Monday, September 22, 2014



Seen on the highway, out on the edge of town. Always on the lookout for a prophetic sign, when one speaks this clearly, I must obey.

Drag Week. The Reunion. Speed Week. March Meet. All epic events. Forget about 'em. The race that matters is the one in your backyard. The old track where you and your friends have been grudging it out for years. Where whispered negatives concerning the management sometimes float through the pits, despite your firsthand knowledge of the heroic sacrifices to keep the gates open. You're all too familiar with the history and workings of the place. This track is your turf. Comfortable as your own driveway, maybe even more so. What would you do without it? Think that over while Motormouth Ray and I review last Saturday at our respective local haunts.

 The reward for waiting in line on the entry road. Well, it's rewarding to me anyway, but I'm an art fan and former sign painter. Your results may vary.

Last weekend was the 1st Annual Hot Rod Nationals at Champion Raceway in Medford, Oregon. When I worked at Champion under AA/GS racers Bill Fitting and Jim Taylor, we put on several nostalgia events that were pure labors of love. Bill and Jim were initially a bit humbled at the prospect of hosting an event they would normally compete in (which didn't stop them from competing, by the way), but their love of the racers, cars, and concept trumped any doubts and jitters. I don't know that the track ever made a dime on these events, but we were having too much fun to care much. 

So I was stoked about last weekend's Hot Rod Nationals, produced by current track managers Kirk and Michelle Hobson. The Hobsons have wisely retained several veteran Champion staffers, and many longtime racers pitch in when needed, too. Once inside the gate, I was amused to discover they were winging it on the fly, just as we had done. But not a discouraging word was heard from the racers, fans, or even the car show entrants forced to display in the dirt (to accommodate race entries in the gravel pits). Ambient temps loitered around 100 degrees, but the atmosphere was laid back, the food and drinks hit the spot, and several racers ran personal bests. Special thanks to the out-of-towners who gambled on the long tow to a first-time event. You're all heroes. And no matter where you came from, you now have another track to call home. Welcome to the family. 

The Black Widow '57 Chevy jumped for joy all weekend. Party on!

Dennis Schneider rode his 438"/C4 Comet to 10.20s at 131 MPH in the heat. He says a straight axle is next on the To Do list.

The McKenzie rail had its bigblock Mopar buzzing on the razor's edge Saturday night. It went straight and true and never faltered. Note tucked driver in low cage.

Unknown winner of the Tastiest Camouflage Paint Contest. Almost didn't see this '52 Chevy.

Tami "Crankypants" Austin, towing hubby "Twisty" Ron to the line. The Fiat was deadly as ever.

The latest from Mad Mike Molea's shop, this '54 hammered the tarmac with tunnel rammed BBC torque. Akin to watching an escaped rhino charge downtrack, it was very entertaining.

Randy Winkle and the Famoso Speed Shop gang (James Schliecher and Dusty Clark) brought their drop-dead gorgeous Black Betty digger from Bakersfield. They runnered-up in the Fuel Dragster war and had a blast doing it, vowing to return next year with some buddies. Hell yeah!

Your Hot Rod Nationals Fuel Dragster Champion, Jerry Buckley. Blown smallblock Chevys swept the field this year. Next year??? 

Just as we had done previous, the street rod set was invited to display and make a pass down the strip. Unlike our past events, no one put their high zoot show car into the wall last weekend.

Locals Ted and Lise Booth won the car show with their slinky '48 Caddy. (Photo courtesy of Champion Raceway)

My official business was to photograph Dave Hix' Fiat for a magazine feature. Alas, a fragged starter prevented any short wheelbase nitro action. Hix learned the hard way that no parts stores in the valley stock a starter for a Fontana block. So the Altered was hitched to driver Ronnie Mankins' shop truck and towed up as a show car. The hot shoe in the seat is Hix' nephew, Donovan (his dad Dan won AA/FA at this year's March Meet). Give a kid a Fuel Altered and a pair of Ray Bans and observe nirvana. (Scotty shots) (Special thanks to Ronnie Mankins for help with this feature)


On that same Saturday, at the other end of the country, Motormouth Ray was also hanging with old pals and grooving on old tin. Ray's turf is the Bellmore Train Station on Long Island, in New York. That's where you can find him when he isn't solving tech mysteries on Motor Mouth Radio. I think he gets his mail there. Reconnecting with old friends may be Bellmore's bread and butter, but automotive variety is the spice. This heavily channeled Deuce roadster screams East Coast attitude. Ray concurs: "Sano '32 Ford. The guy's been doing this for a while. Serious build quality and attention to detail." 

