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Car Show: 10th Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion

10th Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion

Beech Bend Raceway, Bowling Green, KY
Friday, June 15, 2012
Photos by: Charles Shotwell

Tuesday, June 12, the Princess and I left Stafford, VA and motored west for the 10th NHRA Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, KY.  We attended the event in ’04 & ’05 but then the Princess had a boss change and the new regime didn’t allow school bus drivers to escape the last two weeks in the school year….which always coincided with the timing of this event.  But this year the Princess was retiring in June so she decided to retire a few weeks early which allowed us to attend the event this year.  I had been working on problems with our truck and did not get it finished in time for the trip….so we took our daily driver…we were going to make the pilgrimage to Bowling Green even if we had to take a cab!  It is 651 miles to the event so this time we decided to break it in two parts and our first stop was Huntington, WV. 

Wednesday we arrived in Bowling Green about 1PM and after checking in at the Hilton Garden Inn we decided to re-acquaint ourselves with the area.  We checked out the route to the Park and it was as we remembered it from seven years ago.  As you may know I like airplanes as much as cars and while going over some of the information about Bowling Green I discovered they had an airpark….cool!  We found the Airpark on the outskirts of the town and the three aircraft displayed there represent people that lived in and around Bowling Green.  The F-4D on display is General Dan Cherry’s actual airplane he flew in Vietnam when he and his WSO, Jeff Feinstein, downed a Mig-21…. There is more to that story….but for another time.  After we left the Airpark we explored more of Bowling Green and decided to call it a day while watching all the hot rods coming into town for the event.

Thursday we left early after breakfast and headed for Beech Bend Park.  We parked by the entrance gate then moseyed into the event.  I noticed there was a vendor renting golf carts near the gate….who would want a golf cart at an event like this?  Yeah....who….  We walked through the hot rods and other special cars, taking pictures on the way to the vendor area to pick up our goody bags.  Most of the event vendors were set up.  Holly, NHRA, Hot Heads, AAA and many others were selling their wares and networking with customers and potential customers.

Over the years of attending various events we have found that each one has a “personality” and this one is very different.  At all “car show” type events the show is the deal and anything else just is incidental to and in support of the show.  At Bowling Green the NHRA has wisely made the ‘car show’ the incidental part.  The nostalgia racing is the deal….everything else supports that focus!  The last time we attended in ’05 we set up our hot rod but didn’t put up the chairs or canopy.  We left the car and didn’t return till the event was over for the day.  There is so much to do that is much more interesting than sitting in a chair behind a hot rod.  The show venue is amazing with green rolling hills, mature trees and asphalt paths winding through the whole area.  You pretty much park where you want!  Thursday the qualifying and testing started around 10 AM and continued all day!  We sat in the bleachers for a while….then checked out the vendors again….then looked at some of the cars in the “show”….then walked around in the pits….then back to the bleachers and the racing.  I’ll tell you that if you get bored at this event you must have latte in your veins and unless you get a nitro transfusion there is no hope for you. 

A word about the bleachers.  I don’t know how old these bleachers are but I found 6 different coats of paint on the seats!  They are metal framed wood seat & back affairs that could have come from an old theater or lecture hall.  They were made for little people so if you are man sized like myself they are a little….um….tight!  They have a size 15 seat and my seat is a size 400.  I and many other patrons kind of wedge ourselves into the seats, I still have bruises!  But the bleachers have backs on the seats and the roof keeps the sun and rain out!  They really are OK but if you’re not a runway model you may have to endure a little with these seats….and we did….and will again next year!  The bleachers on the pit side have more lateral room but no back….it’s a trade off.  And….AND….a big consideration of using the bleachers is that they are very close to the permanent restrooms.  These facilities are so welcome to event goers that are a little long in the tooth like us.  They were always clean and stocked with paper and soap….for those of you with portapottiephobia you have no worries at this event!  We men don’t really care about such things because the whole planet is our restroom.  But the Princess whines incessantly if she isn’t happy with the restroom facilities….she is so dainty, did I ever tell the story about the pea and the mattress….did I say that….whew!

We left the track around 5 PM and headed for the Steak ‘N Shake by our hotel, I love these places and I have eaten at the original one in Normal, IL back in the ‘50s.  After that we cooled off in our room a while before heading to the cruise at the host hotel across the street from ours.  About 6:30 we walked to the cruise and found many, many hot rods already there!  We had seen some of the cars at the Park earlier in the day but many different ones were cruising in to the deal. It was evolving into a robust selection of all types of cruisers.  Some of the vehicles were trailered to the hotel and the owners just drove them around for the weekend’s event.  Some drove their rides all the way from home….which might be Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, California and all points of the compass.  Drivers, it’s what a cruise should be for.  Race cars need trailers, hot rods don’t.  After we walked around the cars we went across the street and set up our chairs next to a local gentleman with a nice Nova, and watched the evening unfold.  The cruising cars came and went on the street in front of us….some went quickly and loudly….hehehehe.  We called it a day around 9:30 and retired to our room but we were able to hear the cruising festivities continue well into the night.

