An Old Idea for the New Millenium
by Tom Pohorilla
It’s been said that there are really no new ideas, only rehashed versions of the old ones with a change or two here and there to make them appear “current” and “up to date”. I got to thinking about that as I read the editorial by our esteemed editor, C.R. Miller, as he touched on the subject of car clubs. Being a part of a group of like-minded individuals, such as those in a car club, is a great way to make a personal passion even more enjoyable. Over the course of the past 20 years or so, I’ve been fortunate to belong to a couple of nostalgia racing associations that were fun to be a part of, but lacking in certain areas that only a real old-time car club would be very rich in. The amazing thing is, I now find myself in just such a group, one that seemed to come into existence by itself without much help from its members. To my way of thinking, it must have been meant to happen.
We need to backtrack a bit, back to middle of 2007. Ray Hudic, from Pittsburgh, was racing his altered named Pegasus II at the June gasser race at Thompson Raceway in Ohio and wound up helping out a fellow racer. Kurt Gehring, an Ohio racer, was there with his altered “Miss Behavin” and was assisting the same racer that Ray was helping. Of course, conversations led to striking up a friendship, and plans were made to attend a race the following month at Dragway 42, along with another altered or two, with the idea that, maybe, they might be able to get a little group started. A week or so later, Ray placed a call to Jegs one evening to order some parts, and, as fate would have it, I was on the other end of the phone. Now, I will admit that I love to talk racing, and I probably did a little more of that at Jegs than my bosses would have liked, but that phone call was not only the beginning of a great friendship between Ray and I, but it was also the birth of the Gunslingers.
The car clubs of the 50’s were, perhaps, not much different in appearance than the motorcycle clubs of the same era, to the general public. Granted, there were similarities, but, to those involved, the two were worlds apart. There was a club house, a custom logo that was on their jackets, shirts, and license plates, and they generally travelled in groups. What distinguished the rodders from the bikers was the commitment to the sport. It wasn’t nearly the social club that the bikers were known for, and the only real “bad stuff” that went on was racing on the streets. (It’s too bad that the general public never really knew this, as drag racers are still looked down on by many as a bunch of greasy thugs.) Some of these clubs became famous, as did many of their members, who are now considered racing “royalty”. Unfortunately, the concept of the car club didn’t seem “hip” enough for many in the 70’s and 80’s, and the whole idea became something that people talked about as a thing of the past.
(left) Kurt Gehring at Thompson 2009 - (right) Tom Pohorilla and Jeff Bahret at Thompson 2008; photos by Bob Wenzelburger
One thing I’ve always noticed about drag racing is that racers like to hang with other racers who have similar cars, run the same classes, run the same tracks, or anything similar in concept. As far back as the late 60’s, there were groups who raced together and were even booked in by promoters and booking agents to put on shows at tracks all over the country. These wouldn’t really be the same thing as car clubs, but the idea was similar in a lot of respects. As racing became more corporate in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and the gap between the big time racers and the local bracket warriors became wider and wider, a new movement was starting to gain momentum – nostalgia. Many racers, tired of the exorbitant amounts of money and extensive electronics that were necessary to be competitive even on a local level, started to build cars like they remembered from the “good old days”. The amazing thing was, unlike regular bracket racing, people would actually come and watch! Suddenly, tracks began to offer a place for these people to race, and, suddenly, every track had some kind of nostalgia race, and the racer who thought he was the only one who didn’t like the modern stuff found out he had a lot of company.
So, in July of 2007, Ray Hudic, Kurt Gehring, and I got together for the first time at Dragway 42 in West Salem, Ohio. They were joined by Darryl Arnold with his 23 T , Mike Petry with his Fiat, and Greg Fortman with his ’32 Ford altered. We ran time runs as a group and had our own little race-within-a-race, much to the delight of the crowd and the track management, who invited us back whenever we could make it. We gave away a lot of free swag (courtesy of Jegs-boy wasn’t that a great connection to have!) and crowned the first Top Gunslinger, which happened to be Mike in his Fiat. Over the next year, the Gunslingers raced as a group at Thompson, Dragway 42, and Marion County about a half dozen times. Along the way, my wife and I had to return to Philadelphia for personal reasons, and the Gunslingers continued without us. It was during this time, though, that the group started to transition from a racing group to a car club, due to a couple of things that happened. article continued on next page...
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