When driving for the Ramchargers his fearless style
got him burned quite a few times. Here he was at Martin, Michigan in 1972,
recovering from one of his fiery funny car adventures.


After leaving Candies and Hughes in late 1973, Goldstein settled back on the West Coast.
His last couple of rides were in the Drag On Vega and the Whipple and Mr. Ed funny cars.
I believe Goldstein drove the Whipple and Mr. Ed car after their driver Mike Snively passed away.
When Leroy vacated the driver's seat in the Whipple and Mr. Ed Satelite, the car was sold
o Mike Burkhart and became the only Mopar bodied funny car he ever owned.


That's Ol' Leroy behind the wheel of Kenny Bernstein's Chelsea King
funny car at a photo shoot in late 1974 or early 1975. Yep, it was me
and Leroy hangin' out shooting photos and bench racing.
He was Bernstein's crew chief and I was the photo director for Argus Publisher's.
It was the last time I ever saw Goldstein.





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