What is Hot Rod History with Jack Beckman: A Quarter-Mile at a Time?

This is a master’s class in drag racing, taught by a 300-mph professor. Jack Beckman offers a unique perspective on our sport, as one of the few active NHRA racers who’s also student of the sport’s technology, history, records, and exceptional moments. We are joining Jack on this journey, and partnering with Jack and Dodge Garage to share the experience.

Dodge Garage and Jack Beckman's Hot Rod History: EPISODE 1

In the early days of drag racing there was no clearinghouse of information for who ran what, how quick they ran, and who they ran against. The biggest drag racing media platform in town was Hot Rod Magazine, and it was run by none other than our own Wally Parks. But one of the limitations of Hot Rod was that it had to cover more than just traditional drag racing—and it was monthly.

Watch Episode 1 of Hot Rod History with Jack Beckman Now!

In Part 1 of Hot rod history with Jack Beckman: A quarter-mile at a time, Jack walks us through the basics of when commercially successful drag racing began, and how Wally Parks made the case for the creation of a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) using a pen name and a letter to the editor in Hot Rod.

Dodge Garage and Jack Beckman's Hot Rod History: EPISODE 2

In this episode, Jack Beckman gives insight into where drag racing began in Southern California before it picked up speed and quickly spread across the nation. With the creation of official drag strips, a need for one centralized sanctioning body became apparent. Because not only did different tracks run races differently, but racers needed guidelines to follow. The NHRA stepped in and provided a standardization of rules, vehicles and ways to insure events. Hear Beckman’s take on it at NHRA.com.

Dodge Garage and Jack Beckman's Hot Rod History: EPISODE 3

With hopes to curb illegal street racing, police officers played a large part in showing racers where they could legally race. Of course, those new locations were official drag strips. Not only were racers able to avoid the fear of getting caught, but they were able to race in better conditions – like having asphalt. The NHRA even helped people get facilities to race at before they held their first sanctioned event at Pomona Raceway. Jack Beckman explains how that was a major turning point in hot rod history.

Dodge Garage and Jack Beckman's Hot Rod History: EPISODE 4

We’re at the part of hot rod history when most drag strips were running independently under 3 main sanctioning bodies: The NHRA, NASCAR and Automobile Timing Association of America (ATAA). But not all rules had been fully sanctioned yet. One of the most notable switches was standing quarter-mile runs becoming required as opposed to running starts. The 1950s also saw one of the most historic events in drag racing – the NHRA Drag Safari. Jack Beckman explains how it shaped the sport to be what it is today:

Dodge Garage and Jack Beckman's Hot Rod History: EPISODE 5

In 1955, drag racing still had a lot of variety existing within the sport: powerplant options, body styles, fuel choices, etc. But one thing every racer had in common was their amazement of Lloyd Scott, who became the first driver to break the 150-mph mark. And we can’t forget about the beginning of the Drag News paper that supplied quicker, up-to-date information on racing. See what else made 1955 such an important year in drag racing history.

Dodge Garage and Jack Beckman's Hot Rod History: EPISODE 6

Unsurprisingly, the drag racing scene in 1956 looked and operated very differently compared to the sport today. Timing experiments were conducted for speed over distance and time, racers were sent off (up to five times) with a flag instead of a Christmas tree, and Wally Parks of the NHRA was determined to keep his belief of “cars are the stars” instead of prize money top of everyone’s mind. And that’s just the beginning! Hear more from Jack Beckman about the sport’s progression.

Dodge Garage and Jack Beckman's Hot Rod History: EPISODE 7

For the world of drag racing, 1957 was a year of big progression. On February 3, 1957, the speed record was broken via a 165.13-mph run. The officials were in such disbelief, they set up another run and the driver delivered an even better pass with 166.97 mph. In the wake of this, the fuel ban was created along with the elimination of multiple-engine cars and non-pump gas. Despite the changes, drag racing was still gaining traction and made the cover of LIFE magazine. And unsurprisingly, at the end of that year, the three fastest cars in the sport were Chrysler HEMI® vehicles!

Dodge Garage and Jack Beckman's Hot Rod History: EPISODE 8

A final structure for NHRA races still hadn’t yet been set in 1958. But as Jack Beckman explains, this didn’t cause too many issues. As a matter of fact, drag racing was still spreading in popularity and even found itself internationally in Mexico and Italy. But was the future of drag racing for some drivers was threatened by limited availability of nitro methane fuel after a railway car explosion? Beckman tells all.

Dodge Garage and Jack Beckman's Hot Rod History: EPISODE 9

1959 was an important and jam-packed year for drag racing. For starters, it was the 10th year of drag racing being an organized, legitimized sport and it was still proving to be successful. Car clubs were encouraged in the community by the NHRA and they were quickly growing in numbers, reaching over 800 within the year. The NHRA Nationals made their way to Detroit Dragway and the competition was fierce. Jack Beckman explains.

Dodge Garage and Jack Beckman's Hot Rod History: EPISODE 10

The second half of 1959 saw the growing use of parachutes in drag racing, particularly for vehicles that ran over 130 mph. But overall, the lack of standardization across different sanctioning bodies was still prevalent in the sport. How long was that going to last, though? Several changes were anticipated for early 1960, including growing tension and anticipation for the new paper being debuted by the NHRA. Get caught up to speed: