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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

A Classic Thunder Thanksgiving

By Bill Pratt

With Gwyn Hartsoe looking on, Heath Daniel did his best to recapture the glory of gasser racing at Darlington. Photo by Richards-Woods
With Gwyn Hartsoe looking on, Heath Daniel recaptures the glory of gasser racing.
Photo by Richards-Woods

(Full photo coverage will be added soon, so check back. bp)

The Classic Thunder Nostalgia Drag Racing series came to Darlington International Raceway in Hartsville, SC, for a two-day Thanksgiving car show and drag race on November 29-30. 2002. The weather cool but sunny. Light jackets were the order of the day while the sun shone. Unfortunately, good weather and classic drag racing machines were not enough to lure fans away from their warm fireplaces and Thanksgiving leftovers. The racers and show car participants were there, but the fan attendance numbers were down, despite deep promotion on the Internet, local television and radio, and even a half page ad in National Dragster. Happily, Darlington owner Larry Hinsley liked what he saw and extended an invitation to Classic Thunder to return twice in 2003 – just not on Thanksgiving weekend!

Darlington Classic Thunder was the site of an important official announcement. Classic Thunder and the Midwest Nostalgia Super Stock organization announced a partnership for 2003. Classic Thunder has officially adopted the rules of the Midwest Nostalgia Super Stocks and the 70 plus members of MNSS will race at all Classic Thunder events for 2003, unless the events conflict with an existing MNSS date. MNSS officers Jim and Terri Wittenberg were at Darlington with their awesome "Precious Metal" Super Stock Ford. The Wittenbergs' motor home was an oasis for weary race organizers and their Super Stock Ford thrilled the fans on exhibition passes. The addition of the Midwest Nostalgia Super Stocks for 2003 is a major step forward for Classic Thunder.

Classic Thunder officials also met with Larry Beals, who has been putting on the excellent Nostalgia race at Bradenton for 20 years (before this last year's event, which was hosted by the track's new ownership). Also on hand to help out was former Top Fuel racer Marvin Noel, who has been promoting the NMCA and other organizations for years. Classic Thunder looks forward to collaborating at some level with both of these gentlemen for 2003.

After a successful first day of car shows, swap meets, and getting together, Sunday brought hard core nostalgia racing. The event was run on a compressed, daytime only schedule to avoid the cool late fall evenings and the conditions they bring. Qualifying took place after an extended open time run session. As qualifying continued, it became apparent that a second qualifying round would put eliminations into jeopardy. The decision was made to limit qualifying to the one run. Despite many opportunities to sort out their rides, the racers had to make sure everything was perfect on one run. Note to selves: limit open time runs on late fall days! A cold track made for a very narrow groove. Racers had to line up perfectly and stay in the groove to have any chance of success. It was truly a drivers' and track tuner's race.

The Pro Dragster category featured blown alcohol, injected nitro, or any combination thereof in a four-car qualified field. The single qualifying run really vexed the diggers. Glenn Somers took the number one spot in his 1996 T-Bar chassised machine at an early shut off 4.875-120.98. Ware Shoals and Midway winner Matt Stambaugh came all the way down from Fredericksburg, Virginia, with the New Generation machine. The big Rat motor featured a new look and sound – gone were the injector stacks, replaced by a huge blower! Rick and Robin Stambaugh were still dialing in the blown combination and Matt rode a fat 6.111-116.67 pass to the second position. 

John MacDonald from Harrisburg, NC placed his 1966 Junior Fueler into third position with a shut off 6.454-95.93. The beautiful "March Wind" machine of Roger Elmore made its debut with Ronnie Benton at the butterfly. Unfortunately, the new car suffered apparent fuel delivery problems and shut off during each hard launch. No doubt, the team will iron out its problems to become a threat in 2003.

With only three cars qualified, it would be Stambaugh versus MacDonald, with low qualifier Somers taking a first round single. Both MacDonald and Stambaugh were looking to improve on their qualifying times and they did, but they reversed the order. MacDonald found something in the pits to chop more than a second off his aborted qualifier. He went 5.310 at 126.88 to defeat Matt "Nitrooo" Stambaugh's improved 5.608 at 120.09. The new motor combination had the Stambaugh machine set up fat and shooting ducks on both passes. They'll be back strong in 2003. Glenn Somers singled at 5.019-123.43.

