2019: A BANNER YEAR FOR VINTAGE RACING IN THE UPPER MIDWEST

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2019: A BANNER YEAR FOR VINTAGE RACING IN THE UPPER MIDWEST


When the Chrome Czars Motor Club began staging the Hunnert Car Heads Up at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, few believed that vintage drag racing would sustain itself over the long term. After all, they reasoned, there aren’t enough old cars left, and few would pay to watch them.

Now, as the second decade of this century comes to a close, the non-believers have been proven wrong, as vintage drag racing in the Upper Midwest is on solid footing, with racers and spectators supporting multiple events at multiple tracks.

What makes these events work? Pre-1967 vintage and accurate recreation machinery, owned and built by those revere them. A multi-generational participant and spectator base, from those “that were there” to today’s hot rod lifestyle crowd. Enthusiastic support from the owners of iconic drag strips. And in a throwback to the day before the sanctioned season-long points chase had not even been conceived, highly organized car clubs that plan and operate much if not all of the race day activities.

We’ll look back at the events of 2019, and look forward to what’s coming in 2020.

Great Lakes Dragaway Out-A-Sight Drags

2019 Out-A-Sight Drags Photo Gallery

Wisconsin natives Marge Bennett and her husband Lynn observed hot rod fever overtaking Southern California’s youth in the immediate post-WW II years. After returning to Southeast Wisconsin, they purchased farmland on the Kenosha/Racine county line with the intention of building a drag strip catering to the dozens of car clubs that had sprung up as hot rodding spread East.

The Bennetts then enlisted over a dozen Milwaukee area clubs to help build Great Lakes Dragaway. Once the track was completed in 1955, these clubs then organized the racing under the auspices of the Great Lakes Timing Association.

Today, with 64 continuous seasons under its belt,  GLD has been a part of the present vintage drag racing scene from Day 1. As the original host track of the Hunnert Car Heads Up in 2009, to 2019’s inaugural Out-A-Sight Drags, conceived and organized by the Brew City Gassers, this track is truly reliving its history.

This photo from September of 1961 shows a dragster hazing the tires as it goes past the old mid-track tower at Great Lakes Dragaway. To the right of the tower are signs for many of the car clubs active at the time. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Dragaway archives.

 

Nostalgia Gassers Association members Steve Bacon in the “Innocent Rascal” ’41 Willys coupe and the ’33 Willys pick-up of Bryan Huffman clear the traps.
Randy Winkle of the famed Famoso Speed Shop brought the “One Bad Hombre” Fuel Coupe to Out-A-Sight Drags and wowed the crowd with big burnouts and 8 second runs.
Brent Henry hikes the nose of the “Big Iron” altered wheelbase Plymouth Fury. This is a real deal steel “match bash” car with decades of runs to its credit, and is powered by a injected Chrysler HEMI.
The 1962 Corvette of John Reidenbach traces its origins to the shop of legendary builders Dennis Rolain and John Buttera. For some reason the car left the R &B Automotive shop in the mid ’60’s unfinished but fairly complete. And it was left to be forgotten until Reidenbacher discovered it and finished the job, creating the performer you see here.
Great Lakes Dragaway make a point of honoring the people that made a name for themselves at this iconic track. On this day legendary drag bike builder and racer John Gregory was honored. Gregory’s most famous bike was the “Hogslayer”, a nitro fed twin engine Norton that carried T.C. Christenson to victory at the 1972 US Nationals and the 1976 NHRA Fuel Bike Championship. Presenting Gregory (middle) is his son Willy Gregory on the left, and Claire St George and Randy Henning of GLD to the right.
Also honored was one of the car clubs instrumental in Great Lakes Dragaway’s creation, the Milwaukee Artists Rod and Custom Club. This plaque, with an original club car plate now hangs in the track’s General Store. On hand were several descendants of the original members, whose name are inscribed.
The Out-A-Sight Drags is the brainchild of the Brew City Gassers. From Left, John Reidenbach, Carly Stupar, Mark Davis and Brad Jancarik. BCG has just announced that Out-A-Sight will return to Great Lakes Dragaway on June 26, 27 2020, with vintage drag racing action, a car show, swap meet and live bands.

 

 

Byron Dragway, Glory Days & Uncle Sam’s Pie Eating Contest


Glory Days – Photo Gallery

Rockford Dragway as it was originally known, was the brainchild of local entrepreneur Don Love. It opened for racing on July 4, 1964. Soon after track manager Ron Leek’s acquisition of the track in 1969, the name changed to Byron Dragway as it lies just outside the namesake town’s border.

Drawing on its rich history of events such as the annual Gasser Championships of the 1960s and early ’70s, Byron Dragway management is a proud supporter of vintage drag racing. Most significantly, Byron Dragway was the track that the founding members of the Meltdown Drags Association selected to hold the iconic Meltdown Drags for nine seasons.

Eventually, all good things come to an end, and MDA decided to put Meltdown on hiatus. With that news Byron Dragway’s B.J. Vangsness and Randy Simpson quickly established Glory Days under the same pre-1967 criteria of authenticity. Here is a recap of the inaugural Glory Days event.

With over 400 pre-registrations in hand months before the event, the inaugural Glory Days was on course to be a smashing success. However days before, the weather service was predicting extremely high temperatures and oppressive humidity for race weekend. This prediction proved accurate, with about half of the preregistered racers dropping out. Those that did choose to race were greeted by B.J. & Rhonda Vangsness and Randy Simpson at the morning driver’s meeting. “Race safe, race smart, have fun and drink plenty of water” was the rule of the day. 

