Cacklefest ignites nostalgic remembrances
Top Fuel's history is steeped in tradition and technological advancements, but nothing melts the heart of a hardcore Top Fuel fan than the sight of a front-engined Top Fueler.
As part of NHRA's 50th Anniversary celebration at the season-opening AutoZone Winternationals, NHRA officials arranged for a reprise of Cacklefest, a popular feature that made its debut at last year's California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield.
Six vintage front-engined Top Fuelers were push-started down the Pomona Raceway return road, lighting up in front of the fans in a manner reminiscent of the 1960s and remained running simultaneously for several minutes. Cacklefest is a tribute to days gone by, and to the old rule that any car whose engine was running at the hour that qualifying was planned to end would still be afforded a pass.
Following the semifinals of the Pro eliminators Sunday, the cars streamed down the return road to the cheers of the fans. Those taking part were Art Chrisman, at the wheel of his Hustler I; Keny Safford, in the Sour Sisters dragster; Jeep Hampshire, driving Bill Pitts' Magicar; 1970 Winternationals champ Larry Dixon in the Howard Cam Rattler; Carl Olson in the Kuhl & Olson entry; Steve Davis, in the Greer-Black-Prudhomme machine; and the recently restored Beebe & Mulligan entry, which was unveiled Friday night at the NHRA Motorsports Museum. Restorer Dave West was at the controls of the 1969 Winternationals winner.
Olson, winner of the '72 Winternationals (in a rear-engined car), and who also took part in the original Cacklefest at Bakersfield, said the two experiences, while both awe-inspiring, were completely different and enjoyable on their own merits.
"At Bakersfield, virtually nothing has changed in the last 30 years; they've got the same tower and pretty much the same grandstands, and, for the most part, the same people hanging over the fences. It really was like stepping back 30 years in time; when [Mike] Kuhl pushed me down the fire-up road, it was eerie how I was physically and emotionally and psychologically delivered back in time. It was exactly the way it was.
"Pomona was 180 degrees difference. When we ran those cars last at Pomona there were temporary grandstands, a little dinky tower, and, of course, the fire-up road at Pomona was not in front of the stands but rather where today's staging lanes are. Today we've got 30,000 or more people in permanent grandstands, guardwalls, and a huge tower suite building. There wasn't a feeling of nostalgia as far as where we were doing it or who were doing it in front of, but we all felt that it added a great deal to the event and to the kick off of NHRA's 50th Anniversary.
"I'd love tell you that I looked up in the grandstands and waved at all the people, but frankly I was pretty busy at the time. Any time that an engine in a Top Fueler of any kind comes to life, the driver needs to be figuring out where he's going and what the oil pressure is doing and so on."
Today's Top Fuel drivers have the luxury of sitting in their cockpits and the crew firing the engine with a remote starter; the stars of yesteryear had a lot more on their hands.
"A successful fire-up is part the driver of the push truck, who has to hit the right speed (about 40 mph) and the driver knowing when he wants to light the engine," said Olson. "Once you know you have oil pressure, you prime the throttle by going all the way to wide-open throttle and hit the mag switch. When you let the clutch out, you pray the engine will light. When it does, even at idle, it will pull away from the push truck."
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