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For Immediate Release 01.30.2020
RIVERO, LUKENS AMONG HONOREES AT NITRO REVIVAL 4
Four Other Irwindale and San Gabriel Racing Icons to Share the Spotlight

When Ron Rivero and the late "Stormin' Norman" Weekly joined forces with Dennis Holding and Jim Fox in 1963 to form the original "Frantic Four," no one could have anticipated the impact the collaboration would have on Top Fuel drag racing. After setting the NHRA national speed record at 221.66 miles per hour as runners-up to Tom McEwen at the 1966 Hot Rod Magazine Championships in Riverside, Rivero and Fox moved east and began a new racing alliance with Bob Keough and Chris Gans that would pay even bigger dividends.

With Rivero at the wheel of the "Frantic Fueler," the K&G Speed Shop team won the NASCAR Top Fuel championship two of the four years it was contested (1967 and 1968). Furthermore, Rivero was honored as the series' Driver of the Year while Fox accepted the P.A. Sturtevant award as the top mechanic.

During their domination of the only NASCAR series requiring no left turns, Rivero and Fox won the Pennsylvania State Championship at Maple Grove, the NASCAR Nationals at Niagara Falls, N.Y., the All-American Fuel Championships at Pittsburgh and the Canadian Fuel Championship at Desirado, Ontario before returning to California where they earned their biggest victory in the 1968 March Meet at Bakersfield.

The "Frantic Fueler" was No. 1 on the Drag News Top 10 longer than any other during the era and Rivero even drove it to an Hawaiian land speed record of 226.55 mph during a match race with Roland Leong. The car, which has been restored by John Neas of Tulsa, Okla., will be part of the cackle program at Nitro Revival 4 on May 15-16.

The award will be shared by long time partners Dennis Holding and Jim Fox.

 

 

Phil Lukens was a prominent member of California's "gasser gang" in the 1960s and '70s. Starting with a '48 Anglia he raced with Mel Marrs, Lukens was a fixture at Southern California tracks in an era in which gas coupes and sedans had the same level of celebrity as today's fuel cars.

As foreman of the chassis shop at Blair's Speed Shop in Pasadena, Lukens' fingerprints were all over the many special projects that moved through that iconic facility including the potent Blair's Speed Shop '68 Anglia in which he was the Competition Eliminator runner-up to Steve Woods at the 1972 NHRA Winternationals.

Licensed in Top Fuel and briefly retained as driver of Keith Martin's alcohol-burning Corvette in the early days of Pro Comp, Lukens never strayed far from the gassers and altereds he loved.

He didn't stray far from Blair's Speed Shop, either, buying the business from founder Don Blair in 1975. It remains active today at its original Foothill Boulevard location in Pasadena, originally the site of a candy factory. Among his current rides is a 1948 Fiat Topolino that races in the Goodguys nostalgia series and the NHRA's Hot Rod Heritage Series.

 

 

Before they partnered in M&S Welding, Mike Hoag and Sherm Gunn already had established themselves independently as two masters of race car design and fabrication. Hoag, who honed his skills as the chief fabricator at Blair's Speed Shop in Pasadena, was a key player in the build-up of the late Steve Bovan's first two Funny Cars which, coincidentally, were two of the first Chevy Funny Cars on the West Coast.

Bovan and Hoag collaborated in 1964 on a blown 396-powered Chevy II to oppose Jack Chrisman's nitro-burning Mercury Comet on the budding match race circuit. Their success with that car compelled an upgrade to an even more successful flip-top Camaro to race the new AFX class.

Gunn, meanwhile, dabbled in gassers and altereds before also opting to focus on the increasingly popular Funny Car. Together for almost 20 years, Hoag and Gunn transformed M&S into a go-to destination for San Gabriel racers, particularly those who frequented Irwindale.

Despite his skill as a craftsman, Gunn is best known for pulling off one of the biggest upsets in Funny Car history by winning the 1984 World Finals at Pomona. After qualifying only 11th, he mowed down NHRA tour regulars Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Billy Meyer and Mark Oswald to claim his first and only national event title.

 


Although they were attracted by the excitement of drag racing, fans who attended events at Irwindale Raceway in the 1960s also came away with an unexpected appreciation for the track's food service, especially its hamburgers.

Turns out that while they never were openly identified as such, Irwindale's burgers were vintage In-N-Outs, minus the tomato, with a touch of nitro. Harry Snyder, the founder of the In-N-Out chain, also was the controlling partner of the racetrack when it opened in 1965.

Fifty-five years later, the Snyder family still strongly supports the sport and those in it through the leadership of Harry's only grandchild, Lynsi Snyder-Ellingson. Lynsi's father, Guy, and uncle Rich, both now deceased, worked at Irwindale as youngsters, developing their own ties to the sport that resulted in sponsorship of several pro drivers including Don Garlits, Dale Pulde, Mark Oswald and Melanie Troxel.

An NHRA member and licensed racer herself, Lynsi, as sole owner of In-N-Out, funds a host of charitable causes including Healing Hearts and Nations, a non-profit active in India and Africa, and the In-N-Out Burger Foundation, which supports abused and neglected children. The company also continues to lend its name to events like thee 2018 In-N-Out/Hot Rod Magazine Championships contested at Pomona.

 

 

Although the second coming of San Gabriel Drag Strip lasted just three years, they were remarkable seasons for those Southern Californians starved for the pop, smell and burn of nitromethane during the NHRA's fuel ban of the early 1960s.

Brothers Jack and Will Tice, who by day ran a meat market, served up regular fuel shows at "San Gabe" that attracted the biggest stars in the sport including Don Garlits, "TV Tommy" Ivo, Chris Karamesines, Ted Cyr, Vance Hunt and J.L Payne, Masters and Richter, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, Kenny Safford and Norm Weekly and Ron Rivero.

The brothers, who proved to be more than competent promoters, took advantage of the proximity of a local paving company to keep the racing surface fresh which is one of the things that brought the big names back again and again.

When the track closed, Jack Tice, who was a B-29 bomber pilot in World War II, briefly ran the track at Fontana while his brother became involved with 605 Speedway.

 

 

Although surveys indicate that Americans are keeping their cars longer than ever before, an average of 11 years, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who has driven the same vehicle longer than Covina tire dealer Tom Tucker.

Tucker bought a stock 1957 Ford Ranchero powered by a 292 Ford with 200 horsepower way back in 1962. He was 16. Three years later, having upgraded to an injected, 406 Ford, he raced in the opening event at the old Irwindale Raceway, now the site of the Miller Brewery.

When that track closed in 1977, Tucker and the vehicle widely recognized as "Tucker's Truck" were among those providing the sendoff, this time with 427 power.
"I'd be surprised," Tucker said, "if anyone made more passes down the original Irwindale dragstrip than I did."

Fast forward 33 years when Tucker, having raised a family, pulled the tarp off the moth-balled Ranchero and began a resuscitation. With the help of his then nine-year-old granddaughter, Maya, he completely rebuilt the 427 engine in his garage at home, set it up to accommodate a 6:71 blower, updated the suspension and, in 2011, went back racing at the new Irwindale where he's been a regular the last eight years.

On Saturday, May 16, these six racing legends will be recognized at Nitro Revival 4 at the Irwindale Speedway complex for contributions to drag racing during an era in which the San Gabriel Valley was ground zero in the sport's development. Each honoree will be presented a special plaque courtesy of Nitro Revival supporters Jerry and Pat Baltes.

 

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