Sunday, April 28, 2013



Global. Such a majestic word. Even now, in the digital age, it's still an incomprehensibly big world - wide awake and teeming with a zillion forms of inspiration. The possibilities are overwhelming. Fascinated with experiences 180 degrees from our own, curiosity often yanks us from the comfort zone for a reality slap of personal growth. While we're always better off for that, most of us are also relieved and grateful to return to the nest. Be it ever so humble, this is where we live.

Southern Oregon's Rogue Valley is a relatively small playground for us gearheads to co-exist in. So we grant each other adequate elbow room, but remain accessible, if needed. Most of us have known each other for decades and we can identify the people we don't know by their cars. It's a tight-knit community, where local lore is passed down through generations with knowing grins and respectful chuckles. The various macrocosms are broken down into microcosms, so all the fabricators, machinists, body men, and racers of various disciplines occupy tiny universes of our own that revolve around each other with a mutual respect. To this date, there have been no philosophical collisions and all factors interact freely and peacefully. It's a veritable idyllic utopia, where the creative process thrives alongside urban commerce - inspired, enhanced and informed by the natural beauty of our little corner of the world.

So today, SGE is featuring some samples of local yokelization in action, for your amusement. While none of this is exactly headline news, the local scene is fundamental in its own right and doesn't always receive the acknowledgement required for it to thrive. It's probably no different in your back yard, so hopefully you can relate. I threw my camera in the car to document some of this week's interactions. Hop in and join me for the highlights...

On Wednesday afternoon, I stopped by Twisty Ron Austin's shop to check his progress on a B/Gas '33 Willys build that I'd been hearing about. Ron and I became friends years ago at the drag strip and continued to cross paths at various shops and events until we knew each other's stories by heart. His brother Mike has garnered more fame (for racing Top Alcohol Dragsters) up to now, but Ron has been slingshotting him as of late. Always fastidious and detail-obsessed, Ron is now one of the west coast's premier fabricators. He's also a natural racer, wheeling his Slightly Twisted altered steeds to Championships in 2009, 2011 and 2012 (he finished 2nd in 2010). Teamed with wife Tamie Krankypantz and sidekick Brandon "Fast Mo" Pereira, the Twisters instilled fear in their ("Dragsters and Roadsters") class competitors from their first event, in 2004. They're only running at part-throttle this year, while focusing on the fabrication business, housed in Ron and Tamie's small attached garage.

 I'll let Ron's skills speak for themselves in the photos, but will declare him to be a bona fide hero to more people than just myself. His bread-and-butter work includes building headers for the new-design Brad Andersen heads, used by all the serious Alky racers. After a passionate restoration of the 1961 Scotty Fenn (Chassis Research) K-88 chassis for the storied Duedall & Marrs B/Comp Coupe (now kicking large ass on the show circuit), Ron's name and skills are being bandied about by such icons as Kent Fuller, so he's doing something right. And for the record, Ron does all of this conjuring after his daily eight hour shift at a powder coating enterprise. He's a certified blue collar taxpaying worker bee, so his magic act is strictly an after-hours endeavor.

I popped in at Ron Austin's garage to find his Slightly Twisted Fiat being revived from a winter coma. He couldn't recall where he'd put the body, but didn't seem too concerned about it, as he surveyed the task at hand - updating a retired Willys bracket bomber for eight second gas-class highjinks.

The Willys that's been the local buzz in recent weeks. Dave Sattem's steel-bodied '33 served hard time on the streets before becoming a Super Pro bracketeer. Dave then parked the Willys and drove a rear-engined dragster to three championships in a row - at Portland in 2010, Woodburn in 2011, and Portland again in 2012. He was also declared Woodburn's 2011 Driver of the Year. Dave goes back a ways with gasser legend Jack Coonrod (both are from Washington), so this Willys isn't his first guardrail dodger. Ron's prepping it for B/Gas battle. The BBC/Glide combo is for mock-up only. The final product will have a bit more hair on it...

Some Willys detail shots. Ron is just starting on the funny car-style rollcage, and most of the chassis is only tacked together at this point. Click on the rearend shot for a close-up look at a proper TIG weld. I swear, this guy is a cyborg.

The big news for me on this day was discovering Ron's secret weapon: The wireless TIG pedal! I've nearly killed myself while entangled in unruly power feeds inside rollcages. How could I not have known about these?

The Duedall & Marrs B/Comp Coupe - under the knife (with Ron and Jim "Little Big Man" Lindsay), and strutting its stuff at the 2012 Grand National Roadster Show, shortly afterward. Our fellow racing buddy Jim Lindsay found it in a barn and guided the resto project while handling the body himself. The reborn version debuted at the GNRS and won its class in the process. It repeated at the Boise Roadster Show, where it also nabbed the Owners Pick gold. (Photos courtesy of Ron Austin)

Twisty Ron is now carefully considering involvement in the restoration of this unique and rarely seen Kent Fuller masterpiece (shown celebrating a C/FD class win at the '63 Smokers Meet). (Photo courtesy of Ron Austin)

Torn between putting food on the table with fab work or diving into another resto gig (very rewarding, but diet-inducing work), Ron is noticeably grayer lately... That's the original driver of the Fuller car, Ken Crawford, hanging in the shop with Ron. (Photo courtesy of Ron Austin)

