2006 Goodguys Nitro Nationals - Blast Of Nostalgia
Altered and Roadster Revival at the Nitro Nats
From the February, 2009 issue of Rod & Custom
By Tim Bernsau
The popularity of Goodguys' Vintage Drag Racing could turn the first decade of the 21st century into drag racing's glory years. At least that's the feeling we get watching the competition at the March Meet, the Nitro Nats, the Hot Rod Nats, and the Fuel & Gas Finals. For everyone who loves Gassers, Altereds, Roadsters, front-engine diggers, and early Funny Cars, it's nostalgia all over again.
For a lot of fans, an old-time strip like Famoso in Bakersfield (home of the March Meet) is the perfect place to watch vintage drags. For a lot of the racers, however, pulling up to the starting lights at the historic but up-to-date Pomona Fairplex (home of the NHRA Winternationals since 1961) is pretty exciting.
We spent the last weekend in June at the Fairplex for the Goodguys 7th Pomona Nitro Nationals. With hundreds of hot rods running in a dozen categories and classes from Top Fuelers to Gassers, Nostalgia Eliminator to Hot Rod bracket racing, the racing lasts from before breakfast until way after dark, with hours of action under the lights.
We had a taste for Roadsters and Altereds that weekend and spent most of our time watching the category packed with those cars: Nostalgia Eliminator. Goodguys has divided this category into three index classes. Nostalgia I is the 7.60-second elapsed time index, with Nostalgia II and Nostalgia III running 8.60 and 9.60 indexes respectively. All NE classes are open to center-steer cars, including dragsters, with '72-or-earlier bodies. Left-hand-steer cars can race in NE2 or NE3. Cars can be blown or injected. Gas, alcohol, and even nitro are allowed. Electronic driving devices? Not allowed!
Most of the Altereds and Roadsters in NE run big-block or small-block Chevys. There are plenty of Hemis, a few big-block Fords, and the occasional "other," such as the injected VW in Marty Stagg's 23 T roadster. We noticed an almost even split between blowers and injectors, and between gasoline and alcohol, with injected cars favoring alcohol. Powerglides are the most prevalent transmissions.
Nostalgia Eliminator can be a good entry level for new racers or guys getting back into the sport. Building a car for Nostalgia generally requires less cash than the Fuel and Gas classes, and the the cars, once built, require a lower level of maintenance. We didn't see too many racers yanking on wrenches between rounds. Instead, they were walking the show 'n' shine area, hanging out at their trailers, and watching the rest of the racing from the grandstands. Nostalgia I racer Bruce McDowell calls it "barbecue racing." Dean Prochison, who races a '23 T in NE3 said he doesn't want his crew chief spending all his time working on the car, since he's also the head cook. And not a single member of Mike Lomas' Nostalgia II crew looked old enough to drive.
But it's only easy between rounds. At the starting line, Nostalgia Eliminator is a tough class. The fields can be very tight, with only a few tenths between the Number 1 qualifier and the bump spot. As in all indexed classes, racers have to run that razor's edge between the index and the e.t. of the guy next to you. Winning takes a ton of skill and some serious seat-of-the-pants knowledge of your car.
In addition to being a competitive category, and relatively easy to get into, most racers we met talked about how much fun the Nostalgia classes are. Between the camaraderie of the participants, the competitiveness on the strip, and the excitement of racing truly nostalgic cars, Nostalgia Eliminator probably offers more blast per buck than any other type of drag racing.
The Goodguys Vintage Drag Racing season isn't over yet, and we've already got our motel room for the Fuel & Gas Finals to be held at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, California, on November 6 and 7. For more information about racing at this event, or about enjoying a weekend of some fantastic nostalgic racing, contact Goodguys at www.goodguys.com or call (925) 838-9876.
t looks like a show car, but...
t looks like a show car, but is one of the most competitive cars in Nostalgia II this year. The late Warren Brogie built this '27 Dodge, now raced in NE2 by Jim Van Gordon. Jim was looking for a Brogie-built car when he found this one in a garage in Boise. The 565ci Chrysler B engine with Brodix aluminum heads makes 960 hp, but just as impressive is the bodywork. Harley billet road lights flank the authentic grille shell. Look closely and you'll see that the fenders have been cut out. After a lifetime of racing in numerous classes, Jim says he got tired of all the electronic stuff and wanted to go back to some real racing, "where it's just you and your car. You're shifting and you're driving. Nostalgia Eliminator just fit what we wanted."
When the Batto Trucking '47...
When the Batto Trucking '47 Crosley was originally altered in 1961 by John Batto, it became a West Coast triple record holder. Batto moved into Top Fuel, and the car was parked in a barn until 1998 when Batto's nephew Johnny Cofer and his friend Ronnie Lennon retrieved it. Cofer restored the original metal body to 1961 condition and dropped it on a new chassis. Originally, the Crosley ran a Rodeck aluminum engine. Now it's a Chevy 400 with an iron Dart block, Brodix #12 heads, a 6-71 Mooneyham blower, and Hilborn 4-port injection, backed by a Powerglide. Lennon has been driving the car in NE1 competition, and is currently fourth in the points standings.
Fiats have always made great...
Fiats have always made great Altereds. Phil Lukens' '48 Topolino, from Blair's Speed Shop in Pasadena, can compete in NHRA AA/Altered, but Phil would rather run Nostalgia I which is less money and more fun. The Mooneyham-blown Donovan Hemi is tied to an unusual B&J four-speed with a dual-disc clutch. Phil has run 7.25 in the car, but richens the mix and backs off the timing to slow it down.
