To quote a line from an old Everly Brothers song… “Bye bye love.. Bye bye happiness..”
This is quite apropos to most of us when we reach the end of another racing season and we come to the sudden realization that our local straight-line speed emporium has locked its gates and the “Big Show” will not reappear on our television screens until Pomona next year. For the car owners and their crews, it signifies a short rest before time to check through old parts and gather up new ones, rebuild engines, do any necessary chassis repairs, updates and/or re-certification. For a few of the latter, it might mean busting their butts the next few months to restock the kitty to be able to even put their car back out on the strip next season. And for a (hopefully) very few, Racing Junk, eBay, a Facebook Timeline page or the local paper’s classifieds will find his or her race car and parts for sale.
In the interim downtime, there are plenty of off-season things to keep us busy while the winter weeks drag (oops.. I mean, slide) by. The following are some thoughts and suggestions, so read through them and I’m pretty sure you’ll find one or more that might be of help while you’re whistling that old tune I mentioned above. In no particular order of importance they are:
1. Now is the perfect time to edit/save those racing shots you took throughout the year. If you do not have a photo editing program, there are free ones out there as well as some for as low as $30-50 that will do very nicely for basic cropping, sharpening, lightening/darkening, etc. Many of you take pictures with your cellphones and those images (as I do with my Samsung S5 shots) can really come out great with some simple “tweaks” with such a program. Since the digital world has its quirks and computers will unexpectedly crash, I would also suggest saving all your photos – both edited and unedited – to two places, say an external hard drive and a thumb drive. Every so often burn them to a CD too!
2. Take it from someone who has been shooting drag racing since the mid-1950s, you want to make note of who, what, why, where and when on every image you take! I do have a pretty good memory for the above on my photos going way back, but there are some I can’t identify the car or the event and year. It might be burned into your memory banks now, but just wait a few years and you might wish you’d followed my advice.
3. This time of year you’ll find some racers or racing groups around the country holding reunions and end-of-year get-togethers. It’s a great way to meet and become acquainted with people in the sport as well as fans and photographers that you have gotten to know as “friends” on social media. For example - and it’s a great one that I’ve attended in the past - the “Drag Geezers Reunion” held each year in North Texas (usually at a restaurant in Denton, near North Star Dragway). There are usually well over a hundred folks on hand and several cackle cars to add a little “good smell’um” to the atmosphere.
4. As most of us aware, as the years go by, it gets harder to “put butts” in the stands at drag racing events. Regular readers of my column know I’ve been preaching about this for a long time: It is imperative we must get the younger kids exposed to our sport. Believe it or not, “young’uns” reaching the age to be able to legally drive, are not rushing down to the local DMV to obtain a driver’s license. Slowing them down with this sense of non-urgency to have that piece of plastic in their wallet is the lure of staying home in front of their 50” flatscreens with 256 channels, texting their friends or with a game controller in their hand. You’ll also find very few millennials out in the garage on a hot summer day tinkering with their rides, much less with thoughts of going to a drag racing event.
For 2017, why not make it a point to bring to a race someone who has never attended one. How about your kids, or a cousin, niece or nephew; a friend and his kids? You never can tell when that one exposure at an event could lead to his or her becoming a dedicated proponent of our sport or future involvement as an actual competitor. When I was a tyke my dad took me to the jalopy races at the Devil’s Bowl in Dallas, AAA Championship open-wheel racing at Arlington Downs, Joie Chitwood Auto Thrill Shows at the old track at Fair Park and SCCA sports car races at Eagle Mountain National Guard Base north of Fort Worth. However, in 1952 when he took me to what is arguably the second organized dragstrip in the country – the all-concrete old military training field northeast of Dallas at Caddo Mills – I was hooked forever on side-by-side, quarter-mile drag racing. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to spend the last sixty-three years in the sport as a spectator, racer, chassis builder, photographer and writer. With your help, you might also be able to bring some youngster into what we are trying to keep alive and grow. Think about it!
5. In this day and age, people don’t join clubs or associations like they used to. Years ago, the Elks Lodge to which I belonged, had 2,600 members. When I moved and left the state we were down to about 600. The same with car clubs. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were thousands of car clubs around the country, many with the requisite cast aluminum plaque sharing space with a license plate on the bumper. That number has dropped substantially now, but think about it: Why not start a car club? Bring in like-minded gearheads who enjoy getting together and jawing about cars at the weekly meetings, drinking beer and smoking cigars. Sounds like fun? You bet! Like the old days, it also might be a way to go racing on the cheap, with a “club car” that is funded and wrenched on by all the members (of course, in a club setting, a point of contention could crop up as to who gets to drive the damn thing!).
6. If you are a business person in your community or work for an entity that advertises with events or open houses, contact a few local racers who might bring their cars in to display. This could be not only a good customer draw but there might be a few young folks who could have the seeds of a drag racing interest implanted in them as they pore over the cars close up. You could also check and see if there is a nearby owner of a cackle car that would be interested in doing a couple of fire-ups and showing the crowd what a little nitro smells like. These old restored or re-created cars are expensive (as is the CH3NO2 they are burning) so they will be expected to be paid something.
7. I have a lot of respect for founders and owners of the big mail-order speed equipment companies, as many times they started small and worked hard to build their businesses into what they’ve become today. I’m not trying to steer you away from them, but I urge you to seek out that small speed shop in your town first and try to do business with him. While he might be a little higher, he really hopes to make you a long-time customer and possibly would try to work a better price than retail.
8. The same with car builders. Whether it’s a complete dragster, altered or funny car chassis or a roll cage kit for that gasser or bracket car, check to see if there is a local chassis guy that can do the same job as one of the big companies several states away. That way you can easily check on the progress the shop is making on your project and most properly be fitted for such items as seat width, steering and correct placement of pedals. Just be sure to look at the quality of work he has done and talk to folks for which he has done past work.
9. Finally, there are very few strip owners and operators who make money from their operation – one reason there are several that close their doors ever year (developers chanting the “highest and best use of the land” mantra is usually the other). Volunteer workers at their events are highly appreciated; so, talk to your local track guy and see if he could use your help. You’ll get in free, see some cool cars and maybe some of the racing, and might even get a little pay for your day’s work.
10. And this last one is very important, so please pay ‘tention: Whether you’re working up the “git ‘n go” to tackle some of the above or you’ve finished and are relaxing in the ol’ La-Z-Boy with your laptop in front of you, may I suggest something that is (a) enjoyable and (b) doesn’t cost anything? Just kick back, dial-up www.NostalgiaDragWorld.com on your smartphone, tablet or computer, and spend time reading all the articles and seeing the wonderful images our photographers have taken of cars and at events around the world. When you get through with this issue, don’t forget that you can click on “Back Issues” and look through all the great content that our intrepid photographers and writers have supplied us with over the past four years.
Be sure to tell your friends about Nostalgia Drag World and “like” us on Facebook!
We’ll see you at the track in 2017.
Connell R. Miller
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - Words by Connell R. Miller