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Reunions Rule!


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.

The 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.


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