Getting Nostalgic

Dec 2, 2009

Nostalgia Drags operate under a simple premise. Drag racing has been around long enough to have a live, working and very much in-demand history.

Be it an old Super Stocker lining up to stage or the very popular front-engine fuelers firing up to give everyone a cackling fix of nitro, drag fans dig nostalgia cars. And so do the many racers that have brought back the old cars or even built a “new old car.”

For those that sell parts to these time-travelers, there is a very large market out there to tap into. That’s because the popularity of nostalgia racing is going through the roof.

Not only are major sanctioning bodies increasing the number of events they hold, but local tracks are fueling the fire by bringing more local-and often hero-worshipped-legends back to the track.

As nostalgia drag cars go, they can be entirely accurate to their day, be modernized to take advantage of today’s technology or end up somewhere in between.

When it comes to performance, some run all-out and some run just enough to look like the historic racers they represent. But make no mistake, they are racers. And shops can get involved as, old or new, these are racecars and use race parts.

Another selling aspect is safety gear. This is one area where old is not good enough. One of the unwritten rules of nostalgia racing is that every piece of safety equipment is up to today’s high standards.

Blend of Old and New

The most revealing aspect of selling parts to this busy market is that both old and new parts are fair game. One of the first things we learned when looking into these cars is that they offer a chance for racers to save money.

Bill McKnight, marketing (team leader-training), of MAHLE Clevite Inc. notes: “I’ll speak primarily to the nitro-methane- powered nostalgia funny cars and front engine dragsters that are gaining popularity. Primarily because they give the owner a chance to experience several thousand horsepower on a much smaller budget than the top fuel and fuel funny cars raced in NHRA and IHRA. The owners who plan ahead are using 4.187- to 4.190-inch-bore power plants because that is the bore size for NHRA and IHRA racing. This makes their parts more reasonable in cost and opens a wide market for used parts from the professional teams.”

His company mainly offers rings and engine bearings for these racers.

“Several ring widths and styles are available, depending on the piston,” he says. “All are designed to be used in nitro-powered applications and are sold in individual eight-packs and bulk boxes of 48. Virtually all of the NHRA and IHRA nitro-powered cars use Clevite V series engine bearings, (but) a better choice for many nostalgia cars is the M series Clevite bearing. The 2,000 or so horsepower of the nostalgia cars, combined with the lack of tuning expertise of their owners, makes the M series a logical choice. Itssofter, more forgiving overlay helps save crankshafts when the tune is off.”

Other manufacturers are also finding success in the nostalgia drag market, selling various products

Cindy Verkooij, manager of marketing and promotions for Carrillo Industries says, “Pistons, rings, pins, rods, gaskets/apparel.”

Tony Kane of Hughes Performance says, “The Powerglide transmission and Pro Series converter is still the most popular setupwesell for nostalgia racing. It was produced in the 1960s and fits most applications. We also do 727s and C4s as well, and we build them custom for your setup.”

Kyle Fickler, vice president of sales and marketing for Weld Racing, says, “We sell both Weld Racing and the American Racing Pro Series into the nostalgia market for both front and rear wheels.The American Pro Series Torq Thrust Pro has proven very popular given the legendary Torq Thrust 5 spoke design. As the speed of the nostalgia cars has increased, competitors often take advantage of the Weld Racing Bead-Loc and American Pro Series Bead Lock rear wheels for both safety and performance reasons.”

Jack McInnis, advertising director for Dart Machinery, says, “I think that a lot of this market is focused on old funny cars and floppers, which are using older Hemi engines. Dart doesn’t make parts for those. However, there are also numerous small- and big-block Chevys that can use our blocks and cylinder heads. For example, I know of one racer who competes in nostalgia Top Fuel using a Dart Iron Eagle block (small-block Chevy). A stock block wouldn’t hold that kind of horsepower and the Dart block has served him for at least two seasons so it has been a very cost-effective investment.”

New Products for Old Cars

Next, we asked what kind of products do these manufacturers see a need for or have been requested.

Fickler says Weld has plans to release a one-piece Torq Thrust Pro lug mount front wheel for racing applications in the spring.

“Combining traditional cosmetics with state-of-the art performance and engineering can be very rewarding, and as the nostalgia market grows, I think racers will find more manufacturers willing to step up and offer product that fills that void,” he says.

Kane says Hughes will focus on safety aspects on transmissions. “Using an aftermarket case with an internal liner is much safer for the front-motor dragsters and funny cars.”

Verkooij notes Carrillo is looking at “vintage and ’60s muscle car engines such as 283/302/327 small-block Chevys, 348/409 Chevys, 394-454 Chevys, FE Ford (352-390-406-428-427) and SOHC, early and late Mopar Hemi and Wedge, Buick Nailhead, 410-430 MEL/Lincoln, Cadillac, Flathead Ford/Ardun, etc.”

McKnight says MAHLE will continue to focus on its current lineup.

When it comes to safety, performance suppliers say new technology is the way to go, even for older vehicles.

