BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - The ground moved Saturday morning in California and the only choice to be made was, earthquake or nitromethane. In Southern California chances are that it was an earthquake, and it was, but thirty years ago it was a better chance that it was the nitro. This past weekend everyone is doing their best to leave the 1990's behind and look backwards to a time when fuel dragsters were king and the court was made up of fuel altereds and AA/GS coupes and sedans. I'm speaking about the 8th Annual California Hot rod Reunion presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California at venerable Famoso Raceway.
Grand Marshal for the 1999 version of the California Hot rod Reunion is Rich Guasco, who needs no introducing if you grew up on the West coast of the United States. Most every Saturday night Guasco could be found in the pit area at Lion's, Irwindale or Orange County raceway's turning wrenches at first on his own dragster and later on the 'Pure Hell' fuel altered.
The altered was not Guasco's first adventure in car building and owning. In 1951 he purchased his first roadster, a model A body mounted on '32 frame rails. After several incarnations the car captured the nine foot trophy and the title 'America's Most Beautiful Roadster' at the Oakland Grand National Roadster Show in 1961. The next year Guasco's Top Fuel dragster won the trophy as 'America's Most Beautiful Competition Car' at the same show. This gives him the distinction of being the only person to have his name engraved on both sides of the giant perpetual trophy.
Guasco spent two years, off and on, in the hospital after an accident in his Top Fuel car that caused severe injuries. During this time Dale Emery teamed with Pete Odgon to build the Pure Hell fuel altered. Emery drove the car with a small-block Chevy from 1964 until 1967 when the team switched to a Chrysler.
The reality of racing hit Guasco head on when he transplanted the Hemi into the early Funnycar of Ed Carter and finished as the runner-up on his first outing at Lions dragstrip. According to Guasco, 'I made more money that night than I did in all my time with the Fuel Altered'.
Firmly convinced that Fuel Funnycars were the way to go he first teamed with Elwin Carlson in a Dodge Demon and later with Larry Huff that ran two bodies, one with a Pure Hell Demon body and the other with Larry Huff's 'Soapy Sales' body. He had success with both cars and managed to win the 1973 Spring Nationals with Dave Beebe at the wheel.
Guasco was back for two short stints in drag racing, the first coming in the 1970's with Emery on the Raymond Beadle 'Blue Max' car and then in the late 1980's as with Jim Brisette on Dan Pastorini's Top Fuel effort.
Drag racing took yet another turn for Guasco an the 'Pure Hell' name when the sport began to take a serious look at it roots and nostalgia racing began to grow very popular. Guasco ran a restored version of the fuel altered at the first California Hot rod Reunion and managed to qualify into the Top Fuel field. In fact Pure Hell, with Larry Huff driving, qualified every year until 1998. The 1990's version of Pure Hell ran a best of 6.36/238mph. The best the car ran during it's first incarnation was 7.28/214mph. To show the difference the 1960's and the 1990's when the altered was first tested it had the original size fuel tank in place. The car failed to make complete runs as the modern single fuel pump drained the tank after the burn out and a half track pass. Soon a larger tank was in place and full passes soon followed.
Guasco's comment after learning that he had been named Grand Marshal of California Hot rod Reunion Eight was, 'For a guy who has never really done anything, I couldn't really imagine why I was picked over all the other people out there. I was really astonished, but I'm really looking forward to the weekend. After beating my head against the wall for so many years it's good to finally have something like this happen.
There is a whole list of drag racing greats being honored this weekend other than Guasco. Also being honored are are Don Alderson, Ralph Guldahl Jr., Jerry Kugel, K.S. Pittman and Jess VanDeventer.
Don alderson along with Milo Franklin pooled their first names and formed a company that has long supported all forms of racing and early on aircraft machine work. Milodon engineering was founded in 1957 and Alderson's interest was soon turned to drag racing when they were asked to develop a main bearing support system for the popular engines of the day. Among the first to use the support system were the teams of Kenny Safford and the Ivo-Zeuschel-Moody Top Fuel teams. Bearing problems that had plagued the teams for years were a thing of the past.
Naming Ralph Guldahl Jr. as one of this year's honorees is some what personal for me as Guldahl gave me the opportunity to fill in for him as the official writer at Lions Dragstrip, when he went on vacation. Guldahl is recognized as a master of turning a glib phrase. Once, when he was describing the great bite at Lions, he decided that it was due to the 'interdigitated-interlocking asphalt'. After the demise of Lions Guldahl went on to become the editor of Drag Racing magazine, Associate Editor of Hot Rod and since 1973 he has held various positions at Edelbrock Corporation.
Jerry Kugel could be honored for not only things he accomplished in the past but also the present as he recently teamed with Mike LeFever building the first stock bodied automobile to exceed the 300mph barrier at Bonneville. LeFever drove the car to a record 300.788 mph two way average. On a one way pass the Firebird, that still has power windows and turn signals, was clocked at 307.468mph. Kugel held a number of positions with famous racing enterprises such as Ak Miller's garage before opening his own business, Kugel Components.
K.S. Pittman is recognized as one of the greats from the AA/Gasser wars of the 1960's. After moving to the San Fernando Valley from Texas when he was 17 years old. One of his first gasser rides was in the GMC blown '50 Olds, owned by Tim Woods. Pittman later drove a series of '33 and '40 Willys of his own design and teaming with engine builder, John Edwards, began knocking down good appearance money to match race the A/GS hitters of the day. His current ride is in the Bakersfield pit area this weekend, on display for his many fans.
Jess VanDeventer has the distinction of becoming one of the first NHRA World Champions when he won the 1962 title and the Pontiac Grand Prix from Hurst Performance that went with the title. This title was accomplished in a B/MR roadster that consisted of a T-Bucket body mounted on Model A frame rails. The roadster had an injected 283 Chevrolet for power and was considered one of the most consistent cars of its day. Most of the season VanDeventer chased Jim Nelson's Dragmaster Dart AA/Dragster in the sixteen race series before taking the lead for good after a win at Continental Divide Raceway in Denver. VanDeventer was virtually unbeaten in class competition with the roadster and set the national record several times that year in the 10.4 second range at over 130mph.
This represents the class of 1999 honorees at the California Hot rod Reunion.
Many great names in the sport have been honored both this year and in the
previous years. There are many more names and many more honorees to be named
at this event as it just seems to get bigger and bigger each year. Just as a
guess I would say that this year's event has drawn somewhere between 15,000
to 20,000 people and plans are under way for the 2000 event. If you're a fan,
I'll see you here!!!