(Note: this was first published in American Drag News, September, 2000.)
Mid August in Oklahoma is always hot, but on the weekend of August 18-20, the hottest place by far was Thunder Valley Raceway and the Heartland Hot Rod Reunion. This nostalgia race is THE event for nitromaniacs in the Central U.S. Imagine 13 AA/FD vying for a field of eight. Imagine Jr. Fuel dragsters, a Slingshot/Altered class, Outlaw Fuel Altereds, traditional Gassers, Outlaw Gassers (looked like Pro Mod or Outlaw Pro Street to me), Nostalgia Eliminator, runs by the Winged Express AA/FA, and the very foundation of drag racing and in my unpopular opinion, the most important class of all, Flathead/Inline. Super Pro, No Electronics, and Jr. Dragster were available for the regular weekend racers.
Next to the flahtheads, of course, the stars of the show were undeniably the AA/Fuel Dragsters. The format for the competition has a really nice twist to it with the Saturday night Heartland Top Fuel Shootout. In the Shootout, the quickest qualifier in each of the two Saturday night qualifying sessions race each other for a purse provided entirely by donations from racers and supporters. It turns out to be one of the biggest purses in nostalgia racing.
So let the cackle begin. (OK. I admit, I stole that line, but it certainly does fit.)
The first cackle was the cackle of laughter and good times at the Friday night barbecue. I missed that one, but from all reports I missed a doozy.
The next cackle began just after sunset Saturday with the first session of AA/FD qualifying. Lord, I love nitro at night. The header flames were most abundant, eyes were watering, and I think my ears are still ringing despite the ear plugs. Such wonderful torture.
Low qualifier of the first session was Rance McDaniel in the Champion Speedshop car. This small block Chevy is the mouse that roared. When they staged, the nitro cloud was unbelievable. They must have thrown in the can and the label, as we used to say in the old days. It paid off with an early shut off run of 6.22 at 197 mph. They were definitely in the shootout.
Other six second performances in the first qualifying round were Bach and Gould in their Ford Cammer with a 6.40 at 229 mph, Troy Green with a 6.52 despite slipping and sliding a bit, Kent Terry with a 6.54 at 222 mph, and Denver Schutz on a very hairy, every which way but straight pass which still managed 6.79 at 165 mph.
Mike Boyd driving the Mastercam car was top qualifier of the second round and top qualifier overall with a 6.21 at 225 mph. Boyd's normal job, and one he had performed earlier that evening, is filling the shoes of the late, great "Wild Willie" Borsch in the recreated Marcellus and Borsch Winged Express AA/Fuel Altered. Between AA/FD qualifying sessions, Boyd made the quickest run to date in the Winged Express. I guess you could say he was having a good night.
Bach and Gould ran in the sixes again, but the 175 mph speed reflects the big hole in the side of the cammer's block. Even though they thought the rare engine could be welded up, they were through for the weekend.
The final pair of the second qualifying session was Champion Speed Shop against Suhr and Lechtenberg. This wasn't just qualifying. Dale Suhr and Roger Lechtenberg had challenged Champion Speedshop for the number five spot on Nitronic Research's nostalgia fuel dragster list. This was quite a race. Rance McDaniel cut a .401 light. I don't care how deep you stage, that has to be a guess. Regardless, he squeaked by Lechtenberg's quicker 6.25 with a 6.36. This doesn't tell the whole story, though. Lechtenberg got crossed up on the big end and slowed to a 173 mph while taking out a few cones in the process. If only they could have stayed straight, they would have made good the challenge. They would also have been the number three qualifier, but crossing the center line disqualified the run, so last year's winner wasn't even in the field. Sad, but as they say, that's racin'.
Several oil downs, particularly from a seriously grenaded Outlaw Fuel Altered, slowed the show for the winner-take-all shootout, but the faithful stayed the course. It was about 2:00 in the morning before the final pair was fired. Folks from the West Coast couldn't believe you could get away with running nitro in the wee small hours, but there they were - Rance McDaniel in the Champion Speedshop car and Mike Boyd in the Mastercam car cackling through the still night air.
When the light turned green, McDaniel was out on Boyd, but had to peddle, so it was pretty much neck and neck from what I could tell. In the end though, it was Champion Speedshop's 6.28 to Mastercam's 6.37 that won the $4600 booty.
Sunday morning came way too soon, but I drug myself out of bed and after a grocery store breakfast I was hard at it again.
By the time I arrived, the final field of 8 AA/FD had changed from last night. It was already known that Bach and Gould were out of the show, but Randy Lauens and Jon Barrett were hammered by mechanical problems, too. That meant Claudie Meadors and Suhr and Lechtenberg would be in. This could be interesting, and interesting it was.
Denver Schutz and local favorite Troy Green lead off with Green's 6.86 taking the win. Next up were Champion Speedshop and Joe Hendricks. Joe wasn't too optimistic about this one, but Rance McDaniel had to pedal a bunch of times and Joe Hendricks knocked out the number two qualifier with an easy 7.46. A serious upset.
Kent Terry and Caudie Meadors were up next. Meadors sees flame between the blower manifold and head and clicks it. Kent Terry makes a 6.81, 204 mph solo for the win.
Mastercam and Suhr and Lechtenberg were the final pair - low qualifier vs. the team that lucked into the competition. Well, luck as still with them. Mastercam had scorched a crank throw and even though they had a spit and bailing wire fix, they decided it wasn't worth the risk to fire the engine. Roger Lechtenberg shook the tires, took up the whole track, and ran a 7.31 at 139.
In the second round Kent Terry and Suhr and Lechtenberg are the first pair. Terry clicked off a 6.42 at 195 mph to Lechtenberg's tire shaking 8.46, but Terry lit the red light. Suhr and Lechtenberg had dodged another bullet.
The other pair was Troy Green and the other lucky guy, Joe Hendricks. This time it was power over luck as Green took the round 6.42 to 7.25.
The final looked like a replay from last year with Troy Green taking on Suhr and Lechtenberg. What a race this turned out to be. Talk about side by side. Both cars turned 6.31s, even though Roger Lechtenberg pulled the chute early. It didn't matter though. Troy Green left just a tick too soon and took himself out.
So there you have it. Dale Suhr and Roger Lechtenberg came from way down in the pack to pull off a repeat win. Who would have thought it. But, hey, that's racin'.