As you sit in the stands at the local drag strip on a Saturday night, you are told to look toward the top end of the track. Through the darkness you barely make out some movement around the stripe, but you are unclear what is going on. A couple of minutes pass and then you see what looks like two small fires. No, four small fires. Your mind is straining to make sense of what your eyes are seeing, and finally you realize what it is. The four fires are headlights coming down the drag strip the wrong way. Suddenly you see flames shoot up in the air in front of the two vehicles, and again you feel confused. Then the noise hits your eardrums. It all makes sense now. You are witnessing a pair of front engine dragsters being push started from the finish line toward the starting line. You have seen the videos, read the magazines, and surfed the net to see the cackle cars do this at the reunions. Never in your wildest dreams, though, did you think that you would witness two diggers being push started at your local track. As the two slingshots pass the stands you are overwhelmed by the sight, sound and smell. The two cars pass the starting line and proceed to crisis cross and turn around in the staging lanes. You grab your camera to be ready to get the perfect shot when the pair will be parked, but as you and the fans rise to your feet, something doesn't seem right. The drivers maneuver the blown nitro powered rail jobs past the water box and proceed back to the starting line. "What are they doing" seems to be on everyone's mind. Are they going to park on the starting line for the ultimate photo shoot?
You jump down out of the stands to get on the fence for the photo of a lifetime. You and hundreds of others - crowding the side of the strip to get the best view. The pilots of these two time machines inch their way to the starting line as you start seeing the details of their dragsters. The one in the left lane is powered by a blown and injected big block Chevy, the one on the right is Ford powered, also blown and injected. Both have chute pack bodies, wire spoke front wheels and pie crust rear slicks. Then as you are day dreaming of what it would be like to sit in one of these monsters, you are ripped back into reality by that sound. So that's what nitro dragsters sound like? The RPMs continue to rise and you once again struggle to figure out what is going on. As you raise your camera, your eye catches the pre stage bulb in the far lane light up. Now the left lane bulb is lit. You shake your head to try to focus on what is actually happening. Both engines increase in noise with the glow of flames belching out of the pipes. It seems like time stands still. Thoughts race through your mind while you try to make sense of what is actually happening in front of you. Both bottom bulbs light at almost exactly the same time the engines roar, and then reality seeps in to your consciousness... They are going to run these two cars down the track! Maybe a small side by side "squirt" as some call it, where the drivers blip the throttle and get out of it almost immediately. Time continues to seem to be running at a snails pace as you are absorbing everything in front of you. The two diggers leave side by side and from the time the clutches engage, smoke plumes off the tires of both cars. As you prepare for the butterfly's on the injectors to snap shut, you notice more smoke. A lot more smoke. And the sound. The engines are not slowing to idle, they are increasing in RPMs. Still not shutting down the motors, the drivers are now out past the 60 ft mark. Tires on both cars are still spinning and the smoke coming off them is what you envision it must have been like back in the day. Finally hooking up after half track, the pair of slingshots charge toward the top end and trip the timers. Mid 7 second times at almost 200 mph are displayed on the timing boards as you stare in disbelief. "Did I just see what I think I saw?" is what runs through your mind. Feeling like you were transported somehow back in time to the mid 60s, you scream along side the other fans. As you look around you realize you are not alone in your wonderment. Everyone feels the same.. blown away by what just happened. You and all the fans in attendance have just gotten to see something that the vast majority of drag racing addicts have never been able to watch.
Those old enough and lucky to have been at the tracks 50 years ago are few and far between. Lions, Orange County, Santa Ana... all names you are familiar with but long gone. That special time in history when front engine dragsters were king, legends were made, and fans were able to experience the raw power of early drag racing is a half a century ago. If you were born in the mid 60s like I was, you were born too late. I was just eight years old when Lions last race was run, and by the time I was old enough to drive, slingshot dragsters had been retired from full time racing for over a decade. We are blessed to have people like Steve Gibbs who took the reigns to bring back the cars of yesteryear with the reunions along with the legends who drove them. And as cool as the cackle cars are, and as fast as the modern front engine dragsters are, we felt like something is missing. If you are lucky enough to get to attend one of the 3 stellar NHRA reunions, or any other nostalgia drag race, maybe you felt the same.
What was it really like to be there? In an era when they didn't do burnouts prior to the run, guys like the Greek, Garlits, and Floyd Lipponcot smoked the tires past half track WHILE ON THE RUN. Sometimes these wild rides were smoking the slicks WITH the front wheels off the ground, turning speeds near the 200 mph mark. Side by side, flames in the air; driving tire spinning, nitro eating creations that mesmerized the fans on a weekly basis. Hemis, Cammers, big block Chevys, all on nitro, filled the air with that heavy yellow haze that burned your throat and made your eyes water. Sounds that only come from cars with names like the Chizler, Jade Grenade, and Hawaiian. While we enjoy the original and recreation cackle cars, we have been intrigued when one of them is allowed to make a pass down the quarter mile. Fans rush the fence and stand on their feet to watch the dragsters drive down the track barely running above idle. Every time it happens, we hear fans throughout the stands yelling the same thing. GAG IT, JUMP ON IT, MAKE A HARD PASS! They want to see what it was really like. They want to watch the cars run like they did back in the day. While we all know the cackle cars can't run full passes due to safety concerns, we all still seem to share the same dream.
For 2016, we are making that dream come true. We are building a pair of 140" slingshot dragsters that will be known simply as "The Smokers". We will be recreating the greatest era of drag racing - the mid 60's. One rail will be Ford powered, the other Chevy powered. Both blown on nitro with clutch cans and non-slipper clutches. Our plan is to do a match race schedule like our heroes did back in the day. Ten tracks in 3 weeks - Run at a track Friday night, drive to another Saturday to match race, then leave for yet another venue on Sunday. Throw in a Wednesday night grudge race and we start all over again on Friday. Three weeks of on the road, cross country match racing action with a film crew riding along to document the mayhem for fans to watch on YouTube. Living a dream. So if you want to be transported back in time and see "The Smokers" in action, check out the build at www.slingshotdragsters.com