By Drew Hardin
Photography: Jim Kelly, Petersen Publishing Company Archive
The place was Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, California, the date November 12, 1966, and the occasion was the second annual gathering of Mickey Thompson’s exclusive 200 MPH Club.
So began Car Craft’s February 1967 coverage of “Mickey’s Meet,” what the magazine said was “the last big race of the season” and “the final chance for budding dragster hopefuls and proven pros to strike it rich in ’66. Top money for the winner was more than $5,000.”
Racer/speed-parts manufacturer/strip manager Thompson had launched the race the year before “as a means of rewarding his regular customers,” said the magazine. Thompson stipulated that his company’s rods and pistons had to be used in the engines of the 200-mph dragsters to be eligible for the race. Other manufacturers got involved, too, “with contingent and non-contingent awards for the winners.”
The evening’s schedule included eliminator brackets and a Funny Car match race between Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick’s new Pontiac and “Dyno” Don Nicholson’s flip-top Comet. But the undisputed stars of the show were the “high gear only nitro burners,” including a 56-car Top Fuel field and a combo eliminator bracket of AA/Gas dragsters and Junior Fuelers.
“Goodyear’s new 183-series slicks were on a majority of the cars,” said Car Craft, “and combining with Lion’s sea-level super traction asphalt surface, this resulted in some blistering times.” The Crietz & Greer Top Fuel team out of Tulsa set low e.t. during qualifying with a 7.25-second pass, and top speed of the meet was clocked by Neil Leffler in the A&W Root Beer Special at 216.86 mph.
Petersen’s Jim Kelly caught this shot of Lions’ unique roller-start area just behind the starting line, where dragster pilots fired up their engines rather than using the traditional-for-the-time push start. The race team’s push truck would nudge the car until its slicks were on the rollers, then “the driver depresses the clutch and signals the fire-up starter,” the magazine wrote. “A flick of an electric switch starts the rollers in motion, spinning the big slicks. The driver then lets out the clutch, builds desired oil pressure, and flips the mag switch. Immediately, the big supercharged engines roar to guaranteed life. Rollers and tires are stopped as the driver disengages the clutch, and the car is moved to the starting line, ready to race.”