For a generation of NHRA racers Steve Gibbs was the face of the sanctioning body. He was the man who made the NHRA’s reputation for giving U.S. racers the best dragstrips anywhere in respect to traction and condition. Along with the late Buster Couch, Gibbs had a large influence on the golden age of drag racing when records fell with regularity. As director of Competition, Gibbs kept the race, racing, and racers on an even keel like no one else. His word when it came to the race was absolute, final, unquestioned. He was and is admired equally by drivers, team owners, and fans.
Now he has added one more chapter to his life story. He almost single-handedly has been responsible for starting an NHRA-sanctioned circuit for nostalgia racers, the Hot Rod Heritage Series. DRO sent West Coast Editor Darr Hawthorne to interview the man the racers affectionately refer to as Captain Hook.
Check out Part One of the interview here.
: What do you think of Bruton Smith’s organization?
GIBBS: Well, I am really not that close to it. I’ve been out of it before Bruton and his operation came in. I know a lot of the guys who work for him in his operation. He’s obviously a really dynamic, successful man. I admire what he has put together. I’ve never spoken to him so I don’t know what his philosophy is on drag racing or his vision of the future of it or how his tracks play into that, but he’s a powerful, powerful man and you’ve got to admire what he’s put together not only in drag racing, (but) the NASCAR thing. He obviously knows what he’s doing and has got good people working for him so it’ll be interesting to see just what he would like to see the sport become. I have had no personal involvement with him so I’m not really one to comment on it.
: Are both the National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green and the California Hot Rod Reunion really important to supporting the NHRA Motorsports Museum?
GIBBS: Absolutely. The museum business is tough since you are not going to make it on people coming in through the front door or paying admission fees. There are very, very few museums out there that can do it off of ticket sales; you need to have endowments and fundraising and special events. The museum depends greatly on those two events, so yeah, they are a big part of the annual budget for the museum. Tony Thacker (Museum Executive Director) is doing a great job generating other income through various types of sponsorships, but any successful museum has to go outside for fundraising and hopefully along the way there are some benefactors and donors and people who will help insure the viability of the museum, but absolutely the two reunions are a big part of it.
: How does the Hot Rod Heritage Series potentially help the museum?
GIBBS: I think the Heritage Series just reinforces the kind of racing the Reunions rely on. When we first started putting the Heritage thing together -- which was a modest effort -- we thought it might be under the Museum umbrella, but when you get down to it, the Museum is not a sanctioning body, it’s not a rules-making body. I think it is only natural that NHRA be the controlling entity of the Heritage Series because that is what NHRA does, they sanction drag races, they create rules, they provide insurance and I think that is the way it has to work. A healthy Heritage Series reinforces the kind of events like the Reunion events so we have a good cast of players come run with cars and rules, so I think they work together. I think the museum definitely benefits from the Heritage Series and I think will continue to as the thing grows.