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Grass Roots


s winter sets in and the lakes freeze over it's a little tough to think about grass roots. Yet even under that four feet of snow the roots remain, ready to become reborn into fresh green grass each and every year. When springtime rolls around and it's time to mow the old lawn, lucky stiffs will be out slicing down the grass while sitting on the Mulchmaster 3000® with an ice-cold beverage in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, all this while watching the drag races via an onboard satellite flat panel television system. The rest of us will be huffing and puffing while telling ourselves it will start on this pull, for sure.

The roots, you see, are the key to this ongoing process. If the roots get sick or lose their nourishment, the grass itself can wither and die. When this happens a great number of other undesirable things can then quickly take over and grow into the space previously occupied by the grass. None of these things are ever similar to the desirable lush Fescue or fine Kentucky bluegrass that years of fine-tuning cultivated to fruition. All the work it took to get the grass to where it was will be swept away or overpowered, and it's often tough to get things back to the way they were. Once things get way out of control it's near impossible to bring back the grass roots and all will be lost.

Once again the vintage drag racing season is wrapped up. All manner of rides have been rolled into the shops, garages, and backyards of America and the work preparing for the next season has begun. Engines are coming apart to get freshened, beefed up, or rebuilt for the coming season. Back halves, front ends, and dreams are being machined, welded and pounded into reality. The rumor mill is bristling with reports of new cars and defections from the big leagues seeking to escape the knock down expenses and corporate accountability of the big show. 2006 promises to be a bigger year than ever for nostalgia drag racing.

It is this unbridled bulk that may pose problems for the grass roots while they slumber during the winter months. As more and more money flows into the nostalgia drag racing scene, it becomes easier to lose track of the original intent of the founders, who wanted to bring back grass roots appeal to a sport they had once loved but had somehow managed to become completely overgrown. This has become especially apparent in the pro classes, where high dollar trailers, multiple engines, superleggera titanium valves, and so on have become the rule, rather than the exception. The rules that were originally set up to keep costs down by way of iron blocks, heads, and a stiff sidewall tire have long since been forgotten and been replaced by a new unwritten rule which seemingly requires one to spend the most money possible. Evaporating engines in order to post sub-six second runs is all fine and good, but at what cost does it come to the racer and nostalgia drag racing fan?

Running a racecar on the ragged edge between peak performance and inches of its life to squeeze that elusive extra tenth out of the combination has been the name of the game in drag racing for a long time. Racers can never be faulted for wanting to go faster. But Nostalgia racing is different. The word itself literally means a bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past. That past included a time when folks could pool their limited resources and run nitromethane on the weekends; still go back to work on Monday with enough money to buy lunch, and hopefully some new pistons. One motor at a time was about all anybody could afford and afford it they did, with dragsters sometimes showing up in the triple digit numbers to qualify for a single one-day race.

This is the drag racing vintage that vintage drag racing fans get nostalgic about. Given the choice between forking over some hard earned dough to see a bakers dozen cars run 5.90's and say, thirty something hard sidewalled tire smoking diggers and funny cars boogie down the track and run low-sevens or the occasional 6-something, the nostalgia drag racing fan will choose the latter. Perhaps the time has come to take a look at the nostalgia nitro classes and impose some sort of Garlits-esque one engine rule. One block. One set of pistons. Blow it up and that's all folks – just like back in the day.

Keeping costs down will encourage the grass roots racer to build nostalgic looking racecars, which will keep things interesting for the fans. Let's not get to the point where there has to be a nostalgia exhibition or vintage class running within the nostalgia drag racing ranks to make things nostalgic or vintage. When that happens I'm getting on the Mulchmaster 3000®, firing up the flat-panel satellite system, and going lawnmower racing.

Retro Rant [11-8-05]
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