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Event Report by Bill Pitts

Escondido, CA - September 19, 2009: How long does it take for a "fad" (a "craze") to become known as a sustained "movement"? In September of 2004, a small group of cackle cars made it to Escondido's weekly street cruise called, "Cruisin' Grand". Back then, the yearly one nighter was called the "Big Rail Review". And in the March 2005 issue of "Hot Rod Magazine", we were startled to find a picture from that evening and prose written about it within an article entitled, "The Retro Craze". Within the magazine were statements mentioning the term "fad" in connection with what was going on with the rat rods and the cackle cars, giving one the feeling that somehow all this was going to stop. That museums were the eventual destiny for these cars. Well, it's been 5 years since that first group of cars hit the streets of Escondido and although financial support have been slowed by the economy, the enthusiasm hasn't backed off one bit.

Over these five years, with the help of Steve Waldron, the man who brought back "Cruisin' Grand", and the Downtown Business Association of Escondido, we were able to improve, almost every year, on our car count of vintage fuelers. The Firestone sponsored John Ewald and his two car team would roll onto Broadway and unload, and other guys like Dennis Prater and Jay Carpenter became regulars for this once a year demonstration of the cars and stars of top fuel's past. Randy Walls paid us a visit a couple of times and then the fuel altereds pulled in to help with the show. But when the economy turned south, the sponsorships we were able to acquire in the past, dried up. Burger King helped us out this year with $500.00 and some other small contributions came in, but outside of that we were up a creek for help in paying for anything including the nitro.

Things had changed in terms of what the City of Escondido could pay for as well. Police and fire coverage, street and crowd control, etc., became items that had to be paid for. We had every reason in the world to "scratch" the event. But when the going got toughest, the necessary funds to just barely make it, appeared. But that was of no help to the teams. In the past we had paid appearance money to some of the teams that had come from out of town. That was not around this year, so all we could do was let the teams know that we would have 5 gallons of nitro for them and that was all we had.

We started with "interest" shown by 20 or so cars, and with any kind of event of this type you certainly expect the unexpected. Family illness, not having enough time, money, or team members to make the run down to Escondido. There are just soooo many factors that affect whether a team can make the show or not. And to top all that off,of course, you absolutely need a cackle car in good running order that won't unnecessarily jeopardize the crowd. One of the cars that couldn't make the show was the Magicar. Fresh pistons arrived days behind schedule, coming in the day before the event.

But a core of cars continued to voice their commitment to come and once again the drama began to unfold for each team as the event got closer. From minor items to major back breakers, most of these teams have issues that must be overcome in order to field a healthy car and perform as expected on that night. As most of you know, these are NOT turn key operations. Granted, the cackle tune and corresponding budget is allot less than a "race budget" but still--the car and team have to be right in order to perform as expected. And each team takes great pride in doing their part to sustain the continuing spotlight on drag racing's "Golden Age".

So they came and they conquered, so-to-speak. 18 fuel cars. Two of which were for display only. The "Winged Express"--Mousie and his team brought the car down and set up a display. No matter what this car does, it's a natural crowd pleaser. Thank you, Mousie and team.

The "Birkholder Brothers" fuel altered. Harry Birkholder came all the way down from Northern California, met up at Robert Reel's house, and spent enough time looking at the motor to know that there were too many questionable points of concern to light the car on fuel. They dug in to it that night and at 11:00 a.m. (the morning of the event), I got call from those boys and despite their inability to perform, they got the car back together and brought it down anyway. That was really appreciated. And what a beautiful sight to see the two altereds, side by side, on display at the beginning of our "Nitro Row".

Next to the Birkholder car was the "Climax" fuel altered of Rick Billuni, Steve Serot, and Ben Schiebel. This was the late Ray Higley's altered and the boys made the car run hard in Ray's memory. Rick Billuni, of Toyota of Escondido, has always been a big help with expenses in the past and truly must be thanked for getting the event to this level.

The fourth altered on scene was the magnificent team of Tocco, Harper, Garten. This is another of those wonderfully intact original teams from the early 70's that roamed the Southern California tracks. Mike Tocco, just says, "We'll be there." For "Nitro Night" AND "Thunder on Main" which takes place on the following Wednesday in El Cajon, California. And Mike comes all the way from Las Vegas. Thank you, Mike, and your whole racing family.

The BankAmericar and Mastercar of Firestone sponsored, John Ewald, just knocked everybody's socks off! The faces in the crowd told the story.

