The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman

In Praise of Chris Martin

"I want you to promise me you're not gonna stop this fight, no matter what. No matter what!” -- Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) to Rocky Balboa (Sly Stallone) moments before his death, ROCKY 4 (1985)

The one and only Chris Martin  (Jeff Burk photo)I was going through some old magazines not long ago, and came across some photos of the one and only Chris Martin. Chris was an amazing individual, whom the sport misses dearly, each and every day. You may think I'm getting ready to tee up a wealth of stories about myself and the man who penned 'The Martin Chronicles' here at Drag Racing Online, and there is nothing I'd rather do. How grand to be able to say, "Oh, then there was the time we got tossed out of a jazz club in Houma at 3 a.m.", or "then the backstage guy at Metallica let us in because we had three strippers with us", but it would all be a load of crap. Never happened. I have one, ONE Chris Martin story, and with the eighth anniversary of his passing coming soon (June 23), I feel like telling it. You see, it was a dark and stormy night … no, that's how SNOOPY’S stories always started! It started, with a phone call from Broadway Bob Metzler.


It was 1991, and I was into my third year of hemorrhaging money, err, working at Great Lakes Dragway. Broadway calls and says he has a great opportunity for me to make a little cash. It seems he received a call from the management of a band that was on the rise at the moment. They were putting together a music video for MTV (for the millennials out there, this was something MTV did back then, played MUSIC, before it became a toxic dump of reality TV crap) and needed some stock footage of racing. Would I be interested? Why, absolutely I would.


I would also assume, 'absolutely', that he was calling me for one of two reasons. Number two, as I had the longest hair of anyone at the track, I MUST be into music. And reason number one is that Mark and Laura probably already said no. As a good and loyal "foot soldier" for Great Lakes Dragway, who always had his eye on promotional opportunities, I counter-pitched to Bob that we trade the footage to the band, in exchange for some promo shots of Bob WITH the band. I possessed no records of the band in question (MINISTRY, ftr) but I knew enough that they were big and getting bigger by the second. (becoming a feature on the LOLLAPALOOZA concert tour.)


But Bob declines, telling me that "I don't need publicity as much as you need the money". Fair enough. I call the band’s people and ask for details, and am told to just basically put together a highlight reel of anything I deem to be "exciting racing footage". Umm, OK....


I proceed to assemble 90 minutes of stuff a diehard quarter-mile fan would salivate over. Track records, holeshot wins, half-track burnouts, as close to a Diamond P type show as I could assemble. I am scheduled to drive down to Chicago with the finished production in two days, so I call Ministry’s people again. This time, I get someone different on the phone, and she is a trip. Though she did not actually, genuinely SPEAK in a 'valley-girl-voice', that is how she came across. She asks if I have any film of "those dial-thingies" I assume she is talking about a tachometer, and say no. She then says, "well, anything that's KOOKY, and Fun!!" Great.


Ironically, the weekend before I'd been at the track for a Super Comp race, where I was essentially testing out some equipment. (Also saw this kid whose Dad used to drive the STARDUST Barracuda -- yeah, Tony Schumacher.) Afterwards, I migrated to what we at GLD called the "mud-side" (used for monster truck events and the like) and noticed a Harley event in progress. Grabbed a flyer, and saw that there would be a "Honda Drop" soon. Not knowing what the fork this entailed, I asked the first guy I saw, who looked like "Bobby Elvis" from SAMCRO (also sporting an animal-skin chapeau) what this was. He throws his arm and big old bear-paw of a hand around me and says, "WELL, little buddy, we take (derisive words for Japan) and drop it, crush it, and BURN it, like all (same words again, derisively) DESERVES to have done to it!"


OK, so this is going to be like a Harley rally, as run by Vince McMahon! I alternate between filming the hijinks and downing PBRs with my newest, bestest buddies (who I thought may perhaps KILL me, just "because.") And as such, onto this video collection of track records and amazing footage, I duct-tape-and-spit onto the end all the unbridled mayhem and destruction-orgy that was the "Honda Drop" -- since it was “kooky, and fun”.


The drive to the studio down on Fullerton is routine and familiar (I managed a 7-11 two blocks away in 1978). Well, if you call routine taking a rock to the radiator on the way home and steaming into the parking lot like "Old Faithful" with the temperature-gauge not "where you want it to be" routine, then fine. Not to worry, I have in my hand the single biggest paycheck in Chicago Jon history, and the promise that Warner Brothers will ship me an advanced copy of the tape once it is done. Several weeks go by, and I come home from work one day to see a FED-EX package on the doorstep.


Knowing that something very cool is about to unfold, I spend the next hour "making Chris Martin proud/jealous" in getting myself “ready” to see the video. I grab my stop-watch, pop the tape into the player, and … just … WILT.


The song is called 'Jesus Built My Hot Rod', and it is not my cup of tea, nor is it my tea and crumpets, it's more like MISTER T, with a cattle-prod stuck up his rump. I'd rather listen to an old metal garbage can filled with bowling balls tumble down a hill. And they only used about 25 seconds of my footage, MOST of which was from the “kooky” Honda drop.


Well, when life gives you lemons -- and in this case, enough to make enough lemon Shake-Ups for the west side stands at Indy -- it's time to get to work. And work the phones I do, ringing up anybody and EVERYBODY to talk about “this amazing video” that will "take MTV by STORM", showcasing Great Lakes Dragway in the process.


Which brings us back to Chris Martin, who was the poor soul that picked up the phone the day I called National Dragster. As luck would have it, not only is the song HIS cup of tea, it's all the tea in CHINA to him, and he gives me a nice couple of paragraphs in the NHRA’s house organ.


And there is one other thing at this particular table. MTV, God bless 'em, used a clip of the song as the commercial lead-out/lead-in for their HEADBANGERS BALL show, and, yes, with my “kooky Honda Drop” shots. A whole generation of 'Metal Heads' has that as a "Pavlovian signal" to go get a beer, run to the can, twist up a...LEMON SHAKE-UP (whew, covered that one nicely), whatever … ROCK ON, America!


Close, but not quite the same.So, that was my chance meeting with one of our sport’s icons. When I was introduced to DRO readers by the Burkster, he said, "If you liked Chris Martin’s style, you'll get a kick out of Chicago Jon". I couldn't even carry Chris Martin’s typewriter, and the only way the two of us should be in the same sentence is in the telling of the above story. Click this link   for the farewell story on Chris as told by our own Bret Kepner, and remember how lucky we were to have his genius in our presence. I AM Chicago Jon, time to say...C-YAAA....



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