O N THE first Saturday of May, hundreds of hot rodders, drag racers and old timers made their way through the gates of the Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, California for this year’s Antique Nationals.

Now in its 46th year, the Antique Nats has been put on by the Four Ever Four Cylinder Club since its humble beginnings in 1971, when the club broke away from other local drag events to host its own, with a focus on early four- and eight-cylinder racing. Over the years it has evolved to encompass all pre-’54 vehicles and engines, and is now a must-go event each spring.

It’s the perfect place to get your fill of all kinds of vintage machinery. This year, rickety Model A Fords rubbed shoulders with fire-breathing altereds in the staging lanes, and racing was closely contested in most classes. A small car display formed, thanks to the pre-’74 priority parking, and those cars not suited to racing still put on a good show for the crowd.

It was all about good old-fashioned quarter-mile dial-in drag racing, and the classes provided some great battles, even if they weren’t all blisteringly fast. The slower classes, such as Inline-Four and Six or Flathead V8, demonstrated the challenges and fun of drag racing at any level, with vintage mills groaning and popping as ’boxes crashed through gears. Some racers were even battling against slippery bias-ply tyres on 15-second runs.

Turn up the displacement and noise a couple of notches and you’re dipping into the 10-second realm, with 60-year-old Hemis and big-block Fords smoking tyres and lifting wheels for some captivating nostalgic racing. Sky-high gassers and tough-as-nails drag coupes provided much excitement for the spectators, with some reaching

to plug their ears every time the Fiat altered or the Hazardous Material Model T coupe came howling past.

Hazardous Material was definitely of the toughest units on the day. The vintage drag car had all the right bits and pieces, including huge Hoosier meats, wheelie bars and a twin-carb-fed bigblock Chevy. Driven with some serious aggression and skill, it was knocking on its dial-in time of 9.36 pretty consistently, recording a best of 9.36@150.9mph.

If that wasn’t fast or loud enough, two Nostalgia Eliminator drag rails put on exhibition runs to get the crowd pumped for the elimination rounds in the afternoon.

Bobby Cottrell in his Chev-powered black dragster scored two high-sevensecond victories over Tom Mardis and his small-block Chev rail, Charlie Sez No.

Of course, a large part of what attracts us to nostalgia racing is that it’s living history that’s still up and running. One of my favourite stories came from Robert Vacca of Eagle Rock, California. Robert is the current owner of the Rollin’ Rice Bowl III – a drag roadster built from a T touring body and a Model A pick-up bed.

The original Rice Bowl is long gone, but it was one of the winningest altereds of the early 60s, setting the B/A record multiple times, as well as winning its class at the NHRA Nats in Indianapolis and setting three more records there. It was featured in countless magazines before eventually being dismantled in the pursuit of more speed by its owners Paul Horning, Ernie Murashige and Gray Baskerville (who eventually become a prominent editor of Hot Rod magazine and the doyen of modified car journalism).

The tribute that Robert pedalled to a 9.43@150.9mph on the day was secretly built in the 80s by Pete Eastwood, Tom Prufer and Pete Chapouris (of So-Cal Speed Shop fame) as a thank you for the publicity Gray had afforded them over the years as Hot Rod editor. It was fitted with the original 388ci stroker A/A small-block Chev straight from Ernie Murashige’s shed, and after only new gaskets and refurbished injectors, it was debuted at the NDRA Nats in Fremont in 1986, much to Gray’s delight.

I love that kind of thing; it is like the film Night at the Museum for gearheads – living, breathing history in action. The buzz of high-powered four-bangers outputting four or five times their factory horsepower rating; the chest-shaking rattle of open-header racing Hemis crammed into patina-clad classics; the smells of avgas and burnt rubber – the Antique Nats was a sensory overload.

Should you ever forget how much fun nostalgic drag racing is, make a trip to Southern California for the Antique Nationals and you’ll soon remember. s