Video of the Day: 1959 drag-race action in NHRA documentary film

Exciting competition at the US Nationals at the Detroit Raceway depicted in video

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The Dragmaster race car is brought up to the starting line at Detroit Raceway

The all-American motorsport of drag racing blossomed during the decade of the 1950s, and by 1959, when this film was made by the National Hot Rod Association, had become a hot bed of private-team efforts to squeeze 10ths of seconds out of quarter-mile ETs.

The Video of the Day, titled Ingenuity in Action, is a period documentary that follows Jim Nelson and Dode Martin’s Dragmaster team from the building of their 1959 drag racer, transporting it from Southern California to Detroit and competing in the US Nationals at Detroit Dragway.

“It takes a lot of doing to make a record run,” the narration says of the car preparation.  “These cars are more highly bred than a race horse.”

The NHRA video has loads of drag racing action, which should strike the nostalgia bones of those who were there as well as showing younger people how it was in those exciting times.  Simpler, too, when safety was not as great a consideration as it is today; check out the flagman standing between the lanes to signal the starts before the invention of “Christmas tree” countdown lights.  Not the safest place to be as the racers let loose. 

The Detroit Raceway competition scenes are shown in the latter half of the film, with most of the first half dedicated to the preparation that goes into drag racing, accompanied by the corniest musical soundtrack ever. 

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In the end, the Dragmaster team gets eliminated because of a slow start – the car actually covered the quarter mile faster than the car that beat it. “Well, that’s drag racing,” the narrator intones.

The Nelson and Martin team did win the Nationals’ prize of lowest ET of the event, at 9.12.  Another racer called the Green Monster hit the fastest speed at 170.45 mph. 

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

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