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THE MAGIC MUFFLER FIAT: Pop Art On Fire

October 11, 2016

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(Originally appeared in Elapsed Times)

by Cole Coonce

The Magic Muffler Pop Art Iconography

During the 1960s, there were a dozen “Magic Muffler” stores across Southern California, mostly in Northeast Los Angeles across the basin to the San Fernando Valley.

It was “the friendly purple place,” according to Howard Hudson, its owner, “doing it right” since he founded the company in 1956. An “honest automotive family repair shop,” Magic Muffler epitomized California’s version of the American Dream. Free enterprise, fueled by sweat equity, resourcefulness and a wry sense of humor. Hudson died in 2007. In his wake, there is one store left, out in Simi Valley.

Hudson’s sense of humor came across in his store’s eye-catching signage. The Magic Muffler’s Pop-Art logo featured a wispy but muscular Malaysian Sultan with his herculean arms folded, escaping out of a tailpipe into some Arabian night. The message? The Genie’s out of the muffler. The Genie is here to grant your wish.

The logo is iconic and, by extension, memorable. It had to be. It had to pop. Along any boulevard in Los Angeles, Magic Muffler’s genie fought for space and attention from motorists distracted by huge signs like Western Exterminator’s cartoon of a dapper man hiding a mallet to be used on an imminent assault of an unsuspecting rat, or a twenty-foot Big Donut or Madman Muntz, a larger-than-life huckster hawking his car stereos with a caricature of himself as some twisted-but-towering Napoleon. The skyline was filled with similar creative cartoons. Hudson trademarked his Genie and even the style of lettering.

Times change and free enterprise is malleable. Many of those businesses with the gargantuan kitschy signage died. Somehow, Magic Muffler survived and, even if it is down to one store, the memory of that image with the Smiling Genie will last forever. The logo is eternal.

And one second of one night at Lions Drag Strip in 1965 made the Magic Muffler brand even more unforgettable. Read more…

Small-Block Chevy-Powered Champion Speed Shop Mouse Saws Through the Elephant Jungle

October 11, 2016
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photo by Ted Soqui

The Champion Speed Shop dragster is a front-engine Top Fuel car out of South San Francisco, California, that features a couple of distinctions: first, a bulbous cockpit canopy from an outer-space movie buttressed by a swoopy, streamlined body with sumptuous, saucy red paint thicker than marinara; and secondly, a small-block Chevy replica that gulps and pukes nitromethane like Beelzebub on a bender.

READ THE WHOLE STORY AT HOTROD.COM

METALLIC CRAB SALAD AND CRUSHED TOES IN BAKERSFIELD: THE MARCH MEET REACHES NEW HEIGHTS

March 14, 2016

by Cole Coonce

(Originally published in Drag Racing Online)

After coming home from Bakersfield, the computer is open and an mp3 of Steve Parker’s radio program “World Racing Roundup” is squeaking through the laptop’s speakers. As the show opens, “Drag City” by Jan & Dean sets the tone for the balance of the podcast.

“Burn up that quarter mile,” the surf rockers sing in crushed castratos, and after a long weekend of chasing race cars with a camera and a word processor, to this reporter that winsome sentiment serves as a proper punctuation mark to a spectacular weekend of drag racing in Bakersfield, California.

Indeed, the 51st running of the venerable March Meet had wrapped hours before Parker’s broadcast. Readers of this electronic rag know most if not all of the details, be it the gruesome and the glorious (Dan Horan t-boning Mike Chrisman in Top Fuel and making a metallic crab salad out of both their race cars as the former; Bucky Austin posting a relentless and crushing string of 5.7 second quarter-mile elapsed times in his “Northwest Hitter” Nitro Funny Car — numbers that would decimate the rest of the fiberglass floppers, as the latter), the surreal and the sensational (fat drunk chicks stumbling around in “Douchebag Motorsports” wife-beaters as the former; three days of standing-room-only attendance, a phenomenon defying New-Depression box office trends in every form of motorsports, be it NASCAR or NHRA, as the latter), and the badass and the beatific (while clocking a speed of 235 mph in Funny Car Eliminator qualifying, “Nasty” Dave Benjamin’s ’73 Satellite acted eponymously, with a top-end explosion launching the body to an altitude that would make Laika drool — this one pass serving as examples of both the former and the latter.)

