History, Heritage, Hemis, and Hot Rods
When NHRA moved their east coast Holley-sponsored version of the Hot Rod Reunion back to Bowling Green’s Beech Bend Park for 2008, I figured I would have to go back again. I had been disappointed to see it moved to Columbus last year, as the Ohio facility is still pretty modern. Beech Bend (so named because it’s actually in a horseshoe-shaped curve of the Barren River) Raceway’s park-like setting, with trees in the pits, covered stands, and lack of concrete amenities (other than some fresh guardrails and starting line) makes it a perfect place to host vintage drag racing. There was a time when I used to try to go to see racecars anytime I could. In my older, possibly wiser days now, I am more selective – this deal is cool.
As expected, the cars on hand at the event were all interesting and unique, with some fresh treasures arriving from garages and shops across the Midwest. You’ll see coverage of that elsewhere on MoparMAX, but sometimes more enjoyable for me these days are the people you get talk with; you never know who you’ll run into when a nostalgia event of this magnitude occurs. 2008 was no exception.
For instance, most of the surviving members of the Ramchargers team were on hand. Tom Hoover, Mike Buckel, Jim Thornton, Tom Coddington, Dick Jones, Barnes Daniels, and others made up what was likely the largest single group of inductees to ever be honored at one of these events. The team was accompanied by the guys who had replicated the High & Mighty Plymouth coupe.
Late on Friday, soon after I arrived, I had run into car owner Jim Bailey, who had a real 1962 two-door Dart station wagon packing a stroked Hemi in the stoker pits. This street-driven cruiser was lettered for the Ramchargers team (with the permission of the copyright holder), so after a couple of cell phone calls on Saturday morning, it was a fitting addition to the Ramchargers’ display area inside the circle track behind the tower. After getting approval from race director Steve Gibbs, the whole entourage headed for the starting line, with the elder Chrysler statesmen all packed into the Plymouth, the wagon, and a Dodge Ram pickup. The racing was held up for about five minutes to arrange a quick photo session. Pretty cool…
On Friday evening, the team had also been honored at a special presentation NHRA did at the host Holiday Inn. Sponsored by the Justice Brothers, it was Don Garlits himself who did the honors of presenting them with their trophies, and Thorton came forward to make a brief acceptance speech.
Garlits. I have become friends with a lot of the people who made the sport a big deal back in the day, but he is one guy who I still stammer to when I get in front of him. Hey, there is only one Garlits. I had just printed a few slides from my latest film purchase, and Don signed a couple of photos for me.
Of course, who should be sitting out behind the trailer in a lawn chair but Tommy T.C. Lemons. T.C. remains one of my favorite hang-out guys, so I usually end up spending a bunch of time just talking with him whenever I get the chance. Lemons has seen more highways and junky racetracks then most of us still alive, and, as many of you know, he was Garlits’ right hand man for many years. After seeing Union Grove Raceway’s Broadway Bob Metzler earlier in the weekend, T.C made a couple of jokes and then told a typical T.C story.