The Nitro Nats was the second...
The Nitro Nats was the second big race for this steel '23 T, owned by Ron Kolb of Fullerton, California. Built from scratch 3 years ago, the car features a 400 Chevy with a single Holley carb. Ron named the roadster Whiz Bang II, in honor of Whiz Bang, the Top Gas drag car driven in the '50s by Ron's father, legendary drag racer Leland Kolb.
Mike Lomas didn't start racing...
Mike Lomas didn't start racing until he was in his 40s and this is his first and only race car. The '32 Bantam roadster body with Willys fenders rides on a former Funny Car chassis, with a 468 Chevy running gas through a 1050 Dominator. He sometimes runs Super Comp but prefers NE2 because of the no-electronics rule and the chance to run against old-style cars. His teenage nephew and some of his friends make up the crew.
After hitting the wall at...
After hitting the wall at the '01 March Meet, John Duffy rebuilt the whole front end of his '27 T which runs in NE2. The engine is a 410 Chevy with Enderle injection. At the '04 March Meet, he lost the final round by 0.024 seconds at the starting lights. "That's this class," he told us. "They'll put you on the trailer by that much!"
Michael Lee drives his father...
Michael Lee drives his father Kil's '47 Topolino in NE3. Kil Lee wanted a '47 (it's the year he was born) and found this one on eBay. He discovered that the car, which came from South Carolina, was previously named Swamp Rat, which makes him wonder if it was one of the two Fiat Altereds once raced by Don Garlits. The engine is a Ford 460 with Cobra Jet iron heads. The mag 12-spokes, axles, and front suspension all came from a late-'60s AA Fuel Altered.
One of the nicest looking...
One of the nicest looking cars in NE3, and one of the few lefthand-drivers, is Steve Foster's alky-fed fendered '34 Chevy, nicknamed Instagator. Inside and out, it's all been custom fabricated, including pedals, brackets, and other hardware, not to mention all the bodywork (note the hand-built hood scoop). The 427 breathes through an old Ed Pink 6-71 supercharger and Hilborn FI system on a Hogan manifold, Transmission is a B&J 3-speed with a Quick Drive converter.
Steve Foster's previous Insta-Gator,...
Steve Foster's previous Insta-Gator, this '23 T, has been owned by Gene Robinson for 10 years. Gene competes in Nostalgia II. Although it has gone 8.44, Gene tunes down the 468ci Rat motor to run the 8.60 index. In 1983, the car appeared in the movie Heart Like a Wheel, disguised with a Funny Car body.
People kept referring to Willy...
People kept referring to Willy Currano as Woody Duke, after he purchased the racer's "Wild Thing" '47 Topolino 2 years ago. He rebuilt the entire car, first built by Woody in '62, adding a carbureted big-block. Willy has been drag racing since high school days, and races "Wild Thing" in NE3.
In the truest tradition of...
In the truest tradition of hot rodding, Blake Shrode, who drives this '34 three-window for his dad Bob, also drives the 400ci small-block-powered coupe on the streets of Burbank. The Shrodes are "still tinkering" with the car, which they've owned for 2 years, and race in the Nostalgia II class. The car's quickest pass to date is 9.20.
Inspired by a Fiat raced by...
Inspired by a Fiat raced by Frank Pedregon, Chess Bushey and driver Bruce McDowell compete with this much reworked '38 in the Nostalgia I class. The pinched and filled body flips up like a Funny Car. The 406ci small-block with a Mooneyham 6-71 blower and Air Flow heads was built by Britt Bostich. Hard to believe it was originally intended for the street.
This '48 Topolino has a history...
This '48 Topolino has a history of its own. Owner Bobby Lee found a historical photo of it in a Don Montgomery book and traced its heritage. It was the first body out of the Cal Automotive mold and appeared in a 1963 issue of Drag Sport Illustrated. After 25 years in storage, it was rebuilt in 2003. Lee retained the original front end and American 12-spokes. The powerplant is a Chevy 454 with a TH400 trans.
We had a ball watching Craig Wallace's '29 A sedan, mostly because it looks like a streetable hot rod. Except for the cage, Craig built this sedan himself. He found the steel body in a friend's backyard; the nose is the only 'glass portion. The 0.060-over 350 burns alcohol from the Ron's Racing port injection system.
Craig got started bracket racing, moving to NE3 when the index was created. He likes the class because it's relatively inexpensive and relatively low-maintenance. "I rebuild the motor every few years, and put bearings in every season if there are no problems in between. Between rounds, I just put fuel in it, and charge the battery after a few runs. After about 100 passes, I replace the tires. That's typically about it, unless I break parts. I don't want to have to tear the engine down every other weekend, and I don't want a crew to follow me around. Sometimes my wife comes with me or my high school friend, Bob Hendricks. Bob and I street raced in the '60s, so coming to these races is like a reunion for us."
Wallace, who has helped build numerous vintage drag cars, is the 2003 Nostalgia III champ, and with a win at the March Meet, Runner-Up at the Nitro Nats in Vegas, and another win in Pomona, he's on the way to a repeat in 2004. We prodded for the secret of success. "Know your abilities and limitations, and don't build a car beyond your mechanical ability or interest level." Before we left, we asked him about the wheels. "Swap meet specials: slotted aluminum wheels. The Moon discs are a pain in the pits, but everybody loves them and they add to the look of the car, so they're staying on."