Participating Cars and Owners
Escondido, CA - September 17, 2008: Six years ago an invitation
was made by Steve Waldron, organizer of Cruisin Grand
to Bill Pitts, owner of the Magicar, to bring his MagiCar top
fuel dragster 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
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 20 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.
This year The
Downtown Business Association of Escondido took over the production
of Nitro Night and after collaborating with Bill Pitts and Ron
Johnson came up with a new twist, the Ring of Fire. That said,
here is the event as covered by Cacklefest.com photographers.
Photos by Jim
Phillipson, Ron Johnson, Darrell Conrad, Pam Schavrien and James
Tommy Ivo's Barnstormer AA/FD
Poison Ivy AA/FD
Trevor's Car A/FD
Iron Horse AA/FD
Billuni Sarot & Schiebel
Tocco & Garten AA/FA
Paradise Alley AA/FD
Yeakel Plymouth Spec. AA/FD
Dean Engineering Spec. AA/FD
The day started off with
a static display of the dragsters on North Broadway.
Jay Carpenter, Sam Chastain (owner
of the Iron Horse) and Jimmy Scott.
The Magicar "crew"
LtoR: Gene Leslie, Vince Yamasaki, Rick MacDonald of Pro Air
Motorsports, Billy Pitts, Jerry Copeland, and the famous Jumpin'
The person on the left side of
picture is Crew Member: Steve Toth
The person on the right front of picture is Crew Member: Bob
The person on the right side in back is Crew Member: Joe Toth
The person in the driver seat is the original Driver: Roger Garten
Prior to any fire-ups
Bill Pitts made sure all the teams were on the same page.
Trevor Larkin busy cleaning a
wheel on Trevor's Car as his friend Ashlynn assists.
Walt Stevens (left) with Dennis
Prater. Walt drove many cars back in the 60's and Dennis owns
the Stellings and Hampshire Red Stamp car, but came here to spectate.
Always the largest crew - the
Yeakle Plymouth Spec. team. left to right:
Chuck Goebel, Judy Fitzgerald, J.R.Fitzgerald, Louis Baney, Frank
Baney, Ronalle Baney, Stephanie Carpenter, Janet Bivens, Jerry
Bivens, Jim Rossi, Chris Young, Paul Rossi.
This is Lynn Christy. Lynn was
a flag starter at San Diego Raceway in Ramona California (early
60s) along with Mickey Shidner.
This year, due to budget cutbacks,
the big screen TV was not a part of the evenings entertainment,
but Bill Pitts provided his usual, insightful, explanation of
the early years of drag racing as well as introduced the cars
and owners etc.
DragCARTOONS Robin and Orah Mae
Millar were among the fans the enjoyed the days activities.
Roger Garten in the Tocco-Harper
and Garten AA/FD. Mike Tocco brought the car all the way from
Henderson, Nevada. He and the crew just had too much fun last
year to miss this year. It was paired up with the recently restored
Ray Highly "Climax" AA/FA.
The first pair to be fired up
were the two AA/FA's, Tocco-Harper-Garten and "Climax".
They were towed by a golf cart and a Model T street rod. Here
they are at the "Starting Line", located at the intersection
of Broadway and Grand facing North. 50 chairs were set up around
the Starting Line for VIP's, a mixture of sponsors and old-time
racers such as Dode Martin and Jim Nelson of Dragmaster fame.
When Steve Sarot was much younger,
he was on Ray Higley's pit crew for a period of time. Now the
Escondido resident gets to sit in the seat of the Ray Higley
"Climax" AA.FA. Steve works with Rick Billuni and Ben
Schreibel at Toyota of Escondido and the three of them co-own
the car and restored it to it's former glory. Beautiful car and
plenty noisy too.
Looking South, the cars were
paired at the alley and fired and pushed slowly for 1/2 block
going North, close to the crosswalk, where VIP seating was arranged
in a semi-circle. 7 pairs.
Ron Johnson, owner of the Barnstormer,
waits with Marc McCormick (in drivers seat) and Rick MacDonald
for Bill Pitts to give the signal to start the motor.
Kol Johnson drove Ron's El Camino
alongside the Yeakel replica pushtruck and pushed each pair of
cars except the Smirnoff car, which needs a very special elevated
Don Irvin who heads the NHRA
Safety Safari for many races throughout the year was on hand
to help organize the fire-ups.
Upon the signal from Don Irvan,
each pair of cars were started and once running were pushed slowly
to the "Starting" line. Then the push cars would back
up and prepare for the next pair of cars. The dragsters had to
be pushed because it is mandatory in this setting, that the drivelines
be disconnected or removed.
