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4th Annual National NHRA Hot Rod Reunion
Beech Bend Raceway Park
Bowling Green, KY
June 16-18, 2006
Pictures and Story By AB Shuman
12 Pages

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More widely known as the home of the Corvette and the Holley double pumper, Bowling Green, KY, is fast building a rep as the site of the NHRA National Reunion each mid-June. This was the 4th edition. Held to benefit NHRA’s Wally Parks Motorsports Museum in Pomona, Calif., it has quickly achieved must-be-there status because of the nostalgic racing, the personalities of yore and the collection of both wonderful and profane cars. The drawback is that the roads to the Beech Bend Park drag strip have become evermore clogged. But, then, gas is cheap in town,and the townsfolk tolerant.

Seriously rainy weather put the kibosh on the smoothly run formula of the past three years and only half of Saturday’s racing took place. Plus, the magical Cacklefest only saw two push-started cars, though these were Chris Karamesines’ Chizler “204 car” and Don Garlits’s Swamp Rat VIII clone. The rest were positioned on the strip’s centerline and cranked to life with starter motors. There was a strange mishap, though. The Pure Heaven AA/Fuel Altered Bantam lurched backward amid all the barking, snarling and blipping of nitro-fed motors and awesome yellow-green header flames, At last report, there were no serious injuries.

Rains on Sunday tabled the final round of Nostalgia Top Fuel, a match-up between the 2003 and 2004 events’ Top Eliminator, Sean Bellemeur (trying for a 3-peat ), and Adam Sorokin, son of Mike Sorokin, most famous as the driver of “The Surfers” Top Fuel slingshot of the mid ‘60s. Sean and Adam split the prize money and are scheduled to settle their battle at the 15th NHRA California Reunion in Bakersfield this fall.

( Personal note: At the end of December in 1967, I was on the starting line, in Mike Sorokin’s lane, at Orange County International Raceway in California, when Mike, driving for Tony Waters, was tragically killed during the meet’s Top Eliminator final. The flywheel in his rail separated from the crank in the timing traps, leading to a fatal crash. The Surfers had disbanded by then and he was temporarily driving for Waters. The errant flywheel, heated by the “slipper” clutch to a dull orange, exited the bellhousing, cut the dragster chassis in half, then, still glowing against the black sky, arced over the right guardrail. It’s a sad memory I’ll always carry. At the time, Mike Sorokin was perhaps the most popular dragster driver on the circuit, and -- like almost everyone else there that night ­ I was rooting for him.)

Friday, the 16th

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As has become tradition, after the awards presentations to the meet’s honorees, there’s a mini Cacklefest under the headquarters hotel’s portico. This year, it was Chris Karamesines’s famed Chizler, credited (though controversially) as the first dragsterto exceed 200 in the quarter. All that aside, it was a thrill for oldtimers to see it, much as it was in 1960, except for the provisions for a starter motor on the blower drive.

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Playing Beauty to The Greek’s Beast, Al Bergler’s magnificently restored and presented “More Aggravation” Bantam-bodied comp coupe also fired up after the ceremonies. Built on a Logghe Bros. chassis (the Logghes were among the evening’s honorees), it was raced from ’64-’66. It was also winner of the first Ridler Award.

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The parking lot held a feast for the eyes and hearts. New iron kept coming in. But, taking up two parking spaces, and entitled to, was an imaginative roadster that seems to have started as a Model A coupe and combined mid-Thirties Chevy front-end sheet metal and rockabilly touches for a (til-now, I bet) unique look. A Hemi-powered ’34-based sedan delivery looked fine, too.

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“Wallys” at attention.

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Dave McClelland presided over things and handled last-second no-shows with his usual aplomb.

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First award went to mid-Atlantic super stock and funny car hero Malcolm Durham, presented by museum curator Greg Sharp and accepted by Malcolm’s son Bernard.

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Steve Gibbs was recognized for his role in championing the Bakersfield and Bowling Green reunions and creating Cacklefests as prime parts of the events.

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Tony Thacker, a Brit well-known in U.S. hot rod circles and at Bonneville, is the new honcho of NHRA’s museum

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Even as the awards were still being given out, expectant crowds started gathering around the Chizler. At the appointed time, Bergler ran his yellow fellow first, to the applause of the crowd, but having Karamesines saddle up in his ride, dressed in a short-sleeved shirt bearing a possibly Greek design motif, was too much. All jammed in.

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Jim Adolph, at rear with Dale Funk, gave a thumbs a thumbs up when it appeared all was in readiness

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This is what it felt like the instant the Chizler fired, with huge snootfulls of nitro spewing from the weedsweeper headers bringing hapless bystanders to their knees. This was the first time in more than 40 years Karamesines fired the old car.

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Folks could either plug their ears or shield mouths and noses, but didn’t have enough hands for both. Never, since Ozzy Osborne at 170 dB, has entertainment been so punishing

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Not bad, said the man after it was done.

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Ron Johnson, of www.cacklefest.com, was instrumental in getting the car out of hibernation in Don Garlits’s Ocala museum and putting things together so it could be at Bowling Green, running

 

 

 

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