Just How Real is Real Enough?
by Ed Miller
Some of our erstwhile colleagues in our chosen sport of Nostalgia Drag Racing seem to have developed a ‘Holier than thou’ attitude regarding their personal opinions about the authenticity or genuineness of some of the cars that we run or race with. Since there aren’t really very many of us nostalgia racers in the first place, it seems a shame that there are some of us being snide about who among us has the real thing and who does not. It appears to me that the ones most prone to exclude some excellent cars are the very same ones who seem to have trouble telling the difference between their own judgmental opinions and actual objective facts.
A couple of years ago, a group of newbie nostalgia race promoters asked me and my Fuel Roadster to attend their initial event. A short time later, they turned their noses up and sent me an e-mail uninviting me. Turned out that the problem, as they saw it, wasn’t just me and my car, but also who my friends were, and the very nature of their cars as well. They believed that in the whole bunch of us who had traditional altereds and FED’s and ran at every other nostalgia event all around the big ol’ state of Texas and the rest of the country, there wasn’t a single one of us authentic enough to meet their standards and be allowed to enter their race.
Well, it’s true that my roadster, although built in the traditional style, is not as old as it appears. It has the look of a 50 year old car when in fact it is only about half that old, having been built in the late ‘80’s instead of the early ‘60’s. A big part of their complaint about us seemed centered on the fact that we didn’t have the old fashioned single hoop roll bars with the driver sitting bolt upright in the cockpit. The objection seemed strange to me, but I was baffled by their viewpoint and wanted to understand what they were thinking.
My friends that they considered un-authentic and therefore unwelcome were all the racers who run in the Outlaw Fuel Altered Association and the Southwest Junior Fuel Association. All of those Fuel Altereds and Junior Fuelers I’d been booking into the nostalgia events I’d produced for years were not really vintage enough? Turns out that in their minds, these guys had decided that all the cool old cars in these circuits were actually just brand new phony replicas, merely masquerading as vintage race cars. I explained to them, to no avail, that in SWJFA alone I knew of half-a-dozen with Don Long and Jim Davis chassis that were built in the ‘60s, and, as I recall, a couple of old T-Bar cars as well.
This group of self-appointed nostalgia experts didn’t even recognize the names of these famous builders! They also had a problem with some of us running nitromethane, instead of gasoline like the ‘real’ nostalgia cars used to run. Had no idea that our chassis’s had to meet rigid current safety rules, and be regularly inspected and certified for us to be allowed to run 150 or 200 mph down a sanctioned drag strip. Maybe a lot of these guys had street-driven hot rods or rat rods, and might have objected to the fact that none of our cars were all rusted up and shabby looking.
Reminded me of the situation with the first group of nostalgia racers I got involved with, in a now-defunct vintage racing association. The group had two race teams that were pretty much the co-leaders of this ill-defined, slightly-organized bunch of racers, all of whom ran altereds or front-motor dragsters. These two teams bickered back and forth over whether either of them was really authentic enough to run against the other. The sad truth was that both teams had really righteous cars with an authentic ‘60’s look to them. They just couldn’t agree on whose was the most legitimate or orthodox.
Back in the day, there was an enormous amount of variation in how drag cars were built and finished out. Everybody had their own take on what the best way was, and don’t even bother trying to find agreement on what the right way was. Seems to me that all these modern day uproars are just a result of some people holding narrow points of view based mostly on their self-interest, attitudes, and personal opinions; people that don’t seem to be able to distinguish between their own deeply-held personal beliefs and the real truth.
Hey, folks, there ain’t that many of us! We need to be pulling together, and not shoving one another away. In a world where some people consider a vintage car to be anything with rear-wheel drive built before the 21st century (including factory-produced door cars), we need to focus on what we genuine nostalgia racers have in common, and not seize on some slight difference to challenge one’s authenticity. Like the lawyers famously say, “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck…then it’s a damn duck.”
A fitting climax to this plea for unity comes from that drag race put on by those novice nostalgia producers mentioned earlier. They finally relented and allowed me to run their race. When I was staging my car, the starter asked me for my “dial-in.” Not being familiar with the phrase, I told him what the ET had been on my only time trial. He waved me on, and I staged. Driving a nitro car, I expected to see a regular pro tree. Instead, the lights started down, but only in my lane and not the other. I thought the tree was screwed up, so I relaxed. Then the lights on the other side started down. What? I had no earthly idea what was going on.
Needless to say, the other guy left on his green while I sat there puzzled. See, I had never driven in a bracket race before, and didn’t even know how such a strange thing as that worked. After all the attitude and rudeness, the condemnation and judgmental complaints about me, my 25 year old car, and the cars of my OFAA and SWJFA friends not being authentic, it turned out that these guys knew so very little about actual old time drag racing that their exclusive, genuine nostalgia event was in truth just a damn bracket race!
They seemed to know nothing about heads up starts. With only their personal experience to go by, all that they apparently were aware of were new staggered-start bracket races. What a farce! I was stunned by the overwhelming irony of these guys believing themselves to be nostalgia experts and purists, then putting on a bracket rather than heads-up race. Seemed a good idea for me to just pack up and leave quietly before my mouth got me in trouble again by telling the truth to people who wouldn’t be able to comprehend it. Even after we loaded up our Fuel Roadster and towed on out, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I still don’t.
Nostalgia Drag World - by Ed Miller; photo by Connell R. Miller
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