“ANYONE to the Staging Lanes, Please. ANYONE!”
by Ed Miller
Standing there by our trailer in the pit area at San Antonio Raceway at the recent Texas Nostalgia Thunder race, working with my partner preparing our fuel roadster to make another run, I kept hearing the track announcer making the sorrowful plea over the PA system, “ANYONE to the staging lanes, please. ANYONE!”
Damn, I thought, times really are hard. I’d been aware that there were ever-smaller crowds showing up at motorsports events over the past few years, and had even written a bit about that emerging phenomenon here in the digital pages of NDW. But to hear the track announcer begging for someone.. “ANYONE”.. to please come get lined up in the staging lanes to race, really struck me as sad and, frankly, somewhat disheartening.
Being the intrepid NDW reporter I am, of course, and knowing that inquiring minds would want to know, I had to go check it out. Turns out the ten broad staging lanes already had dozens of cars in them, waiting their turn to pull to the starting line and make qualifying passes. The pits were jammed with long trailers and big tow trucks. The elite racers of the Outlaw Fuel Altered Association were in attendance, with their usual colorful mob of big-inch-blower-motored, evil-handling, short-wheelbase, crowd-thrilling fuel roadsters and coupes.
Also there in great number were dozens of front-motored dragsters and blown altereds from the Southwest Heritage Racing Association. Turns out that, after some ace investigative work, I discovered SHRA divided its cars up into three classes of Nostalgia Eliminator, the quickest group being number one. The announcer must have just said the phrase so many times previously at other races that “N.E. 1” had reached the point that it was all slurred together and sounded like she was pleading for ”ANYONE…ANYONE!” to “please get in line and race.”
Oops! My mistake!
Southwest Heritage Racing Association NE 1 Racer Terea Wendland Graves photo by Steve Scott
Really nice event. Great side-by-side competition. It’s hard to find a race anymore with nearly 50 old-style FED’s and fuel altereds, some on nitro, blowing five feet of hot yellow flame out of the zoomies to brighten up the dark Texas nighttime sky. No late model door cars with racing slicks on the front wheels. No funny looking dragsters with the motor in the back seat, a pro-stock hood scoop, and headers that dump into a collector tube shut off at the end with what looks like some kind of dang commode flapper. Nothing but just regular good ol’ altereds and dragsters with their engines still right up there in front, like God intended.
There are a number of nostalgia races every year in Texas, but many of them are just for the street driven hot rods and rat rods that the younger enthusiasts enjoy. You know, the guys with blue jeans sporting rolled up cuffs, a sleeveless white ‘wife beater’ t-shirt, ducktails, and lotsa tattoos, and girls with those six-inch heels, starched petticoats, a flower in their hair, and also with lotsa tattoos, just exactly like the 1950s. Well, okay, just exactly like those models they see in the current nostalgia magazines they fashion themselves after; they themselves having actually missed the 1950s by a generation or two. Cool and interesting, yes, but evermore 21st century.
At the Texas Nostalgia Thunder race, and the preceding series of Texas State Championship races that were produced there earlier this decade, San Antonio Raceway owner Freddy Cruz likes to have actual old-style race cars. Street rods are cool, but they just aren’t fast enough to thrill you like real old-time altereds and dragsters do. These modern reproduction retro-street rods are stylish and all, but they simply can’t send that same jolt of high energy voltage spiking up the spine into your brain that the tortured scream of a blown hemi on nitro does as it blasts off the starting line. Freddy knows he has a crowd of fans who will turn out to see the real thing.
Greeting race fans as they entered the pit area was an expansive pre-‘72 car show. Plenty of ’55-’57 Chevys, Model-A and ’32 coupes and roadsters, and all the other fine, old-time automotive eye candy that you would see at any top notch outdoor car show. The show was professionally judged, and handed out dozens of trophies to the worthy winners. It was a big crowd favorite, and drew lots of families with excited daddies pointing out to their goggle-eyed kiddies what cool cars used to look like back in Me-Maw and Paw Paw’s day.
To keep the event culturally relevant, it offered a trio of hot old school rock bands. Sonny and the Starfires played Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley-style hits, the Del-Vipers played surf music like the Ventures and Dick Dale, and Deuce Coupe wrapped up the evening with a set of blazing rockabilly and hot rod songs. The stage backed up to the grandstands with a shade to shelter the performers from the searing mid-summer Texas sun, and a huge concert-sized stack of speakers blasted tunes out over the pit area, car show, and nearby swap meet.
As usual, one of the most popular parts of the show was the Cacklefest. Often, these features have more of a dramatic, ritualistic ceremony with introductions and the history of the cackle cars. At this race, track owner Cruz decided to just have ‘em crank up in the pits across from the concession stand. Instead of a fence between the crowd and the cackle cars, everybody just gathered around. The cars all had their couplers removed and spectators were kept back to a safe distance, but the crowd milled around close enough to get a good snoot full so they could gasp, choke, cough, and cry from the overwhelming cloud of nitromethane fumes. They loved it.
The race itself turned out to be some kind of a long, drawn out affair. Qualifying unfortunately got off to a very late start because of one circuit’s concerns about not wanting to run in the afternoon heat, there were three oil downs that took a good half hour each to clean up, and what with the cool down and between rounds turnaround time to service the fuel altereds and dragsters, it was about 1 a.m. before the final rounds were eventually run.
Next year, I’ll wager that the parties involved will be more realistic and pick a date during a cooler part of the year, rather than holding it again during the wilting heat of late July in South Texas. But, bet your bottom dollar, there will be front-engined dragsters and fuel altereds mixing it up in 2015 at San Antonio Speedway.
Event photos on next page...
Dir. Of Competition
Texas Timing Association
Nostalgia Drag World - by Ed Miller; photo by Steve Scott
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