Glenn Somers seemed to have the John MacDonald covered in the final, but he had also been the quickest car at Ware Shoals and Midway, only to bow out early. Would Somers be able to break his final round jinx? The two small blocks were screaming different tunes, one blown and one injected. At the green, Somers took a major lead with .557 to .771 reaction times. The holeshot made the otherwise close 5.308-135.50 to 5.472-123.38 race a four-car length victory. Glenn Somers and the "Smokey Mountain Express" finally took home the trophy in 2002 Classic Thunder Pro Dragster competition.

The A/Gas and B/Gas categories all qualified together, then the quickest eight cars formed the A/Gas field and the second quickest eight cars formed the B/Gas field. Once set, the B/Gas field ran on an index one tenth quicker than the B/Gas low qualifier. This prevented sandbagging during qualifying.

A/Gas competition featured the eight quickest gassers of the 18 in attendance. Leading off was Robbie Draughon from Fayetteville, NC in a '48 Thames at 5.276-132.74. Rickey Bowie's supercharged '48 Anglia from Greenwood, SC was second at 5.343-127.58. Qualifying third was Kyle Bond from Timmonsville, SC in a great looking '33 Ford three-window Coupe at 5.369-129.05. Rounding out the top half of the ladder was Heath Daniel in the Mac Pressley-owned Hartsoe Bros. '48 Anglia from Mooresville, NC, at 5.491-126.56. 

Roger McConnell put the Mighty Mouse '48 Anglia into fifth at 5.508-129.25, followed by Jim Holland's beautiful blue, flamed '48 Austin at 5.683-122.21. Bailey Hastings put the swoopy, modern style '33 Willys into seventh position at 5.874-115.90 and Frankie Gurano blew everybody's mind by taking a street legal '48 Anglia with DOT tires and making the show at 6.055-no speed recorded.

Kyle Bond and Jim Holland led off the action with Bond matching his qualifying ET exactly to drive around Holland's holeshot for the win. 5.369-128.71 to 5.716-119.47. Roger McConnell then tossed away a good 5.461-129.85 on a redlite, sending Heath Daniel on to win at 5.486-126.45. Rickey Bowie then dropped Bailey Hastings, 5.304-128.05 to 5.855-115.85. Bowie had experienced quite an event to this point. His wife's car broke down on the way back to Greenwood, SC, the night before. Rickey had to drive the limping car four hours back to Greenwood and then four hours back on the morning of the race. There, as one of the Classic Thunder organizers, he faced a hundred things to do in addition to racing. Rickey was hanging tough, however. 

The round ended with an unbelievable upset. Gurano strapped a holeshot on the quickest car in the category, but most thought there was no doubt that Draughon's 5.20 car would pass the little street rod like it was standing still. But Draughon got out of the groove a bit, keeping Gurano just out of reach. Despite a big top end charge by the low qualifier, Gurano's '48 Anglia led Draughon's slick '48 Thames through the lights, 5.864-119.93 to 5.994-128.49. The place erupted in cheers for the underdog.

Heath Daniel was having none of Frankie Gurano's little guy heroics in the second round, however. With original owner Gwyn Hartsoe in attendance to cheer on the team, Daniel took the former record holding machine to a 5.577-125.85 win over Gurano's off-pace 7.906-58.62. Rickie Bowie then faced Kyle Bond, who was having a career day in his '33 Ford. Neither driver had a reaction time worthy of headlines, but Bond was more than a tenth quicker than Bowie, who finally seemed to have succumbed to the combined effects of no sleep and continual race organizer distractions. Bond would have won even after an even start, however. His consistent 5.376-129.01 led Bowie's 5.411-128.29 through the lights by a car and a half.

The final was down to two completely dissimilar cars. Heath Daniel was strapped into a completely authentic, period-correct '48 Anglia that even sported the original paint job it had carried 30 years before. Kyle Bond‘s chopped '33 Ford looked more like a street rod on steroids. Without front fenders or a hood, Bond's machine seemed more altered than gasser. There was no provision in the gasser rules requiring a full body, however, and Bond's machine met all the other requirements. With Bond enjoying a two-tenths advantage all day, Daniel had to hit the tree hard. He did leave first, but only by .450 to .467. That wasn't enough to hold off Bond and his screaming three-window coupe, who ran an incredibly consistent 5.372-128.40 to defeat the burnt orange machine's 5.539 at 125.47.

