American motorsport was a much more colorful animal when A/FXers roamed the Earth: Detroit doorslammers, rearranged with surrealist glee, fueled with nitro (at least), funded with 9 to 5 paycheck leftovers, whipped down cowpath dragstrips and valued in sweat equity. Drivers traded obscene insults and gestures at the starting line, then helped each other repair damage in the pits over a beer (then sometimes visited fist city anyway, after a few more beers). AA/Fuel Dragsters wore the "Kings of the Quarter Mile" crown, but fans raised on Stock and Gas class racing gave Factory Experimentals the royal treatment. F/X was class structure evolution, gone completely haywire. A little too "out there" for conservative NHRA sensibilities, the FXers were mostly relegated to the Match Race trail, which earned a driver/owner/mechanic a lot more money than NHRA's trophies were worth, anyway. Of course, "a lot" is a relative amount.
Our case study is one Grady Bryant - Born and raised in New Mexico, brought up in the Stock classes, then set free on America's highways with a tired pickup towing a tired A/FX Nova strapped to a tired open trailer, and headed for the next race, wherever it may be. Just like every other racer out there.
Grady and I crossed paths online. We've never met, but we each seem to sense a kindred spirit in the other. Though no longer racing, Grady keeps up a whirlwind schedule. When I requested an interview for this blog, the 73-year-old responded with a link to his website and granted me permission to use what I want from it. Grady is strictly an action figure, with no time for conversation regarding decades-old events. So the following bits are merely my personal favorite elements of Grady's story. For more detail, go to www.gradybryant.net. Strap in tight. Here we go...
Even though "Carlsbad, New Mexico was a long way from any drag strips", Grady and partner Dickie Harrell "decided to go racing, in style" in 1961, with two new Chevy Impalas: "His was the 409 and mine was a High Performance 348. That way, we could race Super Stock and A/Stock. We had to tow a long ways to all the races and decided to use a chain. That way, we could drive faster and go further. Dick was always the front, and I was always the back, or 'Brake Man'. It was hairy, but it worked for several thousands of miles. We traveled to Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and a few of the southern states, and always got home in time to go to work on Monday morning. If you wanted to race, that's what you had to do."
Fortified with confidence earned in the Stock classes, Grady and Dickie were primed for Factory Experimental when it arrived with hurricane force in 1962. But Grady took a Vietnamese vacation instead, that sidelined him until '63. Then Dickie's Detroit connections delivered him a new '63 aluminum-nose Impala loaded with a Z-11, and a '64 version was dropped off with Grady. Not the kind of thing you say 'No Thanks' to: "When the car came into the dealership, it was completely disassembled. I mean, the engine was pulled, seats pulled out, carpets removed, and all the metal was sanded so thin, it burnt the paint off. The car was so light, we had to add weight to it. This was done by plugging the holes in the frame and adding BB shot. When you did a little 'chirpy', all the shot would go to the rear, and boy would that car launch! We had to call Detroit every Monday morning and tell them who we raced, where, and what the weather was like. We didn't know it at the time, but the engineers were trying to help us all they could. I'm sure the Ford guys were getting the same help."
Our heroes next targeted 1965 as their F/X freshman season, but... "Chevrolet came out with the 396 inch 'Mystery Engine', only available in the Super Sport Chevelle. We didn't want that - imagine a drag car with a vinyl top and bucket seats! So Chevrolet sent us a Bel Air four-door with the 396. The window sticker said '327'. On the same truck was a stripped down Chevelle 300 with 327 badges, but the sticker on that window said 'High Performance 396'. We swapped the engines and were in business to race. I believe that was the only High Performance Chevelle 300 in the world. In fact, at the '65 AHRA Nationals, they wouldn't let me run. That, of course, is another story."
"By '66, traveling from New Mexico became too much and I was asked to move to a location where I could compete with the southern Ford and Chrysler boys. Dick moved back east and raced for Nickey Chevrolet. My wife Jan and I relocated to Texas. In those days, match racing was king. We could run three times a week and never have to travel more than a few hundred miles. You wouldn't get much sleep, but you could race. That was the year of the little hugger orange Chevy II that got so much publicity."
The next three years were spent towing across the United States, running all-out, then towing and racing some more. Repeat as necessary.
Some random imagery from Grady's long tow through drag racing's golden era. These were Grady's contemporaries, mostly photographed in Texas, where Grady made himself right at home:
"After '69, I took some time off. When Dick was killed (on September 12th, 1971 at Toronto International Raceway, at age 39), it kind of took the wind out of my sails to race any more. I even went back to school and got my Law Degree. But, as all good racers do, we had to get back in it..."
MATCH RACE MADNESS AND THE LEGEND OF BOOGER RED:
Grady never left Texas. After practicing a little law, he dabbled in the arts with a series of self published books - at least two of which detail his life on the Match Race trail: Match Race Madness and Drag Race Fever.
Not satisfied with mere authorship, Grady next aspired to the silver screen. He knew he'd need some celebrity muscle to squeeze his way into such a crowded business, so he drafted favors from well placed friends, sure to bring their followings with them. And so the plan was hatched to film The Legend of Booger Red in one frozen but hilarious day, to accommodate the frantic schedules of:
I haven't seen the film yet. Grady told me to keep my expectations low, and chuckled. He said he's just satisfied to say he made a movie. Two more are written and ready to film, when he finds the time.
Grady Bryant probably won't be reading this blog today. Or tomorrow. I believe he's on his way back from Washington, DC this week, where he and his biker pals caravanned with several other clubs for a 9-11 gathering. I can only hope to be as active, if I should live to see 73 candles. Grady ended our e-mail back-and-forth with a question: "Do you think anyone will believe all of this?" I believe this: If Grady's story inspires someone out there to realize their own dreams, it was a story worth telling.
Of course, I'm not the only kid to grow up with A/FXers staged in my head. The antics of Grady and his fellows had a huge impact on impressionable youngsters everywhere, many of whom grew up to emulate those guys (guilty). A typical example: Phil Davis grew up in Arizona, suffering prolonged exposure to southwest match racing. He boded his time with model building until reaching driving age, when Phil concocted a street driven amalgam of his favorite strip warriors, as so many of us did.
Congratulations to Moscow Point! That's the name of our latest new SGE member and it's also all that I know about this individual. But based on your impeccable taste in blogs, Moscow (you're family now, so last names are not required), I suspect you're probably worthy of membership. I'll have the Shipping and Receiving staff get your membership credentials in the mail, toot sweet. Enjoy your custom tailored polyester SGE limited edition jacket (made from imitation Pollys), membership card (good for one free admission to any NHRA national event in the continental U.S.), SGE can opener, and business size envelope full of Gosson Bros. Racing Library decals (GBRL and its affiliates not responsible for "nearly-full" envelopes). You're welcome.