Two years ago the Meltdown Drags Association embarked on a mission to supplement its wildly successful summer time Meltdown Drags with a vintage drag racing meet in the autumn. Under the auspices of “Vintage Drag Racing 101”, “The Fall-Out” was born.
MDA partnered with Rock Falls Raceway in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in part to take advantage of the burgeoning vintage drag racing scene centered in Minnesota's Twin Cities. Those racers and fans have responded enthusiastically to the authentic 1966 and older race for fun format.
Now in its 3rd year, the Fall-Out has truly found a home at the ultra-clean facility nestled between forests and farm fields. Rock Falls owner Jim Greenheck’s crew, led by Track Manager Jennifer Anderson spent months preparing for what is now one of their premier events. Car and spectator counts have grown significantly each year, and several companies have gotten on board as sponsors, including Competition Products and C-Tech Manufacturing.
On this late September weekend, typical seasonal temperatures did not greet the 150 racers that towed in. Instead of normal mid-60’s, Friday was in the mid-50’s but pleasant with bountiful sunshine, while Saturday was overcast and never even made it to 50 degrees.
Did that hinder the action or spectator attendance? Absolutely not. This is Northern Wisconsin after all. The locals are used to it. And just like Rock Falls Raceway's track crew, those that traveled from across the Upper Midwest to race or spectate were well prepared.
Hot Rods started it all and several were racing at Fall-Out 3, including the '32 Ford Coupes of Fairbault, Minnesota's Jerry Hauen in the right lane and Mark Schoonover from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin in the left. Convert this image to black and white and suddenly it’s 1964.
Altered and roadsters made also their presence known. Of note is the "Sheets and Giggles" '23 T, which is owned and driven by Larry Arnold. The blown small block Chevy is alcohol fed and provides the St. Andrews, Manitoba, Canada resident plenty of giggles.
Era correct door slammers are essential at a Vintage Drag Racing 101 event. Among the impressive contingent of Stock, Super Stock and FX cars to run Rock Falls’ quarter mile were the 1962 Pontiac Tempest of Bill Killough and the 1962 Plymouth Sport Fury of 3X Victory Nostalgia Super Stock Series Champion Tom Hoffman.
Dragsters are a natural favorite on the Vintage Drag Racing scene. From nitro gulping blown HEMI’s to gas fed Flatheads, every conceivable front engine combination could roll through the gates. We’ll look at three. Larry Short’s “Heart Attack II” represents dragsters as they were run in the very early 1960’s. This car is built around a vintage Lyndwood Welding “Eliminator” dragster chassis. Larry and some very capable friends then built what you see here. Featuring a bored and stroked Ford Thunderbird 312 Y-Block with Hilborn fuel injection and backed by an “in and out” box, this car is truly a time machine.
Grown men aren't the only ones attracted to the “Heart Attack”. This young man could not contain himself when he saw it, climbing up the piecrust slick and sliding into the cockpit.
The “Big Woody” dragster of Art Zangerle represents a basic fuel dragster from the middle 1960’s. A faithful recreation of a Woody Gilmore built car, Zangerle and friends constructed this “all business” machine with painstaking care and attention to detail. It also puts on a heck of a show.
Matt Sletten and his full bodied digger are frequently seen at vintage drag races across the Upper Midwest. With a swoopy design reminiscent of Hoover’s “Fishbowl” and the “Smirnoff” AA/FD’s, the “Boondoggle’s” stunning paint work makes it look right. The blown nitro fed HEMI sounds right. And most of all it performs right!
In the world of vintage drag racing, vintage Gas Coupes are King. With dozens of models from the mid 1930’s through the mid ‘60’s deemed as worthy material, they can be built on a budget and run in concordance with the classic D/Gas classification or set up to serious power for A/Gas. At The Fall-Out, these ran the gamut.
Ben Bacon’s “Tub & Squirt” Anglia demonstrates the rambunctious nature of the narrow, short wheelbase English Ford when stuffed with big American power. They rarely do a straight burnout, and become a handful when landing from their characteristic wheelies.
The “Bone Shaker” Willys coupe of Tony Zompetta has it all. The right stance at rest, big wheelies at the hit, hellacious noise, an awesome name, and runs in the 9 second zone.
The Koopmeiners & Sons ’55 Chevy of MDA President Eric Koopmeiners is a small block in a world of big block entries. Stick shifted by Eric, and his father before him, the high-winder gives those big block cars a run for their money every time.
John Reidenbach’s 1958 Corvette might look a bit scary with the sky high altitude of the nose. But the Vette consistently tracks straight and true from water box to finish line.
Rock Falls Raceway’s track crew had the starting line hooking as shown by Paul Zielsdorf's ’41 Willys Pick Up. Zielsdorf reports this is the highest and longest that the “Hairy Hauler” has carried the front wheels.
Among the other clubs representing at The Fall-Out was the Scavengers out of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Six club members brought the “club car”; a mid-1950’s Studebaker Starliner named “Rude Stewed”, classified in B/Gas. Five Scavengers members took turns hot lapping the car for a total of 35 runs over two days. For that they captured the “Most Runs” award while driving to the lanes for the last pass of the day. That time slip showed best of the weekend numbers of 10.093 at 129 MPH.
One of the more unusual entries at The Fall-Out was Dave Pelissier’s 1963 International Scout