Vintage front-engine dragsters to roar at Firebird - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Vintage front-engine dragsters to roar at Firebird

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Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2003 10:43 am | Updated: 1:25 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Rewind the timing on straight-line, quarter-mile racing 35 years.

It’s 1968 and drag racing is serious business, well on its way to the big time with the Big Three automakers producing engines well beyond 400-cubic inches in the fight for new muscle-car sales.

You’ll also find 17-year-old Steve Tryon of Mesa wrenching all the oomph he can out of the hot-rodded 265-cubic-inch engine bolted in his 1956 Chevy.

That Chevy, running in the 12-second range, was an admirable start.

And Tryon’s not finished yet. In fact, he’s never stopped racing.

"I still hang in there," said Tryon, an estate planner by day. "I’m not the quickest guy on the start line, but I usually catch them down at the other end. I can still leave with most of the guys."

This Saturday night at Firebird International Raceway Tryon, 52, and a 150 other drag racers are turning the clock back to drag racing’s youth, filling Firebird’s paddock with an assortment of hot rods, including 16 Pro Nitro front-engine dragsters, at the Memorial Thunderfest featuring the Pro Nitro cars.

The event is a celebration of drag racing’s early heyday and is organized by Jerry Hutchcroft of Chandler, who in the last six years has built the series into a popular and growing venue for the older cars.

"This event is the type of event that got me hooked on drag racing 35 years ago — nighttime, flames, loud cars, and the smell of nitro," Hutchcroft said.

The National Hot Rod Association sanctions Hutchcroft’s Pro Nitro series, now in its sixth year. The series holds as many as four events a year around the West — at Chandler, Las Vegas, Sacramento and Tucson, attracting more than 500 racers over the season and about 15,000 fans.

"We expect this (Saturday) to be our biggest, most spectacular event," Hutchcroft said.

He’s expecting up to 7,000 fans at Firebird to see an anticipated 150 entries, including the star of Pro Nitro cars, the 3,000-horsepower "Nanook," a fuel-altered dragster driven by Rick Hough.

Also on the card are Top Fuel nostalgia cars, classic Funny Cars, a jet-powered Ford Focus, exhibition vehicles, bracket-racing hot rods and Sport Compacts.

Tryon, who over his 35 racing years has had, at his best count, 20 cars, each a little faster, will be driving a blue AA fuel-altered 1932 Ford bantam roadster named Bad Company. With its 500-cubic-inch Keith Black Hemi, it runs well over 200 mph. His best run is 227 mph in 6.51 seconds.

The launch is strong. "It’s a pretty good smack," he said. "It sets you back against the roll cage."

Unlike the last of the frontengine dragsters, which were liable to explode and tear up equipment and drivers, the Pro Nitro engine Tryon and others use are not built to such dangerous tolerances. If — make that when — they blow, the explosion takes out the bottom end instead of disintegrating the blower.

"This (car) is pretty up to date," said Tryon, who does all his own engine rebuilding. "This will probably last me." But, after a short pause, he hedged his prediction. "You never know. Tomorrow I may want something else."


Terry Borcheller of north Phoenix passed for the lead on the last lap of the inaugural Barber 250 last weekend at Birmingham, Ala., to win his first Rolex Grand American Road Racing event this season in a new Chevy-powered Daytona Prototype sports car.

Two late-race cautions allowed Borcheller to make up a minute deficit and close on the Brumos Racing prototype piloted by Hurley Haywood and J.C. France.

"It seems like it’s been a long time coming, but it’s only our fourth race in the car," Borcheller said. "The team has been working really hard."

The Barber 250 will be aired on SPEED Channel at 10 a.m. Saturday. . . .

Eric Wilkins mastered the hard, slick one-third of a mile oval at Manzanita Saturday in windy conditions to earn his first victory of the year. It came after six races in the Arizona Sprint Car Association series.

The Manzanita race attracted 35 Sprint Cars, a record for participants so far this year.

Memorial Thunderfest

What: Pro Nitro drag racing

Where: Firebird International Raceway, near Chandler

When: 7 p.m. Saturday (Gate 3 opens at 4 p.m.)

Tickets: $25 for adults, includes pit pass; children 12 and younger are free.

Info: (602) 268-0200

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