You Build It and They Will Come
The success of the inaugural
Nitro Revival, which grew out of a shared love for the sport
of drag racing and the desire to honor those responsible for
laying its foundation, turned bittersweet 10 days after the event's
completion with the passing of Ron Johnson without whose passion
and vision the celebration never would have occurred.
Johnson, who collaborated with
Steve Gibbs in creating a companion event to the popular and
already-established Nitro Night in Escondido, was diagnosed with
terminal cancer just a few weeks prior to the Revival and succumbed
on Oct. 10.
If there was anything positive
Ron's friends and family could take away from his loss, it was
that he was able to play an active role, first in making the
event a reality and then in insuring its success. Future events
will be dedicated to his memory.
Although the Nitro Revival was
more social than competitive, it attracted more than 50 premium
Cackle Cars from as far away as Connecticut and Canada, most
with period-correct push vehicles from the 1950s and 1960s.
Hopefully, we lived up to your
expectations. We could not have put something like this together
in just six months without the help of so many people, all of
whom volunteered their time and expertise. On the planning side,
we had Ron and his daughter Connie Braun, Don Ewald, Steve Gibbs
and his daughter Cindy. And once we got things rolling, so many
other people jumped on board.
Thanks especially to Randy Gregg,
Alan "Mole" Miller, Don Irvin, Joe Rode, Bill Schneider,
Darielle Moody Wiederrich, Vic Cunningham and the Cal Rods Car
Club, Mike Lemus, Debby Gibbs, Troy and Stephanie Gibbs Kinder,
Ann Rey, John Sousa, Jeff and Cathy Crower, Ken and Marcy Naccarato,
Kathy Said and everyone else who played a role no matter how
The honorary staff was composed
of individuals as legendary as the vehicles themselves: Jon "Thunderlungs"
Lundberg (announcer), Gene Gastelum and Harley (race control),
Art "the Dart" Hayward (scoring and timing) and Mel
While the bulk of the activity
involved static starts, push starts and burnouts, there were
exhibition runs by the Neal and White nostalgia Top Fuel dragster,
Jason Rupert's championship-winning nostalgia Funny Car, Stormy
Byrd's "Revelation" roadster and the AA/Fuel Altererds
of George Doty ("Godzilla" driven by Rodney Flournoy),
Hughie Callen ("High Heaven") and Dave Hix and Todd
Miller ("Wild Fire").
Nevertheless, the high point
of the day in the estimation of most of those in attendance was
the push start of "TV Tommy" Ivo's "Barnstormer"
(driven by Kol Johnson) and Chris "the Greek" Karamesines'
"Chizler" (driven by Mark McCormick). Both executed
starting line turnarounds, just like the old days, before photo
burnouts. Fittingly, both cars were restored by Ron Johnson.
A special thanks to Barona track
operators Daryl Rustin and Rick Reynolds and their staff, to
Jerry and Pat Baltes for providing the awards, to Crower Equipment
for donating the hospitality tent and to the many members of
the media, old and new, who saw fit to provide a historic record
of the festivities.
Hopefully, we did justice to
those inducted into the Greater San Diego Drag Racers Walk of
Fame including "Watchdog" Tommy Allen, Emery Cook and
Cliff Bedwell, Bruce Crower, Ted Cyr, Bill Hopper, Larry Huff,
Jack Jones, Jim Nelson, Dick Lechien, motorsports writer Johnny
McDonald, Dode Martin, Jim Nelson, Jess VanDeventer and the original
Biographies of all the inductees
are accessible on the web at:
San Diego Racers Hall of Fame
We were honored to be able to
visit with inductees Crower, Allen, Jones, Lechien, VanDeventer
and Martin and with those who accepted the awards for the honorees
no longer with us - Yvonne Cyr Scott, Ernie Cook, Tom and Dirk
Nelson and Vi Arnett, widow of leader of the Bean Bandits, Joaquin
Last, but certainly not least,
a big shout out to all of the International Drag Racing Hall
of Fame Members and NHRA Champions who joined us: Jon Asher,
Gary Beck, Rob Bruins, Jim Brissette, Gary Densham, David Densmore,
Larry Dixon Sr., Jim Fox, Steve Gibbs, Gerry "the Hunter"
Glenn, Marvin "Who" Graham, Red Greth, Harry Hibler,
Dennis Holding, "TV Tommy" Ivo, Tom Jobe, Mike Kuhl,
Roland Leong, Don Long, Tom Prock, Simon Menzies and Jon Lundberg.
