JOLIET, Ill. – We had already seen this movie.
The format of running a regular program before putting on an exhibition show seems to be an increasingly common construct of drag strip management these days.
And why not? Collecting coin from the afternoon local racers AND ramping up revenue from evening nostalgia spectators is smart business.
But now throw in a delayed start, some unscheduled downtime, an end-of-season ceremony, a late afternoon rain delay AND a curfew. For Chicagoland Speedway managers Sam Martin and Charley Lindsay, the needle on the let’s-get-this-thing-done-on-time meter suddenly went off the scale.
With skill and hard work, however, they and the track staff were able to accomplish what appeared to be impossible at the third annual Route 66 Classic August 20 and completed the program by 10:55 p.m, including two sessions by Nostalgia Super Stock Inc.
The track staff had done a remarkable job in getting the track dry enough to race after a brief but copious rain shower at 5:30 p.m. Racing resumed at 7 p.m. with the bracket cars and semifinals of the juniors. But while the surface was clean, there was still a considerable amount of moisture on the margins.
As our first two of eight pairs waited under the tower with residual water sometimes dripping on the roofs at 8:30 p.m., we watched the Midwest Nostalgia Pro Stock Association show us a preview of what to expect as it worked through an inconsistent session trying to find the good spot on the surface.
Simply, some were able to get a grip and some were not. “Whatever it was, it wasn’t the starting line,” said NSS Inc. assistant starter Brian Derge. “You didn’t want to stand in one place because after about a second it was hard to move your foot.”
Dan Hradrisky and the 1963 ‘Homewrecker’ Chevrolet went a credible 10.696 at 128.05 mph while John Rousset and the ‘Hard Days Night’ 1963 Plymouth struggled to 11.20 at 120.27 mph.
After suffering the broken motor at Great Lakes, Rousset raided the corners of his shop and installed his original ‘smaller’ powerplant in a valiant effort to be present with a functional car. But the different heads and headers came too close to the starter power cable and the heat burned the insulation.
“The way the car left felt like driving a tractor,” said Rousset, who had been running in the high nines with the other engine. “I’m a little surprised the number was as good as it was. There was a lot of difference in the way things felt.”
In the second pair, Marty Bittle in the ‘Crazy Addiction’ 1964 Plymouth and Bob Durling in the ‘Teachers Pet II’ 1963 Plymouth both hooked up and battled to the finish line with Bittle taking a 10.322 at 130.81 mph to 10.483 at 127.20 mph victory.
Then Doug Henderson in the ‘Never Too Late’ 1964 Plymouth continued his new-found improvement with a 10.365 at 128.86 mph win over the struggling ‘Nightmare’ 1965 Plymouth of Ryan Eads at 11.251 at 125.37 mph.
Milt Schreindl and the ‘Full Tilt’ 1965 Dodge kept up his season-long string of consistent performances with a wheels-up 10.091 at 132.83 mph past guest Wes Weslowski’s 13.352 at 76.11 mph.
The best race of the session started with Mike Jessup in the ‘Last Dance’ 1968 Plymouth Barracuda leaving 0.197 and posting 9.690 at 139.03 mph to guest Scott Bourell in the ‘Color Me Gone’ 1965 Plymouth at 0.403, 9.723 at a fast-closing 142.72 mph.
In a deliberate mismatch because a line-up gap, the ‘Blast From The Past’ 1962 Pontiac of Larry Quinn beat the 1963 Plymouth ‘Asphalt Angel’ of Rich Berlisk 8.897 at 146.81 mph to 9.806 at 136.87 mph.
The seventh pair showed the ‘Resurrected’ 1963 Dodge of Mike Singleton with starting line problems and coasting down while the 1965 Dodge ‘My Gold Digger’ of John Grinwald launched, the front wheels came up and the car moved left toward the guard wall.
After heading toward what appeared to be certain contact, Grinwald got straightened out and motored out to a 9.707 at 147.73 mph.
“It looked to me that I had maybe about two feet of room,” said Grinwald. “I had to wait until it came back down before I could steer again.”
The final pair of the session was also one-sided as Jeff Wick and the ‘High Voltage’ 1964 Ford Thunderbolt limped to 13.322 at 54.29 mph after going left toward the centerline while Bill White and the ‘We Haul’ 1965 Chevelle clocked a straight 8.679 at 153.88 mph.
“Yes,” Lindsay simply said after he was asked if he was grinding through the process as we passed each other in the race control office.
With Rousset and Bourell (clutch issue) in their trailers, 14 cars reported for session two at 9:45 p.m., rolling up to the tunnel behind two juniors who were paired for their final.
After the track was quickly dragged, both Hradrisky and Weslowski had difficulty, posting 13.170 and 12.128, respectively.
“This is really frustrating,” said Weslowski, who is used to his car typically running in the low 10’s. “Maybe we need to move the link all the way to the bottom hole. We’ll just have to figure it out.”
Durling improved to 10.441 while Eads was still a half-second slower than normal at 10.995.
The first four drivers also had an unexpected obstacle to overcome as they were shown a 0.5 sportsman ‘tree instead of the usual 0.4 pro style. NSS Inc. starter Larry Brennan spoke with the track starter and straightened out the situation but under the time pressure for completing the program there was no chance of getting reruns.
At 10.275 and 130.82, the numbers were all-time bests for Bittle in the ‘Crazy’ combination as he got past Henderson’s 10.366 at 129.13 mph
Schreindl slowed to 10.141 while going a strong 132.84 mph as Berlisk posted 9.717 at 138.34 mph, both bests on this motor’s service cycle.
The mismatch had Jessup slowing to 9.812 at 138.79 while Singleton got a grip and streaked to an 8.771 at 153.77 mph.
The event highlight came with the Wick vs. White rematch.
Wick clicked -0.057 red and needed to, clocking 8.686 at 156.19 mph while White left 0.147 and went an event-best 8.650 at 154.62 mph. Both drivers had identical 1.287 60-foot times and were within 0.04 at the 660 and 1000 foot marks.
The final featured the wheelstanders, Grinwald vs. Quinn, with Grinwald getting down at 8.751 at 154.32 and Quinn, with 1/8-mile gearing, trailing 8.936 at 148.09 mph.
For all the toil and trouble, the best comment came from a spectator while walking past our pit on his way to the parking lot.
“Great show, guys,” he said.
“Thanks for coming out and hanging in,” we said.
© 2016 by Nostalgia Super Stock Inc. All rights reserved.