SCENE AT THE 2018 NITRO REVIVAL
If vintage, nitro-burning dragsters, Funny Cars, and altereds are your thing, Nitro Revival is your event. In just one year, Nitro Revival has gone from an experiment to a must-see happening for historic drag racing machinery.
In 2017, Steve Gibbs, along with a host of dedicated friends and family, had a vision to organize a standalone event that would rival those of the establishment. Nitro Revival was born, and the inaugural offering was held at the Barona Dragstrip east of San Diego. The deal was for one event at Barona, with the Revival’s future being uncertain.
Buzz started building when Revival 2 was announced, but it was the site that took the drag racing faithful by surprise. Weathertech Laguna Seca Raceway was the place. Nitro Revival 2 would merge into the Raceway’s Spring Classic, also in its second year. The deal was inked and the tag line printed, “Where racing worlds collide!” Was the Monterey sports car crowd ready for this?
The event was held May 18-20, with Saturday the 19th being the feature day for Revival. Festivities started early on Friday with registration and a host of random fire-ups. Friday concluded on historic Cannery Row at The Clement Monterey, where Mike Dunn hosted a questionand-answer period with Hall of Fame drivers. The evening culminated with an autograph session sponsored by the Jim Mclennan (the Champion Speed Shop founder) Drag Racing Foundation and the firing of Swamp Rat 3 on Cannery Row.
Things got off to an early start on Saturday, as the popping of nitro-burning engines could be heard echoing through the hills of Laguna Seca. As part of the Revival, participants in Ace’s Hot Rod Hangout car show got to take their cars for a supervised lap around the legendary track.
Around lunchtime, push starts took place along Laguna Seca’s pit lane. About a dozen
cars pushed off, showing everyone what Revival was about. The cars then parked nose toward the wall at the end of pit lane and stayed running, giving the crowd a small dose of what was to come later in the day.
The “Line of Fire” closed track activities for the day. Any car that could fire did, putting a big exclamation point on what had become very successful days for the Revival team. Cars were started in succession from one end of the paddock, down the row, and then up the opposing row.
Whether you wanted to get a sense of what this nitro thing was all about, or if you were there to bask in the nitro haze, there was no avoiding the roar or the sweet smell of nitro. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Tears were flowing about as fast as the nitro. Ah, heaven! As the last engine expired and the paddock fell silent, a roar erupted from the crowd, stomping their approval for what they had just experienced.
The icing on the cake came shortly after the Line of Fire. Word quietly circulated in the paddock that Big Daddy and Swamp Rat 3 were headed to Laguna Seca’s Turns 8 and 8A, better known as the legendary Corkscrew, for a photo shoot. This would be the first—and possibly the last—time a Top Fuel dragster would make its way onto the fabled hill. Sonny Messner was in the seat as Big Daddy smiled for the cameras.
When the crew tried to figure out how to get Swamp Rat back up the steep incline, Sonny shouted from the cockpit, “Just let go, it will be fine!” Everybody just looked at each other as Sonny sat back in the seat. The car was released, and down the hill went the dragster. In a spontaneous act, Sonny released the clutch and was able to get the engine to light as he drove the car back to the pits. Epic! Stay tuned to nitrorevival.
com for info on next year’s event.
Sweet 16 is a special year, generally accompanied by a special party. This year was the 16th Annual Holley National Hot Rod Reunion presented by AAA Insurance, and the weekend proved to be one wild Sweet 16 party. For the first time in several years the entire weekend remained dry; nary a drop of rain would fall. That’s the good news; however, temperatures soared into the mid-’90s with humidity to match, providing track temps approaching 150 degrees. The track was hot and so was the drag racing, ranging from AA/FD (aka Nostalgia Top Fuel) and AA/FC Funny Cars to super stocks, gassers, 409s, and jet dragsters. This Father’s Day weekend is truly a celebration of speed and innovation.
The “nostalgia drag racing” term is difficult to define, particularly in the fuel classes. Nostalgia may be the emotion that initially sparked the movement more than 30 years ago, but the cars, teams, and drivers are doing much more than stirring memories. While the cars resemble the cars of the 1960s, they are in fact faster and safer than true vintage dragsters. Perhaps AA/FD continuation cars would better describe these incredible racecars. But call them what you like, for 2018 the racers put on one heck of a show, with intense competition right to the final rounds.
Likewise the gassers, super stockers, and altereds provided monster wheel stands and blinding burnouts, much to the joy of fans seated in the vintage covered stands of Beech Bend Raceway. The fact that drag races have been held here, uninterrupted, for more
than 60 years only adds to the ambience.
But there is so much more going on at the Reunion, as this truly is a gathering of the faithful, the hardcore racers and longtime hot rodders. The Reunion brings us back to a time when drag racers and hot rodders were closer neighbors in the hot rod community. The Reunion is a place to meet legends, old friends, and make new ones.
It helps that Bowling Green, Kentucky, is a serious car town. The Corvette factory is based there, and alongside the assembly line you’ll find the National Corvette Museum. This year the Honoree Reception was held there. A collection of hot rods and Cackle cars was on hand to spice things up, and attendees could also tour the Museum, a tour worth taking. Famed drag racer Larry Lombardo served as the Grand Marshall for 2018 and attended the banquet to help usher in the 2018 Honorees, Jay Howell, Bo Laws, Ed Miller, Joe Williamson, and Greg Xakellis.
As the sun dropped in the sky, the racing came to an end, and the final two Hot Rod Reunion traditions would bring the event to a close. First, long time NHRA drag race announcer Bob Frey stood at the starting line for the annual and somewhat sobering reading of hot rodders and racers who have left us in the past year. Unfortunately, that list seems to get longer with each passing year. But the spirit of the Hot Rod Reunion is to remember the past and the present, and after the reading the track was once again filled with nitromethane fire and fumes with the Cacklefest bringing another Reunion to a close.
For West Coast hot rodders Father’s Day weekend has long been about a gathering of the roadsters. For many back-east hot rodders, Father’s Day weekend means a special gathering at Beech Bend Raceway Park for the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion. We’ll see you there next year.
ALL SMILESALL SMILES: Big Daddy Don Garlits found himself at the center of attention at the 2018 Nitro Revival. His weekend culminated with a trip to the top of the Corkscrew for a photo shoot with Swamp Rat 3.
IT’S ALIVE IT’S ALIVE: The long journey to find and restore the one-ofa-kind Buick-powered Skylark flopper named Ingenue has come full circle. Just days after Nitro Revival, owner John Lipori neared completion of the project as the 430ci Wildcat engine was brought to life. John will continue to bring the tune-up along and have this candy-apple-red beauty ready to sing at full song soon.
NITRO HAZE: By day Bob Lawson works for the man himself, Connie Kalitta. But on the weekend, Bob slips behind the wheel as The Bounty Hunter. This beautiful dragster is owned and built by Allen Bridges of Simpson Safety Equipment.