As told exclusively to
Throughout his long career developing hot rodding and drag racing in the United States, Wally Parks kept a detailed journal relating to his candid thoughts at the time. That journal was obtained and edited by his son Richard who has kindly given permission to us to publish extracts from it relating to the period when British Drag Racing was being founded on Eurodragster.com. The opinions are those of Wally, who is referred to by Richard as "Parks" or, occasionally as "my father".
This year is the 60th anniversary of the First British International Drag Festival and this part includes Dante Duce as the NHRA Director of International Activities, International FIA licenses for the American team, sponsorship from Goodyear, all cars to be fitted with Goodyear tyres. Gerry Belton was expecting 20,000 spectators at each of the six races held throughout England and there was tension between the BDRA and the BHRA who were not invited to run their dragsters at the Festival as it was Allard’s Brainchild.
The story was produced by Richard Parks, photos, images chosen by Nick Pettitt and John Hunt and published by editor of Eurodragster.com Simon Groves. We all thank Jim Miller of the American Hot Rod Foundation for scanning the photos and adding captions.
Dante Duce sent out a series of letters which were press releases and one to Parks around July; Duce’s title was NHRA Director of International Activities. The first release was that Andy Granatelli, owner of the STP brand of oil products, was joining with other American sponsors to support the American team in England. The second was to the American team that the NHRA had appointed Duce to be the coordinator for racing in England. He corrected the misspelling of his name and said he preferred being called DUCE.
Dante needed four answers; number of people going with the car, estimated weight of car, trailer and equipment, outside dimensions of the trailer, and the outside dimension of the vehicle. Duce will send information on health shot books, passports, Festival contract and complete schedules. He appeared to be the right man for the job.
Another press release gave the venue sites and ticket stubs for viewing the cars while in England; Leeds, Manchester and Cheltenham. Gordon Cooper of London will be handling the tickets to these show exhibits. Duce gave a background of the drag cars from America for the British press. In addition Sydney Allard will support two American (Moon and Nancy) and two British cars (Allard dragsters) for an exhibition race in Monza, Italy.
American sponsors included Champion Spark Plug, EELCO, Goodyear Tire, Moon, Autolite, P. A. Sturtevant Company, Isky Racing Cams, and Mickey Thompson Equipment. Part of the tour will be to put pressure on ACCUS/FIA to accept NHRA membership in the international racing community for ¼ mile drag racing. Duce listed 13 American magazines covering this exhibition. Just how many European news sources will cover the British Drag Racing Festival was unknown. Auto Italiana magazine covered the dragster exhibition at the 1964 Italian Grand Prix in Monza.
Tex Smith wrote to Parks around July and said that the BHRA car clubs would make excellent members in the ICCA and asked Parks to talk to them while in England. Bill Dismuke wrote to Bill Wallace on July 2nd and asked if the NHRA could borrow 10 “personal messengers” for communications use in England. Allen Friedrich, writing in ND on July 3rd mentioned that visiting cars may exhibit sponsor decals, but British drag cars cannot according to the RAC ruling.
Len Cole, competition secretary for the Festival, wrote to Dante Duce on July 6th ; he explained that the International FIA licenses for the American team must come from ACCUS in New York rather than the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in Great Britain. Since the NHRA is close to gaining membership in ACCUS the possibility of an FIA license is good. The motorcycles must go through MICUS in the United States for their FIM certification if they are aiming for international records.
The Monza, Italy exhibition was more complicated as the dates for that race is September 6th and the American team will be in Indianapolis on that date. Duce will need to send a cablegram to Signor Bacciagaluppi, manager of the Monza Autodrome. The Italians will pay for hotel, food, petrol and transportation and the event will be staged in front of 100,000 spectators who are there for the Monza Grand Prix. Cole asked for a council meeting with the Americans to set up International rules for drag racing. As for Monza, Cole told Duce that the Monza exhibit is behind schedule as “time is not on our side.” Dante Duce replied to Joe Vanni on July 7th and placed his car on the alternate list for this year’s Festival but encouraged Joe to consider going on the tour next year.
