The days of classically-modified 30s Fords, 40s Chevys and 50s Chryslers packing the streets are long gone, making older generations and classic car enthusiasts of all ages yearn for the long gone yester-years.
Of course, we still have hot rods, street rods, classics and customs, but even with the classic automotive scene as great as it is these days, something is still missing. Where are all the traditional, pre-muscle-car-era builds?
Of course, we’re talking about vehicles that were driven, enjoyed and even raced before throwing a fuel-injected engine under the hood was popular and just about any kind of performance or resto-mod product was out in the aftermarket for the pickings. The ones that required some serious ingenuity to build with such limited options back in the day. What happened to preserving these cars and this important part of automotive history?
For Mike “Nick” Nicholas, owner of Nick’s Hot Rod Garage, the only thing that’s changed in the last century as far as building, modifying, and enjoying classic cars is concerned is the year. That’s because Nicholas runs two of only a handful of annual events in the country dedicated and restricted to pre-muscle-car-era race and performance vehicles.
The first Nicholas started was the Hot Rod Hill Climb in 2013, an event pinning man and classic machine against the winding mountain roads of Colorado’s high country in honor of the original Georgetown Hill Climb race that ran up what is now Guenella Pass, just outside the city limits of Georgetown, Colorado in 1953 and 1954. For this event, all competing “race cars” have to be no newer than the 1955 model year with only classic performance setups that could have been had back in the mid 50s.
The other is the Hot Rod Dirt Drags, an event Nicholas started just last year in honor of how drag racing used to be. That is; an all out, on dirt drag race, and with records pursued by pre-1965 vehicles. We’re talking drag racing when the NHRA and AHRA were new organizations, when paved drag strips, modern staging trees and official race classes built around cars running well below 10-second quarter miles were unheard of, and original hot rod culture was still well underway. For many, this is how drag racing still should be.
With us previously attending the Hot Rod Hill Climb in the past and falling in love with what we saw there. From that we thought that there was no better time than July 2016 and the second running of the Hot Rod Dirt Drags to go check out the iconic event.
Held on the Best Western Movie Manner property in Monte Vista, Colorado, the Hot Rod Dirt Drags is all about preserving the automotive past for future generations. Not only are race vehicles restricted to the 1965 model year and older – much like at the Hill Climb – participants wear classic racing attire, goggles and helmets, event staff dress up in period-correct garments, and races are started with the drop of a checkered flag from a gorgeous gal standing in the middle of a packed dirt drag strip. Automotive enthusiasts from all over the country have already made this event their summer hot rod destination.
From classic belly-tank racecars to vintage supercharged Chryslers, the array of competing vehicles was astonishing, lacking only the strict pre-1960s modifications limitations. This makes for some impressively modified vehicles of both traditional and resto-mod styles competing for bragging rights and various hot rod shops “Picks” trophies given out on Saturday night. For the most part, hot rodders that attend the Dirt Drags are more interested in an experience in nostalgia with like minded enthusiasts than anything else – and boy, is it a good time.
While racing on the dirt is the biggest draw at the weekend event, there are also a few vendor booths to peruse, a classic car show held on the grass and classic movies played at sundown on the two-screen drive-in theater located just outside the hotel’s back windows. Late nights bench racing, looking over each others’ classic rides and enjoying a few adult beverages with great company are all part of the experience. Saturday night even offered a bit of sunset racing on the drag strip, lit only by the setting sun and headlights of vintage vehicles lining the track.
Certainly a bucket-list item for any true hot rodder to check out at least once, we just hope that the Hot Rod Dirt Drags remain as gloriously simplistic as they are in ode to these types of events long gone. This isn’t your typical parking lot car show with lawn chair “parkers” and cruises around loops of concrete. This event is a look back at how things used to be in the golden years of hot rodding and we can’t get enough of them.
Still, as events like this gain popularity and attention, we have to wonder if they’ll stay as “pure” as the Hot Rod Dirt Drags was in its second year. Chances are they probably won’t. Look at events like the Race of Gentlemen this year in comparison to when it started – it’s still fun and it’s still about vintage cars, but it’s becoming more and more mainstream as more people put it on their “must attend” list.
While at the Dirt Drags this year, we were told that there were nearly twice as many cars racing in the second-annual event than the first, and over three times as many spectators. Next year will undoubtedly be even bigger. We just hope it stays small enough in future years to continue to truly reflect early drag racing at its finest– competition without too many modern-day influences and regulations.
Be sure to check out the full photo gallery from this year’s Hot Rod Dirt Drags event below.