HomeCar CultureCommentaryNitro Revival at Laguna Seca: Heaven for for the cackle crowd

Nitro Revival at Laguna Seca: Heaven for for the cackle crowd


Steve Gibbs, an NHRA board member and the first executive director of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, is the “Pied Piper” of all things nostalgic when it comes to drag racing. A year ago he launched the Nitro Revival, held at Barona Drag Strip located outside of San Diego.

The event was a success, but had “logistical limits,” as Gibbs put it.  

“Not that Barona was bad; it was good, but I think it was limited in what it could become and realistically I don’t think we had a place to go really, as far as future growth,” Gibbs said.

Nitro Revival, Nitro Revival at Laguna Seca: Heaven for for the cackle crowd, ClassicCars.com Journal
Even the push-start vehicles were period correct

But it appears Nitro Revival has been revived, and then some, after its recent run as part of the Spring Classic at the pretigious WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in the rolling hills near Monterey, California.

Gibbs envisioned the Nitro Revival as an event that would cater to the Cackle Fest “old timers” who were disappointed in other nostalgic drag racing events. It would be a special gathering of vintage and restored nitromethane-powered drag cars (about 40) from the early days.

At Laguna Seca, they weren’t blasting through the famed “Corkscrew” turn, but they were on display in the paddock, where owners performed “static fire ups at will.”  The paddock also showcased pre-1973 hot rods in “Aces Hot Rod Hangout,” and those cars also paraded around the track.  Fans were able to “talk shop” with mechanics and owners while the pungent nitro fumes filled the air and brought happy tears to their eyes.  

Nitro Revival, Nitro Revival at Laguna Seca: Heaven for for the cackle crowd, ClassicCars.com Journal
Event poster

And all the while there was the Spring Classic, a three-day vintage sports car race and car show featuring cars from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, including Formula Ford, stock cars, Can-Am, Trans Am, Formula Atlantic, Daytona Prototype/IMSA, motorcycles and more, all challenging the 11-turn, 2.238 mile road course.

For the drag racers, there also was “Nitro Night,” staged in front of the Intercontinental Hotel on Cannery Row in Monterey, featuring Don Garlits Swamp Rat (owned by Sonny Messner), Tom Hoover’s Fishbowl plus Ed “the Ace” McCulloch’s ’32 Victoria were on display with the beautiful Monterey Bay as a backdrop.  

A “Hall of Fame” question-and-answer session was hosted by Mike Dunn (son of drag racing Hall of Famer “Big Jim” Dunn) who drove for Roland Leong (Hawaiian), and the legendary Joe Pisano hosted a meet-and-greet in the hotel courtyard that included Don Garlits, Herm Petersen Jerry Ruth, Gary Beck, Marvin Graham and others.

Back at the track a “Rolling Thunder” push starts on the hot pit lane brought fuelers out with period-correct push-start vehicles creating the visual excitement.  

Drag racing legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits made a rare West Coast appearance and piloted the Swamp Rat III in the push-start. When the slingshot came to rest he emerged from the digger and said, “I think I was just in heaven and if I wasn’t I’m not going!”  

Garlits’ first dragster was the first drag car to break the 8-second barrier with a 7.88 ET with Connie Swingle in the cockpit in 1961.  Garlits’ Swamp Rat XXX is displayed in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

The Saturday festivities concluded with an “ear splitting” massive fire-up called a “Line of Fire” with all dragsters firing in succession, bellowing out the “cackle sounds” that reverberated through the Laguna Seca hills and valleys.  The iconic lineup of vehicles included the “TV Tommy” Ivo Barnstormer, ’68 Dunn & Reath Rainbow, Green Monster A/D, Iron Horse AA/FD, Freight Train AA/GD (with two Chrysler Hemis), Pure Hell AA/FA (original and tribute), Connie Kalitta “Bounty Hunter” AA/FD, Speed Sport, the 1973 “Utica Flash” Dodge Challenger Funny Car and many more.

Nitro Revival was as close to “stepping back in time” as a drag enthusiast could ever imagine.

More info information visit the Nitro Revival website.

Howard Koby
Howard Koby
Howard graduated with honors from the Art Center College of Design in California. He has been a photographer and automotive journalist for 35 years out of his Los Angeles studio. He has been published in Hot Rod, AutoWeek, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Jaguar Journal, Forza, Vintage Motorsport, Classic Motorsports, Robb Report, Motor Trend Classic, Hemmings Muscle Machines, and 50 Years of Road & Track (MBI Publishing). He has served on the Advisory Committee of the Transportation Design Department at Art Center College of Design. He is the author of the books Top Fuel Dragsters of the 1970s and Pro Stock Dragsters of the 1970s, both available on amazon.com.



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