Also, Dode Martin, Bob McClurg,
Ed "the Ace" McCulloch, Tom "the Mongoose"
McEwen, Bob Muravez, Carl Olson, Spider Razon, Del Reath, "Wild
Bill" Shrewsberry, Joe Schubeck, Bill Schultz, Walt Stevens,
Richard Tharp, Linda Vaughn and Dave Wallace Jr.
In summary, we were humbled by
the attendance of so many of the sport's stars and we are enthusiastically
looking forward to our first anniversary event in 2018. Thank
Sadly, Ron Johnson passed away
on Wednesday, October 10, 2017, just 9 days after the event.
He was 83 years old. It's hard to comprehend how fast it all
happened. Until about six weeks before the event, Ron was going
strong working hard on Nitro Night in Escondido, and the inaugural
Nitro Revival at Barona. He began to complain about some "muscle
aches" or possibly a broken rib before deciding to consult
with doctors. A scan revealed the devastating news of advanced
It was such a blessing that he
was able to get to the Escondido and Barona events and enjoy
them. He was extremely pleased. Steve Gibbs visited him the Friday
before his passing, and found him in bed wearing his orange Nitro
Revival staff uniform shirt. Ron faced his situation head-on,
and should be an inspiration to us all. His family did all they
could to make him comfortable to the end.
Not enough can be said about Rons contributions to the
"Cacklecar" movement. We are all having a hard time
imagining things without him.
That said, we will carry on as
Ron wished, celebrating his life and this event that was so much
a part of his final 8 months of his time on earth.
Ron seen here with Joel Gruzen,
his daughter Connie and wife Linda in the back. It was Ron who
secured Barona as our site when it seemed no other venue could
accommodate us. We are so thankful he was able to see his last
dream come to fruition.
As a Post Script to the release
of our Nitro Revival coverage, on October 20th at the 26th California
Hot Rod Reunion Honorees Ceremony Ron was honored with the rarely
presented Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum Board of Directors
Award. Introduced by Bob Frey, accepting for their late father
were son Kol and daughter Connie.
The best place to start is at
the beginning. I will try to share this magical day in chronicle
order giving those who did contribute photos representation.
If you think there are too many photos here, no apologies. This
was an historical crap shoot that proved to be a royal flush.
It is also a memorial to Ron Johnson which changed its tone.
For those who where there, like me, I'm sure you missed a lot.
For those who couldn't make it, this is what you missed.
It was great to have Bill Pitts
back in the mix after a two year absence due to family matters.
The rarely seen Horsepower
Engineering fueler of Doug Robinson.
One of the first camps to set
up was the Cardoza & Lear Little Blue Coupe B/C owned by
Fred Lear with the Gruzen Families Newhouse Special AFMR.
Joe Schubeck, Tommy Allen
and Jerry Bivens were early arrivals.
Custom Body Enterprises
AA/FC of Ross Howard who came out from Oklahoma.
The day started with all kinds
of Nitro Revival gear including logo T's, event T's, NR hats,
posters and other goodies. The inventory was vastly under estimated
as everything was gone by 3pm.
Cindy Gibbs put together the
great team to make all this happen.
Ann Rey and John Sousa
Cathy & Jeff Crowther
Stephanie Gibbs Kinder
Marcy and Jeff Naccarato manned
the golf cart shuttles
Gina Bruno staff support
Cindy and Maureen Fairbairn who
traveled all the way from New Zealand to be here. She is a well
known Kiwi drag racer...for years she was considered the fastest
woman in their country. "Devil Woman" was the name
of the car.
One would be hard pressed to
find a closer father daughter relationship than Cindy and Steve
Harry Hibler, Bill Pitts
and Dan Broussard,
We had this dynamic duo in the
announcers booth and on track. Jon Lundburg doing his last race
after 50+ years of his "Thunder Lungs" reign, and Mike
English who is far from doing his last event including the Fox
News Big Show appearances.
Although Bob Higginson (center)
ran out of time to get the spot on recreation of the Skinner,
Jobe & Crosser AA/FD he did have his work in process on display.
Kudos for the project came from all directions.
Justin Arias getting
a close look at this beauty.
Vintage restorer/recreator Pete
Eastwood was on hand with his Ed Pink Old Master fueler that
was shoed by Mike Snivley.
