Nearly 1,200 National Hot Rod Association enthusiasts descended on Great Bend’s Sunflower Rod Custom Association Drag Strip on Tuesday morning to enjoy a free session of racing.
The races were held in conjunction with the first Hot Rod Magazine Drag Week, and there was no place like making a stop at the S.R.C.A. Drag Strip — the birthplace of drag racing in 1955.
“We got them through and we had no incidents,” said S.R.C.A. president Hank Denning. “This track is the safest track on the circuit, and we had no accidents.
“I don’t think (the drivers) expected the track to be as aggressive as it was. We worked on the track until 1:30 (Tuesday morning) and we came back at 6:30. We prepped like we were going to do a division race and I think we maybe over-prepped, but that’s O.K. I’d rather it have with better traction than too slick.”
Larry Larson, out of Oak Grove, Mo., blazed the field, clocking 203.37 mph on the 8,000-foot straightaway, driving a 1966 Chevy II. The second-fastest time was registered by Mike Roy, of Bristol, Ind., as he established 180.26 mph in a ’71 Monte Carlo.
Larson also had the fastest time at Heartland Park in Topeka on Monday (197.51 mph).
Denning said the official count on attendance was 1,197, including NHRA fans from Canada (15), Australia (6) and England (3) that flew in specifically to attend the race.
“We had drivers from Virginia, California and Florida, as well as two drivers from Australia and four from Canada,” Denning said. “It’s a pretty big impact for Great Bend.”
There were hot rods of all shapes and sizes. There was everything from state-of-the-art, brand-spanking-new cars to the likes of a 1926 Ford Model T.
And, of course, there was “The Little Jewel.”
Don Garnett, a native of Lubbock, Texas, bought “The Little Jewel” in 2006 after first seeing it being rebuilt as a 12-year-old back in 1951.
Garner Jones and Herman Lawhon, both now deceased, rebuilt the car in two years. Lawhon raced the car in the first-ever NHRA race at Great Bend.
Sixty years later, Garnett raced the same car at Great Bend on Tuesday.
It nearly didn’t happen.
While traveling from Topeka on I-70 west to Great Bend on Monday, a bolt broke off in the block of his car.
“It sounded like a fan blade hitting the radiator,” Garnett said, “but the electric fan on this, I know that it didn’t work. We made our way to a service station (in Topeka) and checked it while some buddies stopped to help.
“We found a bolt broken off in the block. The car coasted in and wouldn’t start again. We got some Vise-Grips and worked that bolt out and then we finally found a bolt that would go in its place.”
There were more problems, though.
“We got that going, but weren’t sure about the alternator,” Garnett said.. “I didn’t know if it did any damage to it because it was hanging by the adjusting arm, so we headed out and I notice the voltage was dropping and that we were running on the battery.
“Halfway between Junction City and Abilene, the engine just died and we coasted to a dirt road (off I-70) and fellow racers stopped to see if they could help. I asked about three of them if they had a spare battery and a racer from California came by and he happened to have a gel-cell battery just like mine.”
Enter Keith Fox.
“My buddy Keith, who did the major restorations on this car, said that he would charge the battery for me. He has been a mechanic and trouble-shooter for 17 years and he cut into the tail light wire on his trailer and hooked up to the battery and let the current flow through there.
“The Little Jewel” ran on the battery until they spotted a service shop in Abilene, where they found the likes of Mitsbubishi alternator.
“If we hadn’t have broken the bolt, we wouldn’t have had a problem, but it’s something that happens,” Garnett said. “I drove it slow on the strip at Topeka. I said that I didn’t want to blow this engine and not get to Great Bend. My determination was to race it at Great Bend and Garner and Herman, here I am!”
The drivers departed for Amarillo, Texas, shortly after the races in Great Bend, where they will race this morning. They will go on to Tulsa to race Thursday and will return to Topeka for the finals on Friday night.”
NHRA DRAG RACING
Hot Rod Magazine
At S.R.C.A. Drag Strip
Larry Larson, Oak Grove, Mo., 1966 Chevy II, 203.37 mph; Mike Roy, Bristol, Ind., ’71 Monte Carlo, 180.26; Travis Gilpin, Lee’s Summit, Mo., ’68 Camaro, 178.57; Tim Reed, Kansas City, Kan., ’79 Ford Pinto, 169.76; Scott Smith, ’80 Chevy Malibu, 170.73; Bryan Goldstone, Osceloa, Ind., ’70 Chevelle, 162.33; Ed Ensor, ’89 Ford Mustang, 158.89; Rick Prosrero, ’65 Nova Wagon, 157.72; Tom Bailey, Waterford, Mich., ’69 Camaro, 157.08; David Schroeder, ’55 Chevy, 155.94; Glenn Hunter, East Northport, N.Y., ’56 Chevy Belair, 155.88; Antonio Porpiglia, Elkhart, Ind., ’85 Trans Am, 151.85; Curt Johnson, ’91 Mustang, 151.66; Jon Wischmann, Valparaiso, Nev.; ’95 Mustang, 151.60.