n the late Sixties, the most-dramatic hours of my season occurred
at Lions Drag Strip, just prior to the first round of the
PDA (Professional Dragster Association) Championships, when
each Top Fuel qualifier would slowly parade up Lions Drag
Strip, sans helmet or firesuit, in front of his push car,
and be announced to the crowd.
Later, nothing on my schedule matched the tension of Sundays
of the United States Fuel and Gas Championships, when one
or more warbirds at WFO roared above Famoso Drag Strip at
ridiculously-low altitudes while we listened to a scratchy,
45-rpm record of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Famoso Drag Strip has been a family
tradition for the Wallaces since 1964. This late-'90s
version included (from right) Big Dave; Ryan, his only
grandchild; Ryan's dad, Little Dave; and Uncle Sky. (Photo
by Spencer Holler)
Still later, as the March Meet’s glory faded, my favorite
annual thrill moved out of California, to Indianapolis Raceway
Park, where NHRA Competition Director Steve Gibbs would perfectly
time the last notes of the national anthem with the firing
of the first pair of fuelers each Labor Day. Right through
the end of the 20th century, those opening moments of any
U.S. Nationals gave me goose bumps like nothing else on earth.
That was before the same Mr. Gibbs, supposedly long retired
from NHRA, added Saturday nights to his California Hot Rod
Reunion program. As if a full day of qualifying (including
two sessions of front-motored fuelers), a pit full of historic
race cars and other hot rods, a barbecue for all, and a ceremony
for incoming members of the California Hot Rod Hall of Fame
hadn’t already given us our money’s worth, the
best part of Saturday waits ’til sundown.
First, a somber-voiced Dave McClelland asks for silence,
then slowly dictates a long, long list of names, pausing effectively
before and after each man or woman who’s passed away
since we last gathered on this holy ground. Man, if you haven’t
been able to fully accept the loss of a loved one, all you
need to do is hear that name announced so dramatically by
Big Mac at Famoso on the first Saturday of October.
names are read in alphabetical order, after which Famoso’s
ancient loudspeakers go dead. We’re all standing up
in silence, reflecting. What a setup for what’s about
to come from the far end, where the hot-car pits used to be.
Great Gawd Almighty, that’s a genuine Woody car push-starting
on Famoso’s old fire-up road, belching flames on both
sides of the driver’s head! Tucked in right behind is
a primered ’56 Ford pickup with a plywood push bar and
a bed full of old, gray, grinning fat guys, leaning directly
into a breeze of 98-percent nitro. The Cacklefest is on!
OK, maybe you have to be there; and should be! More than
80 “cacklers” — original cars and well-executed
clones — are signed up for October 1st.