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Thu, 18 Apr 2019, 11:33 AM

Fifty Years Ago - Part 4
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2018 Steve Reyes

It is a funny thing, when I wrote this segment, it was actually fifty years ago. However, by the time, it was ready for publishing, it was more like fifty plus years ago. This group of photos focuses on the 1968 time period when Don Garlits claimed top fuel eliminator at the 1968 U.S. Nationals at Indy after having won the race in 1967. Bennie "The Wizard" Osborn won the NHRA Championship in top fuel and race car header honcho Doug Thorley debuted his rear-engine AMC Javelin with an AMC 401 engine. The AMC engine was quickly replaced by a 392 Hemi. Then veteran top fuel driver Bob Hightower drove and flew that car in 1969.

Outside of drag racing Bobby Unser won the Indy 500, Andy Granatelli had 3 STP turbine powered race cars at that same race. Joe Leonard won the pole in his STP Lotus 56 turbine but a broken fuel shaft put him out at lap 191 so he only placed twelfth. Graham Hill lost a wheel and crashed the STP turbine he was driving. Art Pollard placed thirteenth when the turbine he was driving also broke a fuel shaft.

A couple of other facts about the 1968 race included the death of Mike Spence during the time trials at the Indy 500. A drag racing/Indy car crossover saw Danny Ongais and his team have their entry declined because they lacked experience in the Indy style race car. Of course, the following year Ongais tore up the funny car class in Mickey Thompson's Ford Mustang Mach I. Graham Hill may have crashed out of the 1968 500 but he did rather well with his other ride in F1. Hill and his Lotus 49 B won the F1 Championship in 1968.

All this to say that these photos focus on photos from 1968 and give us a glimpse into times a half a century away. For us "old folk", it seems like yesterday and it was a time when car racing was, in our opinion, at its best.

If you wish to purchase prints of the photos below or any others, they may be obtained by contacting us at Other photos for purchase may be viewed by following the links at

One of the rare sights in drag racing in 1968 was a black man in the super
charged gas class. Los Angeles racer Ernie Nicolson introduced a new modern
body style to the old stable gas class with his Flower Power 'Cuda bodied AA/GS.
The other Los Angeles based modern bodied gasser belonged to veteran gasser
wars owner/driver Skip Hess and his Revell Kit Ford Mustang Gasser.

The Brothers Burkholder, Pete and "Hairy" made the big switch from an
Olds power plant to a big honkin' 392 Hemi on nitro. Now the Burkholder's
were in the crazy AA/FA class and were based in Sacramento, California.

Gene Snow had quite a few funny cars to choose from in 1968.
The injected car was the first car he raced in 1968 with two other
super-charged FC's to follow. You could say the Fort Worth Texan had a
stable to choose from. Oh yeah, no hired drivers, he drove each one.

Doing double duty in 1968 was George "The Stone Age Man" Hutchinson.
Sometimes he could be found in Fling Traylor's US Turbine 1 match racing
or in his own AA/FD. He was fun to watch in either one. A side note concerning
the US Turbine 1; the car was parked soon after the 1968 season when the
rear-engine boom hit the top fuel class. The car was sold and re-fitted with a 392 Hemi.
"Hand Grenade" Harry Hibler drove and crashed the former Turbine car in 1971.
After it was crashed and rebuilt, it was named The Sandman top fuel dragster.

Before Gary Burgin partnered with Dave Braskett and entered the SoCal funny car wars,
he was driving his beautiful Willys in the super charged gas class. Burgin did forgo his
Willys and for a short time raced a blown roadster in the AA/GS class. The he became
a funny car stud driver in the Braskett and Burgin Camaro funny car.

Before Gary Ormsby became NHRA's Top Fuel Champion in 1991, he could
be found in the Cameron and Rappades Brothers Cheetah AA/FD in 1968.
Ormsby paid his dues in the AA/FD class with rides in The Vagabond,
The Cheetah and his own AA/FD. When the rear-engine revolution started he
was in the Wulf and Ormsby top fuel dragster.

In 1968, Larry Dixon Sr., traded up from his Fireside Inn AA/MFR ride to
Darrell Greenameyer's Smirnoff AA/FD. Dixon only drove this car for a
short stint and then moved on to the Howard Cam Rattler AA/FD in 1969.

The Meyer, Fitt and Gerth Golden Boy AA/FD launched at the
1968 PDA race at Lions Drag Strip in Wilmington, California.
No one knew then, that in four short years this very popular
drag strip would close forever.

Something new for 1968 was Doug Thorley's rear-engine Javelin.
The car debuted with an AMC 401 engine but it was soon replaced
with a 392 Hemi. Early in 1969, driver Bob Hightower escaped injuries
when at the Irwindale Raceway finish line, the Javelin took to flight.
The car was injured and they decided not to rebuild it.

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