By Drew Hardin

Photography courtesy Petersen Publishing Company Archive


In its December 1955 issue, Hot Rod magazine told readers, “Drag racing isn’t new to the Memphis area—they’ve been running top-notch drag meets there for years.” Which is why the NHRA put the southern city on its itinerary for the 1955 Drag Safari. Nearly 40 years later, drag racing in Memphis was again featured in Hot Rod, this time as the venue for the first Fastest Street Car in America Shootout. The cars at that event represented an evolution of the sport that likely would have been unimaginable to those racing in 1955.

The Drag Safari was the brainchild of NHRA founder and Hot Rod Editor Wally Parks. He put in motion what became a coast-to-coast master class in staging safe and efficient drag-race meets. For three years starting in 1954, he sent NHRA representatives, plus Petersen Publishing Company Photographer Eric Rickman, on the road in a Plymouth station wagon towing a trailer that was full of timing equipment, a public address system, and everything else they would need to put on a race with local hot-rod club members. They also did a fair amount of PR work at their various stops, sitting down with government and law enforcement officials to discuss the NHRA’s responsible way to get car enthusiasts off the streets and into sanctioned competition. Rickman’s photos, along with reels of tape that Safari members used to dictate the event’s results, were mailed back to Hot Rod’s Southern California headquarters and turned into stories that promoted not just the relatively new NHRA but drag racing itself.

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The final of Hot Rod’s first Fastest Street Car Shootout in 1992 pitted Max Carter’s Nova (near lane) against Rod Saboury’s Corvette. Carter had spent the weekend sorting out the Nova and drove past Saboury at the top end, clocking an 8.435-second e.t. at 160.37 mph.

The Memphis event took place on an airstrip in Halls, Tennessee, some 70 mi. outside of the city and home track for the Memphis Rodders club. Despite the remote location, “attendance there has been quite good, considering, and the participation keen,” said the editors. On this September weekend, the turnout was “relatively small” at 84 cars, and “a total of 471 timed runs were made before the elimination runs began.” Spectator attendance was estimated at 3,500.

Cars ran in 10 classes, including Stock; Gas, Altered and Competition Coupes/Sedans; Street and Modified Roadsters; Sports Cars; and Dragsters. D Gas had the most entries and was won by Woodie Taylor driving a Studebaker-powered ’46 Ford pickup. “Several dragsters were entered,” said the magazine, “each adding to the event’s excitement.” The Custom
Racing Team of Dallas, with member Bob James driving their Mercury-powered rail, won the class with a top speed of 122.42 mph. James went on to face the top eliminator from the other classes, the Godman & Dyer A Modified Roadster (a much modified Model T with a Mercury Flathead) in the meet’s final run. The Godman & Dyer car left the starting line first, but the Custom Racing Team car caught the T and won, setting the meet’s top speed of
123.11 mph in the process.



In its own way, the first Fastest Street Car Shootout some 40 years later was like those early Drag Safari meets in that Hot Rod was attempting to (somewhat) formalize a movement that had been on the rise. The magazine first covered these street brawlers in early 1991 with a feature on Joe Yatooma’s ’69 Camaro and Don Harper’s ’70 Nova, both licensed for the street but also capable of 9-sec. timeslips thanks to tunable chassis, big-block engines and lots of nitrous oxide. Promoter Bill
Coogle gathered this new breed of street/strip cars for a Top Gun Shootout in 1989 and did so again in 1991. Watching the rising tide, Hot Rod collaborated with the National Muscle Car Association to hold its first Fastest Street Car Shootout during the NMCA’s 1992 Finals at Memphis Motorsports Park (later renamed Memphis International Raceway).

Race rules that year were kept “short and sweet” to not “stifle creativity.” Entries were limited to American door-slammers from ’50 and up (in a nod to NMCA rules); minimum weights were set for naturally aspirated and forced-induction engines; combinations of power-adders were not allowed; cars had to meet NHRA safety requirements based on performance level; but they also had to be registered with current tags and equipped with charging and cooling systems, plus head-, tail- and brake lights. To further ensure these cars could function on the street, they were required to complete a series of “parade laps” without overheating or refueling before being allowed to compete in final eliminations.

