THE GEEZER GASSERS… LIVING THE DREAM!
by Chuck Lipka
Among the most exciting of the 1960's drag racing classes were undeniably the gassers! Über-popular Willys, and Anglias, with their short wheelbase and big-inch, blown engines, starting line launches were something to behold: wheels up, then seemingly on the verge of losing control as they careened towards the quarter-mile marker! The “Gasser Wars” of old created a fan base that has endured over time, now making these vintage gas class warriors - whether restored originals or "re-pops" - a top draw at nostalgia events around the country.
THE GEEZER GASSERS is a group of drag racing enthusiasts living their dream. Nearly all were racers (legal and perhaps otherwise) “back in the day” and are now experiencing fun, excitement, and friendship with their dream cars, the 60's look gassers – built as per the NHRA Gas Classes. Members cars are either updated originals from the past, or purpose-built creations that accurately replicate the cars from that period.
The early days of the Geezer Gassers go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when the nostalgia drag race movement was in its infancy. True head-to-head competition for these cars was becoming a thing of the past, replaced with bracket racing programs. The old-time “real racers” yearned for the good old days of side-by-side racing for the stripe, when you didn’t lose by arriving t the finish line ‘too quickly,’ thereby “breaking out!”
During this same period, the GOODGUYS Rod and Custom Association was growing in popularity. It soon became a driving force in nostalgia racing, hosting drag races at several of their regional and national events. The racers came, the spectators came, and popularity began to swell. Ultimately, that led to a push for competition on a larger scale. Concessions were made, and soon many of the head-to-head classes became exactly what many of the old-timers weretrying to get away from – bracket classes!
Chuck Lipka is an old-time racer from the ‘60s, and is the director of the GEEZER GASSERS. With fond memories of his early days of nostalgia racing, and having several friends with cars under construction, it didn't take long before this group of old racers joined the GOODGUYS activities. There was just one problem - they were all old school, head-to-head racers. The first car to the finish line was the winner, right? A member of the group, saying “whoever heard of losing a drag race because you went too fast,” best expressed their frustration with bracket racing.
The competition director and safety coordinator for the GOODGUYS Vintage Racing Association was a veteran of that period, and agreed to establish a no-bracket, head-to-head class if the group could produce a minimum of four cars for that class. The cars and the class were an immediate hit, both with the spectators and fellow racers alike. Initially this group of friends was comprised of four racers and their cars, the iconic 1940-41 Willys coupes. These were the cars that epitomized the gas classes from the 60's, and the basis for that period’s great and well-remembered “gasser wars.” As popularity of this small group grew, other racers were asking to run with them or were solicited by the membership to join the group. Racers and fans alike quickly solidified the group’s standing as an integral part of the GOODGUYS Vintage Racing program.
The group was originally called the Nostalgia Gassers, taking the name from the class designation - Nostalgia Gas. Press and photo coverage in the GOODGUYS monthly membership publication, along with mainstream periodicals Street Rodder and Rod and Custom, continued to fuel the group’s popularity. As membership began to increase, name recognition and credibility began to create new racing opportunities for the group.
The Nostalgia Gassers began to host an “open house and happy hour” in the evening after race activities were finished. It was at one of these after-race celebrations that the official name for the group was established - THE GEEZER GASSERS. The name was an excellent fit, and soon this band of racers and their cars were quickly recognized by their new label, as well as a new logo created by one of the original group members. To insure there would be no confusion with other new nostalgia groups, the GEEZER GASSER name and logo became registered trademarks in 2002.
Currently the group has 22 active members. In addition, five prospective new members are completing gassers for the 2013 racing season. An “active participant” group, the member’s cars are always parked together in the pit area, allowing for up close personal interaction with spectators and other racers. Additionally, the group participates in shows and events that are held prior to a race program. Owners, drivers, and crew members continually strive to interact with all who stop by, most of whom have just witnessed these same cars doing smoky burnouts, wheels-up launches, and a 120+ mph pass down the quarter-mile. Conversation with fans often leads to reliving memories of past meets and race cars, while seating kids and adults behind the wheel, and sharing promotional materials with all who are interested is de regueur at the events.
The GEEZER GASSERS pride themselves with their professionalism and safety in every aspect of the racing program. All drivers, crew members, and their cars must adhere to a formal set of rules established by the group, as well as those in force by the sanctioning bodies. These rules are focused on safety for the members, track personnel, and spectators. Additions to the original rules have included mandatory use of engine “diapers”, fire jackets for drivers, functional headlights for night activities, and, for safety’s sake, a limit of 9.50 e.t./135 mph for member’s cars quarter mile performances. There are current discussions regarding minimum car weight and vehicle stance based on ground-to-crankshaft height.
The National Hot Rod Association invited THE GEEZER GASSERS to their very first Midwest Hot Rod Reunion at National Trails Raceway in 1998. When this event was moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2002, NHRA once again asked GEEZER GASSERS to be part of the program – a tradition that has continued every year since, with the Geezers participating in the 10th anniversary event in June 2012. In 2011, the group was also invited to be part of the 20th anniversary activities for the California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, California. Welcomed with open arms by spectators and racers alike, the group was the recipient of an inaugural award for the group that, epitomizing the spirit of the reunion, best represented the “Golden Age of Drag Racing.” The award was based on a survey of spectators, press photographers, and other racers at the event, with THE GEEZER GASSERS the unanimous choice.
Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, OH has also been a significant venue for the group. Beginning when GOODGUYS staged their regional event there in 2007-09, appearances by invitation have also included The Blue Suede Cruise in 2006, opening day activities in 2011 and 2012, Night Under Fire in 2011 and 2012, and The Cavalcade of Stars (a 3-day event) in 2012.
The GEEZER GASSERS have also appeared at many other racing facilities, including Muncie Dragway (Muncie, IN), Grove Creek Raceway (MN), No Problem Raceway (Belle Rose, LA), Gateway (Madison, IL), Coles County Raceway (Charleston, IL), Holly Springs Raceway (Holly Springs, MS), Kansas City International Raceway (Kansas City, MO), Clay City Raceway (Clay City, KY), Mid America Raceway (Pacific Junction, IA), Cordova Raceway Park (Cordova, IL), Cedar Falls Raceway (Cedar Falls, IA), and Eddyville Raceway (Eddyville, IA).
Current members represent a number of different states. While the mid-west is the group's primary area of operations, in recent years the groups’ activities have expanded to the north and south, including the westward trip in 2011 to California for the NHRA 20th Annual California Hot Rod Reunion.
As the popularity of nostalgia drag racing continues to grow, THE GEEZER GASSERS plan to be in the game for a long time. Every true drag racing fan should make it a point to go witness a wheels-up, starting line launch by a 60’s-style nostalgia gasser when they appear at a nearby drag strip – you will not forget the experience!
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NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - Chuck Lipka; Photos by Martin Libhart & Bob Wenzelburger