The other son rises…with 50 years of Maple Grove history

A number of years back, I wrote a column about my son John and his coming of age here in MoparMAX; John is my middle child, between my daughter Laurel (now a second lieutenant in the Army) and my youngest, Joel. John finished his first year of college and is working down in Florida for the summer. Meanwhile, Joel, who will be a senior in high school next year, is now my sole/soul partner in 2012 for summer touring.

It is not completely new, as Joel has been around a bit with us over the years, helping out at the York US30 Reunion and going to various shows. He covered the Deep South Mopars event with me in April, he and John were both with me in Farmington,  N.C.,  and now he was going with me to get a good whiff of ‘fire in the pipe’ nitro at the 50th Anniversary race at Maple Grove Raceway in June. He has gotten good with the camera (he filmed a one-hour-plus pseudo-horror movie called ‘Zombie Slayer’ using the neighborhood kids when he was about 12), so I have no problem giving him ‘assignments.’ His work is shown here.

Maple Grove was always special to me as a drag fan. Located about 70 minutes from my parent’s home, it was during one of Mike Lewis’ Budweiser-backed ‘Super Stock Nationals’ races in the mid-1980s that I had gotten my first serious taste of fuel racing. Back then, Lewis brought in the top eight cars – the Hawaiian, Prudhomme, Pulde, etc. – plus had a 16-car Pro Stock field, as well as a full range of sportsman cars as part of an associated Winston point meet. I was hooked, and when the Keystone Nationals started, I attended the first ten Keystone events before moving to Bristol to work for IHRA in the mid 1990s.

At any rate, Lewis had gone on to more mobile pursuits with Don Schumacher Racing, but he would be on hand for the one-day event on June 23, driving the Brand X Mustang of Henry Gutierrez (the Stardust ‘cuda Mike had been scheduled on had recently been sold). Raymond Beadle was here, with Ronnie Young’s 1978 ‘Blue Max’ Plymouth Arrow. Frank Hawley would be wheeling the ChiTown Hustler 1974 Charger of Troy Martin, and the Winged Express had come in for the first time since 1971, according to owner Mousie Marcellus, who signed autographs while driver Mike Boyd and one other crew guy serviced the Hemi-powered T-bucket. Even Prudhomme was on hand, serving as Grand Marshall of the event. The track also intended to honor the past with a car show and some special awards. And if you still were not thrilled, four jet cars and Bob Motz' incredible jet semi would round out the show.

This was worth making a trip for, and Joel would be my co-pilot. We needed to make a couple of working stops on the way, however. One was to collector John Jancic of Statesville, N.C., to clean up some issues on a feature I had shot of his ’70 Hemi Road Runner. So we were up at 5:00AM for a three-plus hour trip east. That work took about an hour to complete, then it was up into the hill country of Virginia to see a Chevrolet restoration specialist named Rick Smith, who had three Motion and one Yenko bow-tie in his shop (hey, I gotta pay the bills somehow, right?). We ended up at my parents’ house in Delaware, 18 hours after we had started the day off.

Saturday was perfect Pennsylvania weather. We made a detour to memorabilia dealer Mike Goyda’s home near Lancaster, who regrettably informed me that a 1950s era NASCAR poster I had bought down in Statesville at an antique mall the previous day was bogus. It was only about 40 minutes to the track from there, and Joel quietly accommodated himself to a steady string of my old acquaintances and friends who were also on hand. We did an interview with Dale Pulde for another project, talked with Mousie while Boyd spun wrenches, and shot the opening round of the sportsman classes as well as the car show. Prudhomme, Hawley, Beadle and Pulde were inducted into Maple Grove’s hall of fame, and other groups like the Eastern Custom Car Association (who had first suggested the facility become a full-fledged regional drag strip being used temporarily by a motorcycle group back in 1959) did their thing. At 7:00, things go under way.