The B/Gas field was led by the ninth qualifier in the overall gasser field, Jason Melton of Rudy, SC. Melton's 6.456-105.85 now put the little lime green ‘48 Anglia into first place in B/Gas. Local favorite Mike Peake took the number two spot with his pickup truck at 6.717-101.02. Robert Ashley brought his '65 Comet Cyclone up from Newberry, SC to take the third position at 6.742-103.30, followed by Danny Austin's Locust, NC-based ‘50 Anglia at 6.770-100.41. 

The bottom half of the field began with Jim Guillen's newly lettered '57 Ford Popular from Matthews, NC, in fifth with a 6.914 at 96.46. Tom Drake qualified sixth with one of the neatest cars in attendance, a '38 Simca. The car was brownish gold and orange. It may sound weird, but the diminutive car looked great. The Matthews, NC, racer posted a 6.972 at 96.55. Mike Coger, itching to go "real" gasser racing, traded in his injected ‘69 Nova for the "Riff Raff" ‘39 Plymouth. The Waynesville, Georgia, racer placed primered machine in the seventh spot at 7.046-99.04. Ted Stile's wrapped up the field with his bright yellow ‘40 Dodge Pickup at 7.508- 90.18. 

Also in attendance with his "Buzzin' Half Dozen" was the IHRA's own "Staging Steve" LeTempt. The six-cylinder machine gave up the ghost at the top end, but looked great. Steve filled in on the microphone a little bit and had a great time.

Jason Melton kicked off round one with a 6.472-105.07 to defeat Ted Stiles truck at 7.653-90.56. Jim Guillen then took the measure of Danny Austin in a mild upset, 6.783 97.34 to 7.113-99.29. Local favorite Mike Peake won his first round of Classic Thunder racing with a come-from-behind 6.749-100.34 decision over Mike Coger's close 6.994-100.58 in the Riff Raff Plymouth. Coger got a huge jump at the line. .562 to .698, but Peake had enough juice to get around him. The round ended with an upset (based on qualifying times) as Tom Drake grabbed a 6.870-98.17 to 7.008-96.68 win over Robert Ashley's massive Mercury. Drake's little Simca looked like a toy in comparison, but it was big enough to win!

Mike Peake and Tom Drake led off round two with Peake's blue truck getting a 6.748-100.36 to 7.033-97.93 win. Jason Melton and Jim Guillen lined up next with Melton's 7/8 scale English Ford looking for all the world like a miniature of the Guillen machine. After an even start, Melton used a bracket like 6.457-105.70 to defeat Guillen's game 6.738-98.25.

Jason Melton and Mike Peake met in the B/Gas final. Melton's little green Anglia remained solidly in the 6.40s with a 6.445-105.84 to hold off Peake's valiant 6.790-100.21.

B/Altered eliminator was an interesting concept. Due to the wide open Classic Thunder rules -- any front engine, non-door cars with any engine combination not used in the pro fields – the field was populated with a unique collection of rail dragsters, competition coupes, and altereds. Ronnie Howell of Elgin, SC, led qualifying with his carbureted ‘32 Bantam altered at 5.482-123.98. Thomas Jackson brought his 1965 slingshot down from Bedford, VA and took the number two spot, 5.965-114.37. W.C. and Laura Glasscock also journeyed south for the race. W.C. placed the Keysville, VA-based 1964 Logghe digger into third at 5.977-115.68. In fourth position was Dacvla, Georgia's Dave Cox and his awesome Flattop ‘32 Ford Competition Coupe at 6.233-112.95. 

Rounding out the qualifiers was Florida's Frank Massimino and his gorgeous ‘30 Ford Comp Coupe/Dragster. Frank was having a hard time keeping the ultra light spoke front wheels planted on the launch. The red and chrome beauty kept going either left or right during time runs. That continued on his qualifying shot, and Frank logged a 7.387-88.44 to anchor the field.

Howell took a 6.588-96.64 first round bye, and then Glasscock took his early rail to a close 5.996-114.60 to 6.157-112.14 decision over Cox's wild orange machine. Thomas Jackson then set low ET of the round with a wire to wire win over the still-troubled Massimino, 5.928-114.79 to 7.358-88.95.

Round two began with Ronnie Howell defeating W.C. Glasscock, 5.431-124.56 to 5.915-113.96. It was Thomas Jackson with the next bye run, a consistent 5.977-113.96 pass to end the round.

The final match-up in B/Altered featured Ronnie Howell's IHRA class legal ‘32 Bantam facing Thomas' immaculate rail job. Howell had been quicker by about a half second at times. Harris would need a good jump off the line to have a chance, but Howell got the holeshot, .430 to .602, then maintained his half second advantage to take the B/Altered victory, 5.474-123.83 to 5.975-114.19.

