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NHRA legend Art Chrisman

by Bill Cawthon on

Art Chrisman, one of the fathers of NHRA drag racing, passed away following a long illness at the age of 86.


Chrisman was the first to hit 140 and, later, 180 miles per hour. He made the first pass at the 1955 Nationals in Great Bend, Kansas, the first-ever NHRA national event, and came in as the runner-up.

ChrismanIn 1958, after spending a number of years racing a Ford-powered  car, Chrisman,  his uncle Jack, and Frank Cannon built their famed Hustler I dragster. They used a Chrysler 392 Hemi, stroked out to 454 cubic inches and a supercharger. The car, named for the Air Force’s then-new B-58 bomber, won the Best Engineered Car award at the 1958 Nationals and appeared on the cover of the January 1959 issue of Hot Rod magazine.

In February 1959, Chrisman drove the Hustler to drag racing’s first recorded 180-mph run, hitting 181.81 mph. He Chrisman continued racing until the end of the 1962 season, when he went to work as a representative for Autolite; he later founded Chrisman Auto Rod Specialties (CARS) with his son, Mike. Chrisman was inducted into the Motorsports Hall or Fame, the NHRA Hall of Fame, and the SEMA Hall of Fame.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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