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Once again it is that time of year: time for one of the greatest events in the history of drag racing: the March Meet, at the famed Famoso Dragway outside Bakersfield, California. This race is steeped in tradition, having been a fixture in the drag racing vista for over five decades.
So when people talk of Bakersfield and the March Meet, many of us have visions of Garlits, Prudhomme, Sorokin, Warren and Coburn, or Steve Woods, running in those beautiful front-motored top fuel cars, funny cars, and gassers in front of packed grandstands. However, many of those originating racers are slowly dying off, and with the loss of those pioneers of the drag racing community we are losing our history, our visual memories of this sport.
I grew up in Montana in the 1970s, which cannot be mistaken for a hot bed of drag racing activity, or any of motorsport for that matter. Therefore I had to rely on publications such as Super Stock & Drag Illustrated, Car Craft, Hot Rod, and Popular Hot Rodding to get my news and information on what was happening in the sport. For the occasional five to eight-minute segment on ABC’s Wide World of Sports a couple times a year, I would be glued to the TV to get my drag racing fix. I know I wasn’t alone; a great many people had to wait for the next issue or the next time Wide World of Sports would show a drag race.
For many of you who grew up in the Southern California area, you did not have to rely on these magazines, you were able to just cruise down to “The County,” or Lions, Irwindale, or even venture out to Ontari, or Riverside and Bakersfield (the Patch) to watch and or be a part of drag racing. But now all these places except for The Patch are gone. The new Irwindale is an eighth-mile track now and they don’t have regular nitro racing events.
All we have to remember and document the growth and expansion of the sport from these venues are still photos and some video. However the spoken word, the lies and war stories of the people who raced and those who supported those racers by being crew members or working at the facilities themselves are starting dwindle as these pioneers start to fade away. This can also be told in place like Texas, Michigan and upstate New York, where drag strips that helped shape the sport have disappeared too.
What to do about this? Jon Lundberg, better known as 'The Voice of Drag Racing' and Dave McClelland, dean of drag racing announcers, have put their energy and still very loud and clear voices behind a program call Project 1320: Pioneers of the Quarter Mile. Project 1320 is the brainchild of Traci Hrudka, who is the daughter of Tom Hrudka and the niece of Joe Hrudka, the founding partners of the Mr. Gasket Company. Traci has enlisted the help of a people who were very influential in the sport of drag racing to serve on her board of directors. People like Carl Olson, Don Ewald, Steve Cole, Harry Hibler, and Steve Gibbs.
The basis of Project 1320 is to document as much of the history of this sport as possible before it is lost forever by finding those pioneers and forefathers of the sport and sitting down with them and documenting their accomplishments in the beginning for everybody to enjoy.
Not only is it just the racers, their crews, and the people who worked at the tracks, Project 1320 is also seeking out those who put forth the entrepreneurial spirit to develop and to support the sport. From those who developed the hard parts (engine and transmission) to assist in making the cars much faster, to the people who built chassis, bodies, paint, and glass work, safety equipment. Every one of these people saw the vision to produce products that help expand and grow the sport.