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Escondido, CA - September 16, 2007: Five years ago, an invitation was made by Steve Waldron, organizer of Cruisin Grand to Bill Pitts, owner of the Magicar, to bring the fueler out and put it on display. Pitts offered to fire the car up and Waldron said yes!. By the time the fuel ran out, a crowd had gathered and the invitation went out to bring on more. So the second year, Pitts and Waldron scraped up some sponsorship money to help cover the cost for four other golden age fuelers. Added to that show was a big screen, put on the street corner. Photos and movies, set to music, helped show what golden age drag racing was really like, while pairs of dragsters lit and moved to the line to bring to life the tension of the start. All eyes were on the display, complete with flames, fumes, and ear splitting nitro motors. With drive lines disconnected, the cars were pushed and pulled into position. The crowd went wild!!
The following year, 9 cars made the show. Push cars were added to provide the fuelers with forward momentum as they moved to up to one of two mock starting lines. Once again the crowd called out for more. Last year 14 cars performed for the crowd. A Christmas tree starting mechanism was added and VIP seating kept the sponsors and famous people of drag racing happy with front row seats.
And for this year, sponsors stepped up, yet again, and provided the necessary support to cover 4 barrels of nitro, a bigger big screen, improved sound system for the arena, and a total of 19 nitro fueled race cars and on display, the fabulous "Smirnoff Special. One of the crowd jewels of top fuel. And all this was provided to the spectator---for free!
Photos by Ron Lewis, Roger Rohrdanz, Jim Phillipson, Ron Johnson, Tommy Reese, Val Shubert, Darrell Conrad and Pam Schavrien
Nitro night is not an easy event to pull off. It occurs between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. on a Friday. Participating teams must gather up and make the trip through Southern California traffic to the town of Escondido, located about 100 miles south of L.A. A short show time, compared to the time and effort put out to insure a reliable cackler for the trusting crowd. Participants and cars came from as far away as Las Vegas and Northern California.
This year the City Fathers, who fully back the event, offered up a new prime section of Broadway. Road blocks went up at 2:00 p.m. at East Valley Parkway to the South, and Woodward Avenue to the North. A beautiful park bordered the pit area and the arena, where the cars cackle, was smack dab in front of City Hall. Broadway is a full 80 feet wide in this section which accommodated all transporters that pulled in to the pits. Racing cars, pointed toward the start line, lay under the shady trees and their trailers were a walk across the street away. Empty nitro jugs were collected and filled by employees of Toyota of Escondido and main stay sponsor of the event. Kitty litter, shovels, and a broom were thrown into a new Tundra pick up perched by the arena in case of an oil down.
Sam Chastain's "Iron Horse" restoration.
Jimmy Scott Sr. in the red tee-shirt and baseball cap looks over Clyde Diedrich's "Chubasco" originally campaigned by Ewell, Bell and Stecker.
Rick Ackerman and crew prepare his Hemi powered Competition Coupe.
Rod McCarrell leans against the roll bar of Don Preito's Hustler 5 while Paul Scahvrian (lower right) readies his entry.
Kol Johnson checking things out on the Tommy Ivo Barnstormer on the left. Shubert & Herbert on the right.
Marc McCormick performing the get ready chores on Shubert/Herbert.
The Kuhl & Olson entry of Mike Kuhl. This car has never been restored, it was put away at the end of it's competitive career and simply dusted off a few years ago.
Ringleader Bill Pitts was busily engaged in announcing and otherwise managing the event, but his Magicar was in the thick of things, thanks to it's crew of Vince Yamasaki, Dennis Hespeller, and Jerry Copeland.
Bob DeBurn's beautiful Paradise Alley creation. It won best competition car at the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona in 2006.
Paul Schavrian's restored Jack McCloud " The Poachers" was ready to make noise. Jay Carpenter (back to the camera) brought Ken Blackmore's Poison Ivy entry.
Dennis Prater rolls out the battery cart for his Stellings and Hampshire "Red Stamp" recreation.
The restored Tacco, Harper and Garten AA/Fuel Altered.
