Drag Racing Online: The Magazine

Volume VIII, Issue 4, Page



ow that's a strange title for a drag racing column, no doubt about it. I'm not talking about the human condition, or even the presence of humans east of the Rocky Mountain range. Of course there is life — I've seen it myself! No, for purposes of this column, I'm dealing with the general state of the union of the nostalgia nitro funny car "movement." I put the quotation marks around movement because I'm not sure it warrants that status yet. There is momentum, but it's too early to label it as "All That."

West of the Rockies, it is indeed a brave new world in nitro funny car competition. At last informal count, there were around twenty nostalgia nitro floppers capable of making laps under power, virtually all of them California cars. I know of at least four racers in Washington or Oregon who are considering joining the fray, so two dozen cars available for duty seems a likelihood sooner rather than later. Given the "California-ness" of the West Coast racing landscape, it is a given that most of the cars are VRA-legal race cars. Small fuel pumps, small blowers, one mag — in other words, an honest attempt to recreate some of the key tech elements of the pre-1980 era. You will notice I didn't say "and keep the costs down." As an inveterate reader of race car parts classifieds, I say you could probably put together a reasonable two mag/big pump/big blower motor cheaper than a VRA engine. Prove me wrong, I'll be glad to admit the error.

The nostalgia nitro funny cars most often race under the oversight of the Goodguys organization, following the aforementioned Vintage Racing Association rules. At these events they run qualifying laps and race in a standard eight-car ladder eliminator. Nothing wrong with that, that's the lay of the land right now. There must be some two- and four-car match race action on the West Coast, but it's under publicized, to say the least.

So, how are things east of the Rockies? For one thing, there are not as many cars, and except for the VRA/Goodguys show at Indy, a lack of "big" events. Cordova Dragway is rumored to be planning to add an eight-car funny car show to it's annual Slingshot Nationals race, so there are signs of progress in the hinterlands. (Hey, I'm from the hinterlands myself, so I can call it that.) Once you leave the West Coast, the nostalgia nitro funny car scene looks a lot like the old match race trail. And I think that could be a good thing.

Selling Midwest and Southeast promoters on paying for a qualified, eight-car show remains a difficult undertaking. If you don't think so, give it a try. For that reason, I think it may be more prudent to try putting together a series of two- and four-car match races, at smaller venues like Kansas City International Raceway, Cordova Dragway and the like. Nobody's going to get rich quick, but some level of consistent exposure for the race cars and the guys who campaign them can be achieved that way. One or two races here and there, all with little or no advance notice to the buying public isn't going to accomplish much. As national event ticket prices continue to rise, fans get priced out of that scene. Most of them still would like an occasional dose of nitro — they just need a venue and a ticket price that won't break them. And that is exactly what a revived match race tour could provide.

In some ways, the Midwest/Southeast nostalgia scene has some advantages over the West Coast contingent. With Doc Halladay, Fritz Callier, Arnie Beswick and Virgil Hartman all already campaigning or building race cars, there is some name recognition in play. And when you throw in proven touring racers like Dale Pulde, Rob Bruce, Steve Nichols and Steve Plueger, these new days could look like the old days before you know it! If one had a funny car, one could actually line up against the Chi-Town Hustler, the War Eagle, the Blue Max or the Telstar Dodge on any given night. That possibility alone should be enough to get another six or eight cars under construction. Ask yourself a question. Would you rather spend $50,000 to build a nitro car or a 9.90 car that absolutely no one wants to see run? A lot of money is going to get spent either way. Why not try the interesting approach, rather than the mundane?

I haven't talked about the tech side of the east-west scenario, so here goes. West Coast, it's the VRA-legal setup. Elsewhere, you start to see the so-called Outlaw Nitro cars. They utilize late model drivetrains, recycled stuff from the NHRA touring Funny Car stars. Hey, unless you want to run the Goodguys Indy race, why not use parts that may well be cheaper than new VRA stuff and have just a touch of relevance to what is in use in the "big leagues?" As a non-buyer of parts, I'm not taking a position, just presenting a scenario. Bottom line, I think the choice all boils down to whom you can get parts from, what they cost, and where you want to race.

Now that I've talked tech, the Ugly Specter of Certification can rear its ugly head. One of my best friends in nitro racing recently abandoned his nostalgia funny car project, one that was past the half-way point of completion. The straw that broke his back? It was the sheer cost and hassle of undergoing the whole certification/recertification process. After all was said and done, it just wasn't worth it to him to continue the struggle. And this is a guy that could actually be an asset to the nostalgia scene, both as a racer and a source of tech knowledge. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for safety and that is what the CERT program is supposed to be about. But any reasonable person with even the slightest insight into the technical side of drag racing knows that a lot of the required rectification of parts is simply unnecessary. It's a source of income for the sanctioning bodies and another hit to the check book for the racers. Be forewarned, if you want to race a nitro nostalgia flopper, be prepared to make a cash sacrifice to the CERT/Recert man.

Let me summarize a bit, and opine about what the nostalgia funny car scene needs to do to grow. I think they need to race at small venues, places that haven't seen a nitro car for a good long while. They need to seek out two- and four-car shows, runs preferred over a qualify/eliminate format. Like it or not, the promoters aren't going to want to give you your asking price. Start thinking about how you, as a nostalgia racer can make money, other than asking the promoter for X number of dollars. Buy the parts you can afford. Worry about making a pilgrimage to California later, if and when you can make the lap. Above all else, get these nostalgia cars before the public's eyes. Do some displays on your Saturday off from work. Work the media — we'll be glad to hear from you. Leave no stone unturned. Who knows, if we all catch a break or two, the match race trail can indeed be revived. And wouldn't that be something to behold?




Lenny's Line [3/8/06]
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