When a 3,000-horsepower drag racing engine fires up, a few things happen, especially when you're standing less than thirty feet away – your head jerks around to see where that deafening noise is coming from, your eyes start to tear up from the burnt and unburnt fuel emanating from the short, upturned headers, the ground rumbles beneath your feet and your chest pulses with the timing of the engine, and as your hands instinctively move to cover your ears, a smile curls your lips back to expose those pearly whites before you can even register any of this in your conscious mind.
Last Saturday night we had the distinct pleasure to experience that scenario several times at the fifth annual Bixby Knolls Car Show & Cacklefest in Long Beach, California. Long Beach is a great town but most of us probably associate it with IndyCar action or the Scion celebrity derby that makes up the Long Beach Grand Prix every April. Dragsters, especially the vintage ones assembled in Bixby Knolls might seem a bit out of place at first, but for those with a decent memory or a fondness for obscure racing nostalgia, Long Beach once was the home of Lions Drag Strip.
From 1955-1972, Lions hosted some of the best drag racing action around. Many of the legends of the slingshot dragster era made it through Long Beach during that time – and the Bixby show celebrates those memories. The annual car show has been going on for five years now, bringing together some of the nicest local hot rods, muscle cars, customs and classics with about a dozen or so vintage rails and funny cars. As the name suggests, this is more than just a car show, however. A few times during the day, some of the dragsters are actually fired up and run for as long as the nitro holds out. These cacklefests are gaining in popularity and the demand for dragsters in good working order has led to a huge increase in the number of vintage racers that are up and running.
This was our first visit to Bixby and we had a blast. We hope to make it back to future events, but for now we have the memories and the photos from the Fifth Annual Bixby Knolls Car Show & Cacklefest to keep us satisfied. We got to see, hear, smell, taste and feel the Yeakel Plymouth Special, Mastercar, Bankamericar, Swamp Rat III, Hustler VI and several others. We even got to touch all of these vehicles – as soon as they cooled down. Getting close to one brings a whole new level of admiration for guys like Roland Leong, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen, Tommy Ivo, and the like. Imagine that your job is to sit on top of the rear axle of a 3,000-horsepower race car – the rear differential right between your thighs – the engine a foot ahead of your knees, the massive racing slicks sitting to either side of you like Princess Leia Cinnabon earmuffs. Oh, and should that engine decide to self-implode, guess who's in the line of fire? That was the life of a front-engine drag racer.
Another great thing about the cacklefest was that kids could get a chance to actually sit in these cars, while the adults talked to some of the old drivers and crew members. There were also a hundred or so other vehicles on display, everything from drag boats to Nash Metropolitans, from Rileys to Hudsons to Newports to Nashes to Cobras. The Blues Brothers even made an appearance. It was a really fun show with tons of people from the surrounding community coming out to this free event. It was like a block party with big blocks. Take a look at the gallery and you'll see what we mean.