Day One, Thursday July 14
Byron, Illinois - After thinking about waiting until Friday to arrive, I decided to go in Thursday evening instead. Good choice.
Waiting would have been a mistake because I would have missed the building of an American city. With the property about half full at 7:30 p.m., you could see and feel the rising potential.
An advertised 600 race cars and all the attendant support, thousands of people and all the physical needs required, what’s going on here is no less than a minute-by-minute construction of a city, small and temporary, but a city nonetheless.
Sanitary sites, bags of ice and food piled on tailgates of delivery trucks, waiting for workers to move the goods to their final destinations. Individuals and groups building their own little neighborhoods as the small areas slowly but inevitably merged into a large unified organization.
Meltdown crew having a drivers meeting
The stars of the show, with their variety in age, style and color, a multi-layered kaleidoscope, all-in-all more than a supermarket for automotive history; front-engine dragsters, gassers and altereds, super stockers and street machines, everywhere in each direction. Old American automotive iron, as far as the eye could see.
Normally the mechanics of the writing process are not something that is written about. For starters, a notebook with blank pages and some sharp pencils. Lug the laptop to the media room, plug in and start pounding the board or wait until Monday, go home, read the wrinkled notebook and start pounding a keyboard. But after seeing the scale of this extravaganza, I realized it would be necessary to write immediately after each interview and with no media room that meant finding free-range electricity ASAP. Using the race car generator was not an option on Thursday evening so I went scouting every power pole in the area for an outlet.
I ended up at a steel mesh fence corner under an overhead street light just light enough to read my notes, balancing my laptop while sitting in a fold-up chair. Cool and breezy but dry and also under a star-filled sky, could have been worse. Where? I’m keeping that location to myself, might need it again.
The 1965 Plymouth Hemi altered wheelbase in panel painted white and red from South Oak Dodge was interesting, along with its livery mate, a 1966 Dodge Coronet in white and red.
The two ‘Chizzler’ front-engine dragsters were also in the display. The one-engine, number 180, long(er) wheelbase, chassis panels in silver aluminum. The two-engine, number 200, shorter wheelbase, bare tube chassis visible. Both powered by ‘first generation’ Hemi’s, blowers on top, the twin engines, each at a 30-degree angle to vertical, with those chrome valve covers engraved with the ‘Chrysler Fire Power’ slogan. Historic drag racing, and in your mind’s eye - remembering - a young Chris Karamisines nearby. Saw a couple of cars with ‘modern’ reproduction style wheels. No rule is perfectly enforceable.
The day’s highlight: At the 1/8th-mile mark on the return road side, two Chevrolets parked side-by-side, both were gassers, with blown and injected motors and came from the same manufacturer. But those were the only things they held in common. One was a 1950 Deluxe model, named ‘High and Mighty’ in a dark green satin color next to a 1966 Chevelle in flat black but with a gray fender. The contrast between the eras could not have been greater.
Day Two, Friday July 15
With its sheet metal made with World War II era tooling, the 1950 Deluxe is high and round with a low back window and high two-piece windshield, the fenders, round and bulbous, clearly hung onto the body and frame, a semi-bullet shiny chrome grille.
Doug Rykel 1950 DeLuxe
High and Mighty
Now owned and driven by Doug Rykel of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, the car came from the Albert Lea, Minnesota, area by way of Bruce Vaight, who built it into its current gasser (G/G) configuration. In his fifth year of ownership, Rykel has been racing and showing the car for four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin. He also owns a coupe but said he prefers the gassers and altereds.
At a 0.060 over 350 small block (364 cubic inches) with a Turbo 400 and 4.11 gears and two 600 Holley carburetors, Rykel is currently running in the 13’s, but would like to go a little faster. “We’re going to try a bigger cam and some head work, get some air flowing through it,” he said. “You know how it is. We always want to do something more with them.”
The Chevelle, whose driver/owner I was unable to make contact with, was a full two feet lower, with sharp lines and edges, a large framed rear window and an angled back rectangular windshield, fenders integral with body.
One a bathtub and one a jet, the contrast in 16 years of automotive evolution could not have been more obvious.