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National Hot Rod Reunion 2004
The 2004 National Hot Rod Reunion - Bowling Green, Kentucky.
(See, also, David Dilbeck's 2004 National Hot Rod Reunion Photos.)
Attending the 2nd annual Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion presented by DuPont Automotive Finishes was never in doubt after my amazing experience at the inaugural event in 2003. I do have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about how many people, competitors and drag racing pioneers would be there after reports of high gasoline and fuel prices halting several well-known teams from making long and costly tows to Bowling Green. Well, it worked out just fine! Although several of last years' attendees were not present, many others filled the void. I didn't think it was possible, but I believe this years' reunion was even better than the first one!
The GeorgiaDragRacing.com gang (Fred Simmons, Mr. Ed Miles, Bob Beasley and myself) started our NHRR or bust journey by meeting the Georgia Shaker himself, Hubert Platt for breakfast (along with Hubert's son, grandson and friends). After the usual laughs and good times of a typical gathering with Mr. Platt, it was time to hit the highway bound for Kentucky.
Upon arrival at Beech Bend Raceway Park early Friday afternoon, we picked up our media credentials and headed in the gate. Upon entering the grounds, it happened again. Just as last year, I felt as though I had entered a time warp, spotting cars and drag racing stars from years gone by. Although it was brutally hot and humid, the emotions of knowing what a special event this is made me very appreciative of all the people that organize and sponsor the reunion. Thanks to Sam Jackson (Executive Director at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum), Bob Daniels (Event Director), Steve Gibbs (no introduction is needed for drag racing fans), and the countless others that helped put this amazing event together. I'd like to give a special thanks to Bill Groak and Michael Hollander of Pacific Communications Group for their usual fine attention to detail and allowing the guys from GeorgiaDragRacing.com to attend the NHRR again in 2004!
We only had a few hours to spend at the track before the media reception back at the hotel and the hours passed quickly as we toured the pits, took photos and watched the cars blast down the quarter mile track. Garlits, Ohio George, Raymond Godman, Preston Davis, George the Bushmaster Schrieber and Connie Swingle are just a few of the drag racing pioneers that were spotted during our fast paced afternoon at the drag strip.
We arrived at the reception to find a packed room and plenty of much-appreciated refreshments. The energy was flowing in anticipation of the awards ceremony that would soon follow. Art Malone, Jim and Alison Lee, Bill Smith, Bob Larivee, Sr. and Al Bergler all seemed to be enjoying themselves.
I had the pleasure of chatting with fellow Georgian, Tom Long at the reception. (Tom is the president of GMP - makers of fine diecast products. He was later given an award for his support of the NHRR.)
It was fascinating watching Linda Vaughn make her entrance (with family) and 'work' the room as only she can, radiating warmth and evoking smiles from everyone. I had been in contact with Ms. Vaughn and was hoping to find time to interview her for our book (Atlanta Drag Racing: The Golden Years by Marv Smith and me) while at the NHRR, but alas, Linda is just too popular! She was mobbed by friends and fans every time I saw her. I didn't have the opportunity to interview Ms. Vaughn, but I did get to meet her and she was gracious enough to pose for a few photos with me. Chatting with Jim and Alison Lee, Art Malone and Linda Vaughn will always be remembered!
The awards ceremony was next with Heritage Award Honorees Al Bergler, Bob Larivee, Sr., Jim and Allison Lee, Art Malone and Bill Smith being honored. As only he can do, Master of Ceremonies Dave McClelland painted a picture with his words and wove personal stories about each honoree into the presentation. Georgia's Linda Vaughn was the last to be honored when she was awarded the Justice Brothers Spotlight Award. Linda gave an emotional acceptance speech and was swamped with autograph requests after the ceremony.
It was then time for a little noise! The Mayor of Bowling Green, Sandy Jones, sat in the Frantic Four fueler as it was fired up outside the hotel amidst a huge crowd.
