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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

MORE OLD B.S. -- The USA-1 Dragfest

By Bill Ott

Westbound on Route 39 I check the rear view mirror one more time, making sure the G-Man's white Blazer (the one with the bullet holes in the back) is still back there. Interstate 81 is a mess with construction right now and Route 322 is loaded up with Penn State football fans heading for this afternoon's game, so the back roads seemed the better way to go this morning.

Now bear in mind, we usually manage to get lost every time we head out to Dauphin using the main roads... so this should be real interesting. At least we've got one of those beautiful autumn mornings going for us here in central Pa. This is about the peak of the fall foliage season, and all of the hills are alive with colors. So if we get lost, the scenery won't be boring.

I was talking with a friend at the California Hot Rod Reunion a while back, and I commented how fortunate they were to have such nice weather year 'round. She said she thought we were lucky to have four seasons each year instead of the same one they have all year. 'Ya know, the grass is always greener, ain't it?

Hey... how about this? We made it to Dauphin without getting lost! Looks like another old tradition gets trampled on. But, there is one thing we can always count on never changing... that's right... the ineptitude of the entire staff of the local Hardee's. And just like the last few years, they didn't disappoint. After enjoying a few minutes of their antics, we decided to finish our coffee outside. Man, what a beautiful morning. The rest of the ride was uneventful.

Arriving at Bruce Larson's Stony Creek Barn we find the parking arrangement has changed since last year. Turns out they're going to need the space in front of the barn for parking exhibition vehicles, quite a few here, more on that later. After parking the car I notice a rear engined dragster tucked away out back of the barn. It was missing all of the bodywork except for the candy red nose with some striping. But it sure had a familiar look about it. I cornered Bruce and asked about it a little later.

Want to know why it looked so familiar? It's the digger Tom Ivo ran back in '74 that had the "pants" on the front wheels. The same one immortalized in that Paul Sadler photograph... airborne, about 90 degrees out of kilter, on fire, with various parts and pieces flying along with it. Looks like the start of another restoration project for Bruce. Heard that Ivo was salivating to get his hands on it, but Bruce found it first.

Huffin' and puffin' our way up the hill to the front entrance... I'm carrying a box of posters for the up coming National Hot Rod Reunion at Bowling Green... we're greeted by a smiling Dick Gerwer at the door. Time to ante up some bucks, step inside, and get reacquainted with some old friends.

All of the usual suspects from the winter gatherings at Mashie's place are here... except for the ailing Jim Amole... and I haven't seen most of these characters since last winter. Got some catching up to do.

Among those in attendance are a few guys with stuff for sale. Joel Naprstek brought his RACECARART drawings, Ted Pappacena his Drag Racing Imagery photo collection, Mike Goyda brought a library (TWO tables of books of photos), and Joe McNally brought his Vargo Dragway images.

Speaking of the Vargo Dragway... I ran into Dick Long on the way in. Dick was the starter as well as one of the tech guys at the now defunct track. Dick and his son Mike own the Pittman & Edwards '41 Willys coupe that competes on the Nostalgia circuit here in the Northeast. Dick is throwing another shindig at "The Ranch" in Harleysville later in the year that I hope to attend.

Meanwhile, back at "The Barn" I've found a place to plug in the ol' laptop and start a slideshow of photos... got over 3,000 on one CD Rom, with room left for about 3,000 more! Beats the hell out of carrying those binders full of photos. At the same time, Mashie is starting his own slideshow up in the loft and the videos have started on the two TVs here downstairs.

The G-Man brought along his 1/25th scale model of Brian Kohlman's '65 S/FX fuel burning "Belle Dodge" Coronet. This model is so much like the real thing it's almost scary. If it's on the big car, it's on the little one too. Even down to the switches on the steering wheel. And get this... that's a miniature "Brian" himself, ... silver fire suit, mask, goggles and all, standing behind the AWB beauty waving to his fans. It was just recently completed (took about two years to build) and has already won First Place at a modeler's show in Pittsburg. It's off to West Virginia in a few weeks for another show... and another first place.

The way cool Belle Dodge model on display. Photo by Paul Hutchins
The way cool Belle Dodge model on display.
Photo by Paul Hutchins

Now... About those BIGGER cars...

It's getting pretty noisy in here... a sure sign that all are enjoying themselves... time to move outside and check out the exhibition cars. Bruce, Dick, and Dave (Heisey) have made a real effort to make sure there was "something for everyone" at this year's Dragfest.... And they ‘done good'. We've got funny cars, diggers, gassers, Pro street cars, and a few street rods and classics thrown into the mix. So let's get started checkin' ‘em out.

Let's start with those two Chrisman Comets. Yep, there's two of ‘em... Jim Barillaro towed ‘em both all the way from Tennessee... a shoe in for the long distance award... if there was one. Maybe next year? One of the Comets is based on what is basically a stock type body and frame configuration powered by a wa-a-a-ay set back Ford Cammer engine. Jack Chrisman built and ran the first of the right off showroom floor stockers with a blown NITRO burning engine. The fore runner of today's Funny Cars. The other, a flip top glass bodied beauty with another NITRO burning Cammer, all setting on a Logghe Brothers tube chassis. The Logghe Brothers also built the chassis for Bruce's USA 1 Camaro parked inside the barn.

