photos by Tim Hailey, story by Jay Rogers of Fear No Evo Drag Racing and Nostalgic Dragbike Racing League
(Editor’s note: I had a great time at the 2023 Top Fuel Motorcycle Reunion, held in conjunction with the NHRA Wally Parks Nostalgia Nationals in June of 2023 at Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I got to hang out with old friends and take pictures of cool cars and bikes. Jay Rogers was kind enough to write this story up for Eatmyink readers. Nostalgia dragster burnout photo above chosen for attention!)
Frank Spittle wanted his swan song in drag racing reunions to be something extraordinary. With a career in motorcycle drag racing spanning over 20 years, starting in 1963, Frank’s circle has quite a reach. As you might expect, Frank’s peer group did not let him down. His little black book is a veritable “Who’s Who” of motorcycle drag racing. He set about making the calls and planning what would turn out to be a very special event.
As these things often go, these phone calls can be the worst part of putting something like this together. You start out cheerful and glad to reconnect with old friends. Then you get to talking and realize, once again, that time waits for no man. Rejection is just that but when its circumstances and ability that cause that rejection, your heart sinks a little. Whether its financial concerns, time or distance, or the worst—health issues—that prevent participation, its never easy to hear.
Its part of the game, though, and if you can’t take the bad, you’ll never get to realize the good. Well, Mr. Spittle is stoic and determined. With those two character traits, you can’t give up, its not in you. So you respond with care and concern and eternal optimism. You call the next number with as much joy as you called the first one. Then it happens! You get a YES. Sometimes you get a HELL YEAH! Your drive is renewed and and you keep calling, you steel yourself against the inevitable occasional bad news knowing that what you’re doing is meaningful.
With a list of attendees that included Spittle, John Dixon, John Heidt, Roland and Chuck Stuart, Glenn Kerr, John Gregory, Bob and Sid Chantland, Sonny Routt, Chris and Sharon Hand, Marion Owens and Bruce Owens—the only way this event could get better would be to have a display of the machines that made the history of our sport. As you might expect, with a list of the likes mentioned, it was no surprise that the machinery present was out of this world too.
Spittle made the transition to a Harley in 1965 on an XLCH stroker, which he later traded for a dedicated gasser. It was only a year later that he began “tipping the can,” making the switch to nitro. His career culminated with acquiring Pure Pork from Elmer Trett. Frank made it his own and renamed it the Freight Train.
Of the 15 historic bikes on display, over half of them were double-engined machines. Frank brought the Freight Train and the Beast. John Stein brought Stage Fright and the Barn Job. Roland Stuart brought Sayanora!, Glenn Kerr brought Dubble Trubble, Bob and Sid brought every other dragbike ever built…HAHAHA, actually they only brought the Vampire, Sonny Routt’s double, the Romine Double and one bike of unknown origin. We brought Black Betty.
The bikes present spanned the first 50 years of motorcycle drag racing—an incredible display to be sure. Getting to see a couple of these iconic hot rods fire up and cackle for us was the icing on the cake. The Freight Train hadn’t been run in years, and Johnny Vickers made sure that stretch came to end. Roland Stuart fired up Sayanora! during the cackle fest and with somewhere around 30 dragsters idling on nitro, there was one sound that stood out above them all, the bark from Sayanora!
To top it all off, in between rounds of tall tale telling, Johnny Vickers of Hawaya Racing helped out by bringing some of the baddest, modern day Pro Fuel machines. Jim Martin and Richard Boone duked it out in some match racing, with Martin taking the win over Boone. AHDRA and AMRA double champion Sam White and “Bad Ass” Mary Dangrow put their bikes on display in the pits—where some beer may have been drunk….
If you weren’t able to attend, then have a look through these photos from Tim Hailey and keep your ear to the ground. If you hear of a similar event, get out there and enjoy it. You’ll be glad you did!