Part One
Photography For Fun ...
and to get into the pits!

Text and photos by Ron Johnson

 

 

Chapter One
Circle Tracks

 

I started taking pictures of racecars at dirt 1/2-mile circle tracks when I was about 14 years old. I was able to be in the infield because a neighbor was a racer and took me along with him to the track and I was part of his" crew". His name was Harry Lund and he had driven sprints before the war, but in 1946, the local scene was track roadsters, a race car type imported from California.

Here's Harry in the cap walking with his crew guy, as the tow truck pulled his roadster back up the hill after he went asshole over teakettle off the end at Rex Speedway in about 1948. Obviously he wasn't injured, except pride, maybe.

I kept taking photos, but since there was no Drag Racing in Minnesota then, my pictures were all track roadsters or sprint cars.

 


 

The start of a Track Roadster race at Twin City Speedway, probably in 1950 or 51.

 

The car in the foreground was driven by Gerry Arendt and owned by "Farmer" Trenton, powered by a 41 Buick Roadmaster motor with twin carbs. They were from Willmar, Minnesota and were regular competitors.

 

D1 was a very nicely finished Desoto powered car, sponsored by Koppy Motors in St. Paul, a Desoto Dealer. I can't remember who drove. I sold some of the contact prints to the drivers at the next race, thereby establishing myself as a professional photographer! Moving to "The Drags"

 


 

In 1956 on the weekend after Memorial Day I, along with a carload of other young guys, went to Union Grove for my first out-of-town race. I had a cheapy box camera of some sort and took pictures of the dragsters for the first time.

 

Here's Bill's Speed Shop from Milwaukee.

 

Martincic Brothers vs the Knapp/Perry Cadillac powered entry.

 

The Blue Angels Car Club from Massilon, Ohio

 

Here's Jim Russell in the unblown fuel Packard engined, "Bubble Buster" making a promotional lap around the famed Milwaukee Mile where USAC is running their "Week after Indy" Champ car race. I weaseled my way in and was in the infield for the Champ Car race taking pictures.

 

The Martincic Brothers, hometown unknown.

 

The Sebastyen "Gold Crown Special", which was a local car from around Racine.

 

Tanka & Butze entry from the Milwaukee area.



One last car, unknown to me. If anyone recognizes it, please let me know.

 

 

Chapter Two
The Timer

 

 

In 1957, I was a member of a car club that was a part of the Gopher State Timing Association (GSTA). About 20 Twin Cites car clubs had banded together a few years earlier to create Gopher State Timing Association, (GSTA) to try to manage somehow to get a drag strip built.

As a part of the ongoing community PR effort, it had been decided that having a publication would add an element of stature to GSTA. GSTA started a monthly newsletter and it would be called "the Timer". The mimeographed publication was produced a few times, but for whatever reason, it's production stopped.

I and Ed Hess, also a member of our club, the Bumper Buddies, volunteered to kick start the publication. We split duties and both wrote articles, took photo's, sold ads, did layout and solicited other "car" people to act in one capacity or another for "the Timer". All GSTA members were charged a modest sum as subscribers and we had to try to make this work with ad sales to bolster income from subscriptions. Our first issue was in the spring of 1957. It was fun and Ed and I worked pretty well together. I had my first taste of a "byline" and of seeing my photos published.

Our version of The "Timer" was kind of unusual for it's type of publication. My best friend Leo Hopf's father and uncle ran a print shop and they agreed to produce "the Timer". It was offset printed, on glossy enameled paper and was slightly larger than 8 1/2 x 11. Because of the printing and paper quality, photo's reproduced well and it was actually a pretty well done effort. Maybe it helped GSTA's efforts because within the year, the Optomists Club decided to build a drag strip for us. Minnesota Dragways opened in the Spring of 1959. A copy of a few pages of issue 7 follows.

 

 

GSTA, headed by John Foster, had joined forces with ATAA, run by a Midwesterner named Jim Lamona. Lamona (with Foster on the sideline) was directly challenging NHRA and Wally Parks for members and events. Foster had a falling out with Parks, which I guess was pretty easy to do back then, so Foster took us to ATAA. The main event in ATAA's quiver was the World Series of Drag Racing, held in Cordova Illinois, the weekend before Labor Day. I went to the 1957 event as a reporter and may well have even had press credentials, if they had such things then. I know I had access to everything, starting line etc.

Cook and Bedwells closest challenger for top speed was the Lords Club Speed Sport roadster which had run over 163. On the far left is Don Mattison, a member of the Schlitzers Car Club from Chicago who ran the starting line. Don went on to be a part owner in the famous Guzler series of cars. Next are all of the owners of the Speed Sport car, from left to right, Red Greth in the background over Don Maynard's right shoulder, Lyle Fisher and Joe Bush checking out the Cook and Bedwell action. Emery Cook is just right of center with the sunglasses on and Cliff Bedwell is bent over the motor. I don't know who the guy in the white cap is.

 

Cook and Bedwells closest challenger for top speed was the Lords Club Speed Sport roadster who had run over 163. Here are three of the owners, from left to right Don Maynard, Lyle Fisher and Joe Bush checking out Cook and Bedwell. The guy with the crew cut could be Red Greth.

 

Here's the Cook and Bedwell car on track at "lift off".

 

Lyle Fisher stands behind the awesome "Old Noisy"

 

Here's John "Mr. Flathead" Bradley in the Worlds Fastest and Quickest Flathead powered dragster. He ran 157 at Cordova and was always a serious threat to the erratic Chrysler powered cars.

