Hot Rod Reunion Blisters Central Ohio

N o matter which location hosts the annual NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion, the event leaves behind seriously scorched pavement. Held Father’s Day weekend, June 15-17, the event was moved to National Trail Raceway located just east of Columbus, Ohio, for 2007, after several years of being held at the Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Ky. The move was necessitated by the event’s outgrowing the historic Bowling Green facility.

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 Eye-catching cars were found in every row of the vendor’s midway, including this mildly customized 1959 Edsel Ranger hardtop, of which only 5,474 were produced.

    As with any move, there’s good and bad. While National Trail Raceway is a fine facility and a showcase for modern drag racing, it lacks the nostalgic atmosphere and tree-lined park setting that Beech Bend offered. And some shade trees definitely would have come in handy to escape the heatwave that settled over central Ohio for the reunion weekend.

    What National Trail Raceway did offer was plenty of room for pitting the hundreds of vintage drag machines and displaying hot rods and collector vehicles. The huge vendor midway was located next to the dragstrip’s staging area, which made it convenient for spectators to keep an eye on everything happening, both off- and on-track.

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Pioneering drag racing showman and television/movie star “TV Tommy” Ivo was one of several celebrity drivers on hand at the Reunion to sign autographs and talk to fans about the early days of drag racing.

    The event’s busy three-day slate of activities gave attendees a lot to keep track of. Keeping with the tradition of past National Hot Rod Reunions, this year’s event began with a kick-off cruise on the evening of June 14 to nearby Delaware, Ohio, to tour the Jeg’s High Performance mail-order parts facility. The business’ founder, Jeg Coughlin Sr., was this Reunion’s grand marshal.

    The morning of June 15 was the start of three days of qualifying, eliminations and exhibition runs on the quarter-mile dragstrip, featuring many classes of vintage drag machines. Among the well-represented classes of cars were the “Gasser” coupes that featured several all-steel early-1940s Willys and the vintage front-engined top-fuel “rail” dragsters. Also ongoing during the weekend was a swap meet and car show ‘n’ shine brimming with hot rods, both old and new, “rat” rods, customs, vintage race cars and mainstream collector vehicles.

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One of the many A/G class “Gasser” coupes running the quarter-mile at National Trail Raceway was “Home Wrecker,” an all-steel 1941 Willys. The car is powered by a Chevy 468-cid big-block V-8.

    Many of drag racing’s legendary drivers were in attendance at this year’s Reunion. Several were on-hand as honorees to be feted for their exploits on the quarter-mile during the sport’s formative years. Celebrity drivers were also on-hand to mingle with spectators and sign autographs. Among the famous drivers at the Reunion were Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, who brought along one of his famous topfuel dragsters, “Swamp Rat VIII,” from his Ocala, Fla., museum. Also signing autographs during the weekend was pioneering drag racing showman and television/movie star “TV Tommy” Ivo. Several of Ivo’s early restored rail dragsters and his innovative glass-sided enclosed trailer, also restored, were displayed in the vendor’s midway.

    Far removed from the unique designs of both Garlits’ “Swamp Rat” and Ivo’s “Barnstormer” rail dragsters, a more sedate vehicle was getting its share of looks in the field of show cars. Bob Hiner of Beltsville, Md., brought his 1960 Ford Ranch Wagon two-door station wagon to display. Hiner said he purchased the Ford, originally sold at a dealership in Canada, at a Carlisle Events show in Pennsylvania several years ago.

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It’s not every day you see a 1950 Packard sedan launching down the dragstrip. The “Flintstone Flyer” was a NHRA record holder in the E/G class in 1962-’63.

    “It’s very rare,” Hiner explained. “It originally came with a six-cylinder and three-speed [manual transmission].” Hiner has since replaced the six with a 352-cid V-8 and added aftermarket wheels and radial tires for better drivability.

    “It was a solid car when I bought it,” Hiner said of the Ranch Wagon, which he repainted in its original Meadowvale green finish. Due to its Canadian origins, he added, “It wasn’t easy getting a title for the car.”

    Another interesting story of finding something far from home was offered by Terry Neer of Plain City, Ohio. Neer was vending several all-steel early-1940s Willys body panels and a partially restored all-steel Willys coupe in the swap meet. Among his parts for sale was a 1941 Willys passenger-side front fender. Neer said he and his wife were vacationing recently in North Dakota and stopped at a garage sale. The fender was sitting in a box at the back of a nearby shed, and Neer inquired if the part was for sale. Its owner said it was, and Neer paid five dollars for it. His $110 asking price for the fender at the Reunion swap meet better reflected the part’s true value.

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The restored 1948 Austin A-40 two-door sedan of Jeg Coughlin, Sr., was prominently displayed in the Reunion’s vendor’s midway. Coughlin, the grand marshal of this year’s Reunion, raced this Hemi-powered Austin in 1964-’66, and set a BB/A class national record in 1966 of 9.46 seconds.

    In addition to the loss of Beech Bend Raceway’s nostalgia-rich environment, the swap meet presented at Ohio also appeared down from the previous year in the number of vendors. Not that it lacked for interesting parts such as the aforementioned Willys items. Also found in the swap was a set of .060-over pistons and connecting rods for a 1949-’53 Ford flathead V-8. Dave Yurkovich of Medina, Ohio, was the vendor, and he was asking $250 for the set.

    Aside from the changes caused by the relocation to a new venue, the NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion again proved to be the place to be for enjoying both Father’s Day weekend and the thrills of vintage drag racing.  
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One of several classes of “Nostalgia Nitro” dragsters competing was the funny car class. Here, the crew rebuilds the engine of Kyle Wurtzel’s “Nitro Pony” Mustang replica funny car.

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