SEMA News—March 2013
By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archive
The pits at an NHRA drag race today are as much a part of the show as they are a place for work. They’re a maze of 18-wheelers, easy-ups and souvenir booths, where hawking T-shirts and collecting autographs go hand in hand with rebuilding engines in a tense but well-orchestrated effort to make the next round.
Petersen Publishing Company photographer Pat Brollier captured a whole different kind of NHRA pit action nearly 50 years ago when he came upon this scene in a motel parking lot. The first NHRA World Championship finals were under way in November 1965 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and two Top Fuel teams were doing what they could to stay in the hunt.
Car Craft magazine ran a photo similar to this in its January 1966 coverage of the meet. (This is an unpublished outtake; the El Camino with the engine parts in its bed isn’t in the magazine photo.) The caption with the photo read: “Into the night, the oil burned for Alan Bockla and Logghe, Steffey and Rupp as both teams replaced pistons in the motel parking lot in preparation for the next hectic day of racing.”
Bockla’s hectic day ended early, as his team lost in the first Eliminator round. Rupp, on the other hand, made it all the way to the finals after beating Danny Ongais in the semis with a “good hole shot” and a 7.82-second pass at 200 mph. That, it turns out, was the final round of Fuel racing at the meet, as Rupp’s competition in the final, Red Lang, couldn’t get his rail started.
“Rules call for a car to be disqualified if it passes the staging lane and cannot fire,” wrote Bob Leif. “Lang’s engine popped a few times and only fired when pushed onto the strip, thus losing the hardest way possible [and] making for a big disappointment.”