But through all of that, the biggest story was the turnout: Yes, in a scene reminiscent of a Steinbeck novel or a dusty Henry Fonda movie, hordes of racers and race fans fired up their rust-buckets, rail-jobs and stripped-down coupes, took to the highway and made the migration to Bakersfield and its drag strip out by the oil fields, Famoso Raceway. More than 500 race cars entered. Twenty-nine Funny Cars slugged it for eight slots on the Elimination ladder. On Saturday morning, it took an hour to crawl five miles from the exit off of Highway 99 to the track’s parking lots and entrances. Bill Groak, the event’s publicist, marveled, “What recession?” in reference to the legions of go-cat-wild gearheads that overran the facility.

*****

Oops, talk about burying the lede. Pardon that last four-paragraph digression about Bakersfield. The point of this column isn’t about the outrageous, balmy success of a proper nitro-burning quarter-mile drag race in an economic climate that is otherwise as frosty as Eskimo snot.

It is about Jan & Dean. It is about “Drag City.” It is about their urge to “Burn up that quarter mile…”

At Bakersfield, I was in a conversation with Mendy Fry, a Top Fuel-cum-Nitro Funny Car driver, about her most extreme and pushed pass down the fabled Famoso flytrap.

She told me about a twilight first-round Top Fuel encounter a few years back, when she drove Lee Jennings Motorsports’ front-engine dragster.

After swapping pedals and launching down the left lane, her dragster began blowing the tires off less than one hundred feet into the run. Doing what any nitro driver would do, she grabbed the brake, calmed down her steed, let it breathe and then rolled back into the throttle. No matter. Once again – and instantaneously – her dragster overpowered the pavement. Meanwhile, her adversary purposefully motored down the right lane, an easy victory apparently imminent.

The Lee Jennings machine coasted feebly, further pursuit seemed pointless. All Mendy could see and hear while peering around the 6-71 blower mounted in her direct field of vision was the driver in the other lane blithely black-tracking towards the finish line, creating his own guiding light by keeping the throttle pedal pushed to the floorboard, the fuel-stream coursing through the engine, and raw nitromethane oxidizing in the ether.

Then the candles went dark.

“Are you shitting me?” she asked rhetorically, into her balaclava and into the darkness. She had been off the throttle for a two full seconds, and her competitor was now almost 900 feet into his run before he clicked it. Offended as much as anything, she jumped back on the accelerator. This time, it took. The tires grabbed the groove like King Kong squeezing a tube of toothpaste. Her fuel dragster spits fire out of the pipes and began making traction, lickety split-like. In other words, it was absolutely hauling ass.

Her opponent was cruising, a round-win seemingly assured. Just at 1320 feet, however, he was passed by a hurricane. Under full power, Fry nipped him at the finish line.

In the shutdown area, during the obligatory driver-to-driver congratulations and handshake, the loser was inconsolable and pissed. “I had you the whole way,” he muttered. “I had you the whole way…”

“Yeah,” Mendy agreed. “You had me the whole way… until you didn’t.”

The meta-meaning? This anecdote wouldn’t have happened on a 1000-foot course. It took 1320 feet for this sort of outrageous action to transpire. By adhering to a shorter racetrack, not only is NHRA short-changing the fans’ and the drivers’ bang-per-buck. It is also creating fewer memories.

They sing about the quarter-mile for a reason.

And yes, while leaving the March Meet at Famoso Raceway, the phone rang. On the other end of the connection was Steve Parker, calling from his live show, the aforementioned “World Racing Roundup” on Talk Radio One.

Parker was on the line to get a field interview, and to discuss the day’s historic drag race.

All of which was groovy, but what Steve wasn’t aware of was that at the exact moment he called to do our live-on-the-air race round-up, my ride home pulled up at the pit gate to pick me up and I was hastily thrown into the back seat of my pal Andy’s Mini-Cooper.  As we peeled rubber out of the parking lot and motored away from Famoso Raceway, the occupant of the passenger seat, Cuz’n Roy Gittens, in a futile attempt to make himself comfortable, rammed his seat back like a rocket-sled, jamming all ten of my toes under his ample weight. With absolutely no vertical clearance between the bottom of Roy’s seat and the floorboard of the Mini, it was like my feet were jammed in a vise before getting them dropped on by a bank safe.

It was all I could do not to scream in excruciating pain… As I took the call and attempted to answer Parker’s questions intelligently, if not just coherently, I made furious gestures with my one free hand, pounding on Roy’s seat and pointing forward. The other occupants of the car misinterpreted these gestures of distress — they thought I was giving them directions home. While still on the air, Roy and the driver, Strauber, were whispering for me to relax, “we know the way home, we go east on Famoso Road and then south on Porterville Highway.”