The legendary Red Greth explains
how he and Lyle Fisher's "Old Noisy" terrorized the
dragster world in the late 50's. This is the real deal car from
The team from the Ash Marshall
Scorcher AA/FD team with owner Dennis Young and Steve Easton
in the firesuit.
Among those who were behind the
scenes players of getting the Nitro Revival was Don Ewald who
handled Media Relations, promotion, the website and took part
in the logos and signage. This was without question, a team effort.
Photog Paul Sadler gets
branded with Bob McClurg looking on.
Give me 5 large on Nitrorevival
in the 5th.
The Gibbs Family was well represented.
Left to right: Dr. Mike Lemus, Debby Gibbs Lemus, Cindy Gibbs,
Steve Gibbs, Gloria Gordy Gibbs,, Stephanie Gibbs
Kinder, Kamryn Rask, Troy Kinder, Kayla Rask, Jo Kinder, Soledad
Ed McCulloch and Bill
Originally raced in Australia,
the Scorcher of Ash Marshall now owned by Australian Dennis Young.
The Dailey & Johnson name
is on the nose but its not the Johnson car we are used to seeing.
This is Hank's last FED with 426 power. Ted Tine is the owner
and came all the way from Connecticut to debut it here.
Justin Arias takes a
photo op in the WCM car.
Team Burkholder Bros.
Half of Famer Bob McClurg
and award winning Dave Wallace Jr.
Glenn Way's Ground Shaker
Pitts and Company get his MagiCar
ready for a static start. Due to the fires in Nor Cal Jeep
Hampshire was unable to attend. In his place was young driver
John Strom. He
Is totally committed to all they do. The other three Macicrew
are John Phillips who has been Bill's life long friend from 3rd
Grade. Vince Yamasaki (holding the nose piece as Pitts adds the
nitro. Vince is the president at least two San Diego Car clubs
in San Diego County. Dennis Hespeller looks like Santa Claus,
you can't miss him.
More at: MagiCar History on Cacklelfest
Although Bill Pitts is recognized
as the Grandfather of the cacklecars, the Anderson family was
right on his coattails. The Vagabond has been a staple from day
one. It was one of the first nine cars on this page were the
genesis, or the kindling if you will for Cacklefest®. The
year was 2000 the event was CHRR IX. No matter how many follow,
these led the way. More at: Vagabond History on Cacklelfest
Al Eshenbaugh with the restored
original Steinegger & Eshenbaugh AA/FD that terrorize Arizona
and California in the early 60's.
Bob Brown, Harry Hibler,
Dan Kaplan and Pam Conrad.
The pits were full, parking
overflowed on to the oval track.
A faction of the Dirty
Ol Men's Club - Tom West, Bob McClurg and Paul Sadler.
Bill Pitts and Dennis
Prater. Two cacklecar vets.
Joe Schubeck was one
of the opening salvo static starts.
Jerry Bivens was out with his Check Mate fueler.
Old guys with bad ears.
Its a very large club.
Roger Lee making some
serious noise with his Brissette & Sutherland AA/FD.
Doug Robinson's Horsepower Engineering
car still sounds stout after sitting for over 50 years.
As a birthday present to his
father, ex-Top Fuel and Funny Car driver Frank Rupert he purchased
the restored 1966 Eagle Electric AA/FD and presented it to him
at this event. Another very cool thing that showed what the Nitro
Revival was about.
Dave and Joe Gruzen,
Delli Reath and the Rasner's.
Howard Cams Twin Bear.
No shortage of bitchin
Jimmy Rossi sporting
a cigar the size of a banana.
Don Ewald, Don Long and
Leroy "Doc" Hales.
The man in his element.
This marked the running debut
of the restored Walton Cerny & Moody RED from 1972. Hal Sanguinetti
from Phoenix owns the car and can be seen here in the blue firesuit..
This is the real deal car per Don Long, who built it. It won
the 1971 NHRA Supernationals at Ontario and the 1972 PRO race
at Tulsa. A true piece of our history.
Several of the 29 media
corps on hand.
Not sure where Jerry Bivens (center)
is coming from or going to with his Check Mate AA/FD. AKA, Bivens
At 11am Event Producer and Ring
Master Steve Gibbs held the customary drivers meeting giving
a loose layout of the plan and lament, "rules, there are
Darrell and Pam Conrad
took this as a chance to rest a bit from their photo tasks.
After the meeting Troy Cagle
took the mic to present Gibbs the 2017 Gary Cagle Memorial Achievement
Award honoring his late father.
Dave Kommel and Bob Brown