The weekend kicked off on Thursday
with a ribbon cutting attended by city officials including Mayor
Elaine Walker and NHRA Motorsports Museum Executive Director,
After the Media Day festivities
concluded, the Crusin' Bowling Green hot rod showcase began.
The NHRR is arguably the largest annual event hosted by this
normally low key city and by all accounts no other city welcomes
racers, rodders and fans on a grander scale than Bowling Green.
The hotels, restaurants, stores and even the local police bend
over backwards to make the huge influx of gearheads feel welcome.
In spite of this years weather, the trip to Kentucky will remain
on every ones must attend calendar for years to come.
A tradition at both Hot Rod Reunions
is the Friday evening Honorees Ceremony and mini Cacklefest at
the host hotel. In Bowling Green three premier cars were chosen
to represent the best of what Cacklefest has to offer. For the
fans viewing and listening pleasure were the Swamp Fox, Smirnoff
and Howard Cams Ratter top fuel dragsters.
In spite of myriad health issues,
Ralph Kitron was on hand with the Swamp Fox and to present Steve
Gibbs with a special gift. More on that later.
Moving inside, it was
time for the Honorees Ceremonies.
This is what the reunions are
all about... Paul Candies, Preston Davis, Raymond Godman and
Darrell Gwynn share some laughs.
Jerry and Pat Baltes
had a full table.
Another reunion tradition is
the presence of Dave "Big Mac" McClelland serving as
the Master of Ceremonies.
Butch Maas and Tom Hanna
were on hand with the Creitz's.
In a tribute to the famous Stone
Woods and Cooke AA/GS cars, Mike Cook (Doug Cook's son 2nd from
right) and Lenny Woods (Tim Woods' son- far right) were part
of the honoree group along with the gentlemen who restored the
two most famous Stone Woods & Cooke AA/GS Willis. We do not
have their names at this time.
Army Armstrong...well known television
commentator...tractor pulls, off road...etc. was on hand representing
the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame for the induction of Randy
Armstrong and Dallas Jones, owner
of Beech Bend Park...which includes the drag strip.
It was then time for Ralph
Kitron to pay his tribute to Steve
Gibbs for his countless contributions to the Cacklefest program.
Although it was a little much
for Steve, who is not one who enjoys the spotlight, the tribute
was right on and very heart felt.
However, the bottom line of this
deal was Ralph presenting Steve with a true work of art conceived
by Kitron over the winter while he was recovering from his fourth
Here Ralph "fires up"
the 1:6 scale model of the Swamp Rat. Operated by remote control,
the car comes to life to the sound track of a top fuel fire-up,
burnout and run. The rear tires turn, the christmas tree works
and the front wheels come up on "the pass". All the
accolades in the world can't describe this beauty and it really
has to be seen to be totally appreciated.
After the display, Ralph turned
the remote over to Gibbs who was heard wondering, "How am
I going to get this thing home?" More on this incredible
pics at the bottom of Saturday's page.
It was then time to recognize
the Honorees and what a deserving group it was. First up was
Jerry Baltes who began his drag racing career in 1951 at Paradise
Mesa near San Diego, Jerry Baltes raced for over two decades.
He worked his way up from gas coupes, through Altereds to a gas
dragster, then in 1962 to Top Fuel. He made it to number 3 on
the Drag News Top Ten List, set an NHRA speed record, won the
1964 World Series of Drag Racing at Cordova, and finished number
2 in 1964 NHRA points. After a crash ended his driving career
in 1967, he fielded the Tom and Jerry Mustang Funny Car as a
member of the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars. He has recently restored
his 1964 Top Fuel car for Cacklefest events.
Bob Creitz is known as an engine
wizard, the inventor of the burnout and the most prominent Top
Fuel racer in Oklahoma. In the 60s Creitz was a member of the
unofficial group of hard-core fuel racers known as the Greek
Fleet. Creitzs cars have been runners-up at the 67
Winternationals, made the first six-second pass in NHRA Nationals
history, and at the PDA meet at Orange County in 1968 won the
last 64-car Top Fuel show ever held. He won the inaugural PHR
Championships in 1969 and runner-upped at the 72 Supernationals.
