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I can recall a time when my parents went to Downeybrook Raceway in Minnesota and they blew up an engine. The fireball that was generated was frightening to say the least, and once the car stopped rolling and the flames were extinguished you saw all of the damage and knew it was a long drive back to Omaha. The most trying part of the trip was going over in your mind how long it was going to take for mom and dad to get the car repaired and running again.
Eventually the cost of repairing the car became so overwhelming that my parents decided to switch to the then new class of Pro Comp. They converted the car to supercharged alcohol and were able to race for quite a few more years before Louie and I ventured off on our own.
This is very similar to how the modern nostalgia movement has come to be so big. Look at the entry list of the current crop of nostalgia racers and there is a wide variety of men and women that have at one point in time raced professionally and have discovered that you can go home again -- with home being the variety of different venues to race a nitro-powered race car. You have the Drag Racing Online nitro series, and the IHRA has a national event format for Nostalgia Nitro Funny Car, the NHRA has their Heritage series, and of course there is always a handful of independent circuits and match racing.
I am one of those folks that had to suddenly quit racing a nitro car without much warning. And while I missed it initially, as time went by I found other activities to occupy my time. But the time came when I decided it was time to go racing again.
This coincided with a phone call from Paul Romine asking me to supply him with all of the parts he needed to build a then new concept, the nostalgia nitro funny car. Eventually he asked me if I would like to tune this car, and based on the absolute lack of any practical experience with a nostalgia nitro car I said sure, sign me up! To date, this has been the most enjoyable tenure in my racing career, although I do miss the days of rental car death at the hands of a world famous fuel system expert or all-knowing drag racing announcer...UNBELIEVABLE!
After six years in the nostalgia ranks, there have been a number of thoughts worth mentioning.
First is the aspect of affordability. There have been more nostalgia nitro and alcohol funny cars being built than any other class of racing worldwide. The bodies do not cost 50,000 to buy, you can utilize a used chassis with a smaller rear axle assembly, and, since there is a single Mallory magneto, a two-speed transmission and three-disc clutch, the parts’ prices alone have aided in a lower cost of operation. Add to the mix the ability to utilize some of the Big Show cast-off parts and you can actually do this on somewhat of a budget.
Sure, there were the detractors to the carbon fiber brakes, and based on the initial cost, I cannot blame anyone for being sore. But after several years since the rule was implemented, you just do not have the catastrophic results associated with a 240-mph nitro car not being able to stop.
Next is the performances. There is quite a bit of parity these days, with most cars easily able to run into the 5-second zone at will.
The inherent beauty of the nostalgia ranks is what makes it genius -- there are several ways to run one of these cars and there is a clean slate from which to develop your combination. This is not a cookie-cutter class with everyone having the exact same combination; there are several supercharger manufacturers that provide equipment, there is a number of fuel pumps available, and you can be as small in cubic inches as you want and with a 500-inch limit there is no end to the number of bore and stroke combinations available.
And let's not forget, unlike the Big Show and even the sportsman nitro categories, there is no limit to the nitro percentage. There isn't another class in drag racing with such a wide-open platform from which to race.
Going forward, the future looks good for the nostalgia racers. There is a race in just about any corner of the country and Canada, and most are a two-day affair and most do not require racers to pay to enter the event which not only keeps cost down, but more importantly, the two-day format allows the team crew members more flexibility with their day job. Personally, it would be great if there were more of the prestigious events east of the Rocky Mountains. Sure, Bakersfield and Boise are the Mecca of nostalgia, but imagine what it would be like if there were a similar race held in a venue such Joliet or Dallas or even Cordova, Ill.
Speaking of Cordova, they do host the longest running drag race of all times, I believe this year is the 52nd running of the World Series of Drag Racing. While it didn't start out as a nostalgia race, it has become the biggest nostalgia race in the middle of America.
Here is another idea: find a way to get some of the retired stars of the nitro ranks to drive a nostalgia nitro funny car or dragster. I know that if Shirley Muldowney were to accept our offer, she could be back in a Mustang funny car straight away. This is a very serious offer, so Shirley, if you're reading this...pick up the red house phone and call Paul. How huge would it be to have a best two out of three match race with Shirley in the “Man O' War” and someone could put someone like Don Garlits or any other retired nitro star in a nostalgia funny car? What other sport allows their legends to compete for so many years?
In closing, so far this year the racing has been extremely competitive...weather permitting. So when the next DRO Nostalgia Nitro Challenge race, IHRA Nitro Jam or NHRA Heritage event is in your area, be sure to load up the family and enjoy a couple of days of nitro racing. Your family will thank you and the racers will be more than happy to make sure that your first or next trip to the drag races is a success.
It is time to go, I am in the drive-through lane at Sonic and I just ordered a Burk's Blast...I recognize the ice cream part, not sure what else is in it but it does come with a really cool crown that I can wear as I drive down the street. Some days I just love my job, and if I ever grow up...I am growing up nitro!