VOLUME XXI,  NUMBER 6 - JUNE,  2019

race reports

Gasser Reunion at Thompson, Ohio

 

A Gathering of Gassers

 

Words and photos by Pat Donahue

Amy Ruffo backs up “AA Al” Niespondzinski in “Caged Heat.”

 

Thompson Raceway Park welcomed back the Gasser Reunion on May 31-June 1. It was the 18th year for the Thompson tradition back where it got started for many Ohio racers at Ohio's oldest dragstrip that opened in 1958. This year’s event, like many around the country, was altered by the weather lingering as well as the result of recent activities to the facility, but the Gasser Reunion went on.

Gene Schwartz was once again on hand for the Gasser Reunion to sign autographs but have a little fun too. Gene has enjoyed his 1952 Chevy since his dad gave it to him in 1959 when he was 15. He was able to capture numerous wins and attention with it ever since including Indy in 1966, Speed Eliminator at the '65 NASCAR Nationals held at Dragway 42, and he held the E Gas National Record from 1964-67. Gene fondly remembers having the distinction of being one of only a few racers featured on the first ever Drag Racing coverage on ABC's Wide World of Sports and was able to get a copy of the film. Schwartz no longer competes but still likes to get out on the track to show that he and his ‘52 Chevy aren't just for show.

What a find! While the Ziemenick brothers (from left, Frank, Mike and Todd) of Buffalo, NY, are usually knee deep in the action in their three beautiful gassers, they took a different approach to this year’s reunion. They decided it was time to show off their new find. Well, not a new find anymore -- they have been sitting on it since they brought it home for New Year’s in 2008. A friend told them about it and it was possibly slated for the scrap yard if they weren't interested in it. Info was hard to come by and still is to some degree.

 

So, they chose this year’s Gasser Reunion to display their 1967 Cougar Turbonique funny car. Through their research they have found that it’s powered by a 1000 horsepower power plant that is for the most part on or off and this one went as fast as 180 MPH. There were about a dozen of them that toured between 1964-67 before NHRA banned them in 1967. The 1967 Cougar replaced a '67 Mustang version named Pegasus. At one time it had two turbos but was a little unstable so it went back to one. You could purchase a power plant that ran on fuel and oxygen for around $3900. The Ziemenick’s research has even found that of what seems to be only a few left one version has the Turbonique power as an alternative to a 427 with a blower.

 

While they decide what the future holds for their rare find. They are soliciting information or photos to get a better view of this piece of drag racing history that drew quite a lot of attention at this year’s reunion, so if you have any information please contact the Ziemenick Bros. at 716-675-9733.

It’s been a few years since Lou Novotny has set in the cockpit of a front engine dragster so he chose this year’s Gasser Reunion to take a trip back into is drag racing career a bit. While Lou was on hand to sign autographs with other Ohio Drag Racing Legends, the 82-year-old Novotny also made some passes in a new toy for the first time this weekend. Lou’s drag racing career started in 1960 and he has raced in top fuel in the Garlits era and plenty of alcohol dragsters as well, it’s been since 1970 since he grabbed a seat behind the engine of a front engine dragster.

There are some newer components to the 200” wheelbase S&W dragster with a 438 small block Chevy that are taking some getting used to, but the idea with most new toys is to have fun and Lou definitely seemed to be doing that this weekend.

Bill Curtis brought out his Clown Car for the first time and went some rounds both in the Gamblers race on Friday and to the final four in the Nostalgia Gas class on Saturday. Bill has been working on the ‘58 English Ford Anglia 100E for seven years. It has a 406 small block Chevy in and will be one car to take seriously.

You can’t have a Gasser Reunion without your share of tri-fives. New York Tin Knocker John Patterson launches his ‘56 Chevy alongside of the ‘55 Chevy of Bob Ramella during the Nostalgia Gas competition.

Dale Healy of Marengo, Ohio, took home the win in his “Bad Medicine” ‘65 Nova with a win in the final of Nostalgia Gas over Skip Kazmark in his ‘39 Chevy Coupe.

“The Boogeyman” got the field in the 409 class finishing with Tom Geib in his ‘62 Impala taking the final round win over Denny Ford in a ‘62 Biscayne.

Jack Sidor had some tubing left over when he was working on a funny car and decided to build his front engine dragster in 2013. He had always idolized Larry Sikora for his quality and craftsmanship and set that as the bar. Jack participates in the NDRL and wanted to take part in the Gasser Reunion as well.

Bob Bosler of Middleview, Ohio, piloted his ‘41 Willys Coupe through the field of Hot Rod class and took home the win.

The Wright guys won on Friday. The father and son team of Tom and Tim Wright worked their way through the Friday field of Gamblers with the younger Tim behind the wheel of the "High Rollin' HEMI" '65 Plymouth Belvedere. They fought off the rest of the Hot Rod and Nostalgia Gas classes to take home the win and the cash from day one of the Gasser Reunion.