Ron Johnson's two car team of Tommy Ivo's "Barnstormer" and "Shubert/Herbert" small block Chevy--complete with Zane Shubert himself--add so much to the show. It's the variety of all these cars that makes the show so rich and attractive to the fans. The Johnson family effort with these two wonderful pieces of drag racing history continues to be appreciated by all.

"Poison Ivy". This car, tended too by Jay Carpenter, is such a consistent and gorgeous performer. Ken Blackmore owns the car and lets Jay maintain it, and bring it out for us all to enjoy. Many thanks to these boys for keeping "Poison Ivy" alive. Bob Deburne and "Paradise Alley" with Paul Bunde in the seat, made sweet music for the crowd. Bob has recently made some necessary changes to the car and it's running better than ever. Paul's efforts on the planning committee for the event, brought us the "Burger King" sponsorship dollars we so desperately needed.

The Yeakel Plymouth Special, surrounded by the second generation drag racing family members of Baney and Rossi, were just astounding to watch. These guys know the drag racing heritage they bring to the crowd and are soooo happy to be able to present it. Good job, boys! Lil' Tommy Larkin is always appreciative of the attention paid to his racing history thanks to the continued efforts of his son Trevor. This recreation of one of Lil' Tommy's small block diggers is really running well and brings a huge round of applause from the Chevy lovers out there.

The Dean Engineering Goodyear Bluestreak Special of the McCloud Brothers just THUMPS! Jake--you got a knack with these hemi's. He works the motor on that car like he was tending to a prize show dog. All those who are a part of this team, must be very proud of what they have brought back for us all to enjoy. Runner up in a 64 car field? Strong stuff, Jake!

The Wynns Special of Bobby Hanson is another very healthy piece that ran like a top! This car is yet another of those that you just have to spend time with to truly appreciate its attributes and strong racing history. If you haven't already, get to know these guys. They're really great people. Holy Cow!! What a beauty! Bobby Hirsch just did a marvelous job of bringing back this wonder example of one of the late "Starvin'" Marvin Schwartz' fuelers. Bobby used one of Marvin's later cars as the foundation for the beautiful one that no longer is around. And we're grateful for Bob for bringing Anaconda back for us all to enjoy. Just a stunner--and she thumps too, thanks again to Jake McCloud.

The "Rattler" was part of a much appreciated appearance by Dusty and Gwen McWilliams. Dusty and Gwen not only brought down the Howard Cam Rattler for us to enjoy, but Dusty has his Homeland Security Clearance for the transportation and dispensing of nitro. He brought the life blood of these cars and we thank him for doing so. The Rattler was poppin' hard too. Thanks, you two.
The "Iron Horse" of veteran top fuel pilot Sam Chastain is just such a beautiful example of the "drag art" of the day. What a beauty! The art of these cars just keeps comin' at you, not to mention the knock out punch of the hemi in the "Horse". Sam stopped by Rick MacDonald's place on his long drive down from Northern California and found a few things that just makes the beast bark really hard. Sam's participation at "Nitro Night" is a pure joy to see and we hope he'll continue to make the journey to the event. Thanks Sam!!

The "Trick Car" of Tommy "The Watchdog" Allen--Man, you've just got to see this one up close. It's classic Woody in the back, with that unmistakable independent front suspension that had to be TOTALLY RECREATED by a guy by the name of Freddie Hayhurst. In fact the whole car (tube and tin) is Freddie's work and it's something to see. This newest addition to the cackle fleet is a doozy and Tommy, one of the original drivers and the bucks behind this recreation, asked and got the best from all those involved. Next stop will be the parking lot at the Double Tree on Friday night at the CHRR. You're gonna love it.

The show was incredible and safe with Bruce Crower as the "Grand Marshal".

And we can't thank the teams enough for making Escondido's "Nitro Night" another incredible success.

Photos by Jim Phillipson, Darrell Conrad, Pam Schavrien and John Ewald




Participating Cars and Owners

Tommy Allen "Trick Car" AA/FD Tommy Allen
Tommy Ivo's Barnstormer AA/FD Ron Johnson
Poison Ivy AA/FD Ken Blackmore
Shubert & Herbert AA/FD Ron Johnson
Trevor's Car A/FD Trevor Larkin
Iron Horse AA/FD Sam Chastain
BankAmericar AA/FD John Ewald
Mastercar AA/FD John Ewald
Climax AA/FA Billuni Sarot & Schiebel
Tocco & Garten AA/FA Mike Tocco
Wynn's Spoiler AA/FD Bobby Hansen
Paradise Alley AA/FD Bob DeBurn
Yeakel Plymouth Spec. AA/FD Frank Baney
Dean Engineering Spec. AA/FD Jake McCloud
Howard Cams Rattler AA/FD NHRA Motorsports Museum
Marvin Schwartz "Anaconda" AA/FD Bob Hirsch
Tocco-Harper-Garten- AA/FA Roger Garten


Dragster row headed by the Anaconda.




