Racin' Reunion with Connell R. Miller
Nostalgia events held around the country provide a wonderful opportunity for fans and racers alike to meet and reminisce about the cars and racing from back in the day. Getting autographs or their picture taken with a hero from a past time, watching the restored “cacklers” and experiencing a sense of déjà vu as the front engine dragsters, nostalgia funnies, fuel altered, and ‘60s-look gassers make smoky quarter-mile passes – all are part of the fun and excitement we experience as the present takes a trip back to meet the past.
Aiding in this ‘connectivity’ to the cars, drivers, and crews from the “days of yore” has been the proliferation of social media users. Leading the way have been the Facebookers, with thousands of members posting comments and photographs 24/7 across cyberspace. This, of course, results in a constant history lesson, as the entire story of drag racing and its colorful cast of characters is sliced, diced, and served up daily to inform and educate racing enthusiasts of all ages.
In addition to the large nostalgia racing events such as Bakersfield’s California Hot Rod Reunion and Bowling Green in Kentucky, one should not overlook the many local reunion get-togethers held every year around the country. From informal get-togethers at a local diner to the more organized ones, with race cars and cacklers in attendance, these non-racing events are yet another chance to “meet-and-greet” and take photographs of many of the “old-timers” of our sport. Again, thanks to the widespread use of social media, these reunions are usually well publicized and attended.
A business trip brought me from Arkansas to Dallas in December of 2011, where I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Don Ross’ “Texas Drag Geezerfest” reunion. It was, I’m sure, a repetition of such events held around the country, and if ANY others have the famed drivers and folks associated with the great past days of drag racing, I can guarantee – they should not be missed under any circumstance!
It was a cold day – in the 40s – but the crowd was divided between the packed dining room and the parking lot, where the Scorpion l and Scorpion V, along with John Dearmore’s drop-dead gorgeous dragster, the Steve Carbone Tribute car, the re-creation of Larry LaDue’s Rat Patrol and the beautiful Wild Child nostalgia Mustang funny car of Kebin Kinsley all cackled throughout the afternoon.
Inside, such well-known racing notables as Dale Emery, Don “Mad Dog” Cook, Paul Smith, David Pace, Vance Hunt, and Paul Caster, mingled, told stories, and gave autographs to other old racers and newbies alike. Event host, former racer and current chassis builder Don Ross, former IHRA Division Director and ace dragster body builder Dennis Tarkington, great nitro tuner and crew chief Guy Tipton, Ed Miller of the Texas Timing Association and Chuck Broadway, curator of the Texas Museum of Automotive History, were all spotted that day.
In eavesdropping during the afternoon, the main topic of conversation among the attendees was the decline of participation among racers in the present day top categories of Top Fuel and Funny Car. This was followed by the shaking of heads regarding seeing race cars plastered only with sponsor logos instead of names. They miss seeing cars with Pandemonium, Swamp Rat, ChiZler, Teacher’s Pet, War Eagle, Blue Max, the Hawaiian, California Charger, Wheeler Dealer, Gizzle Hopper, Jade Grenade, the Scorpion, and hundreds of others in big letters on the side or the nosepiece. Drivers’ monikers, which in many cases reflected their wearer’s personality, have disappeared as well: “Snake”, “Mongoose,” “Jungle” Jim, “Mad Dog,” “Cha-Cha,” “Grumpy,” “the Greek,” “Tentmaker,” et al.
Cookie-cutter cars were as much of a problem with the locals on that Saturday in Garland as it seems to be with disappointed fans of the sport who constantly and consistently blaze their concerns across the Internet and into the national conscience. Back in the day a Woody Gilmore chassis with a Tom Hanna body could readily be told apart from a Kent Fuller creation; the same with Roy Fjastad’s SPE diggers and one from Ed Mabry’s garage. Not to disparage the modern builders’ craftsmanship in any way, but can you really tell a Murf McKinney from a Brad Hadman dragster? Do John force’s funny cars actually resemble that popular sports model from the stamping dies of FoMoCo? The ‘60s and ‘70s saw Camaros, Monzas, Mustangs, Omnis, Vegas, Dusters and Dodge Chargers, Corvettes and even Jeep fiberglass creations popped out of their molds. With distinctive paint jobs and painstakingly hand lettered, they were readily identifiable, even from the top row of a faraway grandstand.
And once again…oh, those names: Bounty Hunter, Motown Shaker, Houston Hustler, Showtime, and Color Me Gone! continued... on next page...