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- June 2009
9th Annual Meltdown Drags
Written By: Tom Olsen
So here’s a little quiz for you. Are you a car guy or gal that experienced drag racing in the 1960s and miss those golden years of the sport? Do you enjoy cars from the 1950s and ‘60s? Does the smell of “Nitro” or race gas immediately perk you up? Can you stroll through a swap meet or car show for hours? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions then the Meltdown Drags might just be for you!
The Meltdown Drags is an annual event dedicated to re-creating drag racing as it was in the 1960s. Car entrants are limited to 1966 and earlier models. In addition to drag racing, there is a car show, swap meet, and a “pin up girl” contest. This years’ event, the 9th annual, was held at Byron Dragway in Byron, IL, on July 20-22.
I had heard of the Meltdown Drags through friends, and had also seen a mention or two in magazines recently. My friend, Jerome Miller, and I are usually looking for a new automotive experience each year, and this sounded like just what we had in mind. After some research we decided to check it out in person.
Byron Dragway is located in a scenic, rural area southwest of Rockford, IL. Immediately upon entering the event area, you pick up on the nostalgic nature of the event. All the track officials are wearing white shirts and pants reminiscent of early race tracks and teams. You also quickly notice what a friendly group of people this is! Everyone we encountered, from the guys parking cars, to track officials, to all the racers we visited with, couldn’t have been friendlier. On the Meltdown Drags website I see the comment “just for fun,” and they obviously take this to heart.
And, speaking of just for fun, it was interesting to learn about classes, wins, and payouts. The folks here are racing JUST FOR FUN! Just for fun and the love of the hobby…can you imagine that? The classes are grouped very loosely and include Hot Rod (‘50s and ‘60s cars, trucks and rat rods), Factory Experimental (F/X), Modified Production and Nostalgia Super Stock, Vintage Rail Dragsters and Altereds, and Gassers. There are no trophies, cash payouts, or “winners.” Cars simply race other similarly prepared cars for the enjoyment of racing. Many of the races could be considered “grudge matches” between friends, and all qualified as exhibition pairings for the benefit of the fans. Vintage drag cars all paired up just like they would have been in days gone by really take you back to what many of us feel was the golden age of drag racing.
Friday started out with off-and-on rain and the racing was postponed for several hours. That didn’t deter us much, as many of the cars were available for viewing. In between showers, Jerome and I wandered the pits at length checking out the cars, shooting photos, and visiting with racers. This also gave us an opportunity to explore the swap meet area without missing any racing action. It wasn’t a huge swap meet, but there were plenty of vintage speed parts and cars to look over. I even found a very nice 1964 Chevelle wagon at a realistic price; too bad I don’t need one. (I know, what does need have to do with it?)
The track crew worked hard at drying the track anytime the showers let up, and by 2PM the racing action began. There were a couple more short rain interruptions, but the racing went on well into the night. When the rain wasn’t interfering, the racing was non-stop with a continuous stream of cars paired up.
Saturday morning Jerome and I were at the track before 9AM. A beautiful day greeted us and the racing started early to make up for lost time on Friday. We spent the day walking through the pits, visiting the car show area, checking the swap meet, and watching the races. The racing was great: half-track burnouts, wheel stands, beautiful cars, noise, the smell of race fuel and burning rubber…what’s not to like?
It’s interesting to note that Jerome and my interests vary slightly at an event of this sort. Jerome loves front engine dragsters and enjoys studying them at length and visiting with the drivers. I lean more towards “door slammers”: Stockers, Gassers, and Factory Experimental or Modified Production cars. I learned a few things about dragsters through all of this and, who knows, Jerome may have picked up a tidbit or two about door slammers. The good news is that we each had plenty of our own favorites to enjoy!
Racing continued throughout the day and up until 10PM. There were a couple different “cacklefest” sessions as well. A cacklefest is an event where a stationary car is fired up and run for display purposes. Usually this is a Nitro burning dragster or funny car where the crowd can get the full effect of the Nitro fumes burning your eyes and throat, the amazing sound, and the sense of power. This is particularly impressive when several cars are lined up after dark, all running at the same time and shooting flames out the headers. Crowds love it!
Sunday turned out to be a much lighter day. Several of the racers had gone to other events in the area, so the racing action was down noticeably. We, again, spent some time in the pits and the swap meet, then watched the racing until about 11:30. With a 7 ½ hour drive home ahead of us, we decided to head home. As we were leaving, however, it appeared that several car show vehicles which we hadn’t seen before were pulling in. I’m sure if we had stayed longer, we would have enjoyed ourselves further.
What a great event this was! We talked much of the way home about the different cars we’d seen and people we met. This is definitely an event to consider if you enjoyed drag racing the way it was “back in the day.” I didn’t hear a number on how many cars were present, but I do know they had to turn away over 400 pre-entries to keep the field manageable. Nostalgia racing is big right now, and growing each year. This event is one of the best, and we’ll definitely be back!