Fire in the Pipes – Gibbs’ Geezers to Star in “Nitro Revival”
By Cole Coonce
Photos by Marc Gewertz and Cole Coonce
Cacklefest King’s will hit the road this fall. The whole vintage top fuel “Cackling” phenomenon started in the year 2000 at Bakersfield’s California Hot Rod Reunion as an eight-car tribute to the half-forgotten and the fallen. Under the auspices of NHRA Museum mavens Greg Sharp, Steve Gibbs, and others restored vintage iron once campaigned by drag racing’s original slingshot gunslingers in the 1960s was fired up en masse, showcasing the smoke, the noise and the acrid discharge of nitromethane molecules.
As eight vintage fuelers simultaneously growled, spewed, and popped before the photogs and the railbirds, grown men openly wept that evening. Unlike other fueler warm-ups, nobody excused the lachrymose public display as the aftereffects of nitro in one’s eyes. These were tears of pure joy, based on a lifetime of memories as the “Howard Cam Rattler,” Art Chrisman’s “Hustler 1,” the “Magicar,” and the “Vagabond” pulled at the heartstrings and burned off the nostril hair of the assembled.
Those refurbished and re-popped dragsters maintained a streamlined, minimalist look with details like a 3-point roll cage that wouldn’t pass modern safety standards. Therefore a cackle jockey could light off his steed, but couldn’t launch ‘er down the quarter-mile. But actual velocity wasn’t important. Even with these beastly machines merely idling, the cackle craze became a movement. Now, 17-years-later, there are over 100 Cacklefest dragsters from California to Canada, ready to rock dragster devotees down to their toenails, nationwide.
Steve Gibbs, now retired from NHRA from his role as its Competition Director and as a consultant, will take his freaky fossil-fueled phenomenon on the road as an independent show. His first stop will be at Barona Dragstrip outside of San Diego on Saturday, September 30th.
“We’re calling on all our friends to support this,” Steve Gibbs reported. “We’re calling this event a ‘Nitro Revival.’ Cackling has become a big enough entity that it needs a day of its own.”
Over 40 historic cacklers will flip the mag switch at Nitro Revival including the “Warren-Coburn & Miller” machine, the “Chizler” AA/Fuel Dragster originally driven by Chris “the Golden Greek” Karamesines, and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits’ legendary “Swamp Rat 3.”
In addition to all that sexy 1960’s hardware, the human element is also part of the “Nitro Revival” draw.
“We are going out of our way to make the V.I.P. racer feel welcome,” Gibbs states. “It will be Hall of Fame guys. You can go down the list. We will go out of our way to make sure the fans can rub elbows with those guys.”
To that end, an autograph session will feature Ed “the Ace” McCulloch, Dode Martin, Bruce Crower, Herm “the Northwest Terror” Petersen, “TV Tommy” Ivo, Marvin Graham, Roland Leong, Gary Beck, Mike Kuhl and Carl Olson, as well as Steve Gibbs himself. Gibbs casually mentioned the expected appearance of Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen as well.
The cacklefest dragsters will be the headliner at Barona, but the show will be supplemented by a handful of contemporary Heritage Series-legal AA/Fuel Dragsters making 330-foot blasts down the Barona strip.
“It will be legendary-type cars and legendary-type people,” Gibbs concluded.
And thus, in revival, another legend is born.