Tuesday, January 28, 2014


This is the story of the apprentice who outran the master. Actually, several stories of apprentices outrunning masters. It happens all the time, but never gets old. If you're an apprentice, anyway.


Years of backbreaking labor and countless thousands of dollars spent, finally led to this magic moment. Idling up to the judging area for the America's Most Beautiful Roadster competition.

If you were incarcerated in a facility without electricity last week, you missed the big noise from Pomona. These before and after shots tell the tale. 

Vertical Vic Cunninham.

Horizontal Vic Cunningham. He was planning on an extended weekend on the show floor, but this isn't exactly what Vic had in mind. His injuries were not considered life threatening and a full recovery is expected.  (Photos courtesy of Hot Rod Magazine)

Bizarre back-to-back surprise events slapped the hot rod world wide awake last weekend. First, esteemed America's Most Beautiful Roadster judging coordinator Vic Cunningham was run over by a golden AMBR contender at the Grand National Roadster Show in Los Angeles. Less than 24 hours later, beloved American pop sensation Justin Beiber was arrested for street racing and other infractions in Miami at speeds reportedly approaching 60 MPH in a loud yellow Lamborghini. Seemingly unrelated and unimportant in the big picture, these geographically opposed low speed events impacted the hobby like none other in recent years. The unprecedented outpouring of emotions expressed in social media have humanized online activity to new levels, both high and low. Heavy on the low.

The AMBR incident brought forth an immediate wave of well wishing for Cunningham's recovery and pleas for understanding regarding the offending roadster's distraught owner. Then the kneejerk social media reaction instantly turned sharply negative, complete with cries of fraudulent workmanship by the unnamed roadster builder. The unnamed owner was also severely derided for lack of mechanical awareness and was personally attacked by a horde of people who had no idea who he was, let alone met him (the owner and builder both hail from Canada). Within an hour of the news flash, cooler heads prevailed and demanded consideration of and respect for all parties involved. Initial hypotheses of a stuck throttle linkage remain unproven. Regardless, GNRS promoter John Buck is expected to announce new safety guidelines to be in effect for the 2015 event. Vic Cunningham suffered two broken ribs, required six staples in his scalp, and sustained various cuts and abrasions to his extremities.

Beiber with this week's girlfriend Chantel Jeffries, in the rented Lamborghini that he hoped would catapult him to even badder-ass status than wearing a hoodie. It just might, at that...

Beiber's arrest for street racing, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, driving without a license, and resisting arrest was met with Lohan-like apathy, until Hot Rod Magazine editors pointed out the pronounced difference between "street racing" and "drag racing" to CNN reporters. The correction was duly made (then promptly unmade). But when posted on Facebook, Hot Rod's link sparked a left field surprise attack on Beiber's character, hairstyle, masculinity, skin color(!), wardrobe choices, sexuality, and country of origin (Canada, again) by hundreds of characters of decidedly lesser character. Suddenly, the issues of responsibility and driving skills were abandoned altogether, and replaced with a virtual homophobic race riot of hastily typed fear-based ignorance, the likes of which this reporter had never before witnessed on such a scale. Mind you, this hatefest was playing out on Hot Rod Magazine's Facebook page, meaning I was witnessing the true character of my own reader demographic. I was beyond disappointed - stunned, actually - to read the surreal rants vomited up by the very people who put gas in my car, keep me in peanut butter, and finance my winter shelter. In the days since, I've been seriously reconsidering whether I want to continue writing for this culture (and consequently be associated with it). Color me gut-wrenchingly disgusted.

72 hours later, America's most trusted news source, TMZ, exposed the Miami Police Department's report to be flawed. GPS records supplied to TMZ by the Miami agency that rented the Lamborghini to Beiber (and the Ferrarri to his alleged competitor) show the speed demons were actually travelling at a velocity of 27 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. In addition, Beiber's father and another friend had blocked off the residential "drag strip" with large SUVs. It was also later revealed that Beiber's blood alcohol level was actually below Florida's legal limit.

In the hours after Beiber's arrest was announced, this popped up online, but quickly vanished.

Now then... Before this incident, I was aware of Vic Cunningham, but knew little of Justin Beiber and was just fine with that (his music is not to my taste). Once I realized his impact on worldwide culture, I paused to consider it. Like Lohan, Cyrus, and countless others before him, Beiber's most heinous crime seemed to be getting caught in the act of being an adolescent (an adolescent obviously unprepared for life in a very expensive fishbowl, at that). And at his age, I was committing much worse offenses than 27 MPH street racing...

