I often think about why I love the stuff I do, this American adventure has given me a stack of time on the road to analyse the adventure I have been on. I dont think it would be half as enjoyable as its been so far if I hadn’t of wanted to do it for so long.
I know this because I have felt this feeling before.. It was 2010 and I had planned a trip to Japan to see Japanese drifting for the very first time, I remember spending 10 years looking and reading about the cars before I finally saw them in the flesh. The feeling of such moments is indescribable, the feeling is heightened by being in a foreign land and everything around you is new and exciting.
The Californian Hot Rod Reunion was my goal of this trip, the build of the bike and the ride was to compliment the adventure and complete a goal that I had for a long time. Rolling down Highway 99 bound for Bakersfield the excitement grew with every mile, the realization that I was about to be confronted by my mechanical idols became more and more apparent the closer I got.
Pulling up at Auto Club Famoso and walking through the gates to the sound and smell of large capacity V8’s burning Nitromethane was like walking into another world, these cars and their pilots are the stuff of legends and to have them still alive and operating in my lifetime was a moment in time that I will never forget. Why I love them so much I will never know but to be graced by their presence sure is an intimidating feeling.
The above shots are with my film camera, I took two rolls of film at this event and the photos above are the only ones I actually like, it sucks because I thought I was getting what I needed and now to get home and develop the film it turns out I just didn’t have my brain switched on, Ill try again in another three years time.
The following photos are from my normal camera, they dont keep with the theme of the era but at least I have something to show for the event and to give these cars the justice they deserve. .
I spent the friday afternoon just getting a feel for the event, walking the perimeter and checking out the pits.
There was a swap meet going on and I was happy that I had no temptation to purchase anything, because how was I going to carry it?
I could have bought a truck to carry it all?
I was just fizzing out at the level of cool everywhere I went.
For me Southern California drag racing in the 60’s and 70’s is the epitome of cool.
There’s this laid back middle class working man/ no bullshit/ surfer culture thing happening and I love it.
There is a level of ingenuity that I love aswell.
Companies were born in these times and have seen the progression of speed first hand.
Everything associated with drag racing just became another tool for expression.
The parts are still available to re create it aswell.
There are certain components that I have grown to love, headers, magnesium rims, magnetos just to name a few.
The sounds of it all!
Quick tip, either bring your lawnmower or a comfortable pair of shoes because it just goes on and on!
I didn’t think I was hungry till I walked past this guy, mouth watering American style BBQ and beans.
Hey kids……. DONT.
Some may love this style others may not, I am a huge fan!
An Elcamino is a beautiful thing.
Throwing a set of big slicks on it, a straight axle and a big block engine all make this beautiful and mean!
Keeping with the theme I guess.
Wheelie cars were a thing back in the day, this Econoline was a good example with the engine mounted way back it would be a simple thing to stand up.
The older I get the more I love just seeing cars that reflect the era they probably would have been styled in, you could imagine this setup in the very beggining of Nascar.
Long wagons look longer on the ground.
The term “Funny car” in drag racing originated from these altered wheelbase machines.
Its all about getting that weight over the rear tyres.
The perfect example to show you the distance changes.
Late model modified versions of older trucks are nice but just seemed a little out of place in this paddock.
15 inch wheels will always be king!
Every time I walked past this I just had to stop and stare.
Getting down the bottom end of the racetrack there were more and more amazing machines.
Some in their pits.
Some returning from their runs.
It’s incredible to see different styles on similar chassis.
I love everything about this event.
How they get to it is another show all in itself.
Just so much to see.
I was done in the pits so I decided to head back up to the track.
But it is worth the walk to see the drivers fresh from their ride of a lifetime.
It was then at that moment the guys fired up the car and filled the air with the most incredible sounds and smells. I got in a little close and with one hit of the accelerator I took a little too much Nitro onboard, my eyesight started narrowing and my sinuses started going into shock, I backed away and gave myself a little breather to allow everything to return to normal.