 

Don and Pat Garlits had brought their Chrysler powered dragster. This is Pat in their push car, in front of the Arfons team of three, or maybe 4, cars. The Garlits car had a full width rear end, two-speed transmission, 8 carbs on fuel.

He was running in the 135 range. Cook and Bedwell set his motor up and got him up to 155 mph and he beat them in eliminations. He went home, narrowed the rear end, switched to direct drive like Cook and Bedwell, dropped the motor down in front, lowered the driving position, added a nose piece and in November ran 176 mph and Drag Racing has never been the same.

 

Here, I got my first look at some the guys who would go on to be early hero's of Drag Racing and many are friends today. The Speed Sport Roadster from the Lords car Club in Tucson, owned by Lyle Fisher, Joe Bush, Don Maynard and Red Greth. Setto Postoian who I got to know very well in 1960. John "Mr. Flathead" Bradley, who with his partner Max Romero are still actively racing today. Cook and Bedwell, who had the fastest drag race car in the land at the time. Don Garlits, his wife Pat and brother Ed. Art and Walt Arfons with three cars. And a couple of members of the Chicago based Schlitzers Car Club working the starting line, Don Mattison and Bud Roche of Guzler fame. Setto won the race and the $1000.00 Savings Bond. There was also former circle-track driver there racing a 36 Ford Phaeton with a 461 olds motor. He gained some fame with a dragster called the Chizler and he's still racing today. Call him Greek, Chris or just plain Karamesines.

 

 

Red Greth and John Bradley and Max Romero are all Standard 1320 members who I see regularly and who have become friends over the years. I see Garlits and Karamesines at various race events and/or the Drag Racing Hall of Fame ceremony each spring in Gainesville, Fl. and "the Timer" had a fairly heavy impact on Drag Racing in a way that was entirely unexpected. A part of event was to be a Queen Contest. Many the clubs comprising ATAA had chosen a gal to be their Race Queen and these ladies were to compete for and be crowned Miss ATAA. It was a big deal for us. Our chosen Queen, Lee Younkin, was selected at the big GSTA Car Show in March and was on our float in the Minneapolis Aquatennial Parades. She was a knockout in an All American way.

ATAA had a major sponsor, Maremont Mufflers. Maremont sent a representative to Cordova, a VP named Robert Wolfson. There was also a celebrity Beauty Contest Judge in the form of Count Lukawiecki, a big money winner on the $64,000 Question on TeeVee. Wolfson, The Count and Lamona had spotted a waitress in a café in neighboring Byron Illinois who would make you think of Jayne Mansfield except she was prettier. Her name was Sally Rocker. The trio decided to enter her in the Queen contest and Lo and Behold, on the second ballot Sally won.

 

Sally Rocker.posing just for me! Look at the guy behind her, he missed his nose completely! In the "Timer" issue that we published the race report from The World Series of Drag Racing, I had a back page story about the rigged contest. Lamona called Foster and said we had to retract the story or there would be hell to pay. Foster and I talked about it, and decided the story was true, let it stand.

 


 

Chapter Three
Cars and Clubs



Over the winter of 1957-58 I heard about a local hot rodder named John Hall, who was starting a "little pages" magazine which he named Cars and Clubs. He intended it to be regional, covering Hot Rod, Custom Car and Drag Racing activities in from Indiana to Kansas to the Dakotas, of course, with Minnesota as the center.

I met John and volunteered my services, with my vast experience of "the Timer" behind me. I ended up being co-editor and did much the same thing that I had done with "the Timer" which Ed Hess continued to publish for a brief period, on his own.

 

Cars and Clubs debuted on the newstands early in 1958 and was very well received in our part of the Midwest. I covered a few Car Shows as far away as St. Louis, where I met a just discharged Tex Smith in one of his first outings for Hot Rod Magazine, and Chicago, where I met Ron Pelligrini showing his "Tabor Olds" sponsored dragster. Pelligrini went on to drive Tommy Ivo's twin Buick dragster and also the quad Buick powered dragster that debuted in 1961.

 

 

The next page included here, contains an article which I wrote about the ultimate disposition of the membership of ATAA after it folded up. Maremont pulled it’s money, without which Lamona couldn’t survive. He folded the tent and arranged for all the members to be given an interim membership with NHRA, thusly eliminating the one real competitor Parks and NHRA had at that critical time I don’t know whether I’m sorry about the whole deal or not. We were pretty steamed at the time and it doesn’t matter now, I guess.

 

 

I asked Wally about this one day in about 2000 and he remembered NHRA getting “a box of mimeo labels for all the ATAA members” but didn’t remember, or never knew the whole story. I sent Wally a copy of "the Timer" for his own amusement. Without my article, ATAA could have been a Midwest competitor to NHRA for years, maybe changing the way racing would have developed.

In late Spring, I learned of a new dragster being built by a locally owned car parts store, the Big Wheel Auto Store. John and I felt an article about it would be good and I was more the Drag Racing guy, while John was the Car Show fan. I went to the Big Wheel Auto Store and introduced myself to Arvy Mack, son of the owner, who welcomed me and I did an article about the car. This meeting changed my life in a way that I hadn't expected. More about this in the next section.

Through the summer I continued to work with John and participated in perhaps 6 or 7 total issues of Cars and Clubs. Money had gotten short for John and he could no longer even reimburse me for my expenses and I made a decision to stop spending my limited money on magazine business, so I quit. But, one thing always leads to another

 

Big Yohns Photo/Writing History - Part 2

 

   Big Yohns History - Photographer/Writer 
The Early Years - Racing

Sonoma Win || Pomona Win

2004 CHRR  ||  40th NHRA World Finals  ||  Inyokern 2005
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