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Editor & Publisher
CEO Jeff Burk
COO Kay Burk
DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS
Director: Casey Araiza
Director: Dave Ferrato
Contact: Casey Araiza
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ET DRAG RACING
The Nitro Joint w / "Chicago Jon" Hoffman
VOLUME XIX, NUMBER 7 - JULY 2017
Day one, which is blessed with spectacular weather, has its first winner in the form of the Pink Elephant Antique Mall in Livingston, Illinois. They boast a truly amazing collection of all the giant roadside advertising that made the Route 66 experience what it was. With a giant Muffler Man, a UFO, a Pink Elephant (bursting out the side of the building, no less) and a snack bar in the form of a gigantic ice cream cone, it was really 50 pounds of fun in a 10-pound bag. While I could stare at this stuff all day long, this trip is on a budget, and a SCHEDULE, so it's off to Alton. Based on directions culled from several message boards, I know the location of the trailer park it became, but upon arrival, I am completely blown away by what I find -- the actual track surface is still intact!
Sure, there's no sign of anything anywhere that shows this was a racetrack, best known for Chris 'The Golden Greek' Karamasines running the first 200-mph pass, but the two-lane dragstrip with median divider (as was often the practice of the era) is still there. I did what ANY rational thinking fan would do, staged up and made a pass! Granted, I didn't exceed 30 mph (who wants to spend the night in the Alton pokey because I upset poor old Aunt Fred) but drive down the course I did, and it was grand.
It becomes ironic that I spent little effort finding a race track that closed in 1971, as once I arrive in Sikeston, I cannot find their currently running dragstrip AT ALL! I even violated "man code" and stopped for directions -- FIVE TIMES! I only got there by borrowing a page from Ted Nugent. Ted would track a bear by finding where it "pooped in the woods"; me, I spotted a Pro Street Monza on a ramp-trailer, spun around Dukes of Hazzard-style, and followed him to the track, then run (spectacularly, FYI) by Dominic Blasco. Checked in, kissed hands, shook babies, and then it's off to strike camp at the Hinton RV park. In the words of the “Minnesota Mafia,” the proverbial Nectar of the Gods never tasted so good as day one settled into the evening warmth.
Van Halen’s 'Unchained' would have been good background music for the next morning, as I truly had to "Hit The Ground Running", for the VERY full day that was the running of the Black Arrow Cup Race, which is a tribute to Bill 'Grumpy' Jenkins. And it was quite the big dopey proud grin that was plastered all over my face when I discovered that the morning photo shoot was being orchestrated by my old Great Lakes Dragway 'homie' Pete Ores, aka 'Boomer'. It seems like just 'yesterday' (1989, FTR) that he was this chubby cheeked teenager, and now here he was, the Big Dog calling all the shots. The day, complete with a behind the scenes tour of Dominic’s AWESOME shop, and Bill Neri getting sideways at speed goes by in a blur, and soon, we are within sights of the finals.
Everything is going perfectly on schedule, which is like being in a horror movie and saying "I'll be right BACK", which means you WON'T. Somebody grenades a transmission, and has the presence of mind to stay in the groove, all the way down track. You know how an announcer will say something like it's a good time to hit the snack bar or the goodie booth? I'm pretty sure this guy suggested changing your oil and hanging some drywall. I mean, I feel for the guy’s wallet, but I'm losing valuable sleep time, and I need to be at Byron by noon. We finally get the finals in, and I flop down face first at 'Camp Chicago', for a refreshing three-some hours of sleep, before hitting the road to Byron.
BACK TO TOP
I'm still de-compressing from another awesome trip to Route 66 Raceway. Aside from 'everything being GREAT', it's just a cool name for a dragstrip. And you see, I have been fascinated with the lore and legend of the famous 'Mother Road', going back probably to second grade, when I heard the “local rock group down the street” trying to perfect their version of that tune. They were copying the Rolling Stones, who were copying many OTHERS, with credit to 'Get Your Kicks On Route 66' landing at the doorstep of one Bobby Troup, known to my generation as Dr. Joe Early from the Emergency TV show. (Shout-out to his wife, Julie London, as Dixie McCall, also on Emergency ... SCHWIIING!)
In the fall of 2014, work sent myself and my boss on an assignment to one of our factories in Coal City, MO. (Magical sounding place, no?) and on the drive, I became swept up in how the interstate ran almost parallel to remaining stretches of The Mother Road. Further research once I got home revealed that there was "gold in them-thar hills!" and with a little help, this could become one awesome little road trip, sort of "Route 66-Lite". Sure, you'd want to ACTUALLY do it up right, if you had Don Schumacher money, drive the whole thing, take a week, maybe ten days. Heck, get a 1962 'Vette, and have a Hologram of Martin Milner riding shotgun … let’s DO this thing!
Yeah, right. What I ended up scripting was an excellent three-day weekend that had what I thought was a perfect X-factor. As Route 66 was a TV show, I would incorporate an angle from “TV Tommy” Ivo, the ORIGINAL barnstorming King! I would also be visiting three dragstrips in three days, searching for the remains of Alton Dragway, taking in the action at Sikeston Raceway, and finishing at Ron Leek’s Byron Dragway for their SpringNationals. A phone call secures a campsite in Sikeston, the cameras are loaded, cooler is stuffed with beverages and liverwurst & cheese sandwiches, and it is time to hit the MOTHER ROAD....
Suffice to say, the road hit back, right in my face, but undaunted I guzzle coffee and charge northward, but about two hours south of Byron (still on schedule, mind you) I notice the skies darkening, and southbound traffic all have their headlights on. You've GOT to be kidding me! Pitter-patter drops turn into a can-the-wipers-go-any-FASTER? downpour at the intersection of 72 and 39, which is about ten minutes from the track. Not how I drew it up on the chalkboard, to say the least, but it could be worse, a LOT worse. Instead of heading west on 72, I now point myself east, and get my first look at "a lot worse".
Less than a month before, an estimated F4 tornado swept through the area and essentially wiped the town of Fairdale off the map. Workers were still attempting to clean up the destruction as I passed by. You see this stuff on the news, but it's always "somewhere else", but not this time. There will be no pity-party over my lost shot at Byron today, and as if to drive it all home, I spot a piece of storm-trash in a tree not 12 miles from my house, which is a 45-minute drive from Fairdale.
Life is short, race fans, so get up, grab the cameras and GO. You never can tell when tomorrow WON'T be there, as two residents of Fairdale didn't get to see April 10, 2015.
Even if I never get back to the Mother Road, I'll always have the memories of "Route 66-Lite".
Til next time...C-YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!