NHRA Hot Rod Reunion – Battle at Bowling Green
Words and Photos by Mike Bumbeck
If the front engine Top Fuel rail dragster is the ultimate evolution of the original American hot rod then the 15th Annual Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky lived up to its name with three full days of blistering drag racing action, a giant show and shine, huge swap meet and drag racing greats not only celebrating tradition but tearing down big block Chevrolets and Hemis in between rounds before shaking the covered grandstands and hearts of fans with supercharged nitromethane-fueled mayhem.
Adding fuel to the drag racing and hot rod fire was a dual four car assault of nitro-huffing Fuel Altereds and Funny Cars along with hundreds of racers from an 18-car field of wheelstanding Geezer Gassers to period perfect doorslammers. Throw in three days of hot rods driven to show and shine and a slightly swampy swap meet and the big party was on. The Bluegrass State rolled out Southern hospitality and welcomed fans and racers from California to New York even if Thursday opened with a deluge of rain. Clouds parted by early afternoon with qualifying running into nightfall ahead of Kentucky-hot but rain free Friday and Saturday.
Show cars ranged from driven-in classics wearing some Kentucky mud and pristine restorations of historic drag racers to a Seventies custom show-circuit style Taco Wagon complete with a jar of pretzels on one fender and a rear quarter panel tap with hand lettering that spelled out the ongoing promise of free beer tomorrow. That future of complimentary beverages may or may not ever arrive but we do know that Show and Shine winners took advantage of the Saturday award ceremony location and motored down the quarter mile after Bob Frey presented the honors on the starting line.
Swap meet scores were out there with racers taking advantage of their early arrival to snag hardcore speed equipment from dual carb setups and fuel injection bug catchers to a new zsus fitting tool. Spin dizzies and slot mags were joined by flea market goods from rotary dial telephones to bobble head Ozzy Osbournes. As all that hoofing around trying to find a Thimble Drome Champion or Algon injector setup might work up a powerful hunger, the midway was peppered with BBQ, fried catfish, local Bruster’s ice cream and even the elusive fried bologna sandwich. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The catfish and sandwich experience satisfied.
It might be tempting to slot vintage racing into a nostalgia-hazed past but racers keep moving quicker through the quarter century since the first NHRA Hot Rod Reunion. Case in point at Bowling Green was one Jim “Holy Smokes” Murphy, who hurtled towards the future in his WW2 dragster with a 5.71-second 257 MPH Top Fuel event win over a dozen assembled competitors. Nitromethane circled back into tradition with a parade and of historic top fuel dragsters, coupes and funny cars that made up the famed Reunion Cacklefest. The nitro-fueled finish was a fitting conclusion to a NHRA Hot Rod Reunion that brought everything great about drag racing and hot rodding together in time.
The 15th Annual Holley Hot Rod Reunion is over for this year and we’re already looking forward towards a return to Kentucky for another triumvirate NHRA Hot Rod Reunion weekend of burnt rubber, nitro fumes, and accompanying drag racing thunder that is the Holley Hot Rod Reunion experience. The next NHRA Motorsports Museum combination of museum-in-motion tradition and grandstand-shaking drag racing action is coming right up October 20th-22nd at the 26th Annual California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, California. As the late, great Steve Evans would say…Be there!