I have become quite passionate about my local car history. The cars themselves, the organizations, the culture, and the people. I still have a lot to learn, but after the past weekend, I feel as though I have experienced more of it.
It all started on the Sunday at the ELTA Mixer, where I caught wind of the possibility of a flathead V8 dragster making its way out to the St. Thomas Raceway. I quickly put a bid in to be there to take a few photos and maybe a quick video, depending on what sort of action we were looking at. At the last minute on Friday everything came together, and fortunately I was already in London, and met the guys at the track, where the owners and organizers around the track helped in every way they could to make some dreams come true for Mark Rogerson.
Mark Rogerson is one of the people that is to blame for my passion for history. His passion for the history of our local dragracing scene is infectious. One of his dreams was to pilot an old school rail down the track, and with the blessing of one of the owners of the rail, and the permission from the track, this dream was about to be realized.
Helping deliver the rail to the track was Dennis Wilson, a true ambassador of the hobby. He reaches out to people, and may singlehandedly inspire the next generation of hot rodders. I have been to more than one big car show with Dennis and have seen him spend all weekend helping youngsters in and out of his car so their parents could snap a photo. The car Dennis has is a B/Altered 1922 Model T Ford Roadster, powered by an early Hemi with Hillborn Injection, feeding a Chrysler 2 Speed Powerflight, and on to a 1947 Ford 3/4 ton rear axle. The car still has the original 1964 paint job, and is essentially just as it left the track in '64. The main difference from my perspective was that I had never seen the car move under its own power due to the missing driveshaft.
Dennis had previously dropped his car off at the track, and I was intending to stage a few shots with it and the rail since we basically were given free reign of the track for this.
Both Mark and Dennis pulled out their vintage race/fire suits for the day, and everyone at the track was feeling the excitement of watching history come back to life, in the biggest surprise of the day as Dennis pulled out tools, a jack, and a driveshaft!
Before Dennis had finished installing the driveshaft the excitement was already pulling Mark to the track for his first ever run in the rail. Here's what he has to say about it...
Sometimes in life dreams do come true or like so many today like to say....crossing things off their "bucket list"...lol. Well, I had that very opportunity this past weekend when I got the green light from Bev Bodkin one of the co-owners of the " Bodkin-Pettipiece" flathead dragster to take it down to the St. Thomas Dragway for the Hot Rod Drag Racing Reunion event.
When the time came,it was like stepping back into the past as I slid into the cock pit of this drag racing time machine with a true 1960's vintage fire suit , gloves and full face fire proof mask on. Dennis Wilson added it brought back memories of Scott Wilson or Lloyd Noxell two of the St. Thomas great dragster drivers of the 1960's.
I was now strapped in, the old flathead came to life and I eagerly engaged the transmission into drive and headed for the staging lanes. It was actually a very hot afternoon with the sun blazing down and one would think I would be concerned about the heat wrapped in a "tinfoil"suit but I was like a kid at Christmas just waiting to open my present...lol.
As I rounded the corner from the staging lanes the track opened up in front of me as I stared down the tower lane. John Rimnyak greeted me with a big smile and thumbs up as he staged me into the beams. The old flathead was just a cackling as I revved the motor up to clean her out before the lights came down. It sounded and felt great.
I fixed my glare onto the Christmas tree through my googles, I took a few deep breaths, kept a steady grip on the hand brake and had a quick thought of how this must have been how it felt in 1961. But then the lights started to flash. As the last amber light came on I let go of the hand brake and stabbed the throttle. The old rail felt nibble and responsive as it threw my head slightly back and my hands gripped the vintage butter fly steering wheel. Wind rushed over my face as I kept one eye on the tach and one on the end of the 8th marker.
The dragster ran straight and true as it hurtled it's way to the finish line. With in seconds the ride was over and I was looking for the turn off road to get me back to the pits. The old fire mask covered up the huge smile I had on my face. I flashed the classic peace sign with the old aluminum racing glove as I past a few other ONDR racers that were giving me the thumbs up as I rumbled through the pit area back to my pit spot. All I could think or feel at that moment was this was one of the best ways ever to start a weekend. It was a BLAST!
Even before Mark had a chance to do his first pass, Jay, the owner of the track, called in the big guns (his daughter) and her junior dragster to race the rail. A dead battery kept Mark from launching at the lights properly, but if Mark had some seat time previous to this, and the rail was running at the top of its game, it's a race I would love to see! Next time you're at the dragstrip, pay attention to those junior dragsters! But back to the best day at work ever!
After Mark had a bit of a chance to feel out the car and the track, Dennis had the roadster ready to run, and for the first time since I've know Dennis or the roadster, run under it's own power! I'm thrilled that I shot a video of it making the first pass on a track in over half a century! Way to go Dennis!
Dennis made a run down the full quarter mile. I know it wasn't fast, but it sure was special! On the drive home I had a huge smile on my face as I can finally tell one of these stories from my first hand experience, instead of just relying on others to feed me the facts.
Oh, and along with these two cars running on the track, Jim, and Ed Hartman, brought their cars out to assist in any way they could, but ended up settling a year long argument over whose car is really quicker. You can see the results in the video below. I smell a rematch.
Saturday brought rain, and on the way back to the track I was quite sure there wouldn't be any racing going on. One of those sayings I see on Facebook popped in my head, and by the end of the day it made more sense to me than it ever had before. "A bad day at the track is better than a good day at work." What's the worst that could happen? I sit in a trailer during the rain and hear car stories, and hope that there's some truth to them.
Arriving at the track I could see that it had rained, but there was hope since a few cars were making some passes. A quick wander through the pits brought me to this fresh build. I'm talking fresh as midnight the night before! Not quite done yet, but looking sharp! The owner built everything from the ground up himself, and was quite proud as he rolled the car out of the trailer for a few photos. I'm looking forward to this car being race-ready and making sound very loud noises down the track!
Well after the weather was holding off, the worst did happen, and I sat in a trailer with a few friends listening to stories about Trans Am racing, the Charley Horse dragster (which was in the trailer with us!), and a few other cars.
After the rain, and before the next rain, I managed to hop in for a quick tour of the pits in the Border Bandit replica/tribute! I gotta say that this beats the golf cart tours, and definitely beats walking!
Shortly after that I headed out, and was thrilled with the experiences of the day once again. Not sure anything is going to top the Friday for a while though.