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NHRR Cacklefest




June 19-21, 2009 - Bowling Green, KY: The 7th annual National Hot Rod Reunion is in the record books and for many reasons, it was an event that will stand out in the memories of all who attended. No one will forget the relentless heat and brutal humidity... the worst ever for the event. But they will also remember the over 400 race cars that descended upon the historical Beech Bend track, the hundreds of quality street and hot rods that packed the areas designated for them and of course, the huge crowd that packed the facility on Saturday and a record number of Cacklefest cars that put on a great show into the night.

And since this is Cacklefest.com, this is where that great show is shared with all those who could not make the trek to Beech Bend and for those who were there but were too overwhelmed to take it all in. Most of all it is a tribute to the dedicated historians who shared their restored or recreated race cars illustrating to all that drag racing did have better days.

Like all Cacklefest's, this one is better seen and just talked about so without further ado - here is Bowling Green 2009 starting from the beginning.

Photos by: Arlene Eliason, Don Ewald, Paul Hutchins, Paul Broughton, Steven C. Wallace and Jeff Unfried.


The weekend kicked off on Thursday with a ribbon cutting attended by city officials including Mayor Elaine Walker and NHRA Motorsports Museum Executive Director, Tony Thacker.




After the Media Day festivities concluded, the Crusin' Bowling Green hot rod showcase began. The NHRR is arguably the largest annual event hosted by this normally low key city and by all accounts no other city welcomes racers, rodders and fans on a grander scale than Bowling Green. The hotels, restaurants, stores and even the local police bend over backwards to make the huge influx of gearheads feel welcome. In spite of this years weather, the trip to Kentucky will remain on every ones must attend calendar for years to come.




A tradition at both Hot Rod Reunions is the Friday evening Honorees Ceremony and mini Cacklefest at the host hotel. In Bowling Green three premier cars were chosen to represent the best of what Cacklefest has to offer. For the fans viewing and listening pleasure were the Swamp Fox, Smirnoff and Howard Cams Ratter top fuel dragsters.











In spite of myriad health issues, Ralph Kitron was on hand with the Swamp Fox and to present Steve Gibbs with a special gift. More on that later.












Moving inside, it was time for the Honorees Ceremonies.



This is what the reunions are all about... Paul Candies, Preston Davis, Raymond Godman and Darrell Gwynn share some laughs.





Jerry and Pat Baltes had a full table.




Another reunion tradition is the presence of Dave "Big Mac" McClelland serving as the Master of Ceremonies.


Butch Maas and Tom Hanna were on hand with the Creitz's.





In a tribute to the famous Stone Woods and Cooke AA/GS cars, Mike Cook (Doug Cook's son 2nd from right) and Lenny Woods (Tim Woods' son- far right) were part of the honoree group along with the gentlemen who restored the two most famous Stone Woods & Cooke AA/GS Willis. We do not have their names at this time.



Army Armstrong...well known television commentator...tractor pulls, off road...etc. was on hand representing the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame for the induction of Randy Walls.


Armstrong and Dallas Jones, owner of Beech Bend Park...which includes the drag strip.



It was then time for Ralph Kitron to pay his tribute to Steve Gibbs for his countless contributions to the Cacklefest program.


Although it was a little much for Steve, who is not one who enjoys the spotlight, the tribute was right on and very heart felt.



However, the bottom line of this deal was Ralph presenting Steve with a true work of art conceived by Kitron over the winter while he was recovering from his fourth stroke.


Here Ralph "fires up" the 1:6 scale model of the Swamp Rat. Operated by remote control, the car comes to life to the sound track of a top fuel fire-up, burnout and run. The rear tires turn, the christmas tree works and the front wheels come up on "the pass". All the accolades in the world can't describe this beauty and it really has to be seen to be totally appreciated.



After the display, Ralph turned the remote over to Gibbs who was heard wondering, "How am I going to get this thing home?" More on this incredible pics at the bottom of Saturday's page.



It was then time to recognize the Honorees and what a deserving group it was. First up was Jerry Baltes who began his drag racing career in 1951 at Paradise Mesa near San Diego, Jerry Baltes raced for over two decades. He worked his way up from gas coupes, through Altereds to a gas dragster, then in 1962 to Top Fuel. He made it to number 3 on the Drag News Top Ten List, set an NHRA speed record, won the 1964 World Series of Drag Racing at Cordova, and finished number 2 in 1964 NHRA points. After a crash ended his driving career in 1967, he fielded the Tom and Jerry Mustang Funny Car as a member of the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars. He has recently restored his 1964 Top Fuel car for Cacklefest events.




