You may have read our coverage of the Pure Stock Muscle Car Drag Race (PSMCDR) in September, and you may have noticed the coverage wasn’t exactly complete. The reason for that is that I am the announcer, so the opportunities to take pictures during three rounds of racing are nil unless my boss wants to pay someone for pictures (NEWSFLASH! he doesn’t). Nonetheless, there is something to be enjoyed from roaming the pits while racers dial-in a bracket, so hopefully you enjoyed my output. But there also is a story behind being behind the mic.
As a preface, allow me to say that I leaned towards Pontiac for most of my youth, so I was aware of some of the movers and shakers that regularly had cars featured in magazines in the 1980s. Dan and Dennis Jensen were two such guys. In the 1990s, Dan started compiling a registry for 1971-72 455 HO A-bodies, especially models that were not GTOs, as he owned a 1971 T-37 with this engine and always wondered how many had been built. Through research, he learned it was one of 11 built, and he tried to link up with other 455 HO owners to learn from each other.
Back in 1994, a Michigan-based Pontiac enthusiast named Bob Boden was inspired by drag events of the 1980s like the Supercar Showdown and the Musclecar Nationals. He rented Milan Dragway and called Dan to see if he would like to come race and help get the event off the ground. Bob called another friend, Lyndon Hughes, to see if he would bring his 1970 GTO Judge to race and to help out. About 15-17 cars showed up.
Come 1995, the event moved to Mid-Michigan Motorplex in the little hamlet of Stanton. Tom Shaw, editor of Musclecar Review, attended for the first time and wrote an article that appeared within the magazine’s pages. The coverage caught my eye because I had read about the 1980s events as a kid and now was able to navigate the world on my terms. I wanted to go to the Pure Stock Muscle Car Drag Race!
In 1996, I was living in Boulder, Colorado, and planning on moving back home to New Jersey to apply to grad school. I timed my trip East so I could reach Michigan in time for the PSMCDR. After visiting Lansing, where my car was built, I arrived on a Thursday in the Alma (Michigan) motel and unpacked what may have been 20 boxes from my car — I was moving cross-country, remember? Alas, it was pouring during Friday’s test-n-tune, so all 20 of us had to get our cars sorted out Saturday morning, which turned out to be gorgeous. My ETs were nowhere near where they should have been, but I had been traveling from Colorado with nary a hiccup plus I was hesitant to play too much with my carb (which, it bears mentioning, my mechanical skills were hardly superb). Nonetheless, I had fun, met some nice folks, packed my car, and left.
Several months later, I found myself attending Michigan State University, which was in East Lansing. I called Dan and said, “Hey, I’m local now. I don’t have my car, but I’d like to help out at your event.” Would you believe he made me announcer? I can’t really say why other than I was pretty decent in knowing what every car was.
I’ve been announcing the PSMCDR since 1997, only having missed two events due to family obligations. The event has grown since then, as the magazine coverage spread the word. Attendance reached 100 within the early years of the Millennium. Lots of friend have been made by this event, and it’s not just from the Midwest — there have been regulars from Rhode Island, Louisiana, and Nebraska. Peak attendance over the past 20 years has been over 130, which is a number where it starts to become unmanageable because calling up pairings for the staging lanes can take a long time. Spectators want action, after all!
The PSMCDR registration card gives me pertinent info of each racer and car, plus a message if so desired. This one is for James Kryta, co-owner of Inline Tube and driver of a W31.
Though I’m seasoned by this point, every year feels like the first time because it’s not done often enough to inspire confidence. I used to stutter words like “pits” and “staging lanes” because, though I had drag raced maybe 10 times in my life, I was afraid I would mix them (and other terms) up in my nervousness. I also have never been schooled on how to announce anything, as doing any kind of voice-over is an art form. At some point, I simply realized I should do what feels good and it will all fall into place.
Every racer has to fill out a card that includes his/her name, hometown, car year/model/engine/transmission/gearing, and anything else that may be worthy of mentioning like, “Have owned since 1970.” However, I have to contend with owners who put down bad information like, “365 horsepower” for a 1970 Buick 455 Stage 1 (it should be 360) or “360 horsepower” when talking about a 1972 Buick 455 Stage 1 (it should be 270 net). Or what about someone who has a GS 455 and has indicated 360 horsepower when the factory specified 350 horses? Was the engine rebuilt to Stage 1 specs? Or does the owner have the horsepower wrong? I do my best to convey the correct information to the spectators, but it can be difficult at times.
That being said, working as the announcer has improved my knowledge of muscle cars. We’ve had all kinds at the PSMCDR, from an R3 Studebaker to a 400-horsepower 1958 Mercury. There’s a landscape of horsepower available to everyone, and it’s my job to disseminate it to the race-loving public. There is no doubt that this unexpected experience has led to the opportunity to write several books on muscle cars and even my daily duties at the ClassicCars.com Journal, so I feel quite fortunate to work in something that I enjoy.