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Escondido, CA - September 17, 2008: Six years ago an invitation was made by Steve Waldron, organizer of “Cruisin’ Grand” to Bill Pitts, owner of the Magicar, to bring his MagiCar top fuel dragster out and put it on display. Pitts offered to fire the car up and Waldron said “yes!”. By the time the fuel ran out, a crowd had gathered and the invitation went out to bring on more. So the second year, Pitts and Waldron scraped up some sponsorship money to help cover the cost for four other golden age fuelers. Added to that show was a big screen, put on the street corner. Photos and movies, set to music, helped show what golden age drag racing was really like, while pairs of dragsters lit and moved to the line to bring to life the tension of the start. All eyes were on the display, complete with flames, fumes, and ear splitting nitro motors. With drive lines disconnected, the cars were pushed and pulled into position. The crowd went wild!!

The following year, 9 cars made the show. Push cars were added to provide the fuelers with forward momentum as they moved to up to one of two mock starting lines. Once again the crowd called out for more. Last year 20 cars performed for the crowd. A Christmas tree starting mechanism was added and VIP seating kept the sponsors and famous people of drag racing happy with front row seats.

This year The Downtown Business Association of Escondido took over the production of Nitro Night and after collaborating with Bill Pitts and Ron Johnson came up with a new twist, the Ring of Fire. That said, here is the event as covered by Cacklefest.com photographers.

Photos by Jim Phillipson, Ron Johnson, Darrell Conrad, Pam Schavrien and James Drew.




Participating Cars and Owners

Magicar AA/FD Bill Pitts
Tommy Ivo's Barnstormer AA/FD Ron Johnson
Poison Ivy AA/FD Ken Blackmore
Chubasco AA/FD Clyde Dedrick
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
Smironff AA/FD Joe Passelaqua
Paradise Alley AA/FD Bob DeBurn
Yeakel Plymouth Spec. AA/FD Frank Baney
Dean Engineering Spec. AA/FD Jake McCloud


The day started off with a static display of the dragsters on North Broadway.











Jay Carpenter, Sam Chastain (owner of the Iron Horse) and Jimmy Scott.




The Magicar "crew" LtoR: Gene Leslie, Vince Yamasaki, Rick MacDonald of Pro Air Motorsports, Billy Pitts, Jerry Copeland, and the famous Jumpin' Jeep Hampshire.








The person on the left side of picture is Crew Member: Steve Toth
The person on the right front of picture is Crew Member: Bob Tocco
The person on the right side in back is Crew Member: Joe Toth
The person in the driver seat is the original Driver: Roger Garten








Trevor Larkin busy cleaning a wheel on Trevor's Car as his friend Ashlynn assists.


Walt Stevens (left) with Dennis Prater. Walt drove many cars back in the 60's and Dennis owns the Stellings and Hampshire Red Stamp car, but came here to spectate.










Always the largest crew - the Yeakle Plymouth Spec. team. left to right:
Chuck Goebel, Judy Fitzgerald, J.R.Fitzgerald, Louis Baney, Frank Baney, Ronalle Baney, Stephanie Carpenter, Janet Bivens, Jerry Bivens, Jim Rossi, Chris Young, Paul Rossi.




Prior to any fire-ups Bill Pitts made sure all the teams were on the same page.



This is Lynn Christy. Lynn was a flag starter at San Diego Raceway in Ramona California (early 60s) along with Mickey Shidner.


This year, due to budget cutbacks, the big screen TV was not a part of the evenings entertainment, but Bill Pitts provided his usual, insightful, explanation of the early years of drag racing as well as introduced the cars and owners etc.


DragCARTOONS Robin and Orah Mae Millar were among the fans the enjoyed the days activities.


Roger Garten in the Tocco-Harper and Garten AA/FD. Mike Tocco brought the car all the way from Henderson, Nevada. He and the crew just had too much fun last year to miss this year. It was paired up with the recently restored Ray Highly "Climax" AA/FA.


The first pair to be fired up were the two AA/FA's, Tocco-Harper-Garten and "Climax". They were towed by a golf cart and a Model T street rod. Here they are at the "Starting Line", located at the intersection of Broadway and Grand facing North. 50 chairs were set up around the Starting Line for VIP's, a mixture of sponsors and old-time racers such as Dode Martin and Jim Nelson of Dragmaster fame.




When Steve Sarot was much younger, he was on Ray Higley's pit crew for a period of time. Now the Escondido resident gets to sit in the seat of the Ray Higley "Climax" AA.FA. Steve works with Rick Billuni and Ben Schreibel at Toyota of Escondido and the three of them co-own the car and restored it to it's former glory. Beautiful car and plenty noisy too.



Looking South, the cars were paired at the alley and fired and pushed slowly for 1/2 block going North, close to the crosswalk, where VIP seating was arranged in a semi-circle. 7 pairs.


