Hittin' The Note at the
Charlestown Dragway Reunion VI
Thoughts on traveling with new Rock & Roll
and old Drag Racers
(c)2003 Bill Ott
Charlestown Dragway Reunion/
Ed Sarkisian Show
Sunday June 8
Saturday's voyage from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts was quite literally just
that, a voyage. But come Saturday evening after I've docked in the Boston area "and I be
hoistin' a pint of John Adams at a local pub," I'll be able to share with the salty old sea dogs gathered around.
My own tale about sailin' the ol' Dodge Caravan up I-95 during the Big One of Oh Three.
Now the way I hear it, hurricane season ain't until sometime in August,
but just let 'ol Bob (Bear) George and crew set a date for the Charlestown Dragway Reunion /Ed Sarkisian Benefit, and mark your calendars.
You've pretty near set the date for the season's first major soaker. And Mother Nature don't give a damn that August is still two months away.
But again, as usual, 'ol Mama Nature was just fooling with us. After Saturday's preliminary hurricane passed through, Sunday dawned partly cloudy with the promise of clearing skies by afternoon. But
still, yesterday was a rough one. Northbound in the wake of the Red Star Express, the two of us commandeered the center lane of I-95 at the New York / Connecticut line and plowed our way straight up to Providence before Captain Red Star and his Express sailed away in a different direction. Thanks for the front door
Sailing up the highway with the windshield wipers * tappin' out a tempo,
keepin' perfect rhythm to the song' (*E. Rabbitt) is always a good time to get into some Rock and Roll. Ain't nothing like rolling down the road with only the motion and the
music, call it Hittin' The Note. I recall an early morning ride a few years ago on the Cross-Bronx Expressway in the big truck. Heading back to
Pa, empty , still dark. All the crazies were off the roads. Yep, had the whole damn city to myself (it DOES happen every once in a
while) and Ms. Allison was playing "Heavy Fuel" on KROK. Even the bumps in the road were in time with the music. Yeah! Only the motion and the
music, call it Hittin' The Note! Still can't remember that drive across the
city, just the music and the motion. Like a dream.
Whoa, where were we? Oh yeah northbound in Connecticut during a monsoon! Speaking of
Hittin' The Note, and I'll try not to use the term 'Hittin' The Note' again.
That's the title of the newest release by the Allman Brothers Band. Eleven new tunes that took nine years to make! That's about ten months a song. Let's
see, nine months of practice, one month in the studio, or one month of
practice, nine months in the studio. OR one week of practice, two days in the
studio, and eight and a three quarter months of rest. Sound like Union truck drivers, no?
But seriously folks, the 'Brothers have a reputation as being one of the hardest working bands ever. They still spend most of their time on the road touring.
Their shows are legendary. They've been around forever, and have come up against some real adversity and bad Karma during their career.
Let's see if we can work (combine) some of the cuts from this new piece of (classic) Rock and Roll (history) with some of the (classic) goings on at the Charlestown Dragway Reunion VI. We'll start with the first cut on the new CD.
This one puts me to mind of the spot where Mr. And Mrs. Sy Sidebotham, Tom and Tim Steed, and the rest of the crew had the beautiful King & Marshall fueler parked. It was sitting up on jack stands all day just looking like it needed to be fired up. Matter of fact it was.
More than once. The first firing happened at precisely 9:30AM, noise curfews be damned!
I was sitting in the van over in the VIP Parking (Oooh, how about that special treatment?!) trying to figure out the new camera (Camera 1, Badco 0) when the boys lit
'er up. A nice way to kick this deal off. LOUD with just a hint of NITRO in the air where I was parked. A promise of more later? Hell yes!
Sy and crew have already established themselves a reputation as one hard working bunch. The K & M digger always shines like a new
dollar and is kept ready to fire up in a second's notice. Last October they made the long trek out west to Bakersfield. This past March they made the tow down to Florida for the induction of Jimmy King and Don Marshall into the Drag Racing Hall Of Fame. On Sunday June 15th, the boys will be at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals in
Columbus taking part in a match race with Don Trasin's "Jade Grenade" prior to Eliminations. Pat Foster himself will be wheeling the Grenade. The following weekend they'll be
cacklin' at the National Hot Rod Reunion down in Bowling Green. Hey, anyone that ain't gonna be at Bowling
Green is gonna be somewhere else.
The shows they put on when it's cacklin' time have grown to legendary proportions already. Who will ever forget the pink headers at last year's Cacklefest at Famoso Raceway ? Heard that tune up even got Tuna's attention! Or how about the huge header flames during "The Ring" at the same event. Heard they even fired it up in front of a hotel in Florida.