During the awards ceremomy I had the pleasure of sitting with Nancy Wilson, Hubert Platt, FE Bob Fermier, Billy West and Joe Jacono (and other family members and friends ). Nancy Wilson is the organizer of the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame and Reunion that is held each October in Henderson, NC. The ECDTHOF is another event that you don't want to miss! It was also great talking to Mike Couch, Cory Lee, Broadway Bob, Pat Foster, Eddie Vidrine and David Burlington again during another fun night in Bowling Green!
Arriving at the track early Saturday, I headed for the starting line as Fred, Ed and Bob checked out the car show and cruised the grounds. After shooting numerous shots of of drag cars, I made a trek into the pits to see what was happening there.
The Bob Sullivan Pandemonium Barracuda funny car (driven by Cory Lee at the NHRR) was right behind the grandstands and this was another car that I had always wanted to see! I had to go by and say hello to Bob Rosetty and Joe Jacono (and check out Lou Sgro's beautiful new car), Dan Storey (who bought Donnie Reeves' Hubert Platt Georgia Shaker Mustang clone and installed an engine and drive train for this years' event), Rick Stambaugh, Dave Hale, Gene Altizer, Porky Zartman, Donnie Reeves (Southern Shaker '72 Mustang funny car - SOHC powered), Bob Gibson (Hang 'Em High Mustang funny car), John Denski (Ramchargers Demon funny car ), David Fortenberry (another guy that I had never met, but 'knew' via the Internet), Tom Whitfield (GeorgiaDragRacing.com's #1 Fan! Thanks for all of your support, Tom.), FE Bob Fermier (diehard Ford racer) , Don Ross (The Scorpion), and Mark Janaky (another Internet pal of several years that I'd never met).
I also ran by the NitroGeezers tent to say hello to George Crittenden and got to meet Paul Hutchins and Ken Kull while I was there. Its always great to put a face with the names on the Internet groups.
One of the highlights of the trip happened Saturday afternoon when Fred Simmons and I struck out to find Denny Fenstermaker. We found Denny and his restored Roger Gates driven Chevy-powered front engine dragster and had a great visit! Denny is from Valdosta, GA and he and his family are to be commended for their efforts to restore and display the dragster. Without going into detail, Denny has some health problems that make his efforts with the dragster all that more amazing. George Crittenden awarded Denny the Spirit of the Reunion Award from NitroGeezers.com and he couldn't have presented it to a more deserving person! Congratulations, Denny!
Another highlight was seeing Joe Jacono get back behind the the wheel of his '73 funny car, the Rollin' Stoned Barracuda now owned by Bob Rosetty. Joe layed down a super smoker and then proceeded to drive into a wheels-up run (at least a couple of times!). I was amazed that Joe didn't stuff it into the wall. (I owed Joe that one for the remarks he keeps making about my camera!) Bob said that it was pretty strange seeing his car going down the track without him in it.
To me, the best part of the NHRR happens on Saturday evening. Night fuel qualifying and CACKLEFEST! I have to tell you, seeing Linda Vaughn waving and bowing as she led off the Cacklefest parade on the Hurst Golden Shifter Oldsmobile pace car and Big Daddy bringing up the rear reminded me of the first time I saw those two 32 years ago at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, FL! The Cacklefest alone was worth the price of admission with 23 cars cackling, snorting and flaming!
Sunday's eliminations resulted in these winners:
Top Fuel: Sean Bellemeur
Open Fuel: Jim Swedberg
Jr. Fuel: Scott Parks
Nostalgia Competition: Tommy Cook
Nostalgia Gas: Tony Feil
Classic Super Stock: Butch Pritchett
Oldies: Mary Ann Cooke
Quick 64: Dean Talley
Grumpy Gassers: Jim Wilkins
Over 1050 cars were entered in the SoffSeal Show 'n Shine contest and nearly 400 cars competed in the drag racing portion of the event - the only thing negative that I can say about the NHRR is there were so many things going on that I wasn't able to see them all! See you next year!
See, also, David Dilbeck's 2004 National Hot Rod Reunion Photos