While still talking on the air, I pointed furiously and shook my head as if to say “no, no, no, this isn’t about directions” until my eyes began rolling into the back of my head and I just gave up, feebly trying to speak in a language that resembled English.

This went on for five minutes, the duration of my segment on Parker’s show.

During the interview, if my facts and figures were all wrong, I ask Mr. Parker and his listening audience to please forgive the errors, as I was in so much pain I was lucky to even string a sentence together, much less get my facts straight.

After extricating my toes from its bondage, I hung up the phone and let out a belated scream. I told Roy next time I am catching a ride home from the March Meet in Dave Benjamin’s Plymouth Satellite.-30-

Frying The Baloneys Off of Danica Patrick at the Smog Cutter

November 1, 2014
The Smog Cutter

The Smog Cutter

My friend Myron and I were sipping good, smoky whiskey at the Smog Cutter in the Thai Town section of East Hollywood, while listening to various Burmese chanteuses chirp out ballads on the jukebox. We began the night by bench racing, but ended it by arguing about IndyCar sensation Danica Patrick and female racecar drivers.

Myron is a drag racing writer and is a geeky, greasy-haired academic type with Clark Kent-type cheaters. His goofball nerdiness is mitigated by penchant for pop art t-shirts. Tonight he was wearing a white cotton t-shirt featuring a photo of a vintage Barracuda Funny Car doing a burnout. Through the copious clouds of smoke, the garment is emblazoned with the motto: “I’d Rather Be Frying the Baloneys.”

Read more…

Top Fuel Wormhole, Volume 2

October 25, 2014
Potential cover for Top Fuel Wormhole, Volume 2

Top Fuel Wormhole, Volume 2: The Post-Millennial Cole Coonce Dragstrip Reader

With his second collection of musings on all things nitro, drag-strip journalist Cole Coonce pulls no punches in his mind-warping analysis of the greatest sport in the history of western civilization, drag racing.

Volume 2 of Cole Coonce’s “Top Fuel Wormhole” features in-depth conversations with the luminaries of drag racing, including Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen, Don Garlits, Chris Karamesines, Roland Leong, Dean Skuza, Brent Fanning, Clay Millican and Austin Coil! Only $10.99 at Amazon.com.

 

The Ketamine Sun, Chapter 1: Toshiro Hits the Beach

September 29, 2014

“The sun didn’t care about stink. It didn’t care about money. It didn’t care about beauty. It didn’t care about tranquility. It was oblivious to its own reflection glimmering off the placid water, even if the ocean was the only element that could salve an otherwise stifling atomic fury that spoke of the new, inexorable radiation. I drove in to see Toshiro Kamiokande at his post-opulence palace in the Palisades, on an October Tuesday before noon in the heat of an all too obligatory Indian Summer. The planet was melting. The yellow fireball in the sky hadn’t yet crested, yet its sting cracked paint and melted the molded faces of gorgeous people stuck in traffic in West Los Angeles. When beauty gets sticky, it gets macabre and smells of chemicals and decaying flesh. The sun didn’t care about pulchritude either.”

Chapter 1 of Cole Coonce’s “The Ketamine Sun” is here: https://ketaminesun.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/1-toshiro-hits-the-beach/

Remembering Lions Drag Strip Last Drag Race … And the Night the Music Died

September 24, 2014
The Last Drag Race

The Last Drag Race

“Remembering Lions Drag Strip Last Drag Race …And the Night the Music Died.” Drag-strip journalist Cole Coonce collates the thoughts and memories of drag racing superstars who partied as hard as they raced on the night Lions Drag Strip was shuttered.

Among those quoted are luminaries like Don “the Snake’ Prudhomme, Tom “the Mongoo$e” McEwen, “TV” Tommy Ivo and Ed Pink.

From the article: “Lions Drag Strip’s undoing was that America changed in the ’70s, and too much was no longer enough for some people. Hip capitalism was passé, and the new ethos became making as much money as you can—and who gives a damn about the neighbors and what they think? No more free lunches, ma’am. Like Mike Kuhl was to his Top Fuel engine: Just flog it until it dies. You’ll either win or leave a trail of absolute carnage. Or both. ‘Who cares? It’s behind you!’ Yes, 1960s drag racing, if not the 1960s in totum, died that bleary-eyed night in December, 1972. Cold and stoned.”

Read the article here: http://www.hotrod.com/articles/lions-drag-strip/