As I looked around I started to really appreciate the freedom these guys have at the racetrack, dogs, cigarettes, alcohol, motorcycles, buggies, no helmets, people free to roam everywhere, I hardly saw a security guard and it made me love this enviroment so much more. We have lost nearly all freedoms and self control in Australia, sure safety is a good thing but self regulation and the power it gives to the individual to control their own selves is a right we have long said goodbye to and its sad.
This machinery is really something special.
To combine such speed and style with such raw mechanical aggression continues to amaze me.
I mean who was the first guy to decide that a 392 Blown Nitro Hemi with a Fiat Topalino body was a good idea? I praise that man!
Nothing was off limits.
History in good hands.
For me its the front engine dragster that makes me so happy to be here.
It’s the shape, the texture, the mechanical composition of every single thing on these machines that completes me.
Not a single thing is unattractive.
I mean look at it!
Hold on for 7 seconds and pray your alive at the end.
In their hey day these drivers were simply test pilots, they raced in T shirts till a few guys burnt to death, they raced without scatter shields on their clutches until a few guys lost their legs, they cradled 1500hp of exploding Nitromethane and sent them down the track at over 200mph for a good time.
These racers were marketed to the public as “Death Matches” and as per motorsport in the 1950’s and 60’s were quiet often scenes of accidents resulting in deaths.
But there’s still legends left that have tales of survival and those stories get told each year at the Hot Rod Revival. Don Prudhomme affectionately known as the Snake is 76 years old, its no mean feat and is living proof that Nitro and near death experiences are good for you.
Some have been around for a while.
While others take on a new era.
Meet Andi Huminek and his girl Tori.
Andi is a fabricator and also had a hand in resurrecting a number of these cars to their former glory.
I just love Andi’s car and the way hes put it together.
I met Andi and I cant thank him enough for letting me sit in this. Once inside I started to really understand these guys.
Your manhood is firmly pressed against the diff, your shoulders curved with the cockpit radius, your right foot on the accelerator and the left on the clutch, these cars dont have a gearbox, they simply have a spline drive that you can manually slip out to disconnect the driveline for warmups.
Before starter packs were a thing these cars were push started.
They would come up the track and get push started then turn around and line up, imagine having 1500hp controlled by your left foot, I know when I am nervous at an event my clutch foot twitches, these guys dont have the option to bump it into neutral, once the engines lit your in for the ride of your life.
Braking is a simple hydraulic hand operated lever that clamps the rear disk brakes, these guys mostly steered with one hand and used the brake to try and gain traction, remember this was before slipper clutches and as soon as you left the line it was a 1000 foot direct drive burnout sometimes with the front wheels lofting in the air.
Bill owns the Magicar
He and his friends are on a mission to keep the era alive.
I am thankful that he shares this knowledge with the world.
The majority of the cars current owners where kids when when this was happening at their local drag strip, sadly a lot of their favorite drivers and their local racetracks aren’t around anymore and I struggle to see how a lot of these cars will stay operational in the next 50 years.
A lot of the builders expressed concerns that their parts suppliers were diminishing and the ease of building cars is also decreasing at a rapid rate. More and more parts have to be made from scratch, parts can be made but its the knowledge and craftsmanship of the original pioneers that gets buried with the brilliant minds that developed this sport.
But you just have to appreciate the moment and celebrate its past.
And the traditions that live on.
The days turned into nights.
With the sun setting the action heats up.
The final clearances are nipped up and its time to make fire.
Some cars bare a little current technology.
Which allows them to race today and comply with the current rule book.
When you see a car like this eat up 1320 feet in just over 5 seconds it makes your mind melt.
Waiting around in the lanes.
The crowd poised for the cackle fest!
The cars ready to fire.
Pushed down the track and fired to life.
A 392 Hemi on Nitromethane is the best sounding thing in the world.
I can say that for a fact.
Because its the complete experience, the violence of exploding nitro, the way you can feel it in your chest, the sensory overload of the nitro entering your body and most of all the fact that its history being repeated in my own lifetime.
If you ever have the chance you need to experience this event for yourself.