Gassers: Radical Retro Is Right On!
It’s blown, it’s bad and loud as hell, but Steve Crook’s “Blew By You” ’56 Chevy Nostalgia Gasser is a crowd pleaser. The Eastlake, Ohio Tri-Five has blown big-block Chevy power, does long, smokey burn-outs, wheelstands and is knocking on the door to eight-seconds.
Story and Photo Captions by Jim Hill
Those uniquely American drag race cars, Gassers, Modified Productions and similar race cars became “DOA” at the end of the NHRA 1981 racing season. It was then that NHRA officially eliminated Modified Eliminator from its major and divisional events. Gassers, MP cars and the other Modified classes were given the choice of moving to Super Stock or Competition Eliminator, or just staying home.
Unfortunately, many racers parked their race cars, took up golf or fishing, or just stayed home. In their place the “90 Eliminators” were announced. Super Comp, 8.90, Super Gas, 9.90 and Super Street, 10.90 replaced high-winding, wheelstanding Gassers and Modified Production cars. The decision was arbitrary and ironclad. At the ’81 Nationals hundreds of Modified racers staged a sign and banner protest lap of the return road, to no avail.
IHRA countered by announcing they would retain Modified and its classes, hoping to gain a healthy number of NHRA Mod racers for their events. It was a game attempt, but for most the game was NHRA, and they chose to quit, rather than switch. Besides, IHRA had far fewer tracks under sanction, and was still a heavily Southeastern regional sanctioning body. When Texas Funny Car racer Billy Meyer bought the IHRA he took the bold move of dropping all the Sportsman classes, staging major events without them. The move proved disastrous, and when IHRA was sold again, the Sportsman categories returned. But the damage was done, and further injury came in the form of rising fuel prices and a recessional economy.
Then, about 10-15 years ago, a strange yet welcome phenomenon known as Nostalgia Racing surfaced. Along with it came a fascination for things old, and recreated Gassers of the 50’s and 60’s. Flames, Moon discs, “Pie Crust” slicks and high and mighty suspensions were suddenly back in fashion. Along with them came Gen-X and Millennium girls dressed in 50’s attire.
Like the immortal baseball catcher Yogi Berra once said: “It’s Deja-vu all over again!”
The desire to return to days when everything, even drag racing, was simpler and less expensive, was strongly embraced. The classics had returned!
The Nostalgia Gasser movement has gained national momentum. Across the country tracks are hosting Nostalgia Drags and the pits are loaded with cars. The class structure is simplified and the cars sporting speed equipment not seen since the 60’s. Best of all, the atmosphere is laid-back and more about having fun.
It’s so refreshing to see an entire new group of fresh, young faces getting black-speckled from grit tossed into the air by smoking M&H, Mickey Thompson and Hoosier drag tires!
And so, here are a few of these newbie Gassers…
Crook’s ’56 is the complete Nostalgia Gasser package. Straight front axle, high and mighty stance, long, loud headers, full-length ladder bars and Moon tank ahead of the radiator were/are “required” Gasser gear!
Out West racers gather at Eagle Field for regular Nostalgia events. Old-time flavor is everywhere, right down to period-correct white race garb of officials!
Famoso Speed Shop contributes to the well-being of the “Okie Doker” ’57 Chevy, B/Gasser. The California speed emporium pays tribute to faned Famoso Drag Strip, better known as Bakersfield.
It’s tons-o-fun with this massive 1960 Chevy station wagon. “Hot & Heavy” sports straight axle, chrome-reversed wheels and whitewall cheater slicks.
Scruffy but deadly, this purposely “weathered” ’55 sedan has plenty of serious big-block power under all that grime. Full race chassis with big tires tucked away and wheelie bars out-back with Pro-Stock style launch says it all.
Dressed-out 50’s dolly provides eye candy for the equally impressive Capitol Speed Shop ’41 Willys from Stockton, CA.
From spit and polish to as-is, barn-find condition, this rare 1932 Ford Victoria has that 50’s Gasser look. Moon tank up front, American magnesium wheels and slicks suggest there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
Phantom 409 says it all for Jim Carniato’s ’55 150 sedan. This Nostalgia Gasser has no problem fogging the burn-out box with tire smoke created by a 409 HP, 409 Chevy “W” Series engine. Carniato and the blue ’55 are from Barrie, Ontario, Canada.
“Full Metal Jacket” Studebaker shows that a really great Gasser can be created from even a dubious starting point! Slick black paint, straight axle, polished aluminum wheels and tire-smoking HP are validated by the 10.82 dial-in!
Early Chevy II’s were notorious for front suspension woes. This Nova solved that with a classic straight axle and an injected big-block for wheels-up power.
Blown Chevy power and long burn-outs may be “Crazy!”, but they sure are fun! The Spotts Family AA/Gas Supercharged ’48 Anglia is a crowd pleaser.
It don’t need to be pretty to go fast, and this well-worn ’56 Chevy 210 sedan makes that a point. Straight axle and pkenty of power make for fun, fun, fun!
