Back to the Future?
By Phil R. Elliott
I hate to be an alarmist, I really do, but I just have to step in.
Saturday, April 9, 2005, a group of individuals I've come to know as friends and extended family - the online Standard 1320 "club" - held a very low-key get-together at Inyokern Dragstrip.
For those that have never heard of that awkward word, Inyokern is made up by combining two county names in the high desert of California - Inyo and Kern. The latter, Kern County, is reasonably familiar as the location of Bakersfield, home of Famosa Dragstrip. About an hour east, where the two counties meet, lies Inyokern.
The little old airport runway saw drag history in the 50s and 60s, including world championship ramifications the days when Jack Chrisman was wheeling the Howard's Twin Bear. Five decades later, Inyokern is still being run by the Dust Devils club, and was even recently a Bob Frey spotlight on NHRA Today. It was called one of the oldest, continuously run strips in the world.
The little place has had improvements over the years - there is a double row of Armco for example. But if you stand in the right spot and look in the correct direction, time has stood still.
|The 1st Annual Standard 1320 Invitational Drag Race drew a pretty good cross-section of cars and people. They gathered around Don Prieto’s Yellow Banana and the Speed Sport roadster. Left to right are: (back) Don Prieto in his roadster, Joe Golden, (unknown), Mike Golden, Rod McCarrell, Bob Brown, Ronnie Rapp, Yvonne Broadribb, Lee Schelin, Red Greth Jr., Red Greth, Max Romero, Warren Walther, Ron Miller, Gary Edwards, (unknown), Peter Broadribb, Larry Steinegger, Mike English, Doug Peterson, Ron Johnson, Marc McCormick, Howard Haight, Tony Lloyd. (front) Sara Hutson, Patty Hutson, Robin Millar, Peter Millar, Ray Muller, Orah Mae Millar, Chuck Goebel, John Bradley, Chris Velasquez, John Spradlin (pith helmet), Lori Peterson, Pat Peterson, Monica Bastian, Jim Davis, Kathy Lloyd, Hal Sanquinetti, Ron Sterbenk. Photo by Robert Briggs|
Although many Standard 1320 members are from other areas, a great many of them hail from SoCal and Arizona. So Inyokern, old and close, was a perfect spot for Standard 1320, which maintains a 1955-to-1971 theme, to hold an event.
Jim Davis, a UC-Irvine biology professor, raced his injected Chevy dragster at Inyokern a few times and kept suggesting that if Standard 1320 ever wanted to hold an event of its own, it was a perfect, magical place!
Ron Miller, who lives in Winslow, Arizona, once was part of the gang that ran the local strip there, also on an airport like Inyokern. In fact, for a couple years, those same Dust Devils hauled their timing equipment and set it up in Winslow. Miller too thought Inyokern had a lot of potential as a Standard 1320 site.
The two gentlemen thought it would be a good idea back in 2004 if Standard 1320 supported the 50th anniversary of Inyokern. There was quite a bit of discussion onsite, and when the event came to be, several members showed with racecars and hibachis and had a super time. Besides Jim Davis and Ron Miller, among them were Don Prieto, John Bradley, "Potvin Doug" Peterson, John Peters/Bob Muravez with the Freight Train, Ron Johnson and Larry Steinegger with his AA/FD.
Just after that, Davis retired and moved to Gilbert, Arizona. When discussion began about the potential for an Inyokern date, he was all for it. Offsite, Miller discussed the situation with Standard 1320 founder Lee Schelin and received blessing to move on. Since he'd known the Inyokern guys for decades, Miller was able to open doors others might not have.
From the little seed, Miller pushed Standard 1320 into a stand-alone meet. He was the instigator who spoke to the Dust Devils about a possible date, and when one was chosen and a lease agreement number set, Miller sent his personal check as security. Then Standard 1320 went into gear, pledging interest, dollars and cars. In a relatively short period of time, the event was "on" and a flyer was distributed at the Bakersfield March Meet.
The seed had already broken ground and become a sapling.
|The Ron Johnson-owned Shubert-Herbert repop was the star of the 1st Annual Standard 1320 Invitational Drag Race. Howard Haight shoed the little Chevy to a picturesque performance. That left front off the ground shows that chassis builder Bob Meyer hit the balance perfectly. That’s Standard 1320 originator Lee Schelin in the pith helmet. Photo by Robert Briggs|
Before you pooh-pooh Standard 1320 as just an Internet group of "lost-in-the-60s" folk that have nothing better to do than exchange long-forgotten stories, let me suggest something. We are indeed that but much more.