The British wished to limit the number of cars until such time as they gained more experience in conducting “open” competitions. Parks asked his assistant “Michael” to check with Roulston and Forestal on the British Festival publicity campaign. Gerry Belton needed photographs and bios on the car entrants and drivers sent to him immediately. Parks wrote in the margins, “Duce took care of it.”
Belton sent a telegram to Bill Dismuke on July 16th that 80 amp; 160 megacycles are not available and Britain has no citizen band radio; free speech is not allowed by the government on wave lengths NHRA uses. The British Postal strike has stopped mail delivery and telegrams are the only way to communicate. Dismuke replied to Belton on July 17th that 80 and 160 megacycles are not available in the US; he suggested Gerry look for other channels where the NHRA can get British approval to use.
Duce wrote to Robert Daly on July 17th and said the NHRA is very interested in the M&H Tire Company participating in the British Festival as a sponsor.
Parks sent a memo to the accounting department of the NHRA to issue a check for $1000 on July 17th ; funds to be used as a deposit for the ship carrying the cars to England and reimbursed later by the Festival committee. Helene wrote back that the check had been issued. Parks later requested an additional check to be sent to Dante Duce, for expenses in the amount of $494.76, also to be reimbursed to the NHRA by the British committee.
Duce sent out a bulletin to all American team members on July 17th with instructions on what they must do; passports and a smallpox vaccination are required. All mail will be forwarded to Allard Motor Company in London, who in turn will see that team members receive their communications.
Race vehicles must be on the dock in New York City by September 9th and they are advised not to skimp on needed parts.
Duce needed to know how many crew members and their wives needed passage about the ship. Passenger costs will run $325, vehicles will average $500 and lodging in England will come to about $125 per person for thirty days. Food is extra.
Duce needed all the action photographs from team members that they could provide for publicity. Dante was also going after sponsorship of the cars from major American companies and to cover costs for servicing facilities while in England. He was negotiating for FIA International licenses for the drivers; in addition Duce was trying to obtain International licenses for team members to drive on the local streets in England. He also asked for the tire sizes for each team vehicle.
Dante asked that rumors be verified by either the signature of Parks or himself; the British Drag Racing Festival is promoted by the British Festival Ltd and sanctioned by the BDRA, which is an affiliate of the RAC.
Any expenses over and above the allotted amount of sponsorship will be the responsibility of the various teams to pay. The organizers will set up a fund of $1400 for each team and $100 for each car to cover all expenses.
Clothing should consist of work clothes, raincoats, warm clothing and formal wear for the banquets scheduled. Take along personal items such as shaving cream, toothpaste, lotion as American brands are not common. Bring a converter to adapt European electricity to American appliances. Dante will provide a tape recorder for anyone wishing to tape a message to someone in the United States.
There should be 3 to 4 runs per day and two days off per week for sightseeing. The driver and one crewman are allowed. Fuel sponsors are being solicited otherwise a pool must be formed to pay for gas. Parks and the NHRA are donating their time to the project on a non-profit basis; but the NHRA loans must be repaid.
As with all plans as soon as they are made things start to unravel and a good promoter is always ready with standby options. On July 18th Duce sent a postcard to Parks and suggested protecting themselves with a contract with each American team. There was a possibility that Danny Ongais would cancel out and “George Montgomery called last night and is worried about money, as usual!”
Another postcard to Parks on the 19th and suggested the NHRA get a “cable address” as a night cable is the cheapest and fastest way to communicate with England from HQ. Several cablegrams went back and forth; starting July 28th Duce cabled Parks, “Festival arrangements progressing smoothly all Festival policies amicably agreed achieving modification to many old standings roles to suit us press party successful major newspaper sponsorship confirmed a flurry of participation interests from everywhere detailed strip inspection all this week delaying return until Monday any urgent messages?”
