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Long term readers of this magazine may recall the build of my 1956 Chevrolet Handyman station wagon. That was documented here through a series of articles over the course of 15 issues. In that series I explained that the car was built in honor of the Junior Stock drag race cars from back in the 1960’s and early ‘70’s. (As a brief refresher, Junior Stockers were those cars in NHRA drag racing that were in the stock classes a level below the very top or super stock classes.) I built my car to have the correct look, and much of the proper equipment, but as a street cruiser/cruise night car. I never gave serious consideration to racing the car, but as things go, that changed! The Tri-Five Nationals is an automotive event open to ‘55, ‘56, and ‘57 Chevrolets only. (Corvettes and trucks are allowed.) Included in the three days of activities are a huge car show, quarter mile drag racing, swap meet, and automotive exhibitor booths. It is held annually in August in Bowling Green, KY. I have attended the “Tri-Fives” for the last 5 years and always while working for Dakota Digital. In my role with them, even though I was able to see much of the event, I was never able to participate with my own car. While attending the show over the years, it became one of my favorite automotive events, and something that I knew I would like to participate in one day.

This developed over the course of a few years and whenever I had a break at the show from my duties with Dakota Digital, I would usually dash over to where the Junior Stocker cars were on display. Junior Stockers have always been my favorite cars in the hobby. Many of the cars and racers were familiar to me from following the sport for many years. As I became acquainted with some of the participants, I received encouragement to bring my wagon and participate with the group. Barry Wallner, who coordinates much of the Junior Stocker action, and I became friends. He contacted me regularly over a few years to “encourage” me to come join in the racing activities, but I was always committed to Dakota Digital so it couldn’t happen. In 2021 that all changed! I was not going to be travelling with Dakota Digital this year, so that freed me up to take my own car and be a part of things. My wife, Joyce, and I had one of those “what do you think?” conversations early in the year, and the decision was made that I should go race at the Tri-Fives. (I recall the words “you’re not getting any younger” coming up.) There were going to be some things needed and a modest budget was established. Some of these items included: racing slicks and wheels, a Hurst Line-Loc, and a helmet. Several lesser items and equipment would need to be gathered as well. Fortunately, I had installed many other performance needs on the car during the original build.

My friends, Jerome Miller and Bob Thoen, plus my younger son, Travis, made plans to attend the event with me. Jerome has an enclosed car trailer and with my truck we were set! On Tuesday, August 10th we headed for Bowling Green. That would put us in there by noon on Wednesday, which was set-up day. The event took place from August 12th through the 14th. When we pulled in on Wednesday, Beech Bend Raceway Park was alive with activity. After checking in and getting our credentials we soon located the Junior Stocker display area. Several cars and friends were already present, acquaintances were renewed,
and introductions made for the newcomers. Even during set-up day, one could tell this was going to be a great time. We unloaded the car, parked the trailer, and spent the rest of the afternoon visiting with friends, looking over cars, and even did some early swap meet shopping.

On Thursday morning we were ready for the fun to begin! We arrived at Beech Bend promptly and prepared for the day. At home I had already adjusted valves, all the usual tune items, put on the slicks, etc., so, the car was ready to go…it was the driver that was in question! Did I mention earlier that I haven’t raced one of my cars in 49 years? It’s true! Racing my Chevelle back in 1972 was the last time. The possibility of me being a little rusty was real! In addition to that, my wagon had never been on a dragstrip. In fact, I had never fully “run it through the gears” in any type of a setting since I built it. So, what could possibly go wrong, right?

Ultimately everything went just fine, but there was a learning curve. My first pass netted an embarrassing 15.12 (seconds) ET with a .505 reaction time. While going through the quarter mile, I let up early, not correctly spotting the finish line lights. The good news is, the car was working well. My second pass on Thursday was an ET of 14.60 with a .580 reaction time. A more appropriate ET but a worse reaction time yet! After consultation with others, I made the decision to use the Line Loc just for the burnout and the foot brake only for the actual launch. This proved to be much better in future runs. I only made 2 runs on Thursday; we spent the rest of this very hot and humid day checking out cars, shopping the swap meet, and visiting with friends…in the shade.

Friday was hot and humid again. (You drag racers know that high heat and humidity does not help elapsed times.) I made two passes in the car on Friday and my son Travis made two passes.I managed a 14.35 ET with a .205 RT and a 14.48 ET with a .152 RT. My reaction has done time was improving! Travis ran a 14.67 ET/.447 RT on his first pass and a 14.41 ET/.109 RT on his second pass. Not too bad in a car he had never driven before! Everything about the car continued to work and perform well and Travis and I were both feeling pretty good about our own abilities in the car.

We had a great time hanging out with the other racers on Friday. Several of the Junior Stock racers present were National Event winners and/or record holders from back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. A few were racers that I had watched at Englishtown, NJ, while I was stationed near there in the Army in 1967 and 1969. Others I had read about in magazines of the day. The camaraderie among these veteran racers and listening to their stories and experiences made for a very enjoyable afternoon.

Travis also really enjoyed seeing one of the ’55 Chevys from the movie “Two-Lane Blacktop”, which was on hand. The original movie “#2 car, the camera car”, was parked by us Friday. The builder of the cars, the current owner of #2 car, and a technical advisor for the movie sat and visited with us for awhile. (The #2 car was the car that held the cameras for interior and driving shots while going down the road.) It was interesting to learn much of the history of the cars in the movie.

When Saturday came, I had a special assignment. For the opening ceremonies, a parade of all 21 of the Junior Stockers was scheduled down the track right after the National Anthem. I had been asked previously to be the tower announcer for the parade. I announced the various cars and told the crowd about the cars and drivers as they passed by. Shortly after that, all the Junior Stockers were to run their first round of racing. Unfortunately, just as the last of the cars completed the parade lap, a torrential downpour began. There was going to be no racing for a while. Since I was in the tower, Travis was driving the wagon and was going to run the first round of racing but, it was not to be. After several minutes of rain, the track announcer was out of things to talk about, so Barry Wallner and I gave a lengthy dissertation over the speaker system on racing back in the day. Hopefully, those that could hear it enjoyed the commentary. We had a blast doing it!

That concluded the event for us. The rain continued for quite some time and there was going to be no more racing. We loaded up the car and all our gear and left the track by mid-afternoon, but even with the rain on the last day, we had a fantastic time! It was the most fun I’ve had at an automotive event in many years! I’m sure the fact that I did some racing again was a major factor in that. There are so many things I enjoyed about the event: I went racing, the car performed well, I didn’t break anything, I traveled with great friends and one of my sons, saw some fantastic cars, and got to hang out with a fine group of car friends from around the country. What could be better?

There were 2,813 cars at Tri-Five Nationals this year. It is an outstanding event and I recommend it to anyone that loves cars, and you don’t have to be a Chevy guy. My friend, Jerome, is a die-hard Ford fan, and I know he enjoyed it as much as the rest of us. Of course, if you happen to own a Tri-Five Chevy, this needs to be on your bucket list!


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