It was from the initial online correspondence and photo attachments that the idea jelled to create the We Did It For Love website, 100% devoted to the preservation of the front-engine dragster.
It was from the depths of Standard 1320 membership that museum pieces began to not only be displayed but also started and run for surprised and grateful fans. From this came the first ideas of "cackling" and the first "Cacklefest" - that initial nine-car turnout (Kuhl & Olson, Greer-Black-Prudhomme, Howard Cam Rattler, Ted Cyr's Lincoln, Chrisman & Cannon "Hustler," Winkel, Trapp & Pitts "Magicar," Steinegger & Eshenbaugh, Kenny Safford - "Sour Sisters," and Van Ronk, Bumgarner & Anderson "Vagabond" at Bakersfield featured many Standard 1320 members and the re-initiation of push starting. It was organized by Standard 1320 member Steve Gibbs, who needs no introduction. That original "cackle" has led to an entirely new form and function at nostalgia race gatherings.
|Red Greth loves to show off the original Speed Sport roadster, as does Don Prieto with his Yellow Banana. Both are modified roadsters but from slightly different eras. Speed Sport is a 27T that runs a Chrysler with six-Stromberg 97s, the 29A on Deuce rails features a flathead with half that many carbs – both cars are fuelers. Greth and the SS crew made quite an effort to make Inyokern. They drove roundtrip from Tucson to Pomona to get the car out of the NHRA museum, then after routine maintenance, headed north. This get-together was not cheap for several of the participants! Photo by Robert Briggs|
A very high percentage of the currently restored and/or repop'd machines of yesterday were contributed to directly from the Standard 1320 roster, either in locating the cars or dredging up the myriad parts it takes to restore and/or replicate them.
As a matter of record, this group has gotten behind some of the greatest fundraisers as well. When Kent and Evelyn Fuller lost their son Eric, it was Standard 1320 that put together an auction that raised almost $20,000 to give to widow Linda and their three children. Next, Standard 1320 contributed money and devoted sweat equity into the first "Ring of Fire," a major Cacklefest thats proceeds went directly to the Wally Parks Museum of Drag Racing. Recently, Standard 1320 raised over $1,800 to help me in my crisis following a burglary and loss of cameras and laptop computer.
These folk are really into not only the preservation of old dragsters, but each other as well. If I listed the current membership, it would fill this column, and at least half of the names would be easily recognizable. There is not a better place to read witty banter between (semi) retired drivers, crewchiefs, mechanics, chassis and engine builders, journalists, photographers, promoters and even some pretty interesting spectators. There are quite a number of children of famous racers too. And, like family members, full agreement is not always the case.
Nonetheless, plans and fund-raising continued in earnest for the 1st Annual Standard 1320 Invitational Drag Race. Besides posters and fliers (Beth Crossley worked on the printing) for the event, Miller sent press releases to magazines and newspapers, and even had T-shirts printed! And, Friday, April 8 found a whole lot of Standard 1320 members, families and invited guests headed for the historic track.
|Several flathead dragsters joined the Inyokern party, including Mr. Flathead himself, John Bradley (Photo by Motorcycle Mike), and Tony & Kathy Lloyd's beautifully detailed machine pictured here. Bradley had engine woes, but the Lloyds upheld the flathead honor well, with big wheelstands and strong runs. Tony is well known for his flathead builds, Kathy drives. Photo by Robert Briggs|
That night, due mostly to high winds, a tentative potluck cookout at the track moved to a local pizza joint. The following morning, with gates thrown open, both the Dust Devils and Standard 1320 were impressed at the quantity and quality of the machinery that rolled in. Nearly 50 vehicles were lovingly attended by some 250 (paid) spectators, and as the old saying goes, a good time was had by all.
Easily the highlight of the event was the appearance and performance by one tiny, orange dragster, the (Zane) Shubert and (Chet) Herbert repop owned by Ron Johnson.