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Saboury’s Corvette, the runner-up in the final, was the only Fastest Street Car competitor that weekend running a naturally aspirated engine, a 632-in. big-block built by Garrett Racing Engines. The Vette was also the weekend’s low qualifier at 8.524 sec.

Hot Rod Editor Jeff Smith and staffer David Freiburger covered the race in a December 1992 story called “8 Seconds Over Memphis.” They likened the gathering of racers to a Hollywood Western, with “gunfighters who came to play” arriving from all over the country. Yatooma and his Camaro were there. So was the winner of the most recent Top Gun Shootout, Max Carter and his big-block-powered ’66 Chevy II, which the story characterized as “a whole lotta motor, but not a lotta car.”
A contingent of first-generation Camaros, sponsored by restoration specialist C.A.R.S. Inc., arrived from Detroit. Racer Rod Saboury came in from Maryland with a ’57 Corvette and a naturally aspirated Garrett Racing Engines big-block that was so new, “its baptism of fire would come with the first round of qualifying.” In all, 25 cars qualified for the Shootout, “from backyard, small-block, non-tubbed Chevelles to thinly disguised race cars.”

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Members of the Custom Racing Team, who traveled to the Memphis race from Dallas, pose with their weekend’s trophies.

The durability of these cars “became key right off the bat,” as competitors blew up engines, transmissions and rearends starting with the first qualifying rounds. Expectations for Carter were high, but so were his early timeslips until he discovered cracks in both rearend axle tubes. Danny Scott, whose ’67 Camaro was part of the C.A.R.S. Inc. team, helped him weld up the rear, after which Carter’s e.t.’s began to drop. (Scott helped so many of his fellow competitors that weekend that the magazine gave him “Best Sportsman” honors. He also turned in the second-quickest e.t. of the race.) Saboury, with the only non-nitrous/non-blown car at the race, set low e.t. in qualifying at 8.524 seconds, a mark that would stand as the third quickest of the event.

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Danny Scott’s C.A.R.S. Inc.- sponsored ’67 Camaro turned in the second-quickest e.t. of the Shootout at 8.490. His tireless work supporting other competitors earned him Hot Rod’s Best Sportsman award.

Saboury’s strong weekend held up until the Shootout’s final, where, experiencing what the magazine called “high speed power loss that defied a cure,” he met a resurgent Carter. When the lights came down, Saboury notched his best reaction time of the race, but Carter “came from behind to crank an 8.435/160.37 to Saboury’s 8.744/150.27.”

Since that first Shootout, interest in street-car racing has exploded—and evolved. While there have been some detours, there’s a very clear through-line from Memphis in 1992 to today’s drag-and-drive events, including Hot Rod’s pioneering Drag Week. In the ’90s, making the competitors travel 25 mi. of parade laps seemed daunting; today, Drag Week participants have to drive hundreds of miles between race venues and carry all their spares with them. In 1992, street cars making 8-sec. passes was mind-blowing. Thirty years later, Tom Bailey, the 2023 Drag Week champion, averaged 6.7149 seconds over a five-day, nearly 1,000-mi. strip-to-strip road trip in his Sick Seconds 1.0 Camaro, the same car that won the first Drag Week in 2013. And that wasn’t even his quickest Drag Week average. In 2019, aided by a 5.998-sec. run on the last day of competition—the first official Drag Week time in the 5s—Bailey and his second-gen Sick Seconds Camaro averaged 6.299 sec. for that year’s overall win.

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And Memphis? Memphis International Raceway, the old Motorsports Park, was a stop on the first Drag Week, upholding a decades-old tradition. That tradition unfortunately ended with the track’s closure in 2022. Drag-and-drive lives on, but it may have to do so without the ghost of Elvis hanging around.  

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