An illustrated history of The Twist: Both of these ultra-sano trophy mongers were built and raced on a stingy budget and are much more basic than their professional appearance suggests. Both use the same "junkyard" drivetrain, comprised of "experienced" parts, and plenty of component selection savvy. The roadster was sold to finance the Fiat build, but won a 2011 Championship for the new owners, in Arkansas. Ron says the 100 1/4" wheelbase Fiat is more fun to drive. Best numbers are 9.22 at 140 for the hair blower and 8.71 at 150 for the coupe, but neither have really been wrung out, as index racing accuracy is what wins races and Championships in the Dragsters and Roadsters class. Ron confides, "At one point, we won 29 rounds in a row (6 1/2 races) in the roadster. And we won 19 rounds in a row (4 1/2 races) with the Topo". Combined, these two cars (sharing the same "extremely mild" drivetrain) boast 15 wins and 6 runners-up, in 49 races. For the math-challenged, that equals 3 Championships. Pit Sweet Pit shot: Krankypantz, Twisty and Fast Mo, at Woodburn Dragstrip. (Photos courtesy of Ron Austin)

If you build zoomies for a living, never loan a set to your brother for use on his Top Alcohol Dragster. These went for a skateboard-style ride down Pomona's guardwall at 250+ MPH before brother Mike returned them, in need of some cleanup.

Ron has been all too generous over the years. Welding up this aluminum tach mount for my beater is one of many jobs that I'm still paying for on the Buddy Plan (for the record, I screwed up the hole symmetry, not Ron). He ain't cheap, but is worth every dime in that weld bead. (Photo courtesy of Ron Austin)

In my heavily biased opinion, the coolest aspect of our little sandbox is the awesome drag strip that the County built for us in 1979. Now known as Champion Raceway, it has bankrupted more track managers than I can remember, but refuses to die, thanks to the diligence of local racers. I've worked for some of those managers (as Tech Inspector, Announcer and Media Liaison), and have also annoyed every one of them as a bonehead racer. Friday was the official Opening Day of 2013, so I headed out there to see what's new. There was plenty, but the best news was what hasn't changed: Catching up with old friends who've been through a lot of ups and downs together. It made a beautiful evening even sweeter.

City and County dignitaries joined new track manager Kirk Hobson (with nightmarish cartoon scissors) and fiance Michelle Husel in christening the 2013 racing season. Thick soft grass has now replaced the infamous Goat Head stickers. Much better!

                Everyone was relieved that there were no injuries (the Safety Crew was standing by).

 And with that, the new season was off and running. This Chevy street coupe was appropriately making its maiden voyage down the track. It should be ready for the Hot Rod Nationals event in September.

The High School class is a mainstay of the Friday Night Street Drags at Champion. This time I stalked Sabrina Hebert. The 17 year old started racing her '71 Vega the day after getting her drivers license, but it blew a freeze plug over the winter, so she was wheeling this big block '64 Dodge, on loan from another female High School racer. Very cool.

Sabrina's a total natural. She was still torturing the Mopar and was all grins, when I left for a restroom break. She hopes to have her Vega back in a couple of weeks, if the block isn't cracked.

Does your track have sparkling restrooms like this? We waited a long time (understatement), but this is the payoff.

In more distant local news, Clint Haskin (who runs my dream car - the Second Hand Smoke '63 Tempest - above) writes from New Mexico to announce ground breaking on a new drag strip! What a refreshing change from the typically smelly strip announcements of recent years. Smokey Clint says the Four Corners Drag Racing Association has permits in hand and is already throwing dust, in hopes of a 2014 opening, 35 miles east of Bloomfield, New Mexico. Look for their Facebook page (keep the faith, FCDRA - Champion Raceway looked exactly like this in the beginning). Meanwhile, Clint has tossed the Dominator from his 495(!) inch Poncho and replaced it with mechanical injection, adapted from an Olds casting. He'll dial it in at his local Albuquerque track before heading to the Reunion at Bakersfield in the fall. (Lower photo courtesy of Four Corners Drag Racing Association)

This even more distant local news (from Nebraska), just in: My brother Wayne, who recently bought my old Bi Polar Bear Malibu wagon daily driver, has scored a complete set of dog dish hubcaps to finally complete the vision I had over 16 years ago. In all those years of searching, I never even found one cap worth paying for - it just wasn't meant to be, I guess. In his second week of ownership, Wayne got all of the caps, is installing gauges (I just had a suspicious fuel level gauge), and is checking more items off the list that I first scribbled in 1996. My excuse was always lack of time, but this guy is twice as active as me. Now my time is spent coming up with better excuses. I notice Wayne has also installed For Sale signs. Dang, I meant to do that! Er, I mean, I didn't want to add any weight to the car, so no signs for me. (Photos courtesy of Wade Glozzin)

In the localest of local news, my neighbor Rob and I wrapped up recording of the Scotty Gosson Combo album at James Drive Studio this weekend and began initial mixing. The photos tell the tale: Rob is loving what he's hearing, and I'm just happy to be anywhere.

So, if you need a moral to this story, it's spectate globally, race locally. Because in the end, all we have is the sum of our experiences, and each other. Nobody gets out alive, so savor the fellowship while it's here.

Next week: "... and to this day, they still haven't found the body!"