Bob Creitz is known as an engine wizard, the inventor of the burnout and the most prominent Top Fuel racer in Oklahoma. In the 60s Creitz was a member of the unofficial group of hard-core fuel racers known as the “Greek Fleet”. Creitz’s cars have been runners-up at the ’67 Winternationals, made the first six-second pass in NHRA Nationals history, and at the PDA meet at Orange County in 1968 won the last 64-car Top Fuel show ever held. He won the inaugural PHR Championships in 1969 and runner-upped at the ’72 Supernationals. He has restored his last front engine fueler for Cacklefest events.





Amy Faulk knows drag racing. Experienced in Stock, Super Stock and Competition eliminator categories, Faulk was the first woman to win a national event in Alcohol Dragster and the first woman to win an NHRA division championship. In 1979 Faulk won the Super Stock national championship and in 1980 was elected to Car Craft Magazines All-Star team. In addition to her racing career, Amy has held management roles in the automotive aftermarket and currently serves as the chief administrative officer of Hypertech. She has served on the SEMA Board of Directors, was named SEMA’s Person of the Year in 1996, and is a member of the SEMA Hall of Fame.



Vance Hunt is a name synonymous with Top Fuel racing in the southwest from 1960 to 1971. As an owner/tuner, the Arlington, Texas racer fielded a long series of dragsters driven by Ed Mabry, J.L. Payne, Ted Arnold, Jerry Ellis, and Watus Simpson. Hunt began racing in the late ’40s at “any place we could.” Fuel racing beckoned in 1960, and with J.L. Payne driving Hunt defeated both Don Garlits and Chris Karamesines for the Number One spot on the Drag News Mr. Eliminator list and won the ’62 AHRA Nationals. In his final season he even briefly raced a Mustang Funny Car. In recent years he’s remained active as a tuner on nostalgia Top Fuel dragsters.





Chuck Nelson has been NHRA’s South Central Division Tech Director since the position was created nearly a half century ago. Nelson’s dedicated career began at the NHRA Nationals in Oklahoma City in 1958. He was selected by NHRA founder Wally Parks to be just one of nine attendees at the first official NHRA rules meeting in 1959. When he began, the racers had to build everything themselves, and he’s seen the tech side of the sport evolve into cars that are professionally manufactured. Nelson says, “You learn every day because the racers keep you on your toes. I keep trying to retire but Craig (Div. 4 Director Craig Hutchinson) won’t let me.”




Finally, Grand Marshall Darrell Gwynn. Selected as one of NHRA’s all-time Top 50 Drivers, Florida’s Gwynn won 28 national events in a short ten year career. At age 18 he was runner-up in Pro Comp at the U.S. Nationals. He scored ten wins in Alcohol Dragster before moving up to Top Fuel at age 23. In March, 1990 Gwynn made the quickest run in drag racing, at the time 4.90. Just weeks later, he crashed at England’s Santa Pod Raceway changing his life forever. He was paralyzed from the chest down and lost part of his left arm. Even while recovering, he changed roles to team owner where his car scored 14 victories. He is dedicated to the cure of paralysis and maintains a very active schedule of public speaking, technical consulting and enjoying life with his wife and daughter.







While hundreds attended the ceremonies inside, hundreds more were packing the Convention Center entrance area to experience the kick off to Cacklefest. When things wrapped up inside, Steve Gibbs came out to oversee the fire ups.






In the seat of the Howard Cams Rattler was Kentucky's own Dale Funk. This was the first time he had sat in a top fuel car in 32 years.


Funk got the mask adjusted and settled in for a short wait. The Rattler was the last car to fire up.




Rex, Steve and Dusty did the final prep.


Ralph and Dusty McWilliams


The cars current owner David Hoyh helped Ralph into the car. This was the first fire-up he had done in a couple of years.


Gibbs made sure Ralph was comfortable.




The Swamp Fox was the first car to fire.









By this time the covered arch way was full of nitro and the fans were going nuts.




Joe Passalaqua then fired up the Smirnoff car with John Weidler in the seat.













Before the Smirnoff car had shut off, McWilliams lit the Rattler and Dale Funk was smiling ear to ear.










Gwen McWilliams and Don Ewald checked out Paul Broughton's cackle shots which can be seen on this page.


High Speed Motorsports team members Walt Stevens and Pete Palumbo bookend the irrepressible George "The Bushmaster" Schriber who was well up on the tires by this point of the evening.



This little gal pretty much summed up the whole deal.





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