Nitro Night Escondido – Fire, Flake and Fame
Nitro Night Escondido has given us a glimpse of what So-Cal Top Fuel Racing looked like back in the glory days. It’s come to be an event people relish.
Every Friday night from April through September, Grand Avenue in Escondido, Calif., is packed with nearly five hundred American-made hot rods, customs, classics, muscle cars and trucks, all cruising the main drag just like they did fifty years ago. What started with maybe sixty cars back in April of 2000 has grown into one of the most popular weekly cruise nights in the country, drawing over a quarter-million spectators annually.
Seventeen front-engine dragsters and fuel altereds from the golden age of drag racing rested quietly on display, but only until the sun went down. That’s when these fire-breathing machines would be brought to life with nitromethane running through their veins. Nitro Night in Escondido is the only place on the planet that you can see dragsters push-started down a city street, and nearly 25,000 nitro-craving fans turned out to see it.
This year’s event was held in honor of Ron “Big Yohns” Johnson, who passed away after Nitro Night last year. Johnson, who owned three famous front-engine fuelers, was a huge supporter of Nitro Night Escondido and the cackle car movement, which helps to find, restore, and preserve front-engine dragsters from the 1960s.
Hot rods began filling the streets early in the day, and the nitro cars took their place along Grand Avenue, allowing fans of all ages to get an up-close and personal look at these amazing machines that once covered the quarter-mile at over 200mph.
Drag racing legends always turn out for Nitro Night, and this year was no exception; “TV Tommy” Ivo, Carl Olson, Mike Kuhl, Tommy Allen, Walt Stevens, Gerry Glenn, Jimmy Scott, and Don Prieto were just a few of the drag racing stars in attendance.
Once the sun went down, the real show started. Bill Pitts, owner of the Magicar, emceed the event, giving fans a quick history lesson on each car as they roared to life. Pitts has a long history with this event as the Magicar was the first front-engine dragster to ever fire up at Nitro Night Escondido, and that was way back in 2001.
Two by two, the engines came to life as the cars were pushed down Grand Avenue before coming to a stop at the intersection of Grand and Broadway. The engines were thumping, flames belched from the pipes, spectators stood in awe as they plugged their ears, and the smell of nitro filled the air.
As that last pair of cars went silent, the crowd unplugged their ears and let out a thunderous round of applause. It didn’t matter if you were a first-timer or a seasoned veteran, everyone left wanting more. Cruisin’ Grand Nitro Night is truly a one of a kind experience.