The 1999 IHRA Northern Nationals
By Doug Dornbos
I attended the IHRA Northern Nationals on
July 30 - Aug. 1 in Stanton, Michigan, and following are some very scattered
thoughts on the event in no particular order:
1. Stanton is a great rural facility but a little shy on nearby motel space.
For the second year in a row however, I found a vacant apartment that the
landlord would rent to us for $100 for two nights and only 7 miles from the
track! The advantage is that we don't have to put up with all the late-night
antics of the motel crowd. The disadvantage is that we don't get A/C or a
2. Friday was killer hot and humid, almost to the point of not being fun.
Track temp was 145 degrees. I wore sunscreen all day and found a lake to
swim in at the end of the day. No a/c at the apartment made sleeping
3. Why is it that a grown man can remind his kids all day long about what
they are forgetting but then turn around and forget to pack extra shirts
when he's going to a 3-day drag race? By the end of Friday, I was wishing I
had worn a white shirt due to the sun being so hot (I was wearing the navy
blue 1320 Gear "Predator" shirt, attractive yes but also to the
sun's rays). So, I went shopping for a T-shirt to wear for the next day. One
thing I really like about IHRA racing is that they let the racers sell their
own shirts in the pits and you can buy a decent shirt for $15. I bought a
shirt from The Texas Big Bird, Matt Tolbert. This was the coolest looking
Pro Mod there, a Plymouth Superbird turned Pro Mod. Tolbert himself was very
modest when I talked to him about his car. He said, "Hey, ANY car looks
cool as a Pro Mod". He tells me that they literally went shopping for
Superbird body panels to make the fiberglass molds off from. His shirts run
a little small by the way, I should've bought a size larger.
4. Even 3 years ago, it seemed that the Iron Horse Pro Mod was a STANDOUT
for coolness. It still looks very cool but there are SO MANY very cool cars
in this class that it is harder and harder to say that one guy is so much
cooler than the others.
5. I ran out of film before I got back to take the Texas Big Bird's picture
6. I never realized before that the Undertaker Pro Mod had the names of his
competitors on the tombstone on the side of his car. Nice touch. Has Scotty
Cannon's name still there too.
7. One thing I never realized before is that the IHRA does not run multiple
regional events on the same weekends nor does it run regional events on the
same weekends it runs national events on. The "IHRA proper" goes
to every regional and every national event. While it seems very nice to have
it that way, it seems like at some point it would really limit growth.
8. On my first walk through the staging lanes on Friday, I saw Jim Lindsey
from Ontario, Canada in his J Altered "The Pepper Mill." We first
became acquainted with him 3 years ago at this race when looking for all the
cars with inline motors, his having a 300 C.I. Ford. Lindsey won the New
York race a couple weeks before, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
His car is rather spartan and that's part of what makes it cool. He did
switch from Weber carburetion to fuel injection this year and has a pretty
neat homemade manifold design for that. It was good to see him again and see
him having won the New York race. He and his family also seemed pleased
about the IHRA staging a national event race in Ontario next year.
9. One thing that came up in a pit discussion with a sportsman racer was
that he was having trouble getting Goodyear slicks in the size he wanted.
His take on it was that Goodyear is now making their slicks in Chile and
supply has been a real problem.
10. The guy who comes by to pump out the outhouses here has a real sense of
humor. His storage tank on his pump-truck has "Yesterday's Lunch"
painted on it. It always makes me laugh.
11. We made sandwiches with deli meat and cheese for Friday's lunch. Ate out
at a greasy spoon a few miles north of Six Lakes on Friday night. Went
lightweight for breakfast Saturday and Sunday and ate cold cereal. Saturday
night we intended to eat before the "Night of Fire" but got
screwed up on our schedule. After an early quarter-mile oil down, we
should've known it was time to eat but we waited it out. We never ate until
after the night of fire. It's amazing how good a 1 lb. grilled porterhouse
with sautéed onions, a baked yam, and grilled corn-on-the-cob can taste at
the racetrack late at night. We had apple and peach pie too, which we shared
with the guys in the truck next to us who waiting for traffic to clear. On
Sunday, we did pork roast and more corn-on-the-cob. We did all of our
grilling on the Holland Grill.
12. When there's church on Sunday morning at this event, there is no racing.
After church, the racing resumes. Before the service, Bill Bader was
standing outside church and greeting teams as they came up. Many of the
teams seemed genuinely warm in their greeting to him and he to them. After
the service, he seemed to be especially pleased to hear a piece of news from
a woman there. He hugged her and took her over and introduced her to the
pastor. As it was really none of my business, I stood far enough away to not
hear any of the details but my sense was that he genuinely cared about this
lady's welfare. After he left her with the pastor, I walked up to him and
told him that I thought he was doing a good thing with the IHRA. He grasped
my hand in both of his and told me that it meant a great deal to him that I
would come and tell him that. The cynics may scoff but my overall sense of
Bill Bader is that he is the genuine article -- that his concern for the
people he comes into contact with is deeper than just being concerned about
getting into their wallet. I liked what I saw.