Dante then cabled again, “Rumor Nancy’s wedge wrecked is Ongais replaced please confirm arrive in NYC August 5 Panam flight 2103 having problem with conflicting safety regulations negotiating with RAC all strip conditions excellent General interest running high how stands our sponsorship.”
Parks cabled Dante, “Tony Nancy rebuilding Wedge plans to compete as scheduled no replacement for Ongais to date suggest announcing them both. I am in Indianapolis and will be back at the end of week.”
Parks sent a memo to Farmer Dismuke asking him to check the tire sizes for the ten cars and send the information to Tony Webner at Goodyear as soon as possible as Goodyear will be supplying the tires.
All the cars were fitted with Goodyear tires...
Belton put out a press release on July 23rd and my father, as he so often does, edited it, supposedly for inclusion in ND. “The People” newspaper was changed to “The People, a major British newspaper.” The “brain-child” of the Festival was Sydney Allard of the Allard Motor car company. There would be six races over a fifteen day period. The British held little hope of dethroning the big American drag cars, but were quite confident that their British motorcycle racers could beat the American trio making the trip.
Belton was expecting 20,000 spectators at each of the six races held throughout England. Dante Duce sent out bulletin 4 on August 13th to the American team and he personally visited every field and they are in perfect shape, 150 wide, smooth, none higher than 300 feet in elevation, cool weather and good humidity; great for drag racing. He recommended pooling tools for all the team to use. Passports are needed and maps to the docks will be provided.
The US Nats are over on September 7th and the cars have to be at the Manhattan docks by the 9th and it is a 700 mile drive in less than two days. Vincent Nuccio will provide insurance; he provides insurance for the NHRA as well. Duce also discussed clothes, car pool, money, sightseeing, London transportation, mail, press parties, banquets, television interviews, record runs and coffee (bring your own).
Duce then made a handy calendar showing when and where the team would be each day; departing New York City on September 9th and arriving in Southampton on the 15th. From there the calendar plots where they need to be and the miles from track to track and the farthest distance is only 200 miles; a snap for American drag racers. On October 13th the team leaves Southampton and arrives in New York City on October 18th. Dante Duce was about the most thorough planner I have ever seen except for my own father. Many of the cars that came over to England can be seen in this Youtube video of the 1964 NHRA US Nationals...
Vic Outen of the BHRA wrote to Tex Smith on August 16th and there seemed to be some tension between the British Hot Rod Association (BHRA) and Sydney Allard’s connection to the British Drag Racing Association (BDRA). Outen said his BHRA was not invited to run their dragsters at the British Festival as it was “Allard’s Brain Child.” He asked Tex if he could meet with the BHRA during any “free” time; he or Brian Sparrow would get the BHRA group together at a moment’s notice.
The American officials, especially the NHRA and ICCA officials were famous in drag racing circles overseas and treated like heroic figures. Dante Duce wrote to Tommy Ivo on August 18th and informed him that Goodyear Tire Company had the exclusive rights to supply tires to the team while on the British Festival. It could have been that Ivo wished to use M&H which was sweeping the tire market with their new tire compound. Duce couldn’t allow that to happen or he would lose the Goodyear sponsorship. Ivo accepted the terms and raced in England.
The drag racers were all on even ground regarding tire advantages. Danny Eames of Autolite wrote to Parks on August 21st and he related how he had sent $500 checks to those drag racers using Autolite products. Eames was going to send $300 to each drag racer and an additional $200 to the US Racing Team travel expenses.
The outcry and criticism by the drag racers forced Eames's hand. Parks was left with the problem of making sure each racer got what was coming to them from the team fund. Dealing with drag racers was not easy; they could be a cantankerous, crabby and selfish bunch when competition raised its ugly head.
Parks sent a copy of the letter to Duce and asked him to make sure that an equitable solution was reached. If it appeared that some were given favorite treatment the unity on the team would be broken and then it would be very difficult to manage them.