"A back-to-the-70s parts hauler, parked across the street from the event."

"Sign on a cranky old guy's car." Cranky old guys drive 70s Mopars? Who knew?

"A local repair business. Every town should have a guy like this."

Forgot to run this cool Bellmore A-bone shot by Ray earlier in the summer, so am tossing it in here. 

And finally, "Just a couple of nuts I ran into." I'm so happy that you're making new friends, Raymond (in my best Mom voice). (Photos courtesy of Motormouth Ray)



Online bandwidth was drained coast-to-coast last weekend, with two safety-related stories going viral. Just in case you missed it: 

George Poteet and Ron Main's Speed Demon streamliner has owned the salt for longer than most can recall. If memory serves, their best numbers while hunting the magic 500 MPH unicorn were around 462 MPH. (Photo by Richard Small)

The Speed Demon after Poteet rolled it at a test session originally billed as Mike Cook's Shootout. On his first pass of the much-delayed 2014 season, Poteet lost the handle at 370 MPH and the resulting mayhem was predictably dramatic. But look again. Poteet crawled out unharmed (verified at the Salt Lake City hospital), and every single component of the 4,670 pound race car and its fragile human operator remained intact. Quality chassis fabrication saves the day again. Poteet vows to keep the Demon and possibly restore it. Study the Speed Demon's last video of many at:

Complacency illustrated: Those legs dangling through the windshield belong to a AA/GS Willys pilot identified only as "Kelly". He attended a Pikes Peak International Speedway outlaw street car event with his wife last weekend, and decided to take her freshly finished Pro Street '55 for a run. Confident that nothing serious could happen in a car only half as fast as he was used to, his helmet was casually slipped on and seatbelts ignored, as he staged against a frisky 2nd Gen Camaro. By half-track, the Camaro was skating into Kelly's lane. Kelly dodged it, resulting in a wild barrel-roll that eventually landed the shoebox on all fours, leaving Kelly wondering which way was up.

Kelly crawled from the remains of his wife's new car and instantly popped off the headgear that never got secured. Eyewitness reports claim no rollbar or harnesses were present, either. Kelly's only comment to date: "I was complacent." See the video at:   (Photos courtesy of

Heads-up out there, kids. Not everyone gets as lucky as Poteet and Kelly.



In keeping with our safety theme... An athletic cup could have prevented this tragic scenario. Suit up!

Photojournalism wizard Peter Vincent's efforts to prep his "15oz Coupe" for blown nitro action have been thwarted by a mysteriously expanding collection of vintage rolling stock. If only Vincent could reach the Craftsman rollaway at the back of the shop... (Photo courtesy of Peter Vincent)


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Meanwhile, back at the Hot Rod Nationals...

The nostalgia at Champion Raceway was juxtaposed with new life from Twisty Ron's brother, Mike Austin, walking his brand new Top Alcohol Dragster through its first baby steps. This was a warm fuzzy, as the last time we saw Mike in action, he was upside-down on the wall at Pomona. He was all grins following this 60' test shot. 

One particular Hot Rod Nationals show entry was more personal than most. This '37 Ford was my dad's last "completed" project. After his passing, my brother Mark took custody for a few years, then it was sold to my neighbor Jeff Wherlich, who brought it into my shop for some much needed updates. He's been driving it ever since. Leaving the drag strip, I swear I saw the Austin Bros' late father's Model A coupe in the lot. A poignant goodbye kiss. (Scotty shots)