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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

2001 Charlestown Dragway Reunion, Day Two

Bill Ott

Lines of exquisite vintage drag and hot rod machinery entralled the Charlestown Dragway fans. Photo by Bill Ott
Lines of vintage drag and hot rod machinery enthralled the Charlestown Dragway fans.
 Photo by Bill Ott

Flag Day, June 14 2001 
Drag Race Playground - Harrisburg, Pa. 

So glad that you're here again, 
For one more time, 
Let your madness run with mine, 
Streets still unseen, we'll find sometime, 
No time is better than now* 

6:30 PM. Flag Day? Seems like it should have been celebrated last Sunday. Frank Wade had the beautiful pearl white (with red and blue trim) 'Freedom Machine' parked front and center next to the Seekonk Speedway parking lot. With a U.S. flag painted proudly on the cowl. The blue Race Car Specialties chassis still looking as good as the day the "Old Man" (Frank Huzar) welded it up. And this after who knows how many updates. 

The full body still sporting that unmistakable Hanna nose piece. And a genuine Tom Hanna button sunk into the body, right in front of the blown, alcohol burning 392. Yep... Frank still runs her today in the Northeast Timing Circuit. Seems like only yesterday that Don Roberts was driving her in the six point teens at a touch over 221. Of course then, she was running NITRO through those fuel lines, smaller tires, and '70s technology. 

Hey, once again I'm starting from the middle... time to back up. 

6:30 AM, June 10. Another Pleasant Valley Sunday... here in Cumberland, RI. Checked out of the motel already, and stopped by Honey Dew Donuts to pick up a dozen on the way to Jack Brady's place (might need to bribe a cop before we get to the track). I brought my Atco Dragway photos from back in the '60s, and in a while, I'd be real glad I did. Jack and his son Pat were waiting for some help to load the ol' Topolino onto the trailer. In no time at all it was loaded up, fastened down, and ready to roll! 

Hardly any traffic this early on a Sunday morning, so the ride down I-195 to Seekonk was uneventful. No traffic OR cops... guess the donuts are safe! Jack, Pat, and the Topolino head for the vehicle entrance. But I get to use...that's right... the VIP entrance (remember that long distance driving award?) No problem at the VIP entrance, except for one thing... no one there had ever heard of me! Imagine my surprise! A quick call to Bob (George) over the walkie-talkie, and I passed right on through, my dignity STILL intact! 

First stop - the Hospitality Tent and a cup of coffee. While checking out the aforementioned 'Freedom Machine' with Don Roberts, I got to hear Don reminisce about driving the beauty back in the ol' daze. Musta been fun. One of the original owners, Dick Gazan, came all the way up from Dallas, Texas (no, he DIDN'T drive) to get one more look at the 'Freedom Machine' and to  hang out with his old pal, Don. Seems a lot of folks spent time just hanging around the dragster. Haven't got to chat with another Texan for quite a while. 

Our bench race session was interrupted by a roar coming from the show car field. It was the sound of Jack's Fiat backing off of its open trailer. A lap around the field (in the wet grass) and the Topolino took its place among the other race cars in attendance. Jack's firing up the small Chevy motor during a lull in the action is becoming another tradition at this annual event. 

Back to the tent to get out of the sun and I got into a conversation with Fred Hire who was wearing a T-shirt that said "Push Rods - Waltham, Mass." I told Fred that I had a photo with me of the Push Rods Buick Nailhead powered B/Modified Roadster taken at Atco (NJ) at the 1960 Eastern Divisional. Fred told me the roadster set a new National Record at that event with Wayne Murray at the wheel. I was at that race way back on that July weekend, and a ton of new records were set, all the way from AA/D to the Stock classes. Joe Tucci reset the AA/D (gas) National Record that weekend in a Chrysler powered Lynwood. 

The place is really starting to fill up when I notice a whole gang of people sitting together all wearing Standard 1320 shirts (just like mine). Cool, I knew most of this bunch already. Time to reacquaint myself with some old friends I haven't seen since last year's California Hot Rod Reunion... newlyweds Dawn Mazi-Hovsepian and Mark Hovsepian. Hey, who's that BIG guy wearing a Pith Helmet... turns out to be Terry (Lead East) Cook. Also among this group of characters of dubious reputation were Jeff Howe, Jack and Pat Brady, Don Roberts, and Bob "Bear" George... who stayed real busy seeing that this event went smoothly, but still found time to stop and say hello to all. Everyone wanted to know where Wheels was this year and how come I didn't bring the G-man (Jerry Gross) with me. Is there ANYONE in the Drag Racing family who DOESN'T know Wheels? Arnie Shuman was also in attendance, but was busy manning the '"Cool Cars Square Roll bars" booth. 