Nostalgia Super Stocks Inc brought a large contingent of its machines to Glory Days, including Howard Crull’s true to the original 1965 Plymouth Savoy as campaigned by Larry Griffith and Ferris Motors 
Competing in the Hot Rod class, Ron Johnson’s post war sprint car is an honest vintage dirt track racer that has been a regular at several vintage drag races. Powered by a flathead Ford V8, it’s also street legal and Johnson drives it to and from Byron Dragway from his home near Rockford, IL.
Glory Days featured many front engine dragsters and Jimmy Collins’ “Mean Streak” represented all that’s great about these cars. Simple, effective, and fast with a blown small block Chevy between the King Chassis frame rails.
The ’55 Ford “Skairlane” of Jeff Jacobson is easily one of the most recognizable gassers in the nation. The screaming 427 SOHC powered beast has been a regular at vintage drag meets across the Midwest.
Mike Zeiminick made the long tow from Upstate New York with his AA/Gas Austin. Here he smokes ’em long and hard under Byron’s setting sun.
Larry Wolyniec cackles the “Nitro Syndicate” AA/FD under the lights In honor of the late Ron Leek, who passed away only a week before Glory Days. Ron was a huge supporter of vintage drag racing and was looking forward to being part of Glory Days. The community will miss him dearly and remember him always.

The 2nd Annual Glory Days will take place on July 17-19, 2020 with night racing on Friday and Saturday. As in 2019, a large swap meet and car show will also be a part of the weekend’s activities.

Byron Dragway also hosts another vintage drag race, Uncle Sam’s Pie Eating Contest, which is organized by Vintage Drag Racing 101. The premise is similar to the established pre-1967 rules, but all cars must be shod with pie crust slicks and run in class eliminations,. And no water box burnouts as there was no such thing in that era. Of course, an actual pie-eating contest is also part of the program.


 

 



 

The crew from Vintage Drag Racing 101 setting up at the 2nd Annual Uncle Sam’s Pie Eating Contest. (Photo courtesy of John Corrao)
Ron Perrin’s “Agitator” dragster was one of at least three USPEC entries with GM straight six power between the pipe. (Photo courtesy of John Corrao)

Vintage Drag Racing 101 and Uncle Sam’s Pie Eating Contest 3 will return to Byron Dragway on July 18, 2020, and will be held in conjunction with Byron’s 2nd Annual Glory Days.

Rock Falls Raceway Fall Out Drags

Fall Out Drags 4 Photo Gallery

 

Vintage Drag Racing 101’s Paul Zielsdorf and Smokey Moe Peterson lay out the rules for the racers.

In June of 1969, a new track opened just outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It was known as Amber Green Dragways and was founded by Dr. Ralph Frank of Eau Claire. Over the years as tracks in Minnesota fell, Amber Green, and later under its current name, Rock Falls Raceway, became home for many racers from Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Today Rock Falls is owned by Jim Greenheck, president of CTech Manufacturing. The facility is undergoing major upgrades to better serve both racers and spectators. 

Fast forward to 2015. With the success of the Meltdown Drags, Vintage Drag Racing 101 is considering another event. Looking Northwest they saw the untapped and enthusiastic market surrounding Minneapolis and St. Paul, and The Fall Out was born.

Held in the autumn as a closeout to the season, Fall Out has built on the success of each previous event and the 4th edition attracted more than 150 entries each day, and a sizable crowd on Saturday.  

 

 

Fall Out Drags encourages club participation. Few have as deep and continuous of a history as the Gopher State Timing Association. Established in 1954 as a consortium of smaller clubs to promote safe racing, GSTA has endured. This 217″ wheelbase dragster is their club car, the ninth that GTSA members have built and maintained over the years. At Fall Out 4, Tony Rea was the designated driver.
Bob Nieves, a member of the America’s 1320 Legends group, constructed this dragster in his garage to represent the type of machine that commonly raced in the early 1960’s. Equipped with a Nieves built 392 HEMI and stunning metalflake paint, the little digger shows as well as goes.
The proliferation of fiberglass bodies make the all steel “Psycho Pass” 1948 Ford Anglia of Rick Thomas special. The Dart Merlin 565 topped with a Dyers 6-71 blower makes it fast. This English Ford has been a drag racer for decades, with Thomas the caretaker for the past 7 years.
Mikey Brown’s “Seam Ripper” dragster is equal parts race car and show car. an amazing piece of rolling. The Chevrolet 220 CID straight six is smoothed to perfection, and it rests in a Cornfield  Customs built replica Chassis Research TE440 frame. Hiking the front end on low 15 second ET’s makes it a fun ride down the 1320. 
If you were around UDRA drag racing in the Midwest 50 years ago, you know this Henry J. Originally campaigned by Larry Vail, Gary Conkling, Wayne Shossie and Gregg Shosie beginning in 1964 with Chrysler power, it was consistent top 5 points finisher when the team sold it after the 1970 season. From there its whereabouts were reclusive until discovered in 2002 and an effort began to resurrect the Henry J. After years of painstaking work, it ended up with Tony Zompetta of Chicago. Wearing most of the paint it raced in 50 years ago, it’s now powered by a 377″ SBC and shifted with a Nash 5 speed. Zompetta now races it down some of the same tracks it originally ran in competition at.

The Fall Out Drags #5 is tentatively scheduled for September 25-26, 2020 at a significantly upgraded  Rock Falls Raceway. A car show and vintage parts swap meet will be included in the program.

 

 

 





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