SCENE AT THE 2018 NITRO RE­VIVAL

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Roddin’ Scene - —DOUG ADAMS

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.

• PICS: DOUG ADAMS

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.

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