Duce sent out a letter to team members on August 24th and made it clear; send the Autolite payment to him to put in the team travel fund or PAY FOR PASSAGE AND FREIGHT. Since that would be at a 25% higher rate it would mean a huge increase if they kept the Autolite checks for themselves. Champion Spark Plugs and Goodyear would send their checks to Dante to avoid this problem.
The TEAM concept was a hard one for drag racers used to running their own cars and fighting for every penny they could get. But Parks and Duce demanded that the US Racing Team work together and put aside personal rivalries. Dante made it clear that everyone was to use Goodyear tires on the tour.
Duce sent out bulletin 5 on August 31st to team members; about the time they were arriving in Indianapolis and concentrating on the US Nats, the biggest race of the year in drag racing. In a nutshell Dante said, “Don’t miss the boat.”
He outlined the details; up to $3500 was available in sponsorship money for taking the tour. The shipping cost was $1750 round-trip. Lodging was $4 per day per person; and food was not mentioned. There should be enough money for everyone and to pay back the money the NHRA loaned to the US Racing Team fund.
Even if the team members or the NHRA lost some money the publicity would be priceless; it would make some reputations and enhance the reputations of others. Jackets, blazers and slacks would be provided showing unity among the US delegates. Twenty-four blazers were provided to the following; Garry Goodnight, Bob Keith, Maurice Williamson, Dave Strickler, Bill Jenkins, Tony Nancy, Steve Swaja, Dante Duce, Mike Glennon, George Montgomery, John Goode, Don Garlits, Tom Ivo, Tom McCurry, Ronnie Sox, Buddy Martin, Doug Church, Phil Pennwick, Don Hyland, Bill Wood, Robert Brand, K.S. Pittman, Wally Parks, Chuck Stolze and Jim Kelly. Darlene Church received a special team-style dress and Pat Garlits a “duster” (could be a coat?). Don Garlits brought his two daughters along but they are not shown as receiving a uniform.
Several names were crossed out and that might mean that they didn’t make the trip; Larry Stellings, Jack Walker, Connie Swingle, Hubert Routt, Dick Rios and Bob Spar.
Paul Hicks’ pics...
The British Press began to publicize the event as soon as pictures became available; they saw the American cars as behemoths and monsters, similar to the German rockets that bombarded London in World War II. The dragsters weren’t the sweet, small, well-designed sports cars that zoomed around British road courses, or the slightly bigger Formula Grand Prix cars with majestic names and pedigrees. These cars were big, loud, angry, nasty, roaring and altogether alien to the sensibilities of English gentry and nobility. The racers were upstart hot rodders from the other side of the Pond or at least the other side of the railroad tracks. There was something very perverse, rude, common and definitely American about drag racing. It simply wasn’t part of a civilized upper crust.
America had always been considered a step-child, land of outlaws and rebels. The Americans had won World War I and II not by brave lads charging into the maws of death like the Brits, but with massive force and ingenuity. That was the way Americans behaved; crush one’s opponent with a right hand across the jaw and leave the loser sprawled on the canvas. There was little finesse with the Americans. Now they were here on the doorsteps of their “betters” and they were going to roar and bellow like uncouth country cousins.
Gerry Belton and Dante Duce put out news releases announcing the coming of the US Racing Team to England. Sometime in September Duce put out a release; K.S. Pittman had replaced “Big John” Mazmanian and Doug Church had taken the spot of Larry Stellings. The BDRA were the sponsors of the tour; creating the British Festival committee. The Americans were on their way on the SS United States; a fitting way to invade England.
The schedule called for Press meetings, banquets, exhibition shows of the cars and interviews with the driver and crew, and finally the drag races everyone was looking forward to. Photographs of the British dragsters looked like no match for the American cars, but their motorcycles were another issue; they could move and would provide a real test for the three American bikes.
Brian Sparrow’s pics...
Wally Parks' story - Part 1
Wally Parks' story - Part 2
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