Friday morning we decided to set up our chairs at the gate to the Park and photograph all the cars coming into the event.  This was a good idea but next year we need to position ourselves better with the sun at our back and a better photo background, we are always learning. The background was neat though, one of the few all wood roller coasters in the Country.  We stayed there till 10 AM when I checked out the golf cart rental vendor again.  Our plan was to rent a cart, cruise the whole event & take pictures then later in the day we would retreat to the bleachers to round out the day.  But….no golf carts unless I had a ‘reservation’?  No reservation, no cart!  Since neither the Princess nor I get around well enough to walk all day we decided to park ourselves in the bleachers for the rest of the day.  The racing was great….so many old cars.  At one time the staging lanes were full of Willys gassers then the Mopars would take over the lanes with the Super Stock cars.  And they have a “Hot Rod” class that I may have to check out, it looks interesting.  Around 11 AM a Vette blew an oil line during his burnout and the strip was closed for cleanup for about an hour.  After that the racing continued till about 5 PM when the rain started.  Yeah it rained, not a lot but enough to shut down the track.  We worked our way back to the motel and were too tired to attend the festivities at the host hotel….we heard them though!  Grin

Saturday we got an early start to beat the crowd….wrong….the crowd beat us, must be a different time zone or something!  It took us about an hour to reach the Park and then the Constable would not let us park by the main gate as we had done the day before!  I told him I needed to be close because of my ankle reconstruction….he asked to see my handicap permit.  I don’t have one so he said I had to park in the general spectator lot.  After more conversation he said I could park in the handicap area which helped a lot.  The uneven ground, although picturesque is treacherous footing for me and I don’t need to shatter the bone grafts and/or eject the pins & bolts in my ankle.  Next year we will have the hot rod so parking will not be an issue.  We stayed in the bleachers all day….yes, all day….about 12 hours!  We moved around some but for the most part we were in the same area all day except for using the restrooms or getting food.  Oh yeah….the food.  The food vendors were great, the quality was above average for race track fare and the price was not too hateful.

The racing was the best….everything from stockers to Top Fuel.  The gassers and altered were my favorites.  I have not seen a AA/FA field this large since the 60’s!  The Winged Express was running with Bradford’s, Rat Trap, Nanook and four others.  You cannot imagine the flashbacks I was having watching those cars.  There were many gassers and the ‘Hot Rod’ class was well represented.  The junior fuelers were everywhere….I didn’t know that class still existed, they are a hoot.  The track was fouled a couple times to the point it took over an hour to clear it.  Then at 4:10 it started to rain.  And rain.  And rain some more….big rain….trash floating rain!  Dave McClelland, NHRA announcer, kept reassuring us that the remaining events would happen in spite of the rain.  Really?  The strip had 4” of water on it!

After about 2 ½ hours of intense work by the track crew the activities resumed to include a run by two jet cars!  The winners of the car show were recognized and allowed to parade down the track.  One of the winners was a primered ’62 Chevy that the owner and her dad had built.  They were driving it across the Country….  “See the USA in your Chevrolet” came to mind and the lifetime of memories they are building reminded me of the ’62 Chevy we bought for our youngest daughter when she was in high school and the fun times we had with that car.  Making memories….  After all the racing and demonstrating was complete and darkness was overtaking us….the part of the weekend that most of us were waiting for began to unfold….The Cacklefest.

The Cacklefest began in 2000 at the California Hot Rod Reunion held near Bakersfield, CA at Famoso Drag strip.  It was envisioned to be a small addition to the event but it has grown to one of the main reasons some attend the reunions.  Old dragsters, funny cars, altereds are fired up and parked on the drag strip in front of the grandstands….they idle till they get too hot or run out of fuel.  The smells, sights and sounds are memorable….and at night the fuelers are blowing fire!  It’s an encounter to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

As usual AAA, Holley, Dynamat, Heacock, Hot Heads, SoffSeal, Justice Bros, NHRA and the town of Bowling Green put on an event to remember.  Be sure to check out the over 850 pictures and the 1 hr 27 min video I took, I know it’s a lot to absorb but it will give you a flavor of the event and hopefully you will be as excited as we are about attending next year.  And NHRA announced that they will be having a new Reunion at New England Dragway next year in September.  Can’t wait for that!



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