Nostalgia Gasser racing has spawned a couple of blown Gasser circuits, where classic Gassers bring back popular A/Gas Supercharged, 60’s era racing. Here Jim Crook’s ’56 Chevy and Benjamin-Kasicki-Klink ’33 Willys leave wheels-up at Norwalk Dragway, Norwalk, Ohio. (Johnboy photo)
Buffalo, New York’s Jim Oddy was an established blown Gasser racer in the 60’s and 70’s. He re-joined The Circuis with this blown, chopped-top ’33 Willys sedan. Skilled body shop work “created” a one-off two-door sedan Oddy calls “Junkyard Dog”. Old-school but quick, Junior Ward drives.
Street licensed, this ’55 has no issue with pulling its front wheels at Famoso track, near Bakersfield. Note “Cowboy Bail Bonds” sign on wall in background! Paul Soliz, a regular So-Cal racer provided the photo.
Drive-in movies were a big part of the 50’s. This modern Gasser replica sports street and strip, show and go in nostalgic setting. Backseats at the drive-in were often called “Passion Pits”.
Just to show that not all Nostalgia Gassers are Tri-Five Chevys, here’s a unique ’56 Ford Victoria Sport Coupe, tricked-out with straight axle, Moon front tank, big-inch motor and sticky-wide slicks at rear! (Dragzine photo)
I am most assurdely biased, but nothing says “Gasser from the 60’s” to me than a 1940 or ’41 Willys coupe. “Imposter” is a ’41 variety that is street equipped with big tires and blown Chrysler power. Beautiful!
While on the subject of fast Tri-Five Chevys, Charles Carpenter’s ’55 Chevy was one of the very first nostalgic racers, morphing from basically stock into a Pro-Stock chassis, big-inch, nitrous-injected, six second terror in what became Pro-Modified Eliminator.
Rob Vandergriff’s ’57 Chevy was a regular match race foe of Charles Carpenter’s ’55. Thunder Craft Boats is a popular SE bass boat builder.
Simply lethal, this big-block propelled, ’57 Chevy Bel-Air two door sedan carries full front end and bumpers. Pro-Stock style hood scoop and big-block power hooks hard off the Milan Dragway (Michigan) starting line.
Although its “satin black” paint lacks a glossy shine, this ’55 210 epitomizes the current trend in Nostalgia Gasser flavor. Cragar S/S wheels, whitewalls, straight axle up front, Moon tank out in the wind and correct fenderwell-exit headers enhance “the look” of this Minnesota ’55.
How big is the Nostalgia Gasser movement? Check out the background… it’s Famed Santa Pod Raceway, in England! UK Gasser fans dig this ’57 210.
“Bad Penny”‘s appearance belies its high fun quotient. Shown here at Bristol Dragway, Dale Wilson’s ’57 Bel-Air has loads of Nostalgia Gasser charm.
The term “Tri-Five” usually refers to Chevys of the 55-56-57 model years, but this classic ’57 Pontiac Sport Coupe Gasser offers plenty of finned-fun.
Stand it up! Nostalgia Gassers are much about originality. The 1938 Chevy pick-up, “38 Special” is well known for pulling bumper-scraping wheelstands.
The “Filthy Five”, ’55 150 is a California Nostalgia Gasser regular. Straight axle, radiused rear fenderwells, four-point roll cage, lots of chrome and big-block power with a Tunnel-Ram manifold and twin Holley carburetors are standard stuff here.
There’s famous, and then there’s “Godzilla” famous. Nick and Joanne Iarussi’s altered-wheelbase ’55 Gasser has been a Super Gas runner and crowd favorite for three decades.
Classic Corvettes as Gassers tends to freak-out stuffy, pure-stock restoration types. This ‘Vette (they hate that name, too!) has a blown Chevy with gaping hood hole, straight front axle and monster rear tires. Perfect!
What better location for a pair of Nostalgia Gassers than the staging lanes at the local drag strip! Brain Kresman’s blue ’55 has a serious sleeper look, but packs a nasty bite. “Flapper Gassed” ’55 right has a Kresman engine for power.
Here’s a closer look at Brian Kressman’s squeaky-clean ’55 210, C/Gasser. 50 years earlier this car would easily fit into C or D/Modified Production. Kresman calls the Niagara Falls, New York area home.
Nearly any make coupe or sedan could be built into a screaming Gasser in the 50’s and 60’s. This hulking Plymouth 40’s business coupe embodies the spirit with modern upgrades. Disc front brakes, rack-and-pinion steering and that lovely “Rosie the Riveter” leaning on the hood make it all work.
Tri-Five Chevys are well-known for having mammoth engine bays. This ’55 now sports a 392 Chrysler hemi with twin four-barrels. Kokomo, Indiana is home for the Lowe’s Speed Shop Special.
O-Cal Gasser is a regular at Southeastern Nostalgia Gasser events. ’55 Chevy’s hometown is Ocala, Florida, also home of Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.
What a better way to end this truly fun, multi-week Gasser series than with this wheelstanding, ’55 Chevy Nostalgia Gasser? “Shifty Business” avoids old-school items such as straight axle front end for A-Arms, Coil-Over front shocks and adjustable rear suspension. You bet it hooks!