The original was arguably the last competitive small block Chevrolet-powered AA/FD, a car Ron bought, hauled to Minnesota, repowered with a big block Chevy, and raced on fuel and gas for several years. When he got caught up in the nostalgia craze, he searched in vain for the original car - his trail led to a dumpster outside a chassis shop more than 30 years too late. So, after much research, and even procuring some original bits, he had Bob Meyer whip up a perfect duplicate. Zane Shubert was all about purposeful and lightweight, with no frills whatsoever. Johnson's clone is spot on.
|According to “Potvin Doug” Peterson, the Inyoplex "tower" appears to be a mid-50s Sparton "Mansion" built by J. Paul Getty's Trailer and Aircraft of Tulsa Oklahoma. If the Dust devils decided to polish the old beauty, they wouldn’t need lights! Photo by Robert Briggs|
With all of the "cackling" at other meets, all present were surprised to see longtime "shoe" and recent March Meet TF winner Howard Haight among the folk that piled out of Johnson's motorhome. Later, after pushstarting and warming the iron Chevy, Haight was seen fine-tuning. Still later, without much fanfare, the little car was pushed out, turned around, checked and pushed back toward the line. It fired as before but this time made another 180-degree turn, rolled about 80-feet out beyond the Inyokern starting line and sat. As all eyes watched, Johnson felt the cylinder heads for proper temperature and inspected the little Chevy for leaks. When he felt all was ready, Johnson gave Haight the high sign.
Howard revved the engine twice, and at just the right instant on the third throttle pump, he side-stepped the clutch and buried his foot in the loud pedal. The little car raised nary a protest and instead, began to spin its rear tires, sending clouds of ancient M&H smoke skyward. The front wheels lifted gently as the tiny machine churned forward, performing in the perfection of its more-than 40-year-old design.
After about 500-feet of enjoyment, Howard Haight pulled the fuel shut-off, the engine gagged and died, and the assemblage erupted as one. Ron Johnson, his son Kol, their longtime friend and crew guy Marc McCormick, and the rest of the team could not have been happier. A second run later, with a few more percent of nitromethane, ended short in slightly sideways fashion.
A long name for a tiny meet that will go in the books as just "Inyokern" was certainly a success. Not only did the rent get paid but there were still dollars in the coffer for a 2nd Annual Standard 1320 Invitational Drag Race and here's where my lead paragraph comes in to play.
|Doug & Mary King's bitchin’ 295ci blown Ardun is mounted in a repop of a Dragmaster chassis. Detailing on this machine is incredible, and nitro-fed times are 8.3s at over 160mph! Photo by Robert Briggs|
Let me digress.
Back in the '80s, a small group got together and rented Fremont Dragway. Several dusted off old racecars for that day and a couple hundred stood around and reminisced. It was the biggest bench-racing session ever held. From that evolved the Nostalgia Drag Racing Association that unfortunately, after a few years, imploded. Since there had been so much interest, Goodguys, already a major player in street rod events, formed the Vintage Racing Association and has taken the nostalgia drag scene into the stratosphere.
Standard 1320, at Inyokern, has brought yet another wave of nostalgia to the surface. Since it was so much fun for everyone that attended in 2005, the event will be penciled onto everyone's calendar for the future.
Hypothetically, there will be six fuelers that will try several-hundred-foot "squirts," maybe even side-by-side. There'll be 75 cars and 700 people. The following year, ten "squirters" (the obvious next step after "cacklers") will vie for a $300 prize for the best smoke show in front of nearly 1200 fans. After several near mishaps, one driver with a slighter larger ego will boil the rear tires of his fueler nearly 700-feet for the cash. In the process, the blown Chrysler powerplant will have bid its farewell, costing its owner $4200 in repair bills. In just three short years, fun little Inyokern, with its picnic-like pulse, will have raged to full competitive spirit, with bruised feelings and lighter wallets.
Already, several members have suggested "classes" and trophies. So far, I've only seen one Standard 1320 member that agrees on the potential for future problems. He'll remain nameless here but he said, "The minute this Inyokern deal gets serious I'm done with it. Let's just put on a SHOW for those who want to watch or come to play. For those that need something else let them find it elsewhere."
|One of the very potent Standard 1320 team cars is Doug Peterson’s injected Chrysler, here being inspected by the Inyokern staff. That’s Doug in the straw hat, and his wife Pat to the left. Daughter Lori (pointing out the fuel shut-off to the inspector) wheels the nitro burner. Photo by Robert Briggs|
I communicated with several Standard 1320 members and most state emphatically that they cannot afford to take their hobby any further. In other words, they would not even attempt "squirts" with their cars due to ancient engine components, clutches, tires and chassis (most of the cacklers have original chassis instead of all-new tubing as is the case with Ron Johnson's replica described above). But, a couple said they each "might" given the proper situation.
If Standard 1320 can maintain a totally low-key "day of play" with no structure, rules, classes, trophies, prizes, points or appearance money, all will be fine. Should it become more, with the frantic influx of competitive spirit, there could be rather serious complications.
For more info on Inyokern or the Dust Devils, click here:
For more photos from the 1st annual Standard 1320 Invitational Drag Race, click here:
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