Art won the first Smokers Meet at the Famoso Raceway, almost in the dark: "When we went to Bakersfield in 1959 for the East Coast-West Coast meet, they brought Garlits out. He was carburetorated, and he went through a couple of engines trying to go faster than the blown cars-which was pretty much impossible. We won the meet against 64 Top Fuel cars. We made 11 elimination runs...we waded through them all." Art continued racing until the end of the '62 season.
Ford Motor Company Comes Calling"Ford came out and wanted me to work for them as a field rep for Autolite Racing Spark Plugs. I did that for 10 years from 1962 to 1972. Chickie Hirashima [former chief mechanic for Indy car builder A.J. Watson, among others] and I put a dyno in for Autolite down at Signal Hill [by Long Beach]. We did dyno work for Foyt and all the Indy guys-anyone that ran Autolite products. I covered 11 western states, Pikes Peak and Bonneville, the Gold Cup boats, plus I'd go to Daytona for the month of February and to Indy for the month of May. Autolite was sold to Bendix-Bendix didn't want to pick up the race operations. There were four of us in the racing-rep end of it, so that put us all out of a job. Ford wanted me to go back to Detroit in their emissions lab, and I didn't want to move.
"When I left Ford, I went out to the [San Fernando] Valley and put a dyno in for Ed Pink [Pink Racing Engines], and it took about a year until I got that done and working good. I went to work for W.R.Grace Company. I put an engine dyno in for Grace in Garden Grove [California], which I bought from Autolite. We tested everything from the coating on their headers (they had a Black Jack header line) to fiberglass push rods, aluminum rockers, and rods. We had 25 to 30 engines ready to test-all various configurations: blown, unblown, Chevys, Chryslers."
Time for a Father/Son Team AgainArt has been attracting attention as a builder of quality cars since the day he opened his toolbox. It is only fitting that he now concentrates his talents on building and restoring historic race cars and hot rods for others. When his son, Mike, finished school, he suggested to his dad they open a street rod shop. So the family tradition continues-like Art's father before him. Chrisman Auto Rod Specialties in Santa Ana (C.A.R.S) caters to a discerning clientele, one of whom was our beloved Contributing Editor, the late Gray Baskerville. Gray's pride and joy Deuce (a clone of the cover roadster on the May '53 issue) was his daily driver-rain or shine.
"He brought it down here before he got sick. We took it apart, did the engine, transmission, and rearend, powdercoated everything, put all stainless bolts and nuts in it...did everything except wire it and paint it," stated Art.
The race cars Art has built have often become the center of focus and overshadowed his abilities as a driver (maybe it's the fate of straight-line racers, probably the same reason why John Force hasn't been invited to mix it up with the boys at IROC-but that's another story). The finesse required to manhandle a dragster or streamliner that wants to get sideways the moment it leaves the starting line is...considerable. Publisher Bill Quinn formed the 200-MPH Club in 1953, among that elite first five-Art Chrisman. Art became a member driving Chet Herbert's streamliner with a speed of 235.91 at the Bonneville Speed Trials.
Art Chrisman has had a lifetime of accomplishments both on the racetrack and in business. Those achievements have not gone unnoticed: Art is a member of the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame and the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame. Chrisman was such a factor in his 12 years of drag racing he was an honoree at the first Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield in 1992. Among those Lifetime Achievement Award winners were C. J. Hart and Wally Parks, both cornerstones of the sport.
A recent Nitronic Research NHRA Top 50 Drivers Poll placed Art at number 18, Garlits being number 1 and Bernstein number 19. The criteria is based on track success, contributions to the growth of NHRA, technological breakthroughs, and fan popularity-not too shabby for a racer who retired from competitive driving in 1962.
Art never concerned himself with governing motion, matter, and energy 50 years ago! He just wanted to go fast and, in the process, created technology that defied the laws of physics. Because he wouldn't accept mediocrity, Chrisman has been going past "Bingo" all of his professional life. And, it's okay to refer to this legend by his last name-we all know who you mean.