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The Camgrinder Wars Part 2

Last month, we tracked the Camgrinder Wars’ innocent beginnings to a series of confrontational “hero” and “antihero” advertisements placed by a trio of Southern California camshaft companies. Not long after arch-rivals Ed Iskenderian and Howard Johansen fired the first shots in 1956, Jack Engle opened a third front. By demonstrating that a shop needn’t be big to compete—even dominate—on this playing field, Engle Cams inspired a second wave of strategic advertising by small competitors, including Hubbard, Herbert, Weber, Dempsey Wilson, Moon, and Crane. Most of their collective ink was spilled on a newsprint tabloid that debuted just in time to catch and ride this wave. In fact, had Drag News (1955-78) not presented fledgling manufacturers with an inexpensive, timely, anything-goes alternative to Robert E. Petersen’s slick, civilized monthlies, this war might’ve never been fought at all. BTW, if you haven’t read part 1, you can find it here before you get much deeper in >

Now, let’s examine the classes capable of generating such intense attention, loyalty, and controversy. We’ve seen that open-wheeled or “hot” cars starred in the vast majority of mid-to-late-’50s ads. Besides being far faster than so-called “stockers,” crowd-pleasing rails, competition coupes and sedans, modified roadsters, and altereds burning nitromethane and/or alcohol were basically banished from Petersen publications during NHRA’s 1957-63 fuel ban. Not coincidentally, Petersen’s editorial director for the duration was none other than NHRA president Wally Parks. If not for occasional nitro-hero ads in Hot Rod and Car Craft—typically small and stuck in the back—magazine readers might’ve thought that the entire drag racing world ran on pump gas.

Meanwhile, Drag News not only embraced fuel cars, but celebrated them on most covers and front pages. The newspaper even maintained its own set of Standard 1320 national records for all popular fuel and gas classes, plus jets (“Unlimited Dragster”). Earning a top 10 spot on Drag News’ Mr. Eliminator Top Fuel or Top Gas lists was the match-racing equivalent of winning a major NHRA, AHRA, NASCAR, or independent event. Free editorial space was made available to all track operators submitting race results and photos, whether sanctioned or “outlaw.” Moreover, among all national media, only Drag News delivered fresh drag news each Wednesday, within days of weekend meets. Many of us turned to camgrinders’ ads before reading a single article—the pleasurable experience of every print advertiser, then and now…. read more >

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