Stories from the Storm Center with Stormy Byrd
Nostalgia Drag World is proud to announce that long-time west coast racer and ASE-Certified Mechanic by trade, Bob "Stormy" Byrd, will be manning our Tech Department. He'll be providing hints and tips to keep your iron running as well as giving us some musings from his past racing experiences. Here's a little background on the current owner/driver of the "Revelation" B/Fuel Modified Roadster, an NHRA NE1 7.60 class race car......
It all began one night in 1966 when his dad took 10-year-old Stormy and his brother Tim to the famed Lions drag strip. He relates he found his "nirvana" while watching a blown '41 Willys thunder down the "Beach's" quarter-mile, igniting a passion for the sport that the gearhead admits has only grown over the last forty-seven years.
Byrd was racing motorcycles and go-carts by 1968. In 1973, while attending high school, a full-time job helped put together a hot 289 for his '65 Ford Ranchero with a 4-speed. That car saw battle not only at the original Irwindale Raceway, but also - with the vagaries of youth showing - some late night street racing. It was during the latter one day when the rear end broke, rotated, and yanked out the driveshaft, almost launching the car to what surely would have been its total demise. Selling the Ranchero but keeping the engine and transmission, Stormy and his brother found a nice '32 Austin Bantam. Swapping the top-loader for a manual shift C4, they plugged it and the 289 into their new find and went drag racing again. Along the way, a '55 Chevy gasser, more souped-up Fords, and a few motorcycles also found a home in his driveway.
The Bantam's racing career was cut short with the closing of Orange County International Raceway, so the roll cage was cut off and it became a street machine. With its Crower-cammed 289 and manual C4 feeding a narrowed '62 Corvette rear with posi and 4:88 gears, the 98" wheelbase roadster was "badass" according to Byrd. By 1984, though, the car was gone. Stormy explained: "That street scene wasn’t for me, however, as I was constantly looked down upon. The car had no chrome or $5000 paint job; it was all go - not show. Besides, I knew the car would kill me if I kept putting my 90-lb foot down on that big pedal on the floor!"
Stormy then, with his buddy Dennis Akenbauer, bought an old Frank Huszar-built, 135" w.b. Junior Fuel chassis. After racing - and crashing - his motorcycles, he felt he could now "do what I love and have a cage around me!" Its first engine was a carbureted 350 Chevy with a Turbo 350 and, with Stormy and Dennis sharing the driving, the car was a consistent nine-second performer. This car was the basis for what today is his "Strange Brew" NE1 car, capably driven by Eily Stafford.
By 1985, another 135" dragster popped up for sale in nearby Calabasas. For the princely sum of $650 it went home with Byrd, where, he feels, his journey really begins. Years earlier he and his brother, Tim, had watched this car race at Lions in '67, and Stormy soon discovered the dragster's pedigree included winning the '66 March Meet and being a Drag News record holder. Called "The Rounder," it had raced from 1964 to 1969 before passing through two owners, including one who worked for the movie studios. It had been purchased in the '70s for a role in the "More American Graffiti" movie, but was not used and came complete, including body, upholstery, and Moon Equipment wire front wheels, but less powerplant.
Soon an Enderle injected 327 was bolted between the frame rails and the car, re-christened "Revelation," was hauled out to LACR. Finding the Enderle's hard to tune on gas, for two weeks it was put on an alky diet before introducing it to nitromethane, Stormy's "race fuel of the gods."
Putting a roadster body on "Strange Brew" and nitro in its tank, and since the NHRA did not provide a class for injected Modified Roadsters on pop, Stormy and Dennis hit the match race trail, hauling the two cars from Carlsbad to Fremont. This was at the very renaissance of what today is called nostalgia, or "heritage" drag racing.
One of Byrd's long-time friends is Bill Pitts who had restored the "Magi Car" to display and cackle. He and Stormy have been called by many the "fathers of nostalgia racing and cackle cars!" Lions had had its "Old Time Drags" while Irwindale and Orange County ran the "Yesteryear Drags" before they moved to LACR, but the movement really grew in the '80s, with Stormy and Bill leading the way in cars they had been racing for many years. Tom Prufer's Nostalgia Drag Racing Association (NDRA) found its way into new hands that brought back "The March Meet" after a long absence from Bakersfield. The races were small and not very well attended by racers or fans, but it was the start of something bigger when Bernie Longjohn at LACR began running the "Irwindale Reunion" in 1987 as well as the Lions and San Fernando reunions. Along the way, former racer Frank Fedak formed the American Nostalgia Racing Association (ANRA) that, 20 years later and under the leadership of Stormy's good friend, Butch Hedrick, is now the largest such organization in the world, currently averaging 325 teams and their cars at each of their series four races. cont...on next page