 

Matt King came into the Gasser Reunion eager to get some laps on the AA Gasser that he bought from Jim Oddy back in September. When he hit the throttle on the "Junkyard Dog" for the first time it would be the VERY first time! No test and tune, no practice laps, or even rides around the parking lot according to King. It took till the May 31st Gasser Reunion to align schedules with car builder and Hall of Fame drag racing veteran, Jim Oddy. Oddy had planned to help get the car set up and give Matt some advice and a bit of tutoring on getting off on the right foot. For some driving advice Jim brought along champion Pro Mod driver Fred Hahn who drove Oddy’s cars for many years. Hahn had made some passes in the “Junkyard Dog” and seemed ideal to help get Matt acquainted with the '34 Willys that has dominated so many races.

 

New owner Matt King (left) gets some words of encouragement from Jim Oddy, who built the “Junkyard Dog” that dominated the Gasser scene with driver Junior Ward for several years.

 

Matt King was in Martin, MI, in 2015 to see Jr. Ward set the world record at 4.75 in the 1/8 mile. In 2018 when he learned that the car might be for sale Matt jumped at the chance to get it. Now eight months later, it was finally time to take it down the track. If he would make a full pass was yet to be determined.

The long smoky burnout wasn't completely straight, and all four tires didn't stay flat on the racing surface, but it was time to do this. The other competitors in the Supercharged Gasser class had completed their runs, leaving the track ready for the solo run. What better stage. When Matt took his "Junkyard Dog" for a spin it launched straight. It ran smooth and it went fast. Matt had no reason to get out of it till he had covered the 1/8 mile. In doing so he laid down the low E.T. of 4.81 at 146mph. Only .06 off the record run of 4.75 seconds. The run set a new Thompson track record for time and speed in the AA/GS class. And maybe setting the class to wonder if they underestimated how long it would take for the "Junkyard Dog" to get up to full speed. Jim Oddy was excited to say the least to have everything come together so well. He confessed to taking a double take at the time since it was the only run in the 4s. After the sale of the car, there had been some social media second guessers. Some wondering if the car Matt King bought came with all of the caliber components that made it the record holder that it was known to be. Jim thought that King’s first pass had given them their answer.

With one Jim Oddy hot rod already in Matt King’s garage, an unfortunate set of circumstances filled a second spot. A good friend, John Cassiol had passed away after spending his last 15 years masterfully restoring Oddy’s '48 AA/G Austin. Cassio had taken painstaking effort and attention to detail to make it exactly as it was when Oddy raced it in the 1960's. It was the car Oddy raced in 1969 when he earned the Division 1 Championship, as well as claiming both the engineer and driver of the year titles among Division 1 competition like Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins. Oddy speaks with amazement at the job John Cassiol was able to accomplish on the restoration. It was important for family and friends to see John’s work honored and appreciated. Matt got the Austin in March and was able to show the two Jim Oddy Gassers together at this year’s reunion.

The Reunion hosted a seven-car field of AA Gassers this year that qualified over two days before weather forced them to use Chicago Shootout Style final. The top two qualifiers advanced to the final round pitting top qualifier Matt King in his "Junkyard Dog" with a 4.81 @ 146 against, Alan “AA Al” Niespodzinski of Buffalo, NY, who ran 5.04 @ 138 in his ‘33 Willys "Caged Heat". Niespodzinski grabbed the win at the starting line with a holeshot and didn't let go, beating King’s 4.89 with a 5.12. It was the second win in a row for Niespodzinski who has the points lead and is two for two so far in the seven-race Supercharged AA/Gassers of America race schedule.

Brian and Tami Spotts are in the second year with the "IT'S CRAZY! II" 1951 Anglia with a 427 C.I. Big Block Chevy. When the trip down the track in the first round included a little side to side, Brian thought it was part of the fun. Tami not so much as she looked on...

This "Mopar Missall" is Fred Missall in his '51 Wayfarer along side Ken Sherwood II in his ‘41 Willys "Spunky Monkey". While the Missall has Chrysler Fire Power, the Monkey is powered by a Big O’ Rat. Gotta love it!

Brian Kressman of Niagara Falls, NY, was the behind the wheel of the "Mr. Hyde" '65 Nova that is owned by his wife, Lisa, who also drives it but didn't make the trip to this year’s reunion.

Bo Martin (near lane) in his ‘63 Impala along side Ray Barnhart in his’ 60 Impala taking part in the 409 class.

Art Misuraca’s '34 Ford Coupe (near lane) with another brand you don’t often see Billy Bregitzer’s  '51 Kaiser Fraiser.

You don’t see many AMC products these days. Here is the '67 Rambler American  of Michael Rados.

While it was coming down to the nitty gritty with a car on the fritz, a bye was just what the doctor ordered so that Wanda Johnson could get her car back to the pits, find the issue and get back in the lane in time for a final round appearance. And quite possibly the one thing more she needed would have been to leave on green but that wasn't what was in the cards for Wanda and her "Tickled Pink" 1939 Plymouth as the storm clouds came in to put an end to the final day of Gasser Reunion.

Gasser Reunion SLIDESHOW

There were lots more great cars at the show. We’re sorry we can’t show them all, but here’s a look at some.  

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