Twin Cities Hot-Rodding Prior to GSTA
Hot rodding in the Twin Cities was working its way eastward from California by the late ‘40’s and ‘50’s. Although circle track racing with various types of cars had been popular in the area for years, street driven modified cars were still a rarity. The arrival of the small size magazines (Honk and Rod & Custom) on newsstands allowed the youth of the day to be made aware of what was happening elsewhere. South Minneapolis in the ‘50’s had a few modified cars that come to mind that caught the attention of those of us riding bicycles; a ’36 Ford coupe with fade-away running boards and LaSalle grill, a very nice ’50 Ford convert, a ’49 or 50 Chev sedan delivery and a ’40 Buick coupe are some examples.
One of the prime car related activities of the car crazy youth was cruising. Popular streets for this in Minneapolis were Lake Street from the Flat Top drive-in near the river to Porky’s near Lake Calhoun. Another, for the North side, was the Sun Drive-in on Central Avenue. The popular St. Paul cruising street was University Avenue in the area of Porky’s drive-in. Unfortunately, this cruising activity often led to impromptu street races to see whose car was best, or fastest. The one-way streets that crossed Lake Street, Portland and Park, were the best because they were wide, with no oncoming traffic. Had to watch the cross streets carefully though.
By 1953 there was an attempt to get the various clubs (Cogs, Combustion Cousins, Rod Nuts, etc) organized into a master group. The first group that I am aware of was the Gofur Timing Association. This group organized, and held, drag races on an abandoned stretch of road south of Highway 10, between Elk River and Big Lake. This was a very narrow piece of road with a curve in the shutdown portion. Timing was primitive, using a stopwatch (at the finish line) that was started by hand when the starter’s flag dropped. Races were conducted fairly regularly during 1953, but were stopped when a fast ’36 Ford coupe rolled while trying to stop. Another factor in ending the races was the Highway Patrol objecting to the cars parked on the overpass to watch the races. The drag racing moved to the old University of Minnesota airport, which was across Highway 8 from Twin City Speedway in Lexington. Racing continued there until the ‘U’ found out what was going on and sent the ‘U’ police to end it. There was speculation that the owner of the speedway may have alerted the ‘U’.
The group that followed the Gofur Timing Association was the Twin City Timing Association, which started with 15 clubs. Little is known about this organization other than an article in the June 1953 issue of “Racing Wheels” magazine. Most clubs of the era were interested in improving the public image of hot rodders. Just about all the clubs had “courtesy cards” which were given out whenever a club member helped a motorist in distress. Many such motorists offered payment for the help but were given a card by the hot-rodder instead. The typical courtesy card stated that the person had just been assisted by a hot-rodder.
The GSTA Story Up to Minnesota Dragways
The following information was taken from the “The GSTA Story” that was printed in the original Timer and given out at the 2nd Annual show in 1957.
In 1954, spurred by Captain Clifford Bailey of the Northside Police precinct, the Road Knights, Throttle Jammers, Piston Slappers, Dualeers, Accelerators, Lakesters, Bumper Buddies, Rod Nuts, Cogs, Pied Pipers, Road Ghosts, Potters, Road Ramblers, Road Runners, Cam Snappers, Strokers, Road Angels, Universals, Rod Busters, Gear Grinders, Drag-N-Wheels, Kustorn Kings, Black jacks, King Pins, and Dragons got together and tried to form a lasting organization for the betterment of Minnesota Hot Rodders.
The first meetings were held at the Northside precinct itself, in quarters arranged for by Captain Bailey. One man at these meetings, made so much sense in every suggestion, that when the first elections were held, he was voted President, and was re-elected through 1966 when he chose to not run for the office again. That man was John Foster, without whose help and prodding, the association would not be where it is today. The other elected officials at this first election were Keith Rogerine, Vice-President, Don Niles, Secretary and Dave Saline, Treasurer.
After the first few meetings, Bob Palmer, a kind gentleman, who was one of the many advisors in the first meetings, said he was able to procure room for meetings, rent free, in the James Ballentine V.F.W. hall at Lake St. and Lyndale. The meetings were held there for several years.
As word of the association spread, other clubs came seeking membership, and before very long the size of the organization had doubled, over its original charter membership. The organization commenced to take shape and grow, and at the semi-weekly meetings there were many suggestions and ideas proffered by the clubs representatives, and the basis of this lasting combination was formed. A Constitution was drawn up, and amended, and amended until it was finally as much to everyone’s liking as possible; the copies printed blank spaces where the organizations name should be, as the name was not decided on for about four months.
As the baby began to grow, so did the clubs in their activities; the reliability runs and the club sponsored car shows became natural, instead of an oddity. The first runs were not large in attendance, because very little was known about them, but as time went by the events saw more and more cars entering. (We are talking mid ‘50’s here).
There became more and more talk of a drag strip for the organization, but it was felt that to hurry was folly, for there had been attempts earlier towards a drag strip and they ended in failure. It was also decided that a sponsor would be necessary for it would take too long for the association to raise the money on its own. So, the next logical step was to try to inform Mr. John Q. Public of the intentions and merits of the true hot-rodder. There were many methods of doing this, and all were tried.