Tommy Ivo - Barnstormer



Walt Stevens and Sam Chastain



Old timer and all around good guy - Bill Shilling.


This was one of the first cackle events where car owners as well as event owners and sponsors were covered by a $1,000,000 K and K liability insurance policy that the Cacklecar Owners Alliance (COA) has for it's members. Bill Pitts is the head honcho of COA and oversaw the whole event as well. Connie Braun (Ron Johnson's daughter) is getting waiver forms signed and doling out wristbands with an assist from Wendy Barker (seated) exec of the Escondido Historical Center.


Dragster row from other end.


The Bank Cars



If you like purple you had to like the Paradise Alley and Yeakle cars side-by-side.



Poison Ivy



Cynthia Carpenter babysat her sweetie John's Mastercar.


Iron Horse




Tommy Larkin





The event marked the pre CHRR debut of Tommy Allen's repop of his Woody "Trick Car" and it's a beauty.




This was one of just two 1967 Woody (RCE) "trick cars" so named for the unconventional front suspension. The first car, which is the one that has been recreated by Tommy Allen went as follows: Woody builds the car and it is his factory car. The first driver is Steve Carbone.

Then Gene Adams puts his motor in the car and John Mulligan drives it for a bit. Then the car goes back to Woody. In the meantime Tommy Allen has allot of miles on his RCS car and it is suggested by Mulligan that he go buy a Woody car.

Tommy goes up and comes back with the Trick Car and runs it for a bit then he buys it from Woody. Then Tommy gets drafted in '67 and Larry Huff and Marlene, Tommy's wife sell the car to Tom McEwen. Tom runs it for a while then it gets sold to the Anderson Brothers in Texas and a young up and comer, somebody by the name of Kenny Bernstein drives it. Then the Anderson Brothers sell the car to a local guy and the local guy crashes and is killed at a local track.

The second car is the one that Jim Dunn drove. It was green and had a nose. Jim wasn't happy with the front end and took it off and put on a conventional front end. From there that car went up north and was eventually crashed as well. The front end of the second car rests on the ceiling of Tom Wilford's garage.


Tommy "The Watchdog" Allen on the right with his arm over the shoulder of the car builder, Fred Hayhurst.


The Birkholder Bros. car was there on display as well. Harry Birkholder came down from Northern California to join Robert Reel with the car, but they found allot of problems so they were unable to fire up.



The Winged Express was also on hand but silent.




The first of two fire-up (cackle) sessions was in the afternoon with Jimmy Scott in the Poison Ivy car going first.





Walt Stevens, who is one of the 2009 CHRR Honorees, fired the Dean Eng. car.


Paul Bundy in Paradise Alley


Bob Hirsch was in his Anaconda. One of these days we'll get a shot of him smiling!




Rick McDonald was on hand to light the Climax AA/FA


Steve Serot in command of the Ray Higley "Climax" AA/FA



Roger Garten


Trevor Larkin in the seat of his little Chevy car.




Gwen McWilliams was in the seat of the Rattler tuned by hubby Dusty.





Ex-driver now Safety Safari leader, Don Irvin oversaw Bill Shilling's first fire up in Hanson's car.





No ID on who was in the Yeakel Plymouth Spec.






Tommy "The Watchdog" Allen in his new piece.




Rick MacDonald of Pro Air in Escondido, Ca. in the Iron Horse.







The Grand Marshall for 2009 was the legendary Bruce Crower. In June, there was a modest car show at Crower Cams headquarters in San Diego for Bruce's birthday. A few cackle cars were there and it was the first time Bruce had been near one of these old cars (when running) for years. He was invigorated by the experience and has become a fan of the Cackle cars. Plans are underway for an even larger event at Crower cams next year.



Time for nitro at night....


Ron Johnson's Barnstormer with Kol Johnson in the seat lined up with Paul Bundy in Paradise Alley.







In the Shubert & Herbert was its original driver, Zane Shubert.


Jimmy Scott in Poison Ivy with the Yeakel car in the far lane.






Mario Garcia in the BankAmericar


A pair of alterds - Climax and Tocco, Harper, Garten




Trevor Larkin




Walt Stevens was back in the McCloud Bros. car.



John Ewald in his Mastercar







Tommy Allen



Bob Hirsch



Gwen McWilliams



Rick MacDonald






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