Randy Walls brought his Nova Funny car. He found the original car on the East Coast about 5 years ago and updated it and races it in Nostalgia AA/FC.
The recreated Frantic Four car driven by Norm Weekly. This car along with the Barnstormer were the featured cars of the evening because they had a match race at San Diego Speedway in neighboring Ramona back in 1964.
The newly finished Darryl Greenamyer "Smirnoff" car has been restored by Joe Passalaqua. It is complete cosmetically but Joe and his crew were a little short of time to actually get it running so it was on static display. This beauty will make its official Cacklefest debut at the 2007 California Hot Rod Reunion.
The lady in red is Mikhi, and she did the incredible Air Brush work on the car. She Air Brushed the back ground colors and the realistic Smirnoff bottle. See more of her work on Mikhi.com..
John Weidler has been of great help to Joe in the restoration process. Zane Shubert, Ron Johnson, Tom Ivo and George Boltoff.
Owners and drivers assembled at 5:00 p.m. for a review of all procedures and concerns associated with event. New for this year, water barriers were set up to deflect any motor debris in case of a cylinder wall blow out during the fire up. Extinguishers stood at the ready when the first of the group fired at 5:30 p.m.
Each car was fired up individually and a period correct push car was used to gently roll the car forward to the first "mock" starting line. There the driver sat for a minute or so, winging the throttle a few times. Then the push car gave a little more vigorous shove and the "cacklecar" rolled free the last 30-50 feet to a second "mock" starting line placed about 100 feet closer to the corner intersection and the massive crowd of onlookers. Each car sat there as long as the driver/crew felt advisable, idling with an occasional blip or "whack" of the throttle.
Single runs starting with Dennis Praters Stellings & Hampshire Red Stamp Special with Ronnie Hampshire driving.
Followed by John Ewald's restored 1968 Jim Davis dragster "Mastercar" representing Firestone Complete Auto Care as he often does.
Then Randy Walls Nova, the lone funny car in the group. The AA/FA of Tocco-Harper-Garten was next with Roger Garten in the seat. Then came Rick Ackermans Modified Coupe.
Ron Johnson then brought to the line Zane The Beard Shubert in the Shubert/Herbert small block fueler.
Up next was Bob Deburns Paradise Alley with Jimmy Scott Jr. at the controls. Then Clyde Dietrichs Chubasco with John Weidler in the seat. Don Prieto fired the Hustler VI with Rod McCarrell in the seat.
Followed by the 1968 Lil John Buttera chassis the Bankamericar, John Ewald and his crew chief Bob Danly offered Steve Waldron, the promoter of the Cruisin' Grand shows to have the seat in the daytime fire up, his first time to cackle a car and he was all smiles when it was over. Here Ewald informs TV Tommy Ivo he has been fired as the driver of the "BankAmericar" which he drove in the 2006 CHRR and gives a thumbs up for the new rookie driver.
Steve puts on his game face as Danly and Ewald get ready to roll him into the fireup area.
Sam Chastain then brought Iron Horse to the line with Tommy "The Watchdog" Allen driving.
Jeep Hampshire slid into Bill Pitts the Magicar. Jay Carpenter fired up Poison Ivy with Jimmy Scott Sr. in the seat. Paul Schavrien lit up The Poachers with original driver Walt Stevens in the seat. Up next was Mike Kuhl's car with original driver Carl Olson at the controls.
Next to last to the line came "T.V. Tommy" Ivo in Ron Johnsons recreation of the Ivo Barnstormer.
Finally the Frantic Four repop with none other than Stormin Norman Weekly in the seat.
7:15 p.m. As darkness fell, and the lights came on, a poor misguided motorist drove into the arena. Driving up to the announcer, Angelo Mitchell, proclaimed on the loudspeaker that the beautiful convertible he was driving was a 1957 Chrysler 300!! Home of the 392 hemi! Startled spectators couldn't believe that this mild cruiser held the motor of choice for most top fuel dragsters of the 60s and early 70s.