A fine crowd of vintage drag racing fans enjoyed the 2001 Charlestown Dragway Reunion. Photo by Bill Ott
A fine crowd of vintage drag racing fans enjoyed the 2001 Charlestown Reunion.
Photo by Bill Ott

The line for the catered buffet was starting to form (the air had been perfumed by the aroma of the Barbecue for the last hour or so), when the sound of a cell phone ringing had everyone reaching for their belts... kind of reminded me of the '"Gunfight At The OK Corral." Turned out to be my phone ringing. 

It was my personal pilot "Treetop" Al O'Brien on the other end. Al used to live in the Boston area and flew up this weekend to visit with family. He informed me he had borrowed his niece's car and was about five minutes from the track. A few minutes later we were both standing in the 'Chow Line'... the Atkins Diet be damned! 

While we're all standing in line, a white mini-bus from the Rhode Island Veterans Home drives on the grounds. It's carrying our Guest of Honor, Ed Sarkisian, *'Drag Racing's Friend, Writer & Historian'*. Ed and his entourage took their place at the 'Head of the Table' under the tent. The rest of the afternoon would see a constant line of friends and well wishers passing by. Ed looked great and seemed to be in good spirits. B.T.W. The weatherman threw a great day our way... maybe a little too hot, but not a cloud in the sky. No rainout like last year. 

After lunch we got to visit again with Frank Wade and check out the "Freedom Machine' one more time. By this time, all the Street Rods and Race Cars were parked in the show area. Time to walk around and check 'em out. And we're talking a whole lotta checking out to do. Of note was a blown Hemi powered AA/SR Deuce three window coupe, powered in a former life by a blown Olds. It was featured in Hot Rod back in the '50s and may have been a National record holder at one time. 

Sitting by itself in a corner of the grounds was a beautiful V8-60 powered Dirt Roadster. Got to chatting with its owner Henry Araujo and found out ol' Henry built the roadster himself from scratch! The detailing on this thing was unreal, from the machine turned dash and firewall to the Dodge Colt rims that had the centers cut out, reversed, and filled in to resemble old dirt track type wheels. The two Strombergs on top of the tiny Ford engine were the icing on the cake. Not Drag Racing related at all, but everything on this one was just right. Great job, Henry! 

The show field was loaded with Street Rods and Sleds with a few old Race cars sprinkled around. I may have seen the old Chevy ('37 or '39?) B/Gasser of Bachelder and Cullinan out of South Portland, Maine, parked on the grounds OR it could have been another Gasser with the same look. Maybe someone will straighten me out? I gotta remember to start writing more of this stuff down! 

While we cruised the show field, a few Pioneers Of Drag Racing Awards were handed out... including one for ol' Marvin Rifchin of M & H Tire fame. Got a chance to shake Marvin's hand earlier in the day... a true racing legend! An auction was held with our own Terry Cook pitching in and helping. Ed Eaton and his brother (who's name slips my mind right now -- sorry), Cy Sidebotham, Jack Doyle, Ralph Bannister, and many other old racers and friends were seen in the crowd during the auction. 

Around 4:00 PM, a lot of the cars started to leave or be put back on or in their respective trailers. After we helped the Bradys with the Fiat, my pal Treetop Al took off, I couldn't find the Hovsepians anywhere, and Jeff Howe seemed to have disappeared. Guess it's time for me to go. But before I do, think I'll use this time to say hello to Ed Sarkisian and his wife. They were both still having a great time. 

The venerable name of Tasca Ford was well represented. Photo by Bill Ott
The venerable name of Tasca Ford was well represented. Photo by Bill Ott

Again, enough can't be said about the efforts of Bob and Jane George, their family, friends, and neighbors (I mean that literally). Another group that puts a whole lot of effort into this thing is the Tasca family out of Providence, RI. Yeah, the same Tasca Ford people who are one of the sponsors of John Force's team. As a matter of fact, John was in Providence on Saturday afternoon for some kind of an event at Tasca Ford. Rumors were flying Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday about him putting in an appearance here. Never happened though. John had prior commitments in California on Sunday. Heard that he wowed the crowd in Providence Saturday. No doubt! 

About 4:30, I'm southbound on I-195. Hey, this is just the start of this vacation week and already I'm worn out. Monday, I'll try to rest. First thing Tuesday morning, I'm off to Shenandoah National Park for some REAL kickin' back. Should be home sometime on Thursday and finish this Charlestown wrap-up on Thursday or Friday. 

Turns out I started this piece on Thursday and finished it on Friday, but remember... I'm on vacation and ain't wearin' no watch. More old B.S. Later. 


*1972 W. Becker & D. Fagen 
ABC Dunhill Music 
"Midnight Cruiser"


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