Upon further review, it occurred to me that this event could potentially spawn a positive springback. Very positive. After all, popular culture became popular due to its inherent knack for demonizing perceived threats like new ideas and cultural interlopers. The only thing we value more is redemption. So imagine Beiber atoning for his sins in a courtroom, then enrolling in Frank Hawley's School of Drag Racing to shoot for a Top Fuel license. Once licensed, he finances his own T/F operation and hits the circuit for a humbling education from the big boys. How many butts do you think that would put in the stands? The new humbler, wiser, more responsible Beiber would now be a positive role model to millions of youth (potential ticket buyers), complete with a compelling riches-to-grease rags story. Sounds completely implausible, doesn't it? Tell that to John Force. I didn't dream this scenario up on my own. I had help from some very savvy veteran drag racers in a dedicated chat room.

That's right, I'm saying Justin Beiber can be the savior of drag racing. We need him to be. WE NEED JUSTIN BEIBER TO BE OUR SAVIOR! Right after we explain to him who Vic Cunningham is. Beiber won this round of social media frenzy (the hits are still coming), but Cunningham is a cagey veteran, not to be taken lightly. In fact, word has it that Cunningham is already training for a comeback. You heard it here first.

The most unlikely savior since the baby Jesus (why have we never seen his birth certificate?). May Beiber help us all. If not, should we just bomb Canada and move on? Many people seem to think so. (Photos courtesy of TMZ) (whatever that is)

IN OTHER NEWS:                                                                                     *

In an interview with Dragzine.com's Susan Wade, most recent IHRA prez Scott Gardner has announced the sanctioning body is bringing back Mountain Motor Pro Stock in 2014, with equal numbers of Mopar, Ford and GM models participating (noting, "NHRA Pro Stock is 80% GM"). Gardner said IHRA is holding off on Pro Mod, "until the dust settles" (see last week's blog).

Gardner also alluded to how IHRA's Nitro Funny Cars differ from NHRA's and pointedly stated, "Drag racing's always been a quarter mile. That's how it was born." He briefly acknowledged the new Sonic Rush exhibition series, but twice made reference to IHRA's Nitro Jam events, which include Sportsman racers as part of the package, not as filler or add ons. (Photos courtesy of Dragzine.com)



Son of M/T, Danny Thompson has good reason to smile. He's savoring a hard earned golden moment here. That's photography ninja Peter Vincent loitering in the background. Peter journeyed down from Idaho to witness history in the making. His exquisite new book, The Bonneville Salt Flats, is selling at record speed. Better get yours now!

Mickey Thompson's Challenger II on terra firma for the first time in 46 years. Danny has been thrashing his dad's old streamliner back to greatness in preparation for a 2014 attack on the one record that eluded M/T - holder of more speed records than any other human. Despite Danny's herculean effort, C2 is still not quite finished. So why kick it off the chassis jig prematurely?

... For a trip to the aforementioned GNRS and a special once-in-a-lifetime display of landspeed cars. That show-within-a-show wouldn't be complete without this entry. (Photos by Holly Martin)

Challenger 1 in 1959, swinging behind a new Pontiac wagon. (Photo courtesy of Monty Wolf)


Beth Main is making steady progress on her previously featured Model T speedster project. She's wrapping up work on the drivetrain now and hopes to be terrorizing Iowa backroads before 2014 expires.

Personally, I've never had a T rearend apart, so Beth now appears wizard-like to me. It took some special tools and a bit of machining, but she got it all handled. 

Beth didn't go it alone though. Shop help is only a whistle away at any given moment. But Beth ain't ascared of nuthin'. The speedster is her first car project.

With the rearend installed, the original T drivetrain is now complete. Beth will be diving into the chassis work next - an excellent way to stay warm during a brutal Iowa winter on the farm. Stay tuned for the first road test, coming soon to a blog near you. 

The logistics of grassroots hot rodding. Boyfriend and mentor Tim Jones got the rearend as far as the basement door before the real struggle began. Now that it's built, Beth and Tim just have to get it back up the stairs and out to the barn before the next snowfall covers these tracks, leaving them hopelessly stranded in the driveway with this monstrosity reeking of 90 wt. More on Tim next week. (Photos courtesy of Beth Main)

Back in Oregon, another thrash, another speedster (of a different kind). Marty Strode is wailing on Jim Lindsay's Bonneville Modified Roadster project. Marty whipped up this nifty Y-bar locator for the quickchange, with equally nifty mounting brackets. (Photo by Marty Strode)