And the guys dealt with enough adversity last year at the California Hot rod Reunion alone to last a lifetime. See
Story Of The Day
But everyone was all smiles this afternoon when the nitro burning Hemi was fired up immediately after the conclusion of the awards ceremonies. And yes, Sy threw another cool tune up at it.
Way cool header flames, clearly visible in the middle of the afternoon! I personally watched Sy mix the batch of 86% NITRO. Shared a great vantage
point, standing right in front of the car with Don Roberts and Jeff Howe. From our position and the wind direction we were in the just the right
spot, if you like burned NITRO in your face. You know the burning eyes and all
that, and hey, who DOESN'T? I know I said I wouldn't say it again, but Sy and the guys were
"Hittin' The Note."
Oh, one other parallel between that hard working band and this team. Sy's been a fixture in the New England drag racing scene for just about forever. Someone should write a book about this guy!
Or maybe they'd better not.
High Cost Of Low Living
Now talk about your low living, or, living low. Carl and Todd Gustafson of Ultra Flex Racing Products brought a pair of cool matching Camaro Hardtop coupes. Only you had to be careful you didn't trip over them. They were both Go Kart size and the fiberglass bodies flip up ala Funny Cars for ease of entrance and exit. One of them could be seen putt-putting around the grounds most of the day.
The grand kids would look real good in one of these beauties. And here's the cool part. Dad or Grand pop could probably squeeze into that Convertible model. without looking TOO ridiculous. You can contact the guys at
Old Before My Time
Russ Daly, the owner of Specialties Unlimited Fabrication out of Newport, Rhode Island brought a classy black '29 Ford Roadster mounted on Deuce rails. This car is tricked out front to back, top to bottom.
The '47 Ford Flathead mill sported Fenton heads and a wild Weber three barrel on a custom intake Russ fabricated himself from a two carb intake. The entire cowl area has been reshaped and raised to make room for the custom split, tilt open windshield.
But the one feature on Russ' Deuce that will warm any old racer's heart? Those rear wheel rims. Russ was surfing the Web one night and ran across them. Have they got some history? Check this
out: in 1963 the 18 X 4 1/2 " mag wheels were mounted on the Herda/Cagle four wheel drive B Streamliner that strolled across the Bonneville Salt Flats at an unreal 296.78 MPH! The boys said they were afraid to go over 300MPH with
them, but it looks like they tried anyway. I'd bet cruising around the Rhode Island highways at 65 or 70 should be a piece of cake for these veterans.
Russ also brought along some photos of '27 Tub he's building back at the shop. Another tricky
piece, quarter elliptic front springs, the Tub dropped WAY down over the frame rails.
Then a new floor pan was welded up retaining the stock seating arrangement. Kinda reminds you of an old Hudson.
You literally step DOWN into it. Should be done in another year or two. He held everyone's attention with an animated discussion about the steering gear and linkage for the tub. Russ is quite an enthusiastic and energetic character. Hell, I'm starting to get a little run down from checking out this
thing, and Russ is just getting warmed up. Maybe I could borrow some of that energy?
Who To Believe
A late arrival (but a more than welcome one) was Paul Aldrich driving a cherry '53 Ford 4 door Wagon. But the real attention getter was on the open trailer the old Ford was
towing, a perfect repop of Fran and Ralph Bannister's A/Dragster.
Originally campaigned from '57 thru '59, the original chassis still exists. It was found a few years ago at the bottom of a stack of old pipe and angle iron that was just about on it's way to the scrap iron dealer.
Hey, another one saved!
Paul rebuilt the old digger from the ground up. He had both Ralph (unfortunately brother Fran passed way a few years ago) and Arnie Shuman (author of Cool Cars Square Roll Bars) as technical advisors. Problem
was, Ralph, on occasion, had different recollections of the same detail than Arnie's
photos, or no recollection at all, until maybe in the middle of the night. So getting woke up by late night/early morning phone calls became routine for Paul.
The old racer was powered by a blown 296" flathead, the first blown flat motor in the Northeast. The boys fabricated a great adapter that placed the Magneto ahead of the water pump and blower drive belts. Wall tubing of .083 thickness was used on the
repop. Heard that wall thickness on the original was "a little bit
thinner. Fran and Ralph fabricated a quarter elliptic rear suspension and a unique (for its day) caster angle adjuster. The cool A/D is officially the oldest existing dragster from the North Eastern U.S.
It competed regularly at Charlestown and other local tracks. Turned in a best of 130MPH in 10.70
seconds with the old mill turning a screaming 6300 RPM. Not TOO shabby for a flathead. But to stand next to this ride, take look inside, and imagine going 130 in it
is, at best, SCARY! Took a real man to drive this thing. Thanks Fran.
Paul also passed this interesting tidbit along. The boys cut most of the center out of the early Ford (?) I-beam axle to make it a little lighter in the front. Matter of
fact, they actually cut the entire center out of it, save for a little piece in the middle for stability. Sounded good in theory, no? Problem
was, at the far end of the track, the front axle would 'flutter' at speed due to the lack of innards. Now it took a long time to do that cutting and would have been a real shame for all of that work to have been for nothing.
So, how about this piece of 'Yankee Ingenuity'? Turns out a 3/8" drive 9/16" Craftsman socket (you
know, the ones you take back when you break 'em?) fit perfectly in the cut out area. After one was welded in each side, the 'flutter' problem was fixed. Think that setup wouldn't pass today's Tech Inspection? Well, how about at the Sears Craftsman Nationals?
Next Track... Rockin' Horse
When I first came upon the Spurr Brother's way cool "Just Another - Blast From The Past" digger in the morning, brother Greg was checking this young fellow out on the finer points of piloting his NITRO burning, flathead powered ride. The young guy walked away holding his Mom's hand and grinning from ear to ear. Perhaps another convert to the Holy Church of NITROMETHANE? And yes indeed, you heard it right.
This 'ol flatmotor burns NITRO. Matter of fact, at the conclusion of the Awards
Ceremony, this little jewel was fired up just BEFORE the previously mentioned King & Marshall cackle to ease the uninitiated into the NITRO experience. But it's always cool to hear an old flathead running on Pop. My first exposure to that experience was just four short years ago at the California Hot Rod Reunion (thanks J.B and Max). I can't recall (CRS?) any of these old motors running on the heavy stuff back at
Atco, but quite a few back then were running on the pump stuff.
But this dragster didn't always have an old Henry Ford motor stuffed between those frame rails. No sir! Back in '69 they housed a blown Chrysler Hemi. That's when this baby was campaigned as the Morris Breshenan
(Haulin' Chassis) built Pickard and Homes AA/GD. It was one bad hombre back then, too. Butch Homes piloted it to the Top Gas Eliminator title at the AHRA Nationals at New York National Speedway out on Long Island. Now days it's pace has been slowed down somewhat.
It runs consistent 11.0's around 132MPH. Hey, compare this one to what the earlier mentioned Bannister Brothers entry turned with a blown mill back in '59!
That brings us to the last cut on The Brothers new disc.
Great title, and it fits, too. Mr. and Mrs. Ed Sarkisian and entourage made their entrance right around noon. The Rhode Island Veterans Home mini bus arrived unannounced and
'ol Ed was whisked off to his place of honor under the Dignitary's Tent in no time. Now that Ed has arrived it means one other
thing, it's LUNCH TIME! And not one minute too soon, I might add. I sure was getting hungry.
Passed on the donuts this morning. But, as has always been the case in the past, this year's barbecue lunch was in a
word, great. Being surrounded by an old friend or two made it all the more enjoyable. After lunch the line of old friends and well wishers who wanted to spend a minute or two with Ed didn't seem to grow any shorter as the day progressed. I dropped by to say hello to Ed and the Mrs. and told them I'd be back again to spend a little more time.
Next thing I knew the deal had started to wind down and Ed was whisked away before I had another chance to drop by. But I'll see 'ya again next year old friend.
Old Friend - REVISITED
Hey, looks like I ran out of song titles before I ran out of things too say. But hell, I NEVER run out of things to say! So moving right
along... I'll put this event right at the head of my 'To Do' list every year for more than a few reasons. But the first one has got to be the chance to get together with some great friends I've made here over the past few years.
Usually, a group of us got together on Saturday for an informal cook out and B.S.
session, courtesy of Bob (Bear) George and his assistants. This year was no different except for the pouring rain (remember, it's the middle of the early pre-monsoon season?) and except for water up to your ankles, none of us under the Big Top were effected by the weather in the least. And what a line up of attendees. The
Sidebothams, Tom and Tim Steed, Bob George (and assorted family, friends, and neighbors), Jack Brady, Jimmy King, Ray Curtis, Jeff Howe. I knew as soon as I started this list that I'd overlook
someone, and I know there were more people in attendance than I've mentioned, so my apologies to those get overlooked.
It wasn't intentional (CRS?).
Hey, speaking of Jeff Howe, right after we finished pigging out Saturday afternoon, Jeff kidnapped both Tim Steed and myself and dragged us over to the place where he does his nine to five
gig, Nat's Racing Engines, the best kept secret in all of Swansea, Mass. At Nat's they build complete engines for drag and roundy-round cars. I mentioned drag engines first but the roundy round work seemed to be their mainstay. Did see a cool blown Mopar waiting to be picked up. But all kidding
aside, these guys at Nat's are artists! They do all of the machine work 'in house' and have spent years developing their own jigs to speed the jobs along. The guys have also built their own state of the art Dyno Room.
Nothing leaves here 'til it's done right. Hey, I saw a crankshaft in one of their Ford motors that could have been on display in any art museum! And get this, Jeff drives a '32 Ford five window coupe that he's owned since 1959! More on the Deuce to follow.
Bob George, as always a great (and gracious) host. This whole deal wouldn't even happen each year without his efforts. One of these times I'm going to remember to take a picture of him! Bob also brought his roadster along this year in a period perfect trailer that is slowly being restored. The roadster itself is based on an early King &
Marshall, Don Long built, Funny Car chassis. Bob and gang always extend the VIP treatment my way every year. Now, if only I could figure out WHY? Thanks again old friend.
Jack Brady, whose efforts make sure that there will be some older racecars in attendance to compliment the large turnout of street rods. Jack and son Pat always bring their Topolino coupe and Pat's circling the dew covered grounds with all eight straight header pipes barking Sunday morning means that this annual event has officially been kick started once again. What a wake up call! The always smiling Suzy Brady was part of the Brady Entourage this year. So was Ray Curtis and his C & O Hydro Austin
pickup, sporting a blown small Chevy this year. Ray personally promised me the pickup will have made a pass or two down a track before next year's Reunion. Ray, we'll be expecting a full report in the future.
Fred Hire, Terry Gauthier, and the rest of the gang with The Push Rods from Waltham, Mass. Here's an old story (no B.S., honest!) about the guys from Waltham. Some friends and I attended the NHRA Eastern Divisional back in July of 1960 and watched them set a new National Record for
B/MR (Modified Roadster) with the club's Nailhead Buick powered Bantam. This occurred at about 11:00 AM. By the end of the day THEIR record had been broken at a Divisional somewhere out west (Washington or Oregon) by Dick Kalivoda. This possibly set a new record for being the shortest time a National Record stood? Wonder if anyone keeps a record of these type of records?
AND, just for the record, the Kalivodas and the Push Rods are still at it today. Young Brady Kalivoda just got licensed for Top Fuel last season and qualified for at least one National Event. Some record, huh?
Charlie's Rod Shop. A few years ago, Charlie Padula made the pilgrimage down south to BIG's place in Ocala, FL (Don Garlits' Museum Of Drag Racing). He was so impressed with the '554' Mooneyham & Sharp altered on display that he promised himself someday he'd own something similar. Looks like he done good! Except for the numbers on the door, one might think they're looking at the real thing. Only this one sports a Chevy motor instead of the NITRO burning Hemi like in its big brother. Had to make it
streetable, ya know.
Credits, Liner Notes, and Words Of Thanks
Good Vibes and Numbers: Alter Boys - Boston, Mass; Boston Area Roadsters
Club - Central Mass; Drag Racers Club; Dominators - Waterton, Mass; Orientals Car Club - Reading,
Mass; Push Rods - Waltham, Mass; Road Agents of Connecticut; Strokers - Springfield, Mass.
Catering: Pig Pickins' of Mass. - GREAT chicken, guys!
Mood Music: Buick, Chevy, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Lincoln, and assorted others. Played through straight pipes, open Lakes pipes, uncorked collectors, and Cherry Bombs.
Transportation: Dodge Caravan
Mixed at Badco's living room, Harrisburg, Pa.
Accountant: Ms. Boop
Thanks to: The 350 or so good folks who attended this year's event. The twenty Pioneer Award winners (sorry but I wasn't able to hear any of the winners. but ask around. someone should know who they were): Soaps By Betty
for their continued support. Next stop on this year's tour: National Hot Rod Reunion - Bowling Green, Ky.
Traveling back to Pa. (Hey... no rain!) with the amp CRANKED. I've got to admit I was slightly disappointed with the Brothers new album. But NOT with this year's version of the Charleston Dragway Reunion. More old B.S. later.
***** Illustration (c) by Hugh Syme from the front cover of " Hittin' the Note" by The Allman Brothers Band
All photos (c)BadcoPhoto except * courtesy Jeff Howe & ** courtesy Bob Monitzor