2023 Nitro Revival – Honoring the Cars and Stars from The Golden Era of Drag Racing
Nitro Revival is many things: a tribute to the early days of drag racing, a car show, a reunion, a history lesson with a heavy dose of nitro, but most people will tell you it’s all about the people. The people who built, raced and tuned these cars during the golden era of the sport. The innovators, the record breakers, the warriors who risked it all in the name of speed.
Nitro Revival has become drag racing’s Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.” And they did. Nearly 100 front-engine dragsters, fuel altereds, vintage funny cars and thousands of drag racing fans filled the pits at Southern California’s Irwindale Speedway November 4-5 to see the largest gathering of drag cars and drag racing personalities ever assembled.
Southern California was the hotbed for fuel racing in the early ’60s and drag strips such as Lions, Riverside, San Gabriel, San Fernando, Orange County and the original Irwindale Dragstrip were a huge reason why. So it’s only fitting that these cars returned to Irwindale to thrill the fans once again.
At 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, the first car to fire up was the Tocco, Harper & Garten fuel altered. And after that it was nitro overdose for the rest of the weekend. One by one, some of the most colorful cars in drag racing history roared back to life as nitromethane ran through their veins. As the cars got louder, the crowds got bigger.
Over 50 Hall of Fame drag racers including Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, Tommy Ivo, Richard Tharp, Ed Pink, Bob Muravez (aka Floyd Lippencott Jr.), Linda Vaughn and Darrell Gwynn took part in a massive autograph session on Saturday afternoon that also included Bonneville legends Al Teague and Danny Thompson.
Each year Nitro Revival honors a handful of Southern California drag racing icons. This year’s recipients were “Big Jim” Dunn who has owned, raced and tuned funny cars for more than 50 years. Dunn’s life was the subject of the drag racing movie, Funny Car Summer, that was released in 1974, and he’s still tuning a nitro funny car today. Other recipients included top fuel and funny car driver Tommy Allen; Stock and Super Stock racer Dave Kempton; Art Carr, who drove gassers, funny cars and dragsters before shifting his focus to transmissions where he earned the nickname the “transmission magician”; Top Alcohol driver Bruce McDowell; and crankshaft manufacturer Henry Velasco. The Cal-Rods Car Club that was founded in 1954 at nearby Baldwin Park High School was also honored during the event.
The grandstands were packed for Saturday evening’s “Line of Fire,” an emotional tribute to the glory days of drag racing where 60 vintage drag cars were lined up and stretched the entire length of the eighth-mile track. One by one, these fire-breathing monsters came to life, header flames piercing the night sky. As the last car shut off, there was a huge round of applause, and fireworks lit up the California sky as nitro fumes lingered in the air.
While this wasn’t a race, there was still plenty of on-track action that included more than 40 gassers that were organized by the Outlaw Gassers So Cal group, AFX cars, exhibition runs and push starts just like the old days. The staging lanes looked like the ’60s all over again.
Away from the track, “The Hot Rod Hangout” car show featured hundreds of colorful hot rods and muscle cars. Breather masks, goggles, vintage firesuits, old track jackets and drag racing memorabilia added to the atmosphere of the event. To wrap up two beautiful days in SoCal, Sunday’s festivities were highlighted by One O’Clock Thunder, where nearly every race car on the property fired up at the same time. It was horsepower heaven.
Nitro Revival reunites old friends and rivals alike. It even reunited drivers with the cars they drove over half a century ago. “I haven’t seen you in 30 years,” was heard more often than anybody could count while hugs and handshakes were a common sight throughout the weekend. Nitro Revival founders Steve Gibbs and the late Ron Johnson created something special. The close friends who shared a lifelong passion for drag racing set out to ensure that the pioneers of the sport, their heroes and friends would never be forgotten. They have accomplished that and much, much more.
2023 Nitro Revival Photo Extra!
Photos by Marc Gewertz