Escondido, CA - September 19, 2009: How long does it take
for a "fad" (a "craze") to become known as
a sustained "movement"? In September of 2004, a small
group of cackle cars made it to Escondido's weekly street cruise
called, "Cruisin' Grand". Back then, the yearly one
nighter was called the "Big Rail Review". And in the
March 2005 issue of "Hot Rod Magazine", we were startled
to find a picture from that evening and prose written about it
within an article entitled, "The Retro Craze". Within
the magazine were statements mentioning the term "fad"
in connection with what was going on with the rat rods and the
cackle cars, giving one the feeling that somehow all this was
going to stop. That museums were the eventual destiny for these
cars. Well, it's been 5 years since that first group of cars
hit the streets of Escondido and although financial support have
been slowed by the economy, the enthusiasm hasn't backed off
Over these five
years, with the help of Steve Waldron, the man who brought back
"Cruisin' Grand", and the Downtown Business Association
of Escondido, we were able to improve, almost every year, on
our car count of vintage fuelers. The Firestone sponsored John
Ewald and his two car team would roll onto Broadway and unload,
and other guys like Dennis Prater and Jay Carpenter became regulars
for this once a year demonstration of the cars and stars of top
fuel's past. Randy Walls paid us a visit a couple of times and
then the fuel altereds pulled in to help with the show. But when
the economy turned south, the sponsorships we were able to acquire
in the past, dried up. Burger King helped us out this year with
$500.00 and some other small contributions came in, but outside
of that we were up a creek for help in paying for anything including
Things had changed
in terms of what the City of Escondido could pay for as well.
Police and fire coverage, street and crowd control, etc., became
items that had to be paid for. We had every reason in the world
to "scratch" the event. But when the going got toughest,
the necessary funds to just barely make it, appeared. But that
was of no help to the teams. In the past we had paid appearance
money to some of the teams that had come from out of town. That
was not around this year, so all we could do was let the teams
know that we would have 5 gallons of nitro for them and that
was all we had.
We started with
"interest" shown by 20 or so cars, and with any kind
of event of this type you certainly expect the unexpected. Family
illness, not having enough time, money, or team members to make
the run down to Escondido. There are just soooo many factors
that affect whether a team can make the show or not. And to top
all that off,of course, you absolutely need a cackle car in good
running order that won't unnecessarily jeopardize the crowd.
One of the cars that couldn't make the show was the Magicar.
Fresh pistons arrived days behind schedule, coming in the day
before the event.
But a core of
cars continued to voice their commitment to come and once again
the drama began to unfold for each team as the event got closer.
From minor items to major back breakers, most of these teams
have issues that must be overcome in order to field a healthy
car and perform as expected on that night. As most of you know,
these are NOT turn key operations. Granted, the cackle tune and
corresponding budget is allot less than a "race budget"
but still--the car and team have to be right in order to perform
as expected. And each team takes great pride in doing their part
to sustain the continuing spotlight on drag racing's "Golden
So they came
and they conquered, so-to-speak. 18 fuel cars. Two of which were
for display only. The "Winged Express"--Mousie and
his team brought the car down and set up a display. No matter
what this car does, it's a natural crowd pleaser. Thank you,
Mousie and team.
Brothers" fuel altered. Harry Birkholder came all the way
down from Northern California, met up at Robert Reel's house,
and spent enough time looking at the motor to know that there
were too many questionable points of concern to light the car
on fuel. They dug in to it that night and at 11:00 a.m. (the
morning of the event), I got call from those boys and despite
their inability to perform, they got the car back together and
brought it down anyway. That was really appreciated. And what
a beautiful sight to see the two altereds, side by side, on display
at the beginning of our "Nitro Row".
Next to the Birkholder
car was the "Climax" fuel altered of Rick Billuni,
Steve Serot, and Ben Schiebel. This was the late Ray Higley's
altered and the boys made the car run hard in Ray's memory. Rick
Billuni, of Toyota of Escondido, has always been a big help with
expenses in the past and truly must be thanked for getting the
event to this level.