He has restored his last front engine fueler for Cacklefest events.
Amy Faulk knows drag racing.
Experienced in Stock, Super Stock and Competition eliminator
categories, Faulk was the first woman to win a national event
in Alcohol Dragster and the first woman to win an NHRA division
championship. In 1979 Faulk won the Super Stock national championship
and in 1980 was elected to Car Craft Magazines All-Star team.
In addition to her racing career, Amy has held management roles
in the automotive aftermarket and currently serves as the chief
administrative officer of Hypertech. She has served on the SEMA
Board of Directors, was named SEMAs Person of the Year
in 1996, and is a member of the SEMA Hall of Fame.
Vance Hunt is a name synonymous
with Top Fuel racing in the southwest from 1960 to 1971. As an
owner/tuner, the Arlington, Texas racer fielded a long series
of dragsters driven by Ed Mabry, J.L. Payne, Ted Arnold, Jerry
Ellis, and Watus Simpson. Hunt began racing in the late 40s
at any place we could. Fuel racing beckoned in 1960,
and with J.L. Payne driving Hunt defeated both Don Garlits and
Chris Karamesines for the Number One spot on the Drag News Mr.
Eliminator list and won the 62 AHRA Nationals. In his final
season he even briefly raced a Mustang Funny Car. In recent years
hes remained active as a tuner on nostalgia Top Fuel dragsters.
Chuck Nelson has been NHRAs
South Central Division Tech Director since the position was created
nearly a half century ago. Nelsons dedicated career began
at the NHRA Nationals in Oklahoma City in 1958. He was selected
by NHRA founder Wally Parks to be just one of nine attendees
at the first official NHRA rules meeting in 1959. When he began,
the racers had to build everything themselves, and hes
seen the tech side of the sport evolve into cars that are professionally
manufactured. Nelson says, You learn every day because
the racers keep you on your toes. I keep trying to retire but
Craig (Div. 4 Director Craig Hutchinson) wont let me.
Finally, Grand Marshall Darrell
Gwynn. Selected as one of NHRAs all-time Top 50 Drivers,
Floridas Gwynn won 28 national events in a short ten year
career. At age 18 he was runner-up in Pro Comp at the U.S. Nationals.
He scored ten wins in Alcohol Dragster before moving up to Top
Fuel at age 23. In March, 1990 Gwynn made the quickest run in
drag racing, at the time 4.90. Just weeks later, he crashed at
Englands Santa Pod Raceway changing his life forever. He
was paralyzed from the chest down and lost part of his left arm.
Even while recovering, he changed roles to team owner where his
car scored 14 victories. He is dedicated to the cure of paralysis
and maintains a very active schedule of public speaking, technical
consulting and enjoying life with his wife and daughter.
While hundreds attended the ceremonies
inside, hundreds more were packing the Convention Center entrance
area to experience the kick off to Cacklefest. When things wrapped
up inside, Steve Gibbs came out to oversee the fire ups.
In the seat of the Howard Cams
Rattler was Kentucky's own Dale Funk. This was the first time
he had sat in a top fuel car in 32 years.
Funk got the mask adjusted and
settled in for a short wait. The Rattler was the last car to
Rex, Steve and Dusty
did the final prep.
Ralph and Dusty McWilliams
The cars current owner David
Hoyh helped Ralph into the car. This was the first fire-up he
had done in a couple of years.
Gibbs made sure Ralph
The Swamp Fox was the
first car to fire.
By this time the covered
arch way was full of nitro and the fans were going nuts.
Joe Passalaqua then fired
up the Smirnoff car with John Weidler in the seat.
Before the Smirnoff car had shut
off, McWilliams lit the Rattler and Dale Funk was smiling ear
Gwen McWilliams and Don Ewald
checked out Paul Broughton's cackle shots which can be seen on
High Speed Motorsports team members
Walt Stevens and Pete Palumbo bookend the irrepressible George
"The Bushmaster" Schriber who was well up on the tires
by this point of the evening.
This little gal pretty
much summed up the whole deal.