All Roads Lead to the FCR
by Ted Pappacena
Man it was a hot day! Raceway Park located in Englishtown New Jersey can be brutal in mid-July and more so in August. This Sunday August 1, 1999 didn’t disappoint as the mercury was at 103 degrees. It was so bad that my friends were either hiding under the bleachers or running back and forth to the car for the air conditioned relief it offered. But not me! No-sir-ee! I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.
We were there for the annual Old Time Drags & Rod Run, an event that has morphed in name over the years and continues to this day. It’s always a fun event regardless of the heat or thunder storms that inevitably go with it. All types of race cars and hot rods are in attendance. This day even featured the Hot Rods from Hell. They were comprised of fuel altereds and put on quite a show. As cool as they were though, I was really surprised to see actual funny cars in the pits. Now that got my attention. Up to that point, they were as scarce as proverbial hen’s teeth.
Lou Sgro Challenger
(L) NY Super Twister - (R) Dave Sano Corvette
There were three; Jerry Smith’s New York Super Twister (former Kenny Warren Virginia Twister), Lou Sgro’s ex-Kenny Goodell Challenger, and Dave Sano’s ex- John Force Wendy’s Corvette. I didn’t know whose ex’s they were, that came way later. All I knew is that they were there and making passes. I managed to get some pit shots and the runs on video. So despite the heat and oppressive humidity, I was in ecstasy.
There have been nostalgia themed races prior to that day especially on the west coast and even one at Raceway Park in 1988. That day there was a few super stocks, Tommy Ivo’s giraffe car, the Speed Sport Roadster, the 134 34 Ford fuel altered and Jim Barillaro’s restored Jack Chrisman Comet. That too was a great day but it didn’t catch on at the time and there weren’t any more events like it for quite a while, that is until July 28, 2002. Now, like I mentioned in the opening line of this paragraph, there may have been some nostalgia themed events held prior in other parts of the East Coast, but for me, this is the event that got the ball rolling. This day featured the first annual Funny Car Reunion held at Raceway Park in world famous Englishtown New Jersey. The event was the brainchild of RP/Atco photographer Steve Bell and his good friend and former track manager/announcer (at R P) “Breserko” Bobby Doerer.
In recent conversations with Steve and Bob my suspicions were confirmed. According to Steve, at a then recent Old Time Drags (1999, 2000, or 2001) 7 funny cars showed up. Injected or blown, alky or nitro, it didn’t matter. What did matter though was the fact that there was that many in attendance. So Steve then wondered just how many more were either in shops, garages, or the proverbial barns scattered about. His solid reasoning was and still is “fiberglass doesn’t rust”. Indeed, it does not. With this in mind, he approached the powers that be at Raceway Park with the idea of a funny car reunion. They in turn thought it would be a fiasco citing old racers fighting over monies or parts owed from past races. Somehow the track finally agreed and a date was set.
When Bobby was informed of Steve’s idea he immediately jumped on board. Bob has many contacts with racers as well as sponsors and started to get in touch with as many as he could. Nick Boninfante was an early sponsor of the event. Steve put together a website simply stating what cars would be in attendance and the rest as they say is history.
There were funny cars everywhere and from a lot of different eras. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the internet played a big role in the success of this event. The Classic Funny Car Board in particular was ablaze with chatter the weeks prior to the event so anticipation was high to say the least. Apparently these cars were either in the works or being restored by hobbyists all up and down the coast including Canada. Other than the occasional local car show or bracket race, they had no place to play together nicely. Some were bracket raced with the owners either not knowing or even caring if they had that coveted “history”.
Those in attendance were (in no particular order); the aforementioned Lou Sgro Challenger, Fascination Camaro, Rob Bundy’s Shellshock Vega, Rob Bruce’s ex- Arnie Beswick Zombie Firebird, Frank Jonkman’s Nitromare Mustang (from Canada), Mr. Tomato and Virginian A/FX Plymouths, Bob Rosetty’s recently restored ex- Joe Jacono Rollin Stoned Cuda, War Horse Mustang II, Tom & Jerry Duster, Brian Bennett’s restored Gene Snow Rambunctious Charger, Blue Angels Corvette, and Bruce Larson’s USA-1 68 Camaro. There were more and if I left anyone out I apologize. Some in attendance were on display and didn’t run. Most ran alky and a few were using nitro but it hardly mattered. Just to see them again brought tears to the eyes.
The event was a complete success and we looked forward to the second edition in 2003. I think it’s safe to say that Steve Bell and “Berserko” Bobby Doerrer are directly responsible for getting nostalgia funny car racing on the east coast up and running. The event itself is the longest running of its kind. This year’s will be the 13th edition. The attendance both in the stands and in the seats seems to ebb and flow causing concerns each year whether to proceed or not. Some of it is due to negative chatter on the funny car chat boards about the event’s handling and I will not dwell on it here. I’m not well versed about it and if someone else wants to, then have at it. However since the first one, new players and cars have come out in droves and I believe some new events started as a result of this one, most notably the “Geezers at the Grove” held each July at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading Pa.
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