Nitro Revival has ‘em ‘hooked’ on drag racing history

Nostalgic event returns to Southern California for third annual showcase

“Hook sent me” was your admission ticket on May 17. Nitro Revival 3 was billed as a one-day only event on the 18th, but the 17th was set-up day so participants could get their cars in place at the Irwindale (California) Speedway and Event Center. 

But it turned out to be more than expected — just like every Nitro Revival has been. At dusk there was an In-N-Out cookout at $10 per meal — and all 250 meals sold out.

Ready to rumble at Nitro Revival 3

Nitro Revival was born in late September 2017, the first one held at Barona Speedway, in Lakeside, California, in San Diego County, where there are a quarter-mile oval track and a 1/8-mile drag strip called Barona Drags that “takes you back to the days when hot rods ruled the streets of SoCal.” 

The Nitro Revival’s founding father is Steve Gibbs, called “Hook” by the racers, a former vice president of competition for the National Hot Rod Association and a key figure behind the development of the Wally Parks Motor Sports Museum in Pomona and the California Hot Rod Reunion at Auto Club Famoso Raceway near Bakersfield. 

Gibbs created Nitro Revival with family support, his daughter Cindy has been a rock since the recent loss of Gibbs’ mother and wife. 

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”Having the Nitro Revival project has been good to have something to fall back on when you get down,” Gibbs said on a positive note.

Nitro Revival 2 was held in mid-May 2018 at WeatherTech Raceway in Monterey and proved to be “Heaven” for the cackle crowd (that was  Don “Big Daddy” Garlits’ descritpion after piloting Sonny Messner’s Swamp Rat III dragster (the only Garlits car owned by a private party). Garlits is one of drag racing’s greatest pioneers as a driver and builder, amassing 144 victories, 17 championships and a multitude of number one accomplishments. 

The winged Express fuel altered rips down the Irwindale track

The Laguna Seca location was a huge success, but on the same token a little bit too far away from Southern California, so at the end of the “Nitro Blast” on the Monterey Peninsula, Gibbs remarked, “We look forward to the dragsters, hot rods and people who will make all of our Nitro Revivals a great event.”

The Nitro Revival’s third installment on May 18 was held at the eighth-mile Irwindale Drag Strip in the San Gabriel Valley, a few miles northeast of Los Angeles. 

As a photographer for Hot Rod magazineback in the day, I almost lived at the “old” Irwindale Raceway and would come home with black smudges of tire rubber all over my face from the burnouts of the Top Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars. And I loved it! 

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“We really want this to be a gathering of the drag racing clans including, followers of all of the bygone Southern California tracks such as Lions, Pomona, Santa Ana, Fontana, San Fernando, Colton and Carlsbad,” Gibbs said.

Many international drag racing hall of fame members attended and mingled with fans such as Ed “The Ace” McCulloch, Gary Beck, Ed “Isky” Iskenderian, Herm Petersen, Marvin “Who” Graham, “TV Tommy” Ivo, Tom Hoover, Ed Pink, Jerry “The King” Ruth, Dave McClelland (the voice of NHRA), Roland Leong (the Hawaiian), Paula Murphy, Steve Gibbs and many more. 

All these esteemed personalities participated in a hugely popular autograph-signing session in the Jim McLennan Hospitality Welcome Center. Many of drag racing’s royalty received custom recognition plaques including the “smiling” “TV Tommy” Ivo, who made a name for himself in TV shows like Margie, I Remember Mama and The Donna Reed Show. When he turned to drag racing he became the first to break the 7-second barrier, driving the “Barnstormer” Top Fuel Dragster, and ran 190 mph. In 2005 he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America at Daytona Beach, Florida.

Brian Davis bought this 1969 Ford Mustang when he was 15 1/2. It now has a 351 Windsor topped by a hugh supercharger

A highlight at Irwindale was “Hook’s” Hot Rod Hangout showcasing unique period hot rods and street rods, race cars, continuous rolling push starts, and static displays with owners eager to talk your ear off about the history of their prized possessions. 

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In the “Hangout,” Brian Davis showed the first car he bought, when he was 15½ years old as a high school cruiser, a 1969 Mustang Fastback now housing a 351 Windsor with a huge BDS 871 Blower popping out of the hood. 

Gibbs was proud to present exhibitions runs on the 1/8-mile track with the Hot Rod Heritage racing Top Fuel champion Mendy Fry, the 2019 March Meet TF champion Adam Sorokin and runs by Brendan Murry and Rick White in their TF dragsters. 

The traditional finale produced a massive fiery nitro flare-up with over 40 vintage dragsters, altered and Funny Cars in a “Line of Fire” cackle exhibition that brought tears of happiness to many of the fans.

“I think it’s the history we needed to remind race fans of,” Gibbs said. “Some of them are original cars, some of them are re-creations that give us a chance to go back in time. It gives the younger folks a chance to see what we once had.” 

Howard Koby
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