Then came the Smirnoff Special! Pushed in to the arena by two of its restorers Joe Passalaqua and John Weidler, this Jewel of Top Fuel made a slow turn around the arena as video footage was shown on the big screen from the day the car was first recovered. It was a very satisfying moment for the restoration team.
Sponsor introductions came next with S.D.G.& E., Firestone Complete Auto Care, Castrol, Orange Line Oil, Toyota of Escondido, the DBA, Minshu Steel, Hawthorne/Cat and Kragen Auto Parts.
Bill "Nitro Night" Pitts
Then the show was started with the evolution of the 60s fuel dragster. Hall of fame member, Ted Cyr and his long time partner Flip Schofield fired The Lincoln!! This was going to be impossible. Ted was two weeks out of rotator cuff surgery and two days prior to the event, the team tried to fire the Lincoln and found that the oil pump was frozen. No oil pressure. Ted, thought they were dead. Then the racers in Ted and Flip came to life and a remote oil tank and compressed air cylinder were used to provide oil pressure to the old digger!! And for about 3 minutes the crowd was treated to the sound of the big Lincoln as Ted and the team hand pushed the Scotty Fenn frame to the center of the arena.
After the big Lincoln engine ground to a halt the S & H Red Stamp Special with Ronnie Hampshire in the seat was brought to life.
Then John Ewald in the Mastercar fired and was moved to the line. The crowd got a full dose of early 60s, mid-60s, and late 60s fuelers! What a start!
Next up was Randy Walls and his nostalgia fuel funny car. The crowd loved the appearance of Randys Funny and are hopeful that more will show next year.
With a photo montage playing on the big screen, by Bob Plumer, the fuel altered of Tocco-Garten-Harper lit up.
The next pair to fire was Paradise Alley and Shubert & Herbert. Both cars keeping ear plugs and fingers in the ears of the thousands in attendance.
Chubasco fired with Rick McDonald in the seat and moved up as the previous pair slid by. He was paired with Rod McCarrell in Don Prieto's "Hustler VI"
Then came a couple of heavy hitters: John Ewald in the Bankamericar vs. Sam Chastains Iron Horse with Tommy Allen. Serious late 60s fuelers lit, on Broadway for free!
Then back to the mid-60s as the two full bodies beauties, Poison Ivy and the Magicar, squared off before the crowd. Back from the dead is a good way to sum up these two. They were never very far away from the scrap heap, but fortunately were saved and brought back to life.
Next came a great match up of original cars and drivers. Carl Olson in Mike Kuhls Woody car and Walt Stevens strapped into the Poachers. Both cars giving their best performance to a very appreciative crowd. Kuhl power in both beasts!
The final pair and the playing of a special photo montage dedicated to two great top fuel stars. T.V. Tommy Ivo in the recreated Barnstormer and Stormin Norman Weekly in the recreated Frantic Four fueler. Two weed burner cars blowing the fans to either side away, with fire and fumes. As the cars fell silent the crowd erupted in applause for these two great stars of drag racings past. The two out of three match race they ran at Ramona drag strip, only a few miles away, in 1964, recreated--with no losers--only winners.
After all these years, Norm Weekly and Tommy Ivo got a chance to relive an event from their peak racing years. Tonight they both got to smile after the event was over!
It is not unusual for there to be some original drivers in the cars, but Escondido and Nitro Night was blessed by the presence of Walt Stevens, Carl Olson, Jeep Hampshire, Ronnie Hampshire, Zane Shubert, Norm Weekly and Tommy Ivo all in cars they drove back in the 60's. We are not sure even they know whether they had more fun back then or are having more fun now. One way or the other, it's good to be them right now!
The event officially ended at about 9:15 p.m. and the street were opened 30 minutes ahead of schedule. The well behaved crowd made their way home with the resolve to return for next years Nitro Night. No problems were reported and the City of Escondido stands ready for what the North County Times declared was Escondidos Cruisin Grands--Night of Nights!
A standard Cruisin' Grand Friday night brings an average of 5,000 people. On their special presentation nights the crowd doubles to 10,000. This year's Nitro Night attendance stands "unofficially" at between 20,000 and 25,000.
Check back for more event coverage as they happen.