Every Father’s Day weekend for the past decade thousands of hot rod and nostalgia drag racing fanatics have made the journey to Bowling Green, Kentucky to pack themselves into Beech Bend Raceway Park for the Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion presented by AAA.
This is where some of the best drag racers from years past and hot rodders all come together and gather in a massive celebration of their sport.
The only challenge you may have is where to spend your time. You could get lost walking through the rows of these incredible show cars or try to relax under the shade while nostalgic drag cars fight it out down the track.
This year Beech Bend was honored to have Tom Hoover as the Grand Marshal of the Holley NHRA Hot Rod Reunion presented by AAA. Hoover has been an icon and leader in drag racing since the early sixties. He has won many national events driving Top Fuel and Funny Cars from 1964 through 1999 when he decided to retire racing. Tom said, “I have enjoyed all the friends I have made over the years. We are still like a great big family. What’s so cool about the NHRA is there are so many show cars mixed in with the drag cars. That’s what is so unique about this show.”
Every year the NHRA honors a handful of drag race legends and gives them special recognition for their efforts and achievements. Jack Ditmars was there to tell us how he started racing in 1955.
He received the very first Wally ever presented at a race. “Before that, the winner would pretty much get a pat on the back and a bottle of water,” Jack told us. Jack has won the Car Craft Comp Driver of the Year Award, along with many other honors.
The other honorees were Jack Moss, who was one of those who used the dual engine approach to his car. In 1952 he ran 136 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Bennie “the Wizard” Osborn, began his career in 1952. He suffered serious injury with his superlight Chevy powered Top Fuel dragster early on and he also defeated Tom ‘the Mongoose” McEwen in a one-shot race for $14,000. Today he still is a regular at the Cackle Fest with his restored fueler.
Jere Stahl started in the 50’s with a D/Gas ’39 Chevy Coupe. You may recognize his name from the competition headers he developed while still racing. He has broken many records with the cars he has driven over the years. And finally, Bill Stebbins, who bought his first dragster at age 20 and six years later he was building dragsters with Tom Severt. Bill was successful at being one of the first to develop a rear engine dragster which would ultimately win four major events consecutively.
Every one of these honorees has an incredible story to tell about the history of this sport. Jack Ditmars mentioned something very profound, “You will never find a bunch of people with more camaraderie than here. These old racers are all about family and having a good time.”
Bowling Green is a nice small town in South Central Kentucky that is full of that southern charm and hospitality. And every year the people from that town open their arms to some of the legends of drag racing to show their support. Bowling Green even named their AAA Baseball team the Hot Rods. “I am in love with this town of Bowling Green, it’s so beautiful. Even though Bakersfield is great, here it’s so laid back and relaxed. More people friendly,” racing legend Tom Hoover told us.
Beech Bend Raceway is a very historical drag strip. The track itself has such a nostalgic feel to it with its covered grandstands and old wooden fold down seats. When sitting even in the highest row you are still so close to the track the fumes from the front engine top fuelers can still burn your eyes.
Eileen Daniels, Co-Director of the National Hot Rod Reunion, has been involved with this sport for more than 60 years. She and her late husband Bob Daniels started going there to race many years ago and were the developers of the Reunion. Eileen told us, “People so look forward to coming to this event to see friends they met the year before.” In fact this year over 20,000 people decided they would head that way to find new friends and hang out with those they haven’t seen for the past year.
Show ‘N’ Shine
As you walk around the Soffseal Show ‘N’ Shine area it’s easy to see why people would want to come to this show every year.
Over 1500 cars paraded through the gates in every color, shape, and size lining up in every available space throughout the grounds with thousands of people drooling over them.
No matter your poison there was no shortage of hot rodding eye candy to be had. From the high stance of those straight axle gassers to the low and sleek old school rod or muscle car, we’re quite sure you would have found one that would give you the chills.
Many different awards were given out to cars in several different categories for the Soffseal Show ‘N’ Shine Best of the Best awards. These cars were given invitations to attend the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indy and will compete for the very prestigious Bob Daniels Award of Excellence. This coveted award is one of those that guys will build a different car every year just for the opportunity to try and win.
For the first time, Street Rodder and Painless Performance teamed up to choose ten car owners for the possibility to have their car featured on the cover. The Gary Anderson Attention to Detail Award, which was created in memory of the late founder of Soffseal, was presented by his widow. All of the award winners did such an amazing job creating a one-of-a-kind piece of rolling art. Here’s a closer look at these spectacular and well deserving Car Show Winners.
Nostalgia At Its Best
Sitting in the covered stands at Beech Bend Raceway Park is unlike any other drag racing experience you can imagine. As two A Fuel Altered cars roll through the water box and heat those tires up, the deep scream of the engines vibrate throughout your whole body. When they line up, the RPMs revving high and then let loose, you can almost reach out and touch them.
As you walked through the pits you would find racing legends more than willing to talk to you and sign autographs. “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Larry Dixon Sr., and “Ohio George” Montgomery were some of those who were out making new friends and mixing with the crowd.
Many restored original drag and push cars made exhibition runs throughout the weekend. A couple of jet cars took their turn in heating up the track in a massive display of fire as well. As the weekend moved forward the grandstands were packed with those anxious to witness the action from the Nostalgia Top Fuel, Funny Cars, Geezer Gassers, and Fuel Altered as they screamed down the track.
The rain on Saturday didn’t slow the crowd down from having a great time. Many took this time for a cool down with the kids jumping in the puddles. The NHRA clean up team made quick work of drying the track and getting back to the action. The crowds didn’t seem to mind because as the cars began to line back up there was standing room only against the fences. For more info on the winners check out the drag results.
Until Next Year
As the weekend came to a close Saturday night the traditional Cacklefest began. If the sound of nostalgia front engine top fuelers, funny cars and nitro cars gets you excited, you wouldn’t have wanted to leave early.
More than 40 of these cars lined up in an eye burning display of sound and fire. The Cacklefest is always a crowd favorite with the chance to be up close to the action while these cars pop and throw fire.
If for whatever reason you weren’t able to make the journey to Bowling Green this year, you should definitely start making your plans to attend next year. The great news is the NHRA and Dallas Jones, owner of Beech Bend, came to an agreement and signed the contracts to continue to bring this incredible nostalgic showing of drag racing history back to Bowling Green for five more years.
We are confident this will continue to grow and become the best show in the hot rod and nostalgia drag racing world.