Once at the "Starting"
line, the cars ran for up to about 3 minutes additional, with
a mixture of idling and revving the engine, called by some "whacking
Smirnoff, with Julie Passelaqua
(Joe's wife) in the seat. The car was built for a pretty small
driver and though Joe is very trim, he can't get in the car.
Julie got tapped and now she's hooked! Joe recently bought an
era correct Olds Vista Cruiser and built a push bar for it, to
deal with the pushbar located right under the parachute.
Jimmy Scott was in the seat of
the Poison Ivy fueler and Walt Stevens manned the Dean Engineering
As usual, Jeep Hampshire
was in Bill Pitts' Magicar.
Paul Rossi was in the
Yeakel Plymouth Spec. AA/FD.
Eily Stafford who drives the
Bayuk/Jordan NE 1 car was in Paradise Alley.
Mario Garcia got the call for
the first fire up in the BankAmericar while John Ewald was in
Nitro Night Awards of Appreciation
were presented to the Ring of Fire participants by Sue Dusharme
from the Downtown Business Association of Escondido and Bill
back for more event coverage as they happen.
At about 8 p.m. the cars were
staged for the "Ring of Fire" (a concept done once
before at the 2002 California Hot Rod Reuion). The 14 dragsters
would be pushed into "ring" in center of South Broadway
and fired simultaneously!
Ron Johnson had suggested that
they put the cars out in the middle of the street for a mass
fire-up, and place them in an extended oval shape and call it
the "Ring of Fire". (Credit to Steve Gibbs and Greg
Sharp for the idea and name.)
There were two sets of lane separator lines on the pavement about
10 feet apart. On the North end near the crosswalk where the
VIP seats were located, they placed the pair of altereds on the
two lines facing South. Then they put two more pairs of cars
facing South. Here's Chubasco, angled out a little bit with the
inside front tire on the line. Next was Magicar. These were on
the West side facing South. On the East side was Barnstormer
opposite Chubasco and Yeakel, opposite Magicar.
You can see the VIP seating in the background. It formed a rough
semi-circle on both sides of the street and along the crosswalk.
Then they changed direction and
placed the rest of the cars facing North, again angled slightly
to the street so the headers aimed slightly to the sides of the
street.. Dean Engineering is on the East side of the street facing
Yeakel and Barnstormer.
The last car on the East side
on a diagonal was the Tommy Larkin Chev. Behind it was the Ewald
pair, BankAmerica and Mastercar, on the traffic stripes similar
to the altereds on the other end of the display area.
So they had 7 pairs of cars. 3 pairs were pointed generally South
and 4 pairs were pointed generally North.
Having had the experience in England of the cars being placed
in a straight line taught Johnson that you would want them placed
so the headers weren't aimed directly at the car behind, especially
in tight quarters like this where they would have been almost
tightly positioned nose to tail. And the street wasn't really
wide enough to have cars fully crossways to the street. Besides,
they were a little unsure about the effect of headers aimed directly
at shops with plate glass windows.
It was a bit of a hassle, moving and re-moving cars as they filled
out the rows, but in the end it was pretty tidy and uniform and
it worked just fine.
The PA system was pretty good
and they played the Johnny Cash song "Ring of Fire"
and as soon as the song ended, all 14 cars were lit up at once.
Here, Kol Johnson and Rick MacDonald waited for the song to end.
Rick gave Kol a hand with the fire-up which was helpful as Ron
was flitting around trying to get some pictures, but he got back
in time to "push the button" to light Barnstormer.
Marc McCormick sat in Barnstormer for both El Cajon and Escondido.
Clyde Dedrick at the
ready for the "Ring of Fire".
Chuck Goebel and Frank Baney
waited as we did for the song to end, so they could light the
Yeakel Plymouth car with Paul Rossi in the seat.
For the Ring of Fire Becky Garcia
was in the BankAmericar and Bill Pitts was in the Mastercar.
It was great to see the guy who started the cacklecar movement
and who's usually on the outside looking in get the seat for
A good time was had by all including
Mario and Becky Garcia's daughter in her nifty pedal car. Participants
were told later that the crowd on hand was the largest ever in
all the years Escondido has sponsored the Cruisin' on Grand weekly
event. The spectators were estimated by staff people at over
20,000 in number and their enthusiastic response after the last
motor shut off was enough to make grown men smile! Plans will
be underway for next year to be bigger and better.