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Darr Hawthorne has over 20 years of experience in the entertainment business and television commercial industry as a marketing representative, executive producer, commercial producer, and film editor. As a producer and editor he won many national and international advertising awards.

Darr acquired his addiction to drag racing in 1964 when he toured to the U.S. Nationals with Wild Bill Shrewsberry and Jack Chrisman. He also worked on Division 7 Sportsman crews in the 1970s & early '80s. He's been a freelance motorsports journalist covering NHRA, nostalgia drags, NASCAR, and IRL. He's been a Touring Professional Spectator, and is currently helping his son build a '64 Chevy II Funny Car.

He will contribute his thoughts to DRO as the mood strikes him. He is from California, after all.


Our fearless leader, Jeff Burk, asked me to write about my impressions of today's Nostalgia Nitro drag racing -- you know, the kind where the driver of the dragster sits behind the motor. This has been a tough assignment for me to get going. I have such fond, glowing memories of what were my early drag racing experiences beginning in 1964 at the Hot Rod Magazine Championships at
Riverside Raceway, watching Jack Williams changing motors on Saturday night in
the Holiday Inn parking lot 'til all hours. The smells, the sounds, the ingenuity, the blazing slicks through the quarter-mile, the way the cars sat on the starting line so low to the ground, with fire-breathing Chrysler 392's.

About two years ago, heading into the NHRA 50th Anniversary celebration, I
started paying more attention to modern Vintage Nitro Racing. Since the dragsters didn't hit 300 miles per hour in the four-second zone, I just didn't
have the incredible passion for this form of drag racing that many of my friends did. Vintage Nitro Racing really grew on me, but this was also about the time that Bill Chapman's ADRA was being formed as the "savior" of vintage drag racing. The goal of ADRA was to create a "band of touring nostalgia nitro racers," promising numerous well-funded races with large purses, towing money, and a panacea so many nostalgia nitro racers had been craving. Eventually Chapman disappeared without a trace, leaving bouncing checks in his wake, and yet another in the long list of flim-flam artists left the drag racing scene.

It has been said the racers at the beginning of the sport "did it for love," but they also did it for money, to win new cars at the big meets, toolboxes, trophies and a smooch from the trophy girl, the roar of the crowd and prize money. Nobody, but nobody did it completely for love 'cause you had to have money to build a competitive digger. No amount of love could purchase a new blower, the latest Hilborn injector, a Keith Black, Don Maynard, Dave Zeuschel, or Ed Pink motor, or slicks and nitro for that matter. It cost money; not nearly as much as it does today, but a well-stocked wallet sure helped get down the quarter-mile.

Newstalgia, Nostalgia Nitro, ProNitro, front engine nitro dragsters. . .let's
face it, nostalgia racing is a very expensive HOBBY. Nostalgia racing has a limited fan base and just enough entries to make it look like it's a viable racing program. The bottom line is that drag racing is a business. Fortunately, the Goodguys Vintage Racing Association has found a way to put on a limited number of drag races for these rabid participants and their spectators who are locked in a time warp.

At the close of the 2001 season, Goodguys reduced their schedule to four semi-profitable races from the seven or eight marginal ones they held in 2001. They would lose some money on the small shows and make enough money on the large shows.

Goodguys still puts on the financially successful Bakersfield March Meet and provides the tech department for California Hot Rod Reunion and a couple of others.

Putting on a drag racing program requires so many components: competitive cars and drivers, lots of enthusiastic spectators, concessions with hot food, cold beer and sodas, portable toilets, security, a safe drag strip, vast advertising and promotion, and lots of employees to handle parking, staging, crowd control, security, announcing and tickets. Oh yeah, and you gotta hope it doesn't rain out. It's a tough job to put on any kind of drag race today.

Last fall I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with some of the stars of
Nostalgia Drag Racing. There are names many of us saw and heard at the drags of our past. Names like Rance McDaniel, Bill Dunlap, "Wild Bill" Alexander, Dale Pulde, Bob Muravez, and Gerry Steiner, "The World's Fastest Austrian." Steiner today pilots the Steiner and Berger front engine top fuel dragster; it's a new Stirling chassis that he runs on a limited budget and a crew with a lot of heart. Steiner came close to winning this year's March Meet with a masterful driving job and then went on to win two other Goodguys events this season.

These new front engine dragsters are incredible pieces of engineering with gutsy drivers sitting behind fire-breathing nitro motors. But there is an interesting quality I have observed among many nostalgia nitro enthusiasts: that of an "independent cowboy" - one who can do what he wants and "screw anything that comes from the sanctioning body," whether it is Goodguys or NHRA. This unrealistic hatred for the organization providing the safe place to race thoroughly amazes me! While I have disagreed with certain decisions from the Glendora Tower, all in all drag racing is in pretty good shape and the reverence for the past is well heralded in the Fall at the California Hot Rod Reunion.

I wish that I'd paid more attention to how fleeting drag racing was as the years went by from my first drag race in 1964. I loved drag racing from the first kiss. While slingshot fuelers are "officially" a thing of the past, evolution is essential and today's 300-inchers are the direct descendents. I am in awe that enough of those drivers survived to tell the stories of those incredible cars and drive a facsimile of those cars from the "glory days." I feel very fortunate to have seen that evolution as a sometime participant and professional touring spectator.

It's great that NHRA has deep enough pockets to step up and operate a small, legendary track like Bakersfield's Famoso Raceway and the big historic tracks like Pomona and Indy, providing a safe place for nostalgia nitro pilots to compete at their hobby. Some things to keep in mind are that there will be more fuelers at the October California Hot Rod Reunion than at any 2002 NHRA national event and that a complete weekend pass to a Goodguys event is less than a single day's general admission at any NHRA national event. It's a bargain.

While Nostalgia Nitro Racing is a distant relative of today's 7,000 horsepower
NHRA and IHRA nitro madness, it's not very much like the car Jack Williams raced to a Top Fuel Championship in 1964. Nostalgia Nitro still provides a safe, competitive place for a "hobby" that makes a lot of people feel good about those "golden days" of drag racing -- the days before Don Garlits sketched a new dragster design that changed everything.

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