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In Praise of Real Race Cars Part 2

Every year we get further away from the era that made Chrysler performance cars so famous (or infamous, if you were in the other lane). Indeed, the 1990s saw a rise in many forms of historical racing, from the popularity of the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England to the 24 Minutes of Daytona featuring old road race cars. Though Mopars have had a presence at both of these venues, where the old Dodges and Plymouths have really shined has been in nostalgia drag racing.

This movement was born out a “perfect storm” of sanctioning body indifference, a lack of sportsman racing focus from those same organizations, and a desire to try and go back into the past again. Making some concessions in the interest of safety, vintage-styled front-engined dragsters and pre-1980s funny cars made the scene again, together with gassers and altereds. Vintage bodied Super Pro, Super Comp and bracket cars were also involved as organizations like the Goodguys found that people did like to see this stuff. Until this year, they had been the main purveyors of nostalgia nitro racing, though even NHRA is now in on the act at their reunions.

All the old guys like long-time Garlits crew man T.C. Lemons agree that nostalgia racing is “Faaaarrrr out!”

Meanwhile, some of the veterans of the door car wars have also returned to field or become involved with cars running in nostalgia Super Stock. I have to be honest, while I like the smell of spent nitro fumes and freshly-annihilated Goodyears as much as the next guy, my heart is drawn to the gas-burning NSS iron. There is something about that roar of the headers; those hard, wheels-up launches, and the closeness of the competition that makes this a great part of the nostalgia scene. Moreover, it is side-by-side, moderately-tire-sized Detroit package cars rather than a dog’s breakfast of pre-war, muscle era, and modern era machinery mixed together as in many bracket divisions.

Tom Orlando has been making his own history in the Mr. 5 & 50 Plymouth that Jack Werst replicated back in the late 1990s. Seen here at Beaver Springs York US30 Dragway Reunion.

As we mentioned in the last column, Jack Werst, a Plymouth employee who drove the fabled ‘Mr. 5&50’ Plymouths, had a car running this way, resplendent in the vintage paint scheme, until he became frustrated by health issues. With permission from Bill Jenkins, Marco DeCesaris replicated a tribute to the 1965 “Black Arrow” Plymouth that Jenkins had driven to a win at the Winternationals back in the day. However, these are exceptions; most of the current crop of nostalgia vehicles are painted to match the vintage era, not replicate the personalities that drove them.

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