The fourth altered
on scene was the magnificent team of Tocco, Harper, Garten. This
is another of those wonderfully intact original teams from the
early 70's that roamed the Southern California tracks. Mike Tocco,
just says, "We'll be there." For "Nitro Night"
AND "Thunder on Main" which takes place on the following
Wednesday in El Cajon, California. And Mike comes all the way
from Las Vegas. Thank you, Mike, and your whole racing family.
and Mastercar of Firestone sponsored, John Ewald, just knocked
everybody's socks off! The faces in the crowd told the story.
two car team of Tommy Ivo's "Barnstormer" and "Shubert/Herbert"
small block Chevy--complete with Zane Shubert himself--add so
much to the show. It's the variety of all these cars that makes
the show so rich and attractive to the fans. The Johnson family
effort with these two wonderful pieces of drag racing history
continues to be appreciated by all.
Ivy". This car, tended too by Jay Carpenter, is such a consistent
and gorgeous performer. Ken Blackmore owns the car and lets Jay
maintain it, and bring it out for us all to enjoy. Many thanks
to these boys for keeping "Poison Ivy" alive. Bob Deburne
and "Paradise Alley" with Paul Bunde in the seat, made
sweet music for the crowd. Bob has recently made some necessary
changes to the car and it's running better than ever. Paul's
efforts on the planning committee for the event, brought us the
"Burger King" sponsorship dollars we so desperately
The Yeakel Plymouth
Special, surrounded by the second generation drag racing family
members of Baney and Rossi, were just astounding to watch. These
guys know the drag racing heritage they bring to the crowd and
are soooo happy to be able to present it. Good job, boys! Lil'
Tommy Larkin is always appreciative of the attention paid to
his racing history thanks to the continued efforts of his son
Trevor. This recreation of one of Lil' Tommy's small block diggers
is really running well and brings a huge round of applause from
the Chevy lovers out there.
The Dean Engineering
Goodyear Bluestreak Special of the McCloud Brothers just THUMPS!
Jake--you got a knack with these hemi's. He works the motor on
that car like he was tending to a prize show dog. All those who
are a part of this team, must be very proud of what they have
brought back for us all to enjoy. Runner up in a 64 car field?
Strong stuff, Jake!
The Wynns Special
of Bobby Hanson is another very healthy piece that ran like a
top! This car is yet another of those that you just have to spend
time with to truly appreciate its attributes and strong racing
history. If you haven't already, get to know these guys. They're
really great people. Holy Cow!! What a beauty! Bobby Hirsch just
did a marvelous job of bringing back this wonder example of one
of the late "Starvin'" Marvin Schwartz' fuelers. Bobby
used one of Marvin's later cars as the foundation for the beautiful
one that no longer is around. And we're grateful for Bob for
bringing Anaconda back for us all to enjoy. Just a stunner--and
she thumps too, thanks again to Jake McCloud.
was part of a much appreciated appearance by Dusty and Gwen McWilliams.
Dusty and Gwen not only brought down the Howard Cam Rattler for
us to enjoy, but Dusty has his Homeland Security Clearance for
the transportation and dispensing of nitro. He brought the life
blood of these cars and we thank him for doing so. The Rattler
was poppin' hard too. Thanks, you two.
The "Iron Horse" of veteran top fuel pilot Sam Chastain
is just such a beautiful example of the "drag art"
of the day. What a beauty! The art of these cars just keeps comin'
at you, not to mention the knock out punch of the hemi in the
"Horse". Sam stopped by Rick MacDonald's place on his
long drive down from Northern California and found a few things
that just makes the beast bark really hard. Sam's participation
at "Nitro Night" is a pure joy to see and we hope he'll
continue to make the journey to the event. Thanks Sam!!
Car" of Tommy "The Watchdog" Allen--Man, you've
just got to see this one up close. It's classic Woody in the
back, with that unmistakable independent front suspension that
had to be TOTALLY RECREATED by a guy by the name of Freddie Hayhurst.
In fact the whole car (tube and tin) is Freddie's work and it's
something to see. This newest addition to the cackle fleet is
a doozy and Tommy, one of the original drivers and the bucks
behind this recreation, asked and got the best from all those
involved. Next stop will be the parking lot at the Double Tree
on Friday night at the CHRR. You're gonna love it.
The show was
incredible and safe with Bruce Crower as the "Grand Marshal".
And we can't
thank the teams enough for making Escondido's "Nitro Night"
another incredible success.
Photos by Jim
Phillipson, Darrell Conrad, Pam Schavrien and John Ewald