SEMA News—August 2015

By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archive

Racing Roadsters

SEMA Heritage Racing Roadsters

In the days of hot rodding’s infancy, there were a lot of ways—and places—to go fast if you lived in Southern California. Top-speed runs at the desert dry lakes had been going on since before World War II; drag racing was beginning to boom for those whose speed needs could be contained in a quarter-mile; and oval tracks flourished throughout the area, drawing everything from rough-and-tumble jalopies to nitro-fed midgets.

Petersen Publishing Company photographers Bob D’Olivo and Eric Rickman, joined by freelancer Walter Mahony, went to the quarter-mile dirt oval at Gardena Stadium on an early spring day in 1955 to capture the first roadster race of the new season on film. Their pictures formed the basis for “Bending the Quarter Mile,” which appeared in Hot Rod’s June 1955 issue.

“They drive ‘hell for leather,’ they’re tooling cheaper iron and bigger mills than anybody in the business and as a consequence you get racing in its hottest form,” said Hot Rod. “While the roadster jockeys spend untold hours on their equipment, the majority of it is of modified stock components and the boys don’t mind using it to the hilt because of comparative low replacement costs. Lest we leave the impression that these cars are on the make-shift side, remember that workmanship is usually of the highest caliber but the costs of fancy chrome work are more often than not plowed back into speed parts instead.”

At this particular event was a “wild assortment of machinery,” noted the editors. “Powerplant limitations are non-existent…. The Gardena go drew such strange bed fellows as: a Chrysler 6 and V8, several Offenhausers, blown and unblown flathead Fords, a Riley four-port and a Latin import Talbot Largo [sic] (a frilly version of the American Offy).” The victor, they reported with some surprise, was the “undernourished little Riley! With just the right amount of power and ideal gear combination for the small track, Rosie Roussel stroked down the middle of the Goliaths while the bigger jobs chopped their tires to shreds with overdoses of power and resultant wild cornering.”

“Wild” describes the scene here, as one “Rip” Erickson “takes a flyer on the boards at seventy,” said the caption to this photo. In the magazine, D’Olivo’s picture was cropped tightly on Erickson climbing the wall; the full-frame scene, notably the number-six roadster pointed the wrong way on the track, sheds some light as to how (or why) ol’ Rip found himself in that predicament.

According to the caption, Rip’s roadster “rode the wall, caught a post and bounced back on the track upright.”

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