One of these was the Reliability Run, of which the first example was the run sponsored by the Dragon-N-Wheels of Columbia Heights. It was held in the early spring of 1955 with the starting line at the Columbia Heights Chalet. There were 54 cars entered, and the distance was approximately 50 miles, with both town and country, driving, finishing in Faribault. This particular run was judged on a basis of the average time of all contestants, with strict enforcement of all traffic regulations and speed limits. The contestants who violated any rules were penalized by points added to their score, putting them farther away from first place, which, incidentally, was won by Bob Bishop, of the Bumper Buddies. Since that time, the Drag-N-Wheels have merged with the Accelerators of Anoka, to form the Toppers of Anoka City.
At the third association run, which was sponsored by the Bumper Buddies., there was a new innovation. This was a trophy which was to be presented to the club with the best percentage of their membership in attendance. At this event, the trophy was taken by the Road Angels.
In the fall of 1955, an idea was formulated by the Road Angels to form a track on a lake for ice racing. The racing in the first season was not to heavily attended or participated in, but all that had anything to do with it agreed that this was a very good means of keeping interest in the clubs during the winter months. The second season found many competitors readying equipment for the weekly races. The cars were in the most part older models with re-inforcements around the radiator, which is the most expensive single item for repair, and using snow tires on as many wheels as money allowed. In the 1956-57 season, the Road Angels, found their club a little to small to handle the track alone, so the Bumper Buddies were asked about a merger and they co-sponsored the track last year and plan to do so the following year. On Heart Sunday of 1957, the entire proceeds of the day’s gate, which amounted to about $140, were donated to the Heart Fund.
Late in the year of 1955, the question was raised whether or not the association should join a nation-wide organization. As result of this, the director of the "Automobile Timing Ass'n." of America", James Lamona, was present at one of the meetings, and it was decided that the association should join this organization. The membership was completely enrolled in February of 1956, and the association is completely satisfied with ATAA. (ATAA was subsequently bought by NHRA, with the thought by the GSTA members, “if you can’t beat em, buy em.”)
In May of 1956, the association held its first banquet at the Francis Drake Hotel, in downtown Minneapolis. The members present were entertained with short talks on how they felt about hot-rodding, by Clarence (Shorty) Booth, an instructor at Vocational High School, Russ Lipps, Zone Manager of Pure Oil Co., and Bob Palmer, Representative of the VFW. Joe Daggendorf, Pres. of the Eastern Iowa Timing Assn. gave his views on how the sport has grown in his state. John Foster spoke a few words on his hopes for the association. The Emcee duties were handled by Jim Bloomquist, while Tom Tizzard introduced the guests. A good time was had by all and the foundation was set for the association to have a banquet every year. In 1957, the event was held at the Dykmann Hotel, once again, in downtown Minneapolis, and the attendance was larger this year, but still not up to expectations. Chet Herringer and Shorty Booth, both from the Optimists Club, were present and at this time it was announced that as soon as suitable land was located our drag strip would be a reality. Following these happy words, a few words were heard from Arnie Fosline, traffic manager for Raymond Transfer Co. who spoke on his feelings towards hot-rodders, which were very kind words. Mel Lubbers, the advisor of the Toppers Club, was also present, and enlightened us on our situation from his, a policeman’s, viewpoint. Films of the 1956 World Series of Drag Racing were shown, and followed by films of the Road Angels/Bumper Buddies ice racing track, and the Toppers ice racing track. Joe Daggendorf, was present once again, with his successor John Taylor, new Pres. of the Eastern Iowa Timing Association.
On September 16, 1956, the Gopher State Timing Association held its first Car Show. The location was the Red Owl parking lot on Lake St. and 22nd Ave. So. There were cars present from as far away as Chicago, and they drew a terrific crowd. That particular Sunday, the weatherman was just as cooperative as he could be, and the people just flocked around the area. There was ample parking, and the association saw all of its members there. Some of the cars present were Erlyn Carlson, of Fargo, ND , who took three trophies with his gorgeous '52 Merc Custom, Nobby Wesp’s Olds, and many other fine Rods and Customs.
Of all the publicity the G.S.T.A. has had in the Minneapolis papers, there has never been anything published which cast any aspersions, or criticized us in any way. The association feels very proud about this, and we also feel that belonging to the association does have a definite effect oh the driving habits of its members. In 1956 a poll was taken in all the clubs belonging and it was found that the average amount of traffic tickets received by all members since joining, was less than half of the corresponding period of time prior to their membership. If the traffic violations in the entire state would take a like decrease, it would have a tremendous effect on our traffic toll.
It was announced about a month ago (mid 1957) that the land had been located and the plans were being drawn up for our new Drag Strip. The backers of the strip, the Minneapolis Optimists Club, are building the strip with a dual purpose in mind. The first is that the Hot Rodders of our area will have a place to race their cars against the clocks, under strict safety supervision. The second purpose is, after the strip is a paying proposition, the proceeds will go to the Optimists Youth Work. The location of the strip is about four miles north of Anoka, and is to be running by Labor Day. There will be parking for about two thousand spectator cars and a pit area large enough to accommodate many competitors.
At this point a slight bit of background on the man who made the association what it is today by his never ending toil in all our behalf. John Foster, a native of LeMars, Iowa, moved to Florida, and came to Minnesota in 1946. He joined the Strokers in 1954, as an advisor, and has continued in this capacity ever since. John has had time between all of his official duties to assemble the most sanitary Merc in this part of the country as you can see it here at the show. He has been the spark-plug of the Association ever since its birth, and all the members owe him a terrific debt of gratitude for the time he has spent in getting our Drag Strip.