Super Comp eliminator was not as diverse as B/Altered, but it wasn't because the rules weren't just as wide open. Classic Thunder rules state that any door car with a 1975 or older body and any engine combination can show up to race heads up. Despite the open rules, Super Comp turned into an all-Chevy affair, and only a surprising Chevy Nova kept it from becoming an all-Camaro affair. David Goodson brought his wicked '69 Camaro roadster up from Weaver, Alabama to grab the top spot with a 5.148 at 134.60. Ervin Rose then surprised everyone with a '70 Nova that looked for all the world like a mid six-second Super Pro car. The car was a stone cold sleeper -- Rose nailed the second qualifying spot with a 5.316 at 130.43. 

Bill Hansen came from Ninety-Six, SC, to put his '69 Camaro into third place with a 5.518-125.36. Just a thousandth back was Tom McClester's '69 Camaro at 5.519-125.92. Harold Rabon drove a '67 Camaro into fifth at 5.978-115.28, followed by Todd Smelar in a '68 model at 6.433-106.19. Paul Kauffman took the seventh spot with a 6.479-104.08 out of his '67, and Paul Shelton, who had raced in the F/X category at Classic Thunder Midway, held down the bump with a troubled 6.802-77.35.

Goodson and Shelton kicked off round one with predictable results. Goodson improved on his low qualifying time with a slick 5.131-135.19. Shelton continued to have troubles, improving only slightly to a 6.740-96.24. Tom McClester's '69 then took out Harold Rabon's '67, 5.534-125.12 to 6.154-110.05. Ervin Rose then jumped right up into David Goodson's league with an excellent 5.154-136.57 thrashing of Paul Kauffman, who improved markedly but still trailed, 5.988-117.08. Bill Hansen ended the round with a 5.740-97.63 broke bye win when Todd Smelar couldn't make the call.

Ervin Rose and Bill Hansen went at it to kick off round two. After an even start, Rose's big Nova began to inch ahead of Hansen's '69 Camaro, winning at 5.390-121.29 to Hansen's relatively close 5.540-124.72. Tom McClester needed a holeshot to have a chance against Goodson's flying roadster, so when he left the line three hundredths back, it didn't look good. David Gordon again found the teens with a 5.176-134.77 decision over McClester's 5.542-125.82.

The final lined up the two clearly baddest dudes of the day, David Goodson and Ervin Rose. Goodson had been in the teens all day. Rose showed he had five-teen power, but had backed off to 5.30s in his semifinal round win. Goodson had lane choice, but would Ervin jump up and surprise him? Nope. Just as he had all day, Goodson again left first and led the Nova driver at every increment. Still, it was the closest competition race of the day, regardless of category. Goodson set Super Comp Low ET with a 5.129-135.13 victory. Rose followed about a car length behind with Top Speed of the category, 5.192-137.69. This class is a lot of fun to watch, but let's hope the 2003 season brings out the Ford and Mopar racers, not to mention the other makes and models.

Three time Southern Fuel Coupes champion Jim Dickey was on hand with his KB-powered ‘23-T to face Don Roddy's All-Girl Crew and their '90 Corvette in an all out race to the three second zone. It was to be two out of three with the winner taking final bragging rights for 2002. The cold air certainly provided optimum oxygen, but what would the 2500 horsepower cars do on a cold track? The first round match left them both disgusted. Roddy got into some fluid and smacked the right retaining wall. Dickey dropped a valve and shut off. Roddy was done for the day and the year. The next time you see the Roddy Racing machine, it will be a ‘48 Fiat altered. In the meantime, Jim Dickey and crew thrashed for hours to put the KB back together.

Ten minutes after the finals in all other categories, Dickey pulled the ‘23-T up to the Darlington starting line. Could the Darlington track hold 2500 horsepower -- especially after several slower cars had experienced problems hooking up when the track temperature was higher?

The few remaining fans were treated to a superb answer to these questions as Dickey registered an outstanding .961 60-foot time then deftly guided the T-bucket for 600 feet, where it started to drift. Dickey lifted momentarily and tapped it back into the groove just before going through the lights. Everyone was impressed with the run on a fast cooing track, but NOBODY was ready for the numbers -- a stunning 4.012 at 174.75 -- new personal bests for Dickey. The top end bobble robbed Jim of a three-second time slip, but only just. It was a truly amazing run for the conditions and a fitting capper to a great day of racing.

Bill Pratt


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