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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Cacklefest Memories

©2000 Bill Ott

A victim of laughing chance
This is for me
The essence of true romance
Sharing the things we know and love
With those of my kind
That stagger the mind*

Saturday, Oct. 7, 2000
Famoso Raceway
Sometime before dusk

Funny thing about this California Hot Rod Reunion… it's a drag race, right? Well, here we are getting close to Saturday night and guess what? I've watched maybe half of the first qualifying session of Top Fuel and a Purple Car make a pass and that's it!

All of my time is spent wandering around the pits and the Memory Lane areas. I know there is lots of action out on the track but you never know who you might run into at this place and conversing is much easier with the roar of the racecars on the other side of the stands (not that there is anything wrong with the roar of the racecars, mind you).

Hell, I ran into ‘ol Vance Hunt this morning at the Cullen / D. Schultz Top Fuel pit (where he's employed as an advisor) and got to tell him my favorite ‘honeymoon' tale from '68. He related how his marriage could have also gotten off to a rocky start, but didn't. Someday, with Ms. Boop's permission I'll share our story with all.

I mentioned to Vance that we used to make all the races at the old Austin Raceway Park and he was a regular there at the time, competing in that tough Texas Top Fuel Circuit. He related how one night at Austin in '67 or '68 when Watus Simpson was driving for him, how after push starting (YES!) the car they were attempting to get it turned around in the small staging area, when one of the ‘helpers' accidentally pulled the chute release cable and the whole thing dumped out on the ground.

Vance scooped it up off the ground and walked beside the car to show it to Watus and gave him to ‘kill it' signal. ‘Ol Watus shook his head no and motioned for Vance to drop the whole damn thing in Watus's lap. As they're approaching the starting line, Vance is stuffing the chute in the car with Watus. Unfortunately, the starter took notice of all of this activity, and HE gave Watus the ‘kill it' signal. Watus shut it off, but was pretty pissed… couldn't understand what the problem was! Could have been an interesting pass.

Anyway, it's moments like this that keep me away from the track AND make the CHRR so special. I mean here I am, in the trailer, feet up, reminiscing with Vance Hunt about the old days back in Texas, like we're old pals. Hell, he even gave me a photo of the old black Fueler he used to run back in '67! A fine Texas gentleman.

Less than an hour later I meet Bobby "The Scorpion" Langley and his lovely wife Ruth Ann. Another name from those old Texas days. I also watched either Hunt or Langley (CRS?) in a best of three Match Race with Eddie Hill at the old Air Base in Roswell. N.M., back in '66. That's right, the place similar to Area 51. A lot of weird things are said to have taken place there. Among the weirdest has to be the time I mentioned the match race to Hill and he looked me square in the eye and said he's never, ever set foot in Roswell! One of us has got to be wrong.

Oh yeah, the Reunion. One of the centers of activity (and a great place to meet folks) was in the Grove area directly behind the stands. Particularly where the Anderson family and their Vagabond were pitted right beside Bill Pitt's and assorted friends with the Magicar. Never knew when one or the other would fire up, or they might light up simultaneously.

These two beauties kept drawing a crowd all weekend, even when they weren't running. This also became an unofficial Standard 1320 meeting area, along with the area where "Big Yohns" Johnson, John Bradley (best looking corpse on the planet!) and Laurie Watts were all pitted together, right across from Prof. Ginz, ‘ol Doc Weller, and the rest of that gang. Man did they ever ‘window' an engine Saturday afternoon and also incur some front-end damage when the Professor ‘lost his way', during the ensuing oil down.

The Anderson's are a great bunch to hang out with and over the course of the weekend I found myself in the enviable position of being their unofficial fuel mixture advisor. Hell, its easy… tip the can over the fuel tank and listen to it go glug, glug, glug!! "WE don't need no steenking hydrometer!" But, would Terri listen? No. But around 80% was alright too. But, ‘gotta thank them, I inhaled a lot of their NITRO before the weekend was over.

Late Saturday afternoon, it's about time for that Cacklefest to get started. Larry and the girls are pushing the Vagabond through the Grove towards the staging area with that cool '55 Chevy, when Terri asks if I'd tag along and take photos with their camera. Look's like I've landed myself another ‘unofficial' position… Team Photographer, this time. Only one problem, the counter is broken on the camera. That's OK they tell me, just snap away ‘til it quits working, then don't worry about it. Hey, I can Do THAT!

Terri's getting suited up before getting in the car, so I shoot a frame. She gets comfortable in the car, so I shoot another frame. Than she puts on the facemask, so I'll shoot another frame. Wrong! The damn camera is out of film! By now a crowd is starting to gather around the car, so I keep acting like I'm on assignment from National Dragster.

Now they're pushing the car towards the starting line, so I start trotting along beside it… right past the security people and out onto the track! Holy Cow! How did I pull this one off! Perhaps the most anticipated event in the history of the nostalgia movement, and I've fell right in the middle of it!

They push the Vagabond just past the Christmas tree and stop it at about a forty five degree angle across the centerline of the track. All the while I'm still "shooting" away! I'm starting to feel like I DO belong here!

It's about time for this thing to get started and as Larry attaches the starter to the blower snout, I assume a position with all of the other photogs, behind the guardrail, between the track and the return road. It still hasn't dawned on me just exactly what I'm about to witness and the unbelievable vantage point I'm at.

Now I take a minute to look around me. Man look at this group, Tom West, Jim Sorenson, the Ewald Brothers, Mike Boersma, Mark Hovsepian, Bruce Wheeler, and other assorted characters of dubious reputation! Almost without exception, I know this it the bunch Mom would have told me to stay away from! Actually I was in the presence of some of Motorsports finest shooters. Looking back, I'm glad there WASN'T any film left in the camera!

