NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series
Looking Back: 45 years ago to 1978
The NMRA Motorcycle Records Championship event held here at Beech Bend Park in 1978, June 16-18, was also known and billed as The “Big Boogie.” That happened some four and a half decades ago. While this was the earliest known NMRA or National Motorcycle Racing Association event held for and by the NHRA, it was also the biggest and most memorable during the first exciting decade of organized “all motorcycle” drag racing events, 1970 through 1979.
Close to 40,000 spectators and revelers flooded Beech Bend Park that weekend, including over 600 entries of competition motorcycles filling the various classes. In the professional ranks, the competition class of Top Fuel motorcycle was a who’s-who of the day’s top competitors.
After two qualifying sessions, the number one qualifier was Kenny Annesley driving Carl Ahlfeldt’s double-injected nitro-burning Kawasaki, with a 7.37 @ 185 MPH. The other seven qualifiers in the eight-bike field were Jim Bernard on the Teson & Bernard nitro supercharged Top Fuel Honda: Marion Owens, Joe Thronson, and Elmer Trett, each on double-engine nitro-injected Harleys.
Russ Collins was in the field, but a busted crank in one of the Sorcerer’s two motors kept him out of eliminations. John Dixon was in the show with a newly created Yamaha Top Fuel bike he was sorting out. Also present but suffering parts breakage was T.C. Christensen with the Hog Slayer, who used what parts they had during qualifying. They too, could not compete on race day.
This era was when a double-engine Norton, a new Yamaha, various highly modified 750 Honda motors, and double-engine nitro Harleys all thrilled the fans in the same class. This Jurassic Period of Top Fuel motorcycle competition certainly suffered its share of parts breakage and delays, but the eclectic mix of bikes and racers held the fan’s interest. No matter what brand of motorcycle a fan had a common heart with – it was anyone’s race to win on Sunday, no matter what the combination was.
To read the full story on the history of the 1978 Big Boogie, see this link:
The NHRA Wally Parks Nostalgia Reunion, by most who attended, was an event to be remembered by all privileged enough to attend. Blue skies and 88-degree temps daily greeted the throngs of nostalgia lovers who witnessed over 1,000 “Show & Shine” cars, hundreds of hot-rod drag cars, and two very determined Harley Pro Fuel Racers.
Drag racing veterans Jim Martin and Richard Boone, tuned their Pro Fuel bikes for solid A-B passes and came out with wheels-up delivery for passes to thrill the crowds. In Saturday, the last day of the three-day event, Jim and Richard made their calls on time and put the thunder onto the 1320 of Beech Bend Dragway, etching their names in the history books as having performed in front of a packed house for the National Hot Rod Heritage Series in 2023.
The thousands of fans present witnessed 120 CID carbureted Nitro Harleys doing what they do best – deliver high-quality Nitromethane entertainment. Eyes watered and ears of all ages received another pounding. Still, most importantly, memories were made by adults and children alike, who will remember the big thunder bikes that stormed fearlessly for the finish line.
At 2 PM in the afternoon, in the Nostalgia Top Fuel Motorcycle display area, veteran Top Fuel motorcycle pilot Roland Stuart and his son Chuck fired up their Top Fuel Suzuki, with which Roland won the 1982 US Nationals. They performed an impromptu Cackle for the fans who were hungry for all the nitro they could ingest. Fans walking the infield area of the Speedway at Beech Bend park got an earful, much to their delight.
The Stuart’s not only fired up their drag bike in the middle of an 88-degree Kentucky afternoon, but they did also so knowing they were going to participate in the 8 PM Cackle Fest, set for later that evening. As twilight fell on Beech Bend Dragway, Roland and Chuck had the honor of rolling their bike out alongside close to two dozen nitro Funny Cars and Fuel Dragsters, including the Grand Marshall of the event, none other than Big Daddy Don Garlits!
After being introduced to the crowd by NHRA’s announcer, Brian Lohnes, the Stuarts rolled their Suzuki out there, the lone motorcycle participant in the event. Then, on cue, over two-dozen nitromethane fire-breathing beasts filled the night air with as much CH3NO2 as the crowd could stand.
Somewhere in the fog of it all, when it came time for Frank Spittle to load his double engine “Freight Train” back into the rented U-Haul before heading home, he caught a glimpse of the look in Johnny Vickers’s eye. Johnny said to Frank, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I know this bike is ready to run.”
Frank replied, “I knew you were going to say something, sooner or later,” and he smiled a big grin, and the call was made, “Hey, someone bring up some Nitro and a starter.” While this tale is being paraphrased somewhat, that’s precisely what happened. Two veteran fuel pilots at a Nostalgia event stopped what they were doing, and a few other Nitromainiacs pitched in, and they fired up Frank’s old double right there in the parking lot, simply because it needed to be done.
For such a pristine famous drag bike as Elmer’s old double to be at a drag race at Bowling Green, KY, where it did indeed race this very race – 45 years ago – for that bike to remain silent was just wrong. Drag racers, being drag racers, they can’t leave well enough alone and they spun the starter, one more time, and flipped the mag-switch to on.
The smiles and memories thereafter: Priceless.
Now some 45 years later, racers like John & Jody Gregory, John Dixon, Sonny Routt, Chris Hand, Roland Stuart, Bob & Sid Chantland, and others are back on this hallowed ground at a much more respectful and well-evolved event entitled the Wally Parks, Nostalgia Nationals, presented by Holly, running from June 15 –17, 2023.
The modern-day Pro Fuel bikes of Jim Martin and Richard Boone brought the thunder while many nostalgic vintage drag bikes sat peacefully on display. Fans were thrilled to see the old drag bikes, which spanned the ages from the 1950 Chet Herbert creation “The Beast,” to Clem Johnson’s “Barn Job,” Mike Romine’s stunning double Harley and Roland Stuart’s 1982 Suzuki Top Fuel motorcycle. This display, arranged by Frank Spittle and Johnny Vickers, beautifully represented the full spectrum of fuel bikes that laid the foundation for today’s five-second Top Fuel motorcycles.
Hat’s off to the racers, the promoters, and the NHRA Museum and staff, who presented this nostalgic spectacle to thousands of fans this 2023 Father’s Day weekend.
THURSDAY PRE-EVENT REPORT
The NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series began today, June 15, 2023, by kicking off the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals at Beech Bend Raceway Park. This event will run through Saturday, June 17, 2023. Top Fuel motorcycles began set-up today and the four Pro Fuel bikes sponsored by Hawaya Racing also arrived. The Pro Fuel bikes are slated to make exhibition passes Friday at close to the noon hour and 3:30PM, subject to change and racing conditions. Story and photos will follow this event, with news briefs added daily.
|Until Next time…
– Tom McCarthy