Nitro Revival – Vintage Fuelers Light Up Laguna Seca
Last weekend’s Nitro Revival at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was a historic venture on many fronts. Held in conjunction with the track’s Spring Classic road race, the weekend was packed with 1960s and 70s era motorsport goodness.
Never before had period-correct Top Fuel dragsters graced the track’s hallowed grounds making the weekend historically significant. The sports car crowd as well as the WeatherTech Raceway staff seemed to embrace these fire-breathing monsters and all of the fans and noise that came with them. Staged in the large paddock area, the Nitro Revival offered wild machines, vivid colors, drag racing legends and plenty of that sweet nectar known as nitromethane. “We’re kind of a square peg in a round hole around here at a famous road racing track but our cars fit the vintage theme of the Spring Classic, so we decided to give it a try. We’re hoping they like us and will have us back to make a tradition out of it,” said event director Steve Gibbs. “I told our guys to be on their best behavior” Gibbs (below in center) chuckled.
The beauty of the Nitro Revival is the event format. Under Gibbs, the nitro guys are afforded the opportunity to “Fire at Will” in their pit space throughout the entire weekend leading to lots of fun with flames. The entire event is structured as loosely as possible giving everyone the freedom to just hang out, reminisce, light off their cars and connect with fans as well as old friends. We saw people we hadn’t seen in years.
Saturday was the apex of the weekend with the heaviest attendance as you might imagine. As soon as the gates swung open, hot rods and custom cars flocked to the paddock to park in “Ace’s Hot Rod Hangout” – a designated parking area for the gow jobs.
The highlight of the day for us was the 1pm dragster push start, just like they did it back in the 60s. Strapped in and suited up, the drivers waved their push cars for rolling fireups cackling up the pit lane bringing back a flood of memories for the assembled nitro junkies of decades past. Later that evening, every car was fired in the pits in what event organizers called the “Ring of Fire.” It was nitro overload!
There was also the Nitro Revival “Welcome Center” which housed an exhibit from the Jim McLennan Drag Racing Foundation – a neat program established by Jim’s son Bobby to give “Top Fuel Interns” a chance to work on a Nostalgia Top Fuel Car. “To goal of the Foundation is to promote drag racing and to encourage participation,” said Foundation president Bob McLennan. The program rolled out earlier this year at the March Meet in Bakersfield and successfully recruited 20 initial interns. To that end, the program is off to a successful start. Many artifacts from Jim McLennan’s historic drag racing career were on display including the first-ever fire suit – a crude yet effective fire retardant for the brave men who sat behind the fire-breathing engines. We loved it!
While we focused the majority of our attention on the cars and stars of the Nitro Revival itself, there was plenty of other action on the famed road course nestled into the hills above Monterey. We were especially smitten by the Can Am class. Mostly a field of Chaparral cars, they brought serious speeds and thunderous roars from their big block, stack-injected methanol-burning V8 monster motors. They had to be nearing 200mph on the straights. It was a site! Plenty of other support classes ran including the 1966-1972 Trans-Am 2.5-Litre class which had a large contingent of those familiar Datsun 510’s flying famous colors.
In walking the Nitro Revival pits and marveling at the machines, two cars jumped out at us. Art and Walter Arfons’ original Number 5 dragster was restored to its current glory by Arizona’s Jon Rowley. The massive 24-cylinder Allison V-3420 was presented exactly as it appeared back in the 1950s. The famed Arfons green shined bright. Just looking at the setup of this three-wheeled car blew us away. From the buggy spring front suspension to the double rear slicks to the airplane steering wheel it was clear these Akron, Ohio brothers were on to something. You know their story – Art eventually went on to run over 570mph in a jet-powered Green Monster streamliner at Bonneville.
In taking this all in it became clear that drag racing was the king of motorsport in its “Golden Age” of 1960 through the early 70s. The characters, the cars, the color, the pageantry and the bravado of the men and women who strapped into these marvelous machines was unparalleled. A group of friends could afford to pool their resources and build a competitive nitro car. Promoters were just as legendary as the racers with their “screamer” radio ads hailing fans to come to the track on “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.”
Money, corporate sponsorship and relentless pressure took the innocence and some of the ingenuity out of drag racing somewhere in the late 70s but events like this bring us back to ignite those magical memories. Gentlemen…Fire at Will!