Ron Johnson, owner of the Barnstormer, waits with Marc McCormick (in drivers seat) and Rick MacDonald for Bill Pitts to give the signal to start the motor.




Kol Johnson drove Ron's El Camino alongside the Yeakel replica pushtruck and pushed each pair of cars except the Smirnoff car, which needs a very special elevated pushbar.


Don Irvin who heads the NHRA Safety Safari for many races throughout the year was on hand to help organize the fire-ups.


Upon the signal from Don Irvan, each pair of cars were started and once running were pushed slowly to the "Starting" line. Then the push cars would back up and prepare for the next pair of cars. The dragsters had to be pushed because it is mandatory in this setting, that the drivelines be disconnected or removed.









Once at the "Starting" line, the cars ran for up to about 3 minutes additional, with a mixture of idling and revving the engine, called by some "whacking the throttle".





Smirnoff, with Julie Passelaqua (Joe's wife) in the seat. The car was built for a pretty small driver and though Joe is very trim, he can't get in the car. Julie got tapped and now she's hooked! Joe recently bought an era correct Olds Vista Cruiser and built a push bar for it, to deal with the pushbar located right under the parachute.




Trevor Larkin



Jimmy Scott was in the seat of the Poison Ivy fueler and Walt Stevens manned the Dean Engineering car.









Eily Stafford who drives the Bayuk/Jordan NE 1 car was in Paradise Alley.




As usual, Jeep Hampshire was in Bill Pitts' Magicar.


Paul Rossi was in the Yeakel Plymouth Spec. AA/FD.















Mario Garcia got the call for the first fire up in the BankAmericar while John Ewald was in his Mastercar.














Nitro Night Awards of Appreciation were presented to the Ring of Fire participants by Sue Dusharme from the Downtown Business Association of Escondido and Bill Pitts.






At about 8 p.m. the cars were staged for the "Ring of Fire" (a concept done once before at the 2002 California Hot Rod Reuion). The 14 dragsters would be pushed into "ring" in center of South Broadway and fired simultaneously!


Ron Johnson had suggested that they put the cars out in the middle of the street for a mass fire-up, and place them in an extended oval shape and call it the "Ring of Fire". (Credit to Steve Gibbs and Greg Sharp for the idea and name.)

There were two sets of lane separator lines on the pavement about 10 feet apart. On the North end near the crosswalk where the VIP seats were located, they placed the pair of altereds on the two lines facing South. Then they put two more pairs of cars facing South. Here's Chubasco, angled out a little bit with the inside front tire on the line. Next was Magicar. These were on the West side facing South. On the East side was Barnstormer opposite Chubasco and Yeakel, opposite Magicar.

You can see the VIP seating in the background. It formed a rough semi-circle on both sides of the street and along the crosswalk.


Then they changed direction and placed the rest of the cars facing North, again angled slightly to the street so the headers aimed slightly to the sides of the street.. Dean Engineering is on the East side of the street facing Yeakel and Barnstormer.


The last car on the East side on a diagonal was the Tommy Larkin Chev. Behind it was the Ewald pair, BankAmerica and Mastercar, on the traffic stripes similar to the altereds on the other end of the display area.

So they had 7 pairs of cars. 3 pairs were pointed generally South and 4 pairs were pointed generally North.

Having had the experience in England of the cars being placed in a straight line taught Johnson that you would want them placed so the headers weren't aimed directly at the car behind, especially in tight quarters like this where they would have been almost tightly positioned nose to tail. And the street wasn't really wide enough to have cars fully crossways to the street. Besides, they were a little unsure about the effect of headers aimed directly at shops with plate glass windows.

It was a bit of a hassle, moving and re-moving cars as they filled out the rows, but in the end it was pretty tidy and uniform and it worked just fine.












The PA system was pretty good and they played the Johnny Cash song "Ring of Fire" and as soon as the song ended, all 14 cars were lit up at once. Here, Kol Johnson and Rick MacDonald waited for the song to end. Rick gave Kol a hand with the fire-up which was helpful as Ron was flitting around trying to get some pictures, but he got back in time to "push the button" to light Barnstormer. Marc McCormick sat in Barnstormer for both El Cajon and Escondido.


Chuck Goebel and Frank Baney waited as we did for the song to end, so they could light the Yeakel Plymouth car with Paul Rossi in the seat.



Clyde Dedrick at the ready for the "Ring of Fire".















For the Ring of Fire Becky Garcia was in the BankAmericar and Bill Pitts was in the Mastercar. It was great to see the guy who started the cacklecar movement and who's usually on the outside looking in get the seat for a change.










A good time was had by all including Mario and Becky Garcia's daughter in her nifty pedal car. Participants were told later that the crowd on hand was the largest ever in all the years Escondido has sponsored the Cruisin' on Grand weekly event. The spectators were estimated by staff people at over 20,000 in number and their enthusiastic response after the last motor shut off was enough to make grown men smile! Plans will be underway for next year to be bigger and better.




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