|When you visit the DON
GARLITS MUSEUM OF
DRAG RACING near
beautiful Ocala, Florida,
be sure to let the fine
staff know that you saw
the museum featured on
|Mid 1950s—the Sedan, Coupe and T Roadster
In short, "King" Hogan was the man
everybody wanted to beat, including me.
From the Sedan to the Coupe
I tried souping up my `50 Ford, but I
quickly realized that I needed something
more to do it. I finally found a "cherry"
`36 ford Coupe from a little old lady.
I wanted to make it competitive, so I
immediately stripped it (yanked off the
fenders and any excess metal) and
channeled it (dropped the body down
around the frame rails). Before long the
couple was "full house" (loaded with as
much speed equipment as I could afford).
With that potent little Ford, I cut a number of 15-second quarter-mile runs at Lake Wales and
Zephyrhills, finally winning my first trophy as "Top Eliminator" in the coupe class.
But "King" Hogan was in an altogether different class. He was running down in the 13s with his
roadster. Those couple of seconds put Hogan and me in two separate worlds. He wouldn't even
answer me when I asked him questions about engines or tried to make small talk. He made it clear
that he was the "King," and he wasn't talking to people like me—the low-life rabble who gathered
around his car each week. That bugged me.
When it happened, I walked away, mentally setting one of my first, big, all-consuming goals as a
drag racer—I decided that I was going to dethrone the "King" if it was the last thing I ever did!
The T Roadster
For starters, I knew that I was going to need a hotter car than my `36 Ford Coupe. I was making
$90 a week working at Craig Wheeler's body shop by then, so I had some extra money to buy
speed equipment. And I found it—a `27 Motel T Ford Roadster. I began building the car to smoke
My buddies and I (we called ourselves the "Strokers"), began working, and before long the
Roadster had a `50 Ford power-plant packed with a full-race cam, three Stromberg 97 carbs and
Sharp finned-aluminum cylinder heads. I took off all the fenders and funny little rear deck, moved
the much-lightened body back on the rails to put more weight over the rear wheels (for added
traction), and welded an ugly thick roll-bar (I figured if the car decided to flip, as they sometimes
did, at least I wouldn't be scraped up off the pavement).
I felt ready. I knew, absolutely, we had put together the car to whip the "King."
We towed it behind my `50 Ford up to Lake Wales. I was brimming with optimism. There were
some preliminary runs, then finally the moment came. I had dreamed about it for months. Me and
Hogan. Side by side at the start line. My heart was pumping wildly.
The flag dropped. His roadster leaped from the line, rear wheels smoking. He had me by a car
length from the start. Then two car lengths. More...
Halfway down the track, the "King" lifted his hand high into the wind and waved a taunting "bye-
bye!" He was gone. I wasn't even close by the time he crossed the finish line.
What a letdown. For months I had looked forward to paying Hogan back for all his snubs. all the
time and effort and money—and it just didn't happen. The sixty-mile trip back to Tampa was
horribly long. I pounded the steering wheel.
"Hogan brushed me away like a piece of dust!"
The All-Consuming Pursuit
From that point my days were consumed with trying to figure out how the `27 T Roadster could be
modified to run faster. I needed to run 13 seconds or lower to win.
I had read about Mickey Thompson out in California—one of the greatest names in drag racing.
He had revolutionized the sport by building the "Slingshot," a dragster with the engine mounted
just in front of the rear wheels and the driver's cockpit suspended out behind like a pouch. The
design permitted tremendous traction to be exerted on the rear wheels. The hot rod magazines
were filled with stories about Mickey's successes.
Well, a couple of weeks remained before the next Lake Wales meet. That didn't permit much time
to make changes. I didn't have enough money right then to turn the car into a full-fledged
slingshot, but it seemed that I could apply some of Thompson's designs.
The "Strokers" helped me, and we finished the job just a couple of days before the race. The final
touch was sloshed-on canary yellow paint.
He was there! I had thought about him hundreds of times as I worked on the Roadster,
remembering his taunting hand as it waved "bye-bye" to me before. The thought of beating him
became more than a challenge. It had become my overriding passion. I wanted to win so bad it
When the announcer called Hogan's Lincoln V-12 roared. My Ford engine added to the deafening roar. The starter crouched
for the first Top Eliminator
run-off, it was me against
The "King" pulled up to the
starting light without even
giving me a glance. My
blood boiled. I sat waiting
for the green flag to drop,
my left foot flat against the
clutch, my right foot ready
to jam down the accelerator.
in front of us, the flag concealed behind him. Suddenly his right arm whipped around. The green!
I popped my clutch out and mashed the throttle to the floor. I could feel the massive vibration of
power as my rear tires screamed against the pavement. My vision was blurred as the car bounced
across the bumpy runway, but I somehow kept my eyes glued to the limp flag at the end of the
quarter-mile. I know I was running faster than I had ever gone before.
I couldn't see Hogan at all.
"Did he stall at the line?" I wondered fleetingly, "or is he somewhere behind, eating up the
distance between us so fast that he'll burst past me at the finish.
Not so! I crossed the line, glanced around and caught sight of Hogan running flat out, at least five
car lengths back. What a sight! I had smoked the "King."
He wasn't the least bit happy about it either. As he slowed his Roadster down and steered onto
the return road to the pits, he still wasn't looking at me.
But I didn't care anymore. I had dethroned the "King," and I had run a 12.5 ET to boot. I had been
trying to beat Hogan for over three years. Finally!
Better yet, the rest of Florida racers had heard. It's strange how rapidly the tables turn around in
sports. The day before I beat "King" Hogan, I was literally a nobody. The day after, I was among
the top names in Florida racing circles. What a difference a day makes!
Beyond the "King"
I have often wondered what would have happened if there had been no "King" Hogan. Would I
have been content to putter around in my Sedan or Coupe and win a few races here and there?
All I know is that I thank the good Lord every day that there once was a guy named Charlie Hogan
who became the ultimate challenge for me. His humiliating brush-offs, haughty attitude toward me
and the taunting "bye-bye" gesture were exactly what I needed during those three years. I might
never have established any big goals at all except for him. He forced me to go far beyond
anything I ever imagined in the world of Florida drag racing. Best of all, I learned millions of bucks
worth of lessons trying to beat him.
Without Charlie, I would have probably never experienced the coming decades of victories, all the
"Swamp Rat" excitement and even the nickname "Big Daddy.
Wherever you are, "King" Hogan, I truly thank you. You changed my life forever!
During the early- and mid-1950s, Charles Hogan was the undisputed "king" of
Florida drag racing, especially at the Lake Wales drags.
He had reached "myth" status by going over to Daytona Beach and beating
everyone while hitting over a hundred on the quarter-mile sand track.
His cut-down, feather-weight Ford roadster quaked with a modified V-12 engine.
Nobody around our area of Florida could touch him.