“Due to the safety factor required of racing wheels, for us it is the same product,” Fickler says.”The design and engineering of a modern racing wheel continues to advance, and the end result is not only a lighter product, but also a safer and more durable product. Maybe the most obvious answer is that the rear wheels tend to be narrower, most often as a result of sanctioning body rules (between nostalgia and other markets.)”

McKnight notes that when it comes to nostalgia drags, “These racers have, for the most part, a lower level of experience and expertise. This requires coaching on our part. Those who do well at the nostalgia stuff often have a mentor. For example, Tom Motry, owner of Drastic Plastic, a nostalgia funny car out of Illinois, has old friend Austin Coil, crew chief for John Force, as a mentor. This is not a bad situation to be in when you’re trying to figure out a blown nitro-methane-powered dragster for the first time.”

Verkooij adds, “Many times these customers are not informed of the power potential with modern internals for the vintage engines. However, they are typically all for it, as long as the engine appears ‘period correct’ on the outside.”

“For us, we can build the sametransmission and converter for nostalgia or pro mod-just a different combination for
the converter-and use all the best parts,” Kane says.

Growth Potential

Lastly, we asked our respondents, “Do you see this market growing?”

McInnis of Dart hits the nail on the head when he says, “I think that this style of racing is popular, and will continue to be, because a lot of guys who watched these cars race back in the day are now at the point where they can afford to buy a car and go racing. The nostalgia classes are appealing because the cars are what they yearned for when they first started to be interested in racing.”

Price is also a positive factor, he adds.

“It is probably more affordable to go racing as a hobby when you can make time for it, as opposed to running a full competitive season with all the latest technology. Nostalgia racing has been growing in popularity in a lot of venues, and I think nostalgia drag racing is just getting started.”

McKnight notes nostalgia, “from our perspective, is not huge but at the same time it’s good business. Folks having fun making engines develop lots of horsepower is good for our business, no matter if it’s nostalgia cars, tractor-pulling, rock-crawling, mud-bogging or about any other variation you can think of.”

Carrillo’s Verkooij also sees nostalgia’s potential.

“There is an ever-growing interest in resurrecting or recreating racing and vintage drag cars.Everything from junior stockers to front-engine fuelers, altereds, gassers, FX-ers and super-stockers are making a strong comeback and the more ‘period correct’ appearing, the better!”

Kane of Hughes has his own nostalgia angle and says, “Being in business for almost 40 years, we have always been in the nostalgia market. As motors got bigger and added turbos, NOS or blowers, the parts have evolved, too. Billet ring-less input shafts, gears, cases and the list goes on. Yes, the market is growing, andI hope it’s here to stay.”

Finally, Weld’s Fickler notes, “Yes, the nostalgia market appears to be really strong and getting stronger every day.When you look at the number of active racers who are building nostalgia cars while still competing in NHRA and some of these other sanctions, it becomes apparent that the nostalgia scene is here to stay. The performance of the cars has reached a level where they not only put on a great show, but they also provide some engineering challenges, and for us that’s exciting.”

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Don’t Forget the Tires

When it comes to Nostalgia Drags-or any type of drag racing, for that matter-engine shops love to think about ETs and horsepower. But don’t forget about the product that hooks all that power to the track and can make or break a racer’s day-namely, tires.

Carl Robinson, motorsports manager for Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels, Corona, Calif., shares his thoughts on the Nostalgia Drags market, and what dealers need to know regarding where the rubber meets the road.

Please outline your product offerings for dragracing, and particularly applications suitable for Nostalgia Drags and related competitions.

Mickey Thompson sells Rear Drive Tires, Front Steer Tires, Racing Tubes and Racing Wheels that are applicable to Nostalgia Drag Racing.

What, if any, differences exist between Nostalgia Drag-type tires and other drag racing tires?

There are no specific differences in the components used in the construction of tires used in Nostalgia Drag Racing. However, in the past there have been certain classes that required an exclusive “spec” tire. Fundamentally many of the tires manufactured by M/T could be applied to various Nostalgia cars. The key would be to consult with either an M/T motorsports representative or your local dealer to assist in the correct selection for the application.

What do you believe are the most important characteristics in tiresbeing used for Nostalgia Drags?

As implied above, there are no specific characteristics in Nostalgia Drag tires, only the fact that a proper recommendation will maximize the performance of a particular car.

What information would dealers need to know to help their drag racing customers find the proper tire?

Dealers could most certainly benefit from the Mickey Thompson training course offered online. Passwords for access to this valuable tool are available through our regional marketing managers, who speak directly to our customers on a regular basis.  Also, we have Team M/T motorsports race track sales representatives that can be reached via a toll-free number.

How do you view this market, and how might it change in the coming years.

From today’s perspective we see this market as a specialty niche in which Mickey Thompson is a good fit and will continue to be involved. Currently, the significant portion of racing in this venue is based on the West Coast of the U.S. We continue to monitor the various classes and events being held, and offer sponsorship support to several teams currently in competition. As this venue grows in volume of competitors and sales opportunities, M/T plans to grow along with it.