Now I notice all of these people are wearing special wristbands, passed out by track management, that show they're supposed to be out here on the track. So, when I'm not shooting away with my empty camera, I've got my arms folded in such a way as to hide my wrists. But, by now I don't think anyone gave a damn, and nobody was paying a bit of attention to me. After a brief intro by Dave McClelland and a moment of silence for the racers that are no longer with us, it was time to get started.

The sound of the starter spinning the Vagabond to life draws everybody's attention to the track. Larry makes a quick last minute check of the car, and then moves away. Now all attention is focused on this beautiful red and black dragster as it sits there idling, all alone, seemingly filling the entire track with that unmistakable cackling sound only a NITRO engine can make. After all these years, it's still sweet music.

The spell is broken by a loud "rumph!!" coming from the return road. Oh man, it's the Magicar with Jeep Hampshire on board being pushed to life by the Pitts crew. Jeep makes a sweeping turn through the staging area and pulls out on the track coming to a stop next to the Vagabond. Now the two of them are sitting side by side idling.

Now all attention again shifts to the return road as the Steinegger and Eshenbaugh beauty is pushed by with Al Eshenbaugh at the controls. Al makes the turn through the staging area and assumes his position on the track next to the Magicar.

About now is when it finally dawns on me exactly where I am. Situated between the growing line of idling fuelers in front of me, and the cars just roaring to life and passing by me. Speaking of roaring to life here comes the Howard Cams Rattler down the return road with Larry Dixon on board -- being pushed by Steve Gibbs' beautiful '50 Ford Tudor. Every once in a while Dixon gooses it just to keep things real interesting. As the Rattler takes its place out on the track the sound of all these NITRO motors idling is getting intense!

Next down the return road is the Kuhl and Olson car, Carl Olson driving, with an outstanding sixties type psychedelic type paint job. Again Carl gives the throttle a few whacks before joining the growing line up out on the track.

Next up, my personal favorite, Ted Cyr's Lincoln powered burgundy K-88. That's right, I said Lincoln powered and burning NITRO too. I sat down right at the edge of the return road to watch this one pass by. Fell in love with the burgundy '50 Chevy push truck, too. Man, check it out, weed sweeper headers, and it's coming this way! ‘Gonna get a nice dose of NITRO in a few seconds. Not… instead the driver gives the throttle a shot, and I'm pelted with stones, dust, and a blast that almost knocks me over. Cool! This is the only car that I didn't catch the name of who was at the wheel, but I'd like to thank him, whoever he was. [It was Jeff Bennett, of "No Mercy" AA/FA fame. bp]

The idling from trackside is starting to border on overwhelming, and we still have a long way to go! Hey, Check this out! The magnificent Hustler II with Art Chrisman on board being pushed by a fine black deuce two door sedan. AND more weed sweepers! Thunder from both directions. I think the Hustler II is the best looking of the cars from the "they ‘gotta look like an Indy roadster" era.

As Art gets the car squared away out on the track, here come Kenny Safford aboard the Safford, Gaide and Ratican ‘Sour Sisters' Olds Powered fuel burner. Man, what a beauty AND the sound of an Olds on NITRO brings back a sound I haven't heard since high school.

As Kenny heads for his spot in the line up, a collective sigh can be heard throughout the track. Rolling down the return road, running on all eight and sounding and looking better than any racecar has a right to, is the Greer, Black, and Prudhomme monster. With Steve Davis on board. Good job, Steve!

I believe it was the appearance of the G-B-P car that turned grown men to putty. As the yellow beauty took its place at the end of the row of idling fuelers, we all knew we were witness to something special. Something very special. Something that may never occur again. I noticed more than one person wiping tears from their eyes… too much NITRO?

As the nine race cars sitting in a perfect line out on the track, began to one by one grow silent a hush had fallen over this crowd that was cheering wildly minutes ago. No one wanted this special moment to end. Rumor was, that more than one of these drivers never threw the kill switch and they just sat there running until they ran out of fuel.

It was only fitting that the last car to shut off was the Greer, Black, Prudhomme car. As the G-B-P car fell silent. The crowd remained silent for just a few more seconds. At this time, at this place, all were at peace, and all was right with the world. Even the crew members with the cars seemed dazed during the silence and no one seemed to know what to do next. Then the applause started and all snapped out of it. Time for the celebration to begin! History was made here tonight.

Next thing I knew the track was absolutely jammed with people. I don't know if they came over the fence or through staging, but they were everywhere, grinning from ear to ear!

Time to find my way back to the Vagabond and give Terri her camera back. She was standing in the car; guess she couldn't bring herself to end this magic yet. Bear in mind the Vagabond was the first car on the track and had ran the longest. But, there she was still in the car. If you can get high on NITRO, Terri was high! No way I was going to tell her the camera quit working and spoil this moment. Besides, I made a deal with a few photographers to take some special photos for the Andersons. I understand that Terri wasn't the only one that wouldn't get out of the car.

In retrospect, enough can't be said about the efforts of one Steve Gibbs. Yeah man, I guess you could say the Cacklefest was a success. Thanks also to Bill Pitts and crew for getting this whole concept of firing up the old 392's off the ground, in the first place. Thanks to everyone else for just being there! It was one of life's special moments, glad I got to "share the things we know and love, with those of my kind." More old B.S. later.


©1977 W. Becker & D. Fagen
ABC Dunhill Music (BMI)
"Deacon Blues"


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