13. One other thing Matt Tolbert told me was that his take on the IHRA is
that everybody gets a fair shake and that there's no insider stuff going on
to favor one racer or another. Good to hear.
14. The $ disparity amongst top fuel teams is amazing. Wayne Bailey was
there with what had to be the lowest-dollar top fuel operation I have seen
in a long time. Right next to him in the pits was the "Doug
Herbert" Snap-On operation, which is very top shelf in comparison. A
pretty amazing dichotomy. Anyway, Wayne Bailey easily takes the cake for the
best phrase painted on his car (on the back edge of the wing): "As a
matter of fact, we ARE rocket scientists!"
15. I was keeping track of T/F times during qualifying and when I went down
to the pits, tucked my piece of paper under my blanket which was taped down
to the grandstand. Somehow though, it blew out and someone said it was the
white object I could see laying in the safety zone between the fence and the
track. I didn't miss it of course until fuel was running again so I went
down to the fence and tried to see if that was it out there and sure enough
it was. One of Shirley Muldowney's crew was kind enough to get it for me and
hand it back to me. We sat at about the 200' point.
15. Keeping track of who has run what is a little easier here because
Barnett Performance down in the pits has printouts showing qualifying order
and times after each round. I don't know if they give them to everyone or
what, but I got T/F after the first round of qualifying which gave me
something to write on for the rest of the event.
16. Speaking of Shirley, I walked past her on Sunday in the pits after her
loss, told her that it was good to see her run again at which point she
smiled and said thank-you. I can't think of anyone except Eddie Hill and Don
Garlits that I'd rather see win a T/F race than her.
17. 2-round qualifying for T/F left me feeling like I had missed something.
And they don't run it at night either although it got pretty late due to all
the clean-up so at least we got to see more flame than full daylight runs. I
like three rounds of T/F qualifying and I like T/F at night.
18. Top fuel Harleys are another animal completely. I guess the bike-only
weekends leave something to be desired in terms of fan attendance so these
guys petitioned Bill Bader to let them have a chance to run IHRA events. The
story I heard in the stands is that they did some kind of entrance-exit
survey that asked attendees what their favorite class was and on the way in,
the response was T/F Harleys in last place. But the exit survey showed them
up to 3rd place. Sounds about right to me. I couldn't watch a whole day of
this but it is REALLY cool for awhile. I still contend that these guys are
missing the brain chemical that allows them to see reality clearly. Whew!
19. There was a local public access TV station there filming. They were
mostly interested in the bikes.
20. I saw more alcohol abuse this year at this event than the previous 2
years combined. My friend Jay had a girl sitting next to him for a couple
hours on Saturday that just yelled and screamed and was so noisy we just
about packed up and moved. I hate that. Later in the evening I turned around
(we were in the top row) and looked over the rail and saw that the four
folks below us on the ground were passing around a pint and a doobie. One
guy in particular was having a little balancing trouble. The next time I
looked down, he had crawled into the back seat of his car, I think to get
something, must of closed his eyes for a minute, and passed out right there.
In a REAL weird position too. I could look right down into the big hatchback
window and see him. Better him than me. If I had "slept" in that
position for the few hours he spent motionless, I wouldn't have been able to
unkink my neck for a month.
21. During the oil down clean up in the top fuel session, the T-shirt cannon
crew came out to do their thing. Since I had just watched several hours of
this at Denver 2 weeks before, it was pretty old. They did all that stuff
like "whichever side cheers the loudest gets the next shirt".
Twenty thousand people going absolutely nuts for one lousy shirt! Amazing.
People really ARE like cattle in many respects. Anyway, they got this guy
who was pulling the slingshot back too far and zooming the shirts over the
stands. This led to a roving band of kids behind the stands taking cues from
those above as to where they should move. I saw a kid, maybe 12 years old,
run to a shirt, cleanly get BOTH his hands on it, then an adult (male) come
up and rip it out of his hands, walk 2 vehicles over, and give it to his own
22. I got out of this weekend for $150 including all groceries, gas, ticket,
lodging, and T-shirt. Not bad.
23. The wheelstander they had was a school bus called the "Cool Bus Fun
System." Very cute. Had no problem hanging the front-end up there for
the whole 1320.
24. Oh yes, the jets were cool. I noticed they did some treatment or changes
with the window glass in the theater seats over the track, I think, due to
25. The guy who runs the parking did a quarter-mile tire smoke in his twin
500 C.I. Cadillac engined dragster. This car looks much better than it did a
Well, that's about it from this tired mind. Hope you enjoyed some part of
these random thoughts. See ya next time.