I thought a belly tank was classified as a “Lakester” when it ran on the dry lakes, but early on I was told by good friend Jim Miller, curator of the American Hot Found Foundation (http://www.ahrf.com/), that it was considered both a “streamliner” and a “Lakester” – it just depends “when” you are looking at the history.
I hate moving targets. I have a hard enough time trying to keep away from all the crazy drivers on the road here in Florida, let alone staying away from hitting them. So where do you look for a bit of history on these classes? Why Dean Batchelor, and his book “The American Hot Rod” is a great starting place, of course!
The American Hot Rod (Dean Batchelor, 1995)
Dean was there when it all happened starting in the 1930’s and beyond. He was an aircraft builder, race car designer and driver, automotive journalist, and all around hot rodder – and – automotive historian too. In fact, Dean is one of the recognized legends of automotive history, and each year the Motor Press Guild honors excellence in automotive journalism with an award given out in his name. You can read more about Dean, the award, and his history on the following website:
Classes of Cars on the Dry Lakes (1938-1950)
In Dean’s book “The American Hot Rod,” Dean covers the history of hot rodding as seen through his eyes and memories as well as his friends from the era. One of the excellent chapters in his book is called “Clubs and Associations”, and details the beginnings of time trials and “classes” of cars from the late 1930’s, as follows:
In 1938, the first year of official SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) meets, two classes of cars were listed as follows:
- Stock Roadster Bodies
- Modified Roadster Bodies
These two classes of bodies were further divided into seven different speed classes. During this year, entrants raced side-by-side, like modern drag races.
1939 Thru Mid 1941:
In 1939, side-by-side contests were abandoned for safety reasons, and another body class called “Streamliners” was added. As Dean reports, “the Streamliner” class amounted to a catch-all for cars that didn’t fit into the Roadster or Modified classes, and these were sometimes an ex-sprint car or something similar. They usually had pointed tails, unlike the Modifieds which were squared-off behind the driver. So there were a total of three classes as follows:
- Streamliner (first year for Streamliner Class)
In mid-1941, The SCTA added a fourth class, “Unlimited” which allowed cars with much larger engines (V-16, for example) to run separately from the rest of the cars powered by traditional engines. By the end of 1941, there were four classes:
- Unlimited (first year for Unlimited Class)
SCTA did not officially run during World War II years.
The four body class divisions remained through 1946 as follows:
- Streamliner (Belly Tanks ran under the Streamliner Class)
Two other items worth mentioning occurred in 1946:
- First belly tank on the dry lakes was designed and built by Bill Burke. Drivers were Eddie “Choppo” Korgan and Ken Crawford.
- Veda Orr published first book “Veda Orr’s Lakes Pictorial” for the 1946 season
From 1947 to 1948, only two body styles were recognized in classes:
The “Modified” and “Unlimited” class designations had been dropped. In addition, engine size entered the picture for 1947 within each of these classes / body types. Belly tanks continued to be classified as “Streamliners”.
In addition, the Russetta Timing Association was formed in 1948 to provide timing trials for sedans and coupes. This occurred because SCTA did not allow these types of cars unless invited to run.
In 1949, the Roadster class was divided into two groups (Roadsters and Lakesters) and the streamliner class continued, leaving the following classes:
- Roadster (stock Body)
- Lakester (altered bodies such as channeled bodies, Model T-bodied cars, and those with streamlining ahead of the firewall). This was the first year for the Lakester Class.
Belly tanks continued to be classified as “Streamliners”.
After three fully enclosed body streamliners appeared in 1949 (Lee Chapel, Howard Johansen, and the So-Cal Special Streamliner), exposed wheel streamliners which included belly tanks and sprint car types were moved from the Streamliner Class to the Lakester Class which had debuted a year earlier. Altered roadsters became “Modified Roadsters” leaving the following classes:
- Modified Roadsters
- Lakesters (Belly Tanks moved from the Streamliner Class to the Lakester Class in 1951)
1951 and Beyond
Classes continued to become more complex and were further divided by body type and engine size in the following years. I found a great article that appeared in the 1952 edition of “How to Build a Hot Rod” by Fawcett Books, and have posted the article below for your review. The article is called “Clear-Cut Classification” and reviews the classes and engine sizes as of 1952. I think you’ll find the article to be a great read in every way.
I’m also still reviewing the information from 1938 thru 1950, and may be able to offer further detail concerning classification of body types too. I’m told by researchers in the area that body types, classes, and engine classifications recognized sometimes changed for specific meets (SCTA, Russetta, and location of these meets). So the information above should be viewed as a guideline provided by Dean Batchelor for the overall classification of body types from 1938-1950 on the dry lakes. We may be able to further define this classification scheme in the near future.
So….take your pick and call your Belly Tank a “Streamliner” or a “Lakester” – depending on the year it was built. Both are great designations for historic tanks out there, and I hope you find this bit of trivia interesting to review. It was fascinating to me when I first came upon it.
Until next time gang….
Shake, Rattle, and Go!