Justin Brenneman at B&B Speed Shop in Albany, Oregon is building the blown fuel flathead for Lindsay's landspeed T. He snapped this image of his son sneaking a peek at Lindsay's The Little Bastards novel. Oh so apropos, as Little Bastards is an adolescent coming of age story, based on Jim's experience. This kid was voted Most Likely To Become A Top Fuel Crewchief at school last year. (Photo by Justin Brenneman)


Here's a rare chance to chose your own mentor. Don Blair's speed shop had been in operation since the mid 40s, when it moved to this Pasadena location in '57. The building is now for sale, so the business can be scaled down to fit a smaller building. This one's 7,200 sq ft and can be yours for a hair over 900,000 dollars. That's chump change for L.A.- area real estate and a bargain for such a chunk of hot rod history. With Blair's spirit filling every square foot, you can't help but succeed in there. (Photo courtesy of some real estate office)


Maria Panova is learning the ways of the American muscle car from race partner Rebel Paul. She's strapping in here for her first pass with the new big block drivetrain.

Maria got out half a length on this eleven second Camaro...

... but that pass was more of a thrill ride than anyone asked for, thanks to a nasty oil leak. Detective Paul chases down the culprit...

.....in the first American V-8 Maria has wrestled down a track...

... and finds it right in the middle of the valve cover! Casting quality ain't what it used to be. But a quick TIG weld solved the problem. 

Maria and her magic camera made good use of the down time. Check in next week for track photos and Maria's progress with the mighty Mopar. (Photos courtesy of Maria Panova)


Yep, it's metal master (and all-around general badass) Jimmy Vaag, hacking up my brother Rocky's '33 5-window. Much like my Sunday afternoon arrangement with Dr. Lockjaw, the Rocky 33 only receives love on Friday nights at Jimmy's shop in deepest, darkest Iowa. Just like Doc, Jimmy has a waiting list of eager customers, for good reason. Rocky and I are way luckier than we deserve. Jimmy and Rocky have both served master duty in Scottyville and continue to do so. (Rocky shot)

While Jimmy makes the coupe pretty, Rocky has been making sure it's also pretty fast, with this tricky dual quad '57 Pontiac 347, now bored and stroked to 370 inches. (Rocky shot)


Seems like I get daily requests for info on the whereabouts of ex-Hot Rod Deluxe Editor Dave Wallace Jr. Like myself, he's usually at the keyboard, working like a dog. This recent sighting at Gotelli's Speed Shop in South San Francisco was relayed to SGE by racing pal Ronnie Mankins. That's Ted "The Goat" Gotelli in the red shirt, leaning on the same counter he's leaned on since before the overhead revolution. As for Wallace, I was honored to apprentice under his steely watch for three years. If I live to be a thousand years old, I'll never outrun him. (Photo courtesy of Ronnie Mankins)


Another mentor I can't keep pace with (at least without an 8-71 blower and a heavy load of nitro) is Rob Frazier, who has generously shared his gift of announcing with me at several nostalgia races over the years. Fraze was instrumental in founding the AA/Supercharged Association before moving to Oregon, where he now juggles superlatives at Woodburn Drag Strip. He'll be spilling all the beans on an upcoming edition of Motor Mouth Radio. Stay tuned for details. (Photo by Dennis Vollmar)



Oh, it's Robin Millar - daughter of Pete and friend to all racers. This car sure is reminiscent of Pete's old Drag Cartoons Chicken Coupe. Builder Rich Venza says that's exactly where his inspiration came from, and that's exactly why Robin is considering buying it from present owner Richard Muntz. Updates on this transaction, as they transpire. 

Thank you. Now we can hear the band. (Photos courtesy of Robin Millar)


Our squirrels and toolboxes are off this week, in preparation for their participation in the upcoming Super Bowl halftime show (a milestone event that we're very proud of at SGE). In their stead, we're test driving this new closing feature: SGE FREE CLASSIFIEDS! Just post your ad in the COMMENTS box - no charge. I'll kick things off here with some actual examples...

MUST SELL! MAKING ROOM FOR NEW PROJECT: Unique self published book by obscure author. Sure to be future collectible. Low miles. Always garaged. No rust. Never been raced.

$25 OBO. Call: http://www.amazon.com/Racing-America-Global-American-Motorsport/dp/1490539778

WANTED: Matched pair of 1 3/4" bore SU carburetors, preferably with linkage. Please leave contact info in COMMENTS box. Thanks, S @ SGE
PERSONAL: To the gentleman on Highland Drive who had the yard sale last Saturday. Thanks for taking time to show me the old car in your garage (photo attached). I've priced other cars on eBay that cost more than your $500 asking price, so would like to buy yours.

 I lost your contact info and your dogs don't like me, so please call Scotty at 541-555-1234 at your earliest convenience.