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Hemi Hunter's Top Fuel Tales

Go Fly a Kite

By Gary Peters

I can't remember what year it was, but this little story is about some of the entertainment the tracks would provide for the fans. Usually this took place before the first round of top fuel qualifying and also before the first round of eliminations. Everyone who ever went to the drags knows what I'm talking about. There would be wheelstanding cars of all types, like the Hemi Under Glass. There were folks who seemed totally from the outer limit TV show, like Benny the Bomb who would blow himself up. The one I remember most was a fellow who went by the name of Kite Man.

I believe we were racing at Epping, New Hampshire, when this unforgettable occurrence took place. Now personally, I felt the folks who were doing the entertainment certainly had every right to do what they did best, especially someone who would want to blow themselves up. All we ever did was launch a blower into the air now and then. Nothing too spectacular about that, unless of course you were driving or paying for the parts. These little pockets of entertainment always drove me nuts. There you sat with your car and the driver strapped in. First round was always a nerve racking time until the engine fired. So you sat there while a car drove up and down the track, doing a big wheelie, throwing sparks out the back, not once but time after time. I usually just sat on one of the rear slicks ‘til it was all over.

Kite Man's act went something like this. The time period was just about when hang gliding started to become popular. Kite Man wore a big pair of water skis and held a hang glider wing over his head. Attached to the frame of the hang glider was a rope attached to an older car's bumper. You didn't expect the car to run very fast down a drag strip. That wasn't its purpose. The car would pull ahead ‘til all of the play was out of the rope. Kite Man would give the signal, and the car would pull away. Down the track he'd go sliding on the skis, the glider wing would create lift, and Kite Man went soaring through the air. He would go as high as the rope would allow him to go. He would release the rope, fly around the track in circles, and land back on the track's surface with the skis. He performed his first flight before qualifying. I thought, jeez, is that it? How about a little smoke from his shoes or something?

Now the Wheelstanders weren't too bad; they completed their drill fairly quickly. The Benny the Bomb types took longer. Think about it: when would you push the button on the detonator? And then they had to clean up the remains of what ever they were in, sometimes a car, sometimes an outhouse, along with Benny type shorts. Kite Man took forever. He would struggle with the big skis on his feet. The car needed to be in place. The play in the rope needed to be stretched perfectly, or Kite Man's arms would be a little longer. We pushed our car into the staging lanes and I saw Kite Man getting ready. On this day, I was particularly annoyed. It was hot, it was a big race event, and I knew Dale would be sweating in his fire suit. We position the car, I get an umbrella to shade Dale, and take my seat on the tire.

I'm sitting there thinking this isn't too bad. A nice breeze started blowing across the track. I'm actually enjoying the show. Kite Man gives the signal, his driver punches the throttle on the 1948 Dodge club coupe, and he's off, sliding down the track. I never really paid much attention to the telephone pole set back along the edge of the track. Kite Man just starts to lift off the ground, a gust of wind blows him sideways, and he smacks right into the telephone pole and wires. It sounded like you threw a five pound piece of raw meat onto a marble slab. Kite Man's two arms and legs are stretched out in front of him, with the pole in the middle. Honestly, he looked like Wile E Coyote from a Road Runner cartoon. Next thing you know, he's sliding down the telephone pole and hits the ground. I thought, boy that must have hurt, I'll bet he got splinters all over him. It sure looked funny at the time, until I realized he could be hurt.

What made me think that getting splinters would be his biggest problem? I guess it just did not seem real at the time. The whole thing just looked like part of his act. The track ambulance comes rushing up to pick up Kite Man. I walked over knowing I could do little to help. When they moved him it looked as if he had broken every bone in his body. There was no sign of movement from the man. To this day I don't know how badly he was hurt. Hopefully he recovered. I often think of this poor fellow and what became of him. Well I guess everyone took their chances back in the old days. We had to wait about an hour ‘til the ambulance returned to the track to start the race. I never saw a Kite Man type act again.

Gary Peters
gary.peters@macktrucks.com
www.hemihunterracing.com

 

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