With the exception maybe of Lions Drag Strip, no drag racing facility seems to be more canonized than one of my faves, good ol' Orange County Int’l Raceway. It seems that the love, admiration, and good memories of the SoCal raceplant just never fade. It has its own Facebook group and websites devoted to its history and the remembrances of those who raced and watched there.
Now comes an interesting find, forwarded to me by good pal Dale Smith of Coyote Composites (himself big in the nostalgia business as a builder of retro Funny Car bodies, most notably the iconic 1972 Plymouth Satellite), of a trove of videos from OCIR posted on YouTube by Dwight Guild that captures action there in the early 1980s, with everything from Funny Cars to Top Fuelers to wheelstanders to jet cars. Most of the newest batch of videos are from early 1981 and include a lot of my old favorites like Rodney Flournoy, Bob Pickett, Chuck Beal, Dale Van Gundy, and many, many more.
"I shot many, many hours of 'home movie'-style drag race video, primarily from OCIR, 1979 thru 1983," Guild wrote on his profile. "I decided to break down the videos into individual runs and load them up for racers, their families, fans, and friends to enjoy. Aside from shooting tons of video over the years, I also served as a crewmember or crew chief on various cars, including several of Hayden Proffitt's."
You get to see races or runs involving Jim Dunn, Billy Meyer, Craig Epperly, Bruce Iversen, Gary Burgin, Lou Gasparrelli, Gary Densham, Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Raymond Beadle, Don Prudhomme, Steve McCracken, Mike Andreotti, Jack Holsey, Jim Adolph, Fuzz Miller, Wayne Stoeckel, Bill Carter, Nick Harmon, Les Shockley, Tommy Ivo, Proffitt, Tom Ridings, and other denizens of the County.
Guild did a pretty good job of moving around the vaunted facility; most of the footage is shot from the stands showing the famous Champion tower (and some from the top of said tower), and some is of scenes from the top end. The sound is awesome. Who doesn’t love a cackling nitro car? There are several videos from a Funny Cars vs. jets match race as well as the late Jim "Bullet" Bailey being pulled along behind Junior Thompson's Alcohol Funny Car. Some of the footage is a tad dark, having been shot at the night races, but there's a lot of daylight footage, too, including the clip at right, which shows Denny Savage at the wheel of the Powers Steel Corvette.
One thing that is really obvious from looking at these nitro-car clips is the famed dry-hop pre-run procedure. Some of these guys do four to six dry hops, and it's a great bit of nostalgia for those of us who remember seeing the cars snort at each other before the run, the drivers "talking" to one another with their blasts, like we used to do revving our engines alongside the guy in the next car at the stoplights of our youth.
Sadly, we don't see dry hops anymore because of the heat they put into the delicate clutch, but I e-mailed Savage to ask him about the dry hops -- how and why they were done, and to what extent. His reply was way more than I expected. I had assumed that the dry hop was used to gauge traction and maybe give the driver an idea of what to expect on the launch, but it went far beyond that and became a primitive driver-applied clutch-tuning tool.
"Because we could only readjust (reset the pack clearance, and add or subtract counterweight, and add or reduce stall), the clutches back then were kind of hit and miss," he noted. "When you went up for the next run, after the burnout, we drivers would do a dry hop to try and judge the 'aggressiveness' of the clutch. If it was about right (judgment of the driver or crew chief), stage it up. If it was too aggressive, another dry hop to put more heat in the clutch, and soften it up, so to speak. Without the data acquisition that they have nowadays, it was strictly hit and miss. Today's clutches kinda work the opposite: The more heat they get, the more aggressive they are. More discs, more floaters, and tighter pack clearance cause that.
"Some guys also just got carried away with it all and just liked to 'bark' at the other car."
Thanks, Denny! Anyway, you can check out all of Guild's videos here. If you’re an OCIR junkie like me, be prepared to invest an hour or so and make sure the boss isn't around.