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Inaugural NHRA Hot Rod Reunion

story and photos by Dennis Sammon

The Inaugural NHRA Hot Rod Reunion was Held June 19-22, 2003 in Bowling Green, Kentucky at the beautiful Beech Bend Raceway. The show posters and flyers first caught my attention because of the deuce roadster on them, and after receiving a very extensive brochure in the mail that spelled out all of the cool stuff that was planned.....I was in. Plus, there were several folks planning on building gasser drag cars just for the event. You know how it is, someone mentions a show and it’s sounds really cool, it gets your high octane flowing and next thing you know you’re making hotel reservations. Then, you just can’t wait, you get the car together, get your stuff packed a whole month prior to leaving, get your buddies together at lunch to run down the game plan.....and you’re still weeks away from take-off. Well this show was no exception, and YES, it was everything we were looking for in a show, plus it had nostalgic drags too!

The “crew” heading to ol’ Kentuck consisted of Al “Wildman” Washburn driving his tan Ford Deuce, the Rev. Craig Suman in his ‘48 Olds Convertible, Bill Carrol and his awesome Anglia, yours truly in the Cranberry ‘32 Ford roadster, and bringing up the rear as support vehicle was Alvin “Whispering” Write in his Panther Pink Dodge Dakota.

We met in Cocoa at 5 am to beat the afternoon storms, which was early, but proved to be a good start. We made it to the Okahumka Plaza on the Turnpike to meet Bill Carrol from South Florida. After a quick fuel stop and some breakfast to go, we were on our way to Ocala where we took Highway 27 to Cheifland and met up with F L A Roadsters member Jim Niblett. Jim was in town just to visit and cruise with us a bit before pealing off in a homeward direction. We made good time along 27, which by the way, is a great road, if you ever need to run in that direction towards Tallahassee check it out.

A lunch stop in the Capitol proved to be a wet one when the afternoon storms showed up and kicked our butt....well at least me, the one with no top. Being the adventurous (?) one, I decided to drive thru it and keep on track to Montgomery, AL, after a few quick rain squalls thru Alabama we were pretty much done with the bad weather and it was smooth sailing to I-65 (via SR 84 to 231) and then to Priceville, AL, where we found a decent hotel for a great price. The pool and refreshments were a welcome site for our road weary selves.

The next morning (Thursday) was interesting with fog that was thick as BBQ sauce, and every grass hopper in the area was attached to Bills bright turquoise Anglia. Geeee, I’m jealous, the only thing attracted to my cranberry color is mud.

After a quick kick start to Craig’s car, and we were breakfast bound. The trip thru Tennessee was scenic, Bowling Green was in our sites now and we made fast work of I-65 en route to Reunion time. We found our MicroTel, checked in, freshened up, and bee-lined it to the host hotel for registration. Cruising thru town toward the Holiday Inn at University Plaza was good, and there were plenty of places to eat and water the horses.

That afternoon was the start of all activities at the host hotel. This was the place to be for sure. Some really cool cars, really great people and neat race cars. 5 o’clock was the kickoff to cruise the streets of BG and then wind up at the Corvette Museum. The local Police force stopped traffic for us as we sped (?) thru the streets on our way to Fiberglass Heaven. The Museum was something to see, but I would have much rather gone thru the Corvette assembly plant instead. That will be on the agenda for next year.

Friday came around, and we were ready for some racin’. The traffic was fine until we hit the entrance to the track, basically the entry way is about a 1/2 mile of hills and winding roads shaded with large oak trees. Very nice, and perfect for some Kodak moments with pastures all around you (which made waiting in traffic a little easier). Once we got to the show area, we were set, plenty of parking and trees with grassy areas everywhere. The paved streets winding around the whole area was perfect for cruising throughout the afternoon.

The Grand Marshal for the event was the infamous Bob Glidden. There were other Honorees in attendance as well, like Don Garlits, Jack Chisenhall, Angelo Giampetroni, Kenny Hirata, Raymond Godman and Frakes & Funk.

The greatest thing about Beech Bend Raceway is that ALL of the spectator seating is covered. Yes, I said covered, as in SHADED. Something that most, if not all, racetracks should consider. It made for pleasant viewing of all the races; and what great races they were. Blasts from the past: funny cars, altereds, gassers, rails, super stockers. The only cars that weren’t represented that I found amazing were the altered wheelbase cars. They may have been at the Chrysler Classic show up the road in Cincinnati that same weekend.

I had wandered thru all of the show car area, swap meet and then next stop was the pits to check out some race cars. It was bitchin’, there were cars that I remember, some I didn’t and wish I had, but I still snapped shots of everything I could. One of the cars that I remember from days when I was long ago, was the “Color Me Gone” Plymouth. See, my love for Mopars started young. I remember seeing it at Speedworld in Orlando in the mid-sixties, and I’ve always had a special spot in my heart for that race car. While walking around with Al, I got to meet the original driver/owner, Roger Lindamood. What a thrill for me, and Al got to see his old buddy again. Seems Roger and Al used to drive funny cars during the same period and talked about the old times. How cool is that?

