Mike Cavalieri Talks About Growing Up Nitro

Cavalieri with the Paul Romine team. (Jeff Burk photo)

Just the other day, a few friends and I got into a discussion about the first car we each owned. Well, I couldn't remember my first car but I remembered my late twin brother Louie's first car because it was with total amazement that my mom bought into the hype that a 340-powered Dodge Dart Sport was a very good school car. That was second only to his claim that "we" had to buy it now before it was sold to someone else...did I mention Louie was just a month shy of being 15 and the legal driving age was 16?  My poor mother endured a few examples of this flawed BLIT logic over the years. 

And what does this have to do with drag racing, and more specifically nostalgia racing? On the surface, probably nothing except it got all of us to reminisce about the days when mom and dad would load up the family Top Fuel dragster and head to Cornhusker Raceway Park in Omaha.

Unlike today, the majority of the preparation involved was loading the car. Back then, you maintained your cast iron 392-powered nitro car a lot like you did your Modified Production ‘55 Chevy or Super Stock Barracuda, you would change the oil, set the valves, and clean the chrome mirrors on the side of the cowling. As a young boy I also got to load up jugs of nitro and water, and the floor jack. That's right, we would use a pair of car ramps and a floor jack to service the car and you needed gallons of water to run through the engine for cooling....ahhhh, the good old days!  

These were the days of Crower giving you a clutch tune-up, Enderle giving you a fuel system tune-up, and all of your dad's drinking buddies deciding the timing and tire pressure. We even had a guy that would blow cigarette smoke through the barrel valve as a means of setting it.  I would laugh at this guy back then and find it just as ridiculous today, but he took himself pretty serious...someone had to!   Some would say this was a genius method of tuning by committee. 

(Cavalieri family photo)



Racing a Top Fuel car in the 1970's was actually more stressful than it is today and yet on the surface it seems like it couldn't have been any easier than tuning a Cacklefest car. Why? Well, the first reason is simple...fire. It is amazing when you think back to how much more violent a cast iron nitro engine was when there wasn't anything from Taylor Motorsports to protect you from the impending inferno.