National Hot Rod Reunion
The Sopko Report
by Mike Sopko Jr.
The National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Kentucky ended more than a month ago, but since then some thoughts have been on my mind and I wanted to pass them along to you, the readers. The basis for the following comes from my perspective as a fan and photographer along with my unending appreciation for the unique aspects of drag racing.
I am as competitive as anyone and love the tenaciously competitive spirit of drag racing and its participants. As a fan, however, I realize there is also a show element present that keeps me wanting more. These are the happenings at the drag strip that you walk away remembering; ones which lead to a plethora of those great “bench racing” stories. There was a time in drag racing when the show aspect was synonymous with performance. That is no longer the case as technology has created tires and track preparation that don’t require 300-foot burnouts, dry hops or launches, and Pro Stocks that barely carry the front wheels anymore.
The week after the Hot Rod Reunion, Dad and I attended the Route 66 Nationals in Joliet. We were able to see the Jeg’s Allstars race, night qualifying, and even four three-second runs in funny car (though it was 320 feet short of what many consider a true drag race). We had a good time but didn’t get in the car afterward and say “wow did you see that” or “how about that run by so-and-so.” Though the performance was incredible it lacked the show element that we witnessed at Bowling Green. In the interest of fair reporting I must admit as much as I enjoy the NHRA’s “Big Show,” nostalgia drag racing is more of my niche. I believe that outstanding performances can only account for so much as many of us are also missing the outrageous antics of the racers and cars. Those were a big part of the “show” that originally endeared the sport of drag racing to its fans.
That brings me back to the point of this article. For the Hot Rod Reunion you could look up the winners on several websites, but for this article I wanted to share with you some of the attractions that were not included in those pages. These to me were just a few of the elements that lead to the spectacle-type atmosphere presented by the National Hot Rod Reunion…….
First up, wheelstands! As a photographer and drag racing addict there are few things as enjoyable and picturesque as a wheels-up launch, especially the higher and farther it goes. At the NHRR there were all kinds of racecars picking up the wheels - dragsters, altereds, and gassers - but no one stole the show more than Mike Bilina’s green ‘56 Chevy. On the front of the chassis it reads: “It’s All About The Show!” And let me tell you, it definitely was. Bilena repeatedly put his F/Gas Chevy on the bumper and mercilessly brought it down to earth only to carry them again and again down track. I don’t believe he went any rounds, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell by the crowd’s reaction every time he came to the line. Rumor has it he is considering adding a passenger side seat for interested fans. Any takers?
Now for the burnouts. I could do a whole photo album of nothing but burnouts, as they’re some of my favorite shots to take. There were plenty of cars lining up at the NHRR to boil the hides and clear the area of any mosquitoes. When reflecting on the best burnouts I couldn’t narrow it down, so I thought I would categorize it by vehicle type, as follows…...
- Best Dragster burnout. There were more than a few slingshots that torched the tires, but none more so than 7.0 class competitor Mike Smith in his Killer Crower FED. Making the trip from out west he didn’t disappoint as he unleashed punishing, loud, and smoky burnouts run after run. Obviously it didn’t hurt his performance either as he took the 7.0 class trophy home with him.
- Best Door Car burnout. Again there could be a case made for a variety of cars and drivers, but I’m going to give the nod to the AA/Gas’ Franklin Coverdale and his green “Special Edition II.” I may be embellishing a little, but it seemed as if he had burned so much rubber off of the tires that the car literally sat lower in the rear than it did at the beginning of the race.
- Best Funny Car burnout. The fabulous floppers represented themselves well, so after negotiating with myself on how to narrow this down, I’ve decided to give a couple of honorable mentions. First one has to go to Mike Minnick in the Chi-Town Hustler, and if you’re asking yourself if he is related to the original car’s legendary Minnick you would be correct. Minnick and the Hustler team kept up the tradition of their namesake and demonstrated what real funny car burnouts used to be.
Next, honorable mention has to go to Rick Krafft in the Jungle Jim tribute. Let me tell you, Rick was committed to putting on a show with smoke pouring out from the windows of the blue Vega and washing the rear end out. Continued on next page...
Nostalgia Drag World - article and photos by Mike Sopko Jr. QuarterMileClassics.com