After a full day of drooling at Beech Bend Raceway we were ready for the evenings activities. Friday night was killer. There were cars to the left, there were cars to the right, double parked and piled high. Now THIS place rocks! After sundown a rollback showed up with one of the show cars from the museum/reunion, the Jade Grenade. An awesome front engine ride with one baddazz blown Hemi. After a while they decided to crank up the ol’ Grenade and shake the tourists in town......which they did with unanimous approval by everyone.

One of my favorites, and I think everyone else’s, was George Poteets ‘32 5-window. Black as can be with beautiful pale yellow wire wheels. The really cool part were the bent wishbones, slotted, filled, chromed and they matched the slots in the chromed dropped front axle. The rear quick change suspension was just as perfect as the front setup. A ‘40 dash, with white and pale yellow interior. It was a beautiful piece for sure.

That evening while making it back to our hotel we had a surprise waiting for us....actually several. The Wisconsin boys, John Roetzer and Glen Heflen, our members from the great white north showed up. Seems they were in the neighborhood, on their way back from the LA Roadster show. Glen just finished his ‘32 Hudson, what a big ol’ cool car and in awesome shape for being from the tundra. It seems fitting for Glen to have a large car to house his 6’ 2” frame. Johns ‘32 roadster was cruising along in primer.... I mean, suede. I guess the priority was getting the Hudson done as opposed to paint on the roadster this year. It still looks great. Traveling along with the boys were a ‘34 Ford Cabriolet, a ‘55 Ford Fairlane, a ‘55 Chevy and a ‘27 Star (yeah I’d never heard of one either, but it was a neat car). It was great to see the guys again and catch up on all of the events from the last time we met up.

Saturday rolled around, and after a quick breakfast we were all off to the Show. My cranberry cruiser, Al in his tan hiboy and Bob Simons in his killer black roadster led the pack of cheese heads. We got a late start compared to the day before....bad call on my part. The whole city turned out for this show and it was bound up from the get-go. Two hours worth of traffic. I don’t know what happened to the traffic patrol we had on Thursday night, but they were nonexistent on Saturday. NOW was the time we needed traffic control the most. Something I’m sure they will straighten out for next year. The weird part was it was opposite from the day before. I mean, once we hit the beautiful track entrance, it was smooth sailing into the show, with no evidence of a tie up anywhere. Oh well, let’s get to parking and enjoy ourselves. After being in the hot sun and traffic we were ready for some shade. Luckily we found a shaded hillside that worked out perfect.

Swap meet time! Did you see the 3 killer roadsters from Michigan? Did you see the Hemi car that yanked the wheels half way down the track? Did you see Brandon Atwood’s rat rod truck? It’s now a roadster pickup. Did you see the girl in the....? Oh, never mind. You get the idea. Everyone was wandering in a daze, wondering what to check out next.

We ran into our fellow Floridians, Larry B and his Model A, Chip Fair in his ‘72 3-door Suburban (winner of a Top 40 Award), Curtis Dorman totin’ some kinda Hemi part, Fred and Maryland Loomis, Phil Westbay both in their red roadsters, Gary Moore in his gasser Rambler wagon, Vintage Speed’s Charley Price, and of course the main Mopar Man, Jimmy Turman in his Hemi powered ‘32 Plymouth drag car.

Although we met a few of the Honorees, they were all around and socializing. I did meet Gene Winfield who was actually at the hotel parking lot the night before. What a great guy, super nice and he was really enjoying the activities.

The swap meet was good, but I was surprised it wasn’t bigger for the amount of cool stuff going on. Plenty of food and drink vendors and plenty of Nitro flowing thru the air....and the CARS! Geeez, with the weather absolutely perfect, I was in Heaven.

After watching some great racing and collecting splinters from the stands, it was time to wander some more, just in case I missed something...and I almost forgot, lunch! Your full event credential pass included a BBQ lunch, which was really good, your choice of pork or chicken, plus all the fixin’s and drinks. What a deal.

That afternoon was full of picture taking and socializing. One of the features of the Hot Rod Reunion is the “Cacklefest” which is when they drag out all of the fuel dragsters at once to fire them off at the starting line at sundown until each one runs out of fuel. Poppin’ and spittin’ in the cool Kentucky air.....Ahhhh, nothing like it. It’s something to see, all of those diggers raising hell on the starting line. A must see....forget Rock City and check out a Cacklefest!

The traffic leaving wasn’t bad, we managed to slip out ahead of everyone and made it to a late dinner. Our game plan was set for tomorrow’s departure. Sunday came bright and early. We all packed, said our good wishes and safe travels to all who were heading in different directions, and we split.

Al “Wildman” Washburn didn’t think we drove enough, so he headed west to Pueblo, Colorado for the NSRA Rocky Mountain Street Rod Nationals. Bill Carrol, Bob Simons and myself headed south for flat land. We decided to just take 75 south this time and only ran into a few traffic snags, construction and a few accidents. It was a long cruise. We (Bill and I) stopped in North Florida for the night while Bob was in the zone and made it home to Port St. Lucie non-stop. UGH. Even I’m not that crazy. All in all it was one heckuva good trip, it was one great reunion and everyone got home safe!

Compliments go out to the Event Director for this show, Florida’s own Bob Daniels. Bob and the NHRA Crew did an outstanding job and I’m ready for next year already. After the word gets out it will be twice as good...and the best part? It’s here, east of the Mississippi. Until next time, be safe, be good and be road ready! CN