Jim Barillaro's Chrisman's Comets. Photo by Paul Hutchins
Jim Barillaro's Chrisman's Comets. Photo by Paul Hutchins

Next in line... Joe Gerdleman's beautifully restored "Bounty Hunter." This is the one Connie Kalitta started his reputation as a ‘hitter' with. It's powered by a Hemi, but burned pump gas (remember NHRA's ill fated Fuel ban?). ‘Ol Conrad took this one out west from Michigan in the winter of '62 and the rest is history. Had a nice visit with Joe... showed him some of my old Atco photos, including a few of a blown Chrysler powered Chassis Research TE-440 that he used to campaign (see below). I watched him beat Joe Jacono's unbeatable Nailhead powered Lynwood (just had to mention a Lynwood ‘ya know) with this dragster back in '61. Joe shared some great stories about sluggin' it out with Jacono up and down the East Coast that I'll pass along at a later date.

Joe Gerdleman in the staging area at Atco N.J., 1961. Photo by Bob Monitzor
Joe Gerdleman in the staging area at Atco N.J., 1961.
Photo by Bob Monitzor

Okay... parked over by the shed we find the Hemi Hunter... a fuel burning Big Chevy powered digger with an S & W chassis. This one has been seen at shows all over this region and is a real ‘looker'. Gary Peters and crew, Dale, Carl, and Kent haven't had the opportunity to make it ‘Cackle' yet... but she sure looks pretty just sitting still. Gary is a frequent contributor to Draglist.com and has told some great stories about ‘Cacklin' when front engined dragsters were still new. It's always a pleasure to visit with these guys.

The "HEMI HUNTER" ... wish they'd park it in MY back yard! Photo by Paul Hutchins
The "HEMI HUNTER" ... wish they'd park it in MY back yard! Photo by Paul Hutchins

Next in line... George and Ken Kull's bitchin' Hill Brothers ‘Red Baron' '33 Willys coupe. This baby ran in the AA/GS (AA/Gas Supercharged) class back in the ‘Gasser Wars' days. I was living in Texas when this beauty was tearin' up the tracks in these parts... never got to see it run back then, but now it's a regular on the East Coast Gasser Circuit. This one was attracting a crowd all day... what a beauty. Uses a blown 426 Hemi for motivation. How about an 8.99 @ 163.63 best without all of those wings and stuff? Had an interesting conversation with Ken about the Hill & Zartman "Filthy Forty" Willys.

George & Ken Kull's '33 Willys. Photo by Paul Hutchins
George & Ken Kull's '33 Willys.
Photo by Paul Hutchins

As long as I'm outside, think I'll grab a bite at the caterer's truck. Damn good food. Good coffee too. It's starting to cloud up out here, seems like a good time to head back inside. Timed it just right too... Dave Heisey was working the crowd into a frenzy in anticipation of the drawings for the door prizes. I STILL say that Cobra that's always parked in the middle of the barn would make a great door prize. Bruce always says no.

But first, there are some awards to give out. Joe Amos and his Bee on Video Company has created a perpetual Nostalgia Dragfest Recognition Award to recognize and acknowledge the true "Hard Core Enthusiasts" of our sport. It's only fitting that the first names on the Award be those responsible for Dragfest in the first place... namely... Bruce Larson for giving us such a wonderful place to hold this event year after year, and Dave Heisey and Dick Gerwer for doing most of the ‘leg work' on this deal. It takes a lot of time and effort to stage such a consistently successful event. And guys, everyone appreciates your efforts. Thanks.

As soon as the awards presentation was over Darwin Doll (former NHRA Division 1 Director) and Bill Stiles (former NHRA Super Stock racer) took the mike to promote next year's " YORK US 30 Musclecar Madness " event to be held once again at the York Fairgrounds on July 11th & 12th

2003. Last year's Inaugural Event was a great success... look for even better things next year.

Check out www.yorkus30.com for updates.

Man, time flies when you're having fun, doesn't it? Seems like I've just got started really pouring on the B.S. to all who would listen, when I realize the place is about half empty (or is that full?)... The folks outside are putting their cars back in the trailers (hey, glad I don't have to drive down to Tennessee... I don't like their cops)... and it's gotten dark outside. It did cloud up late in the afternoon but no rain ever developed. You know, if I leave now, I'll get home in time to have a cold one and catch the season premiere of South Park. Now how can I turn that down? What a way to top off a great day out in the country.

Once again, thanks goes out to Bruce Larson... hey I forgot to tell ‘ya... there was a fire in the barn back in May. Fortunately, the fire was confined to the kitchen area and none of the priceless memorabilia or racecars were damaged. That's why this event was catered outside this year. This points out again the effort that the guys put into this event each year. Thanks once again. More old B.S. later.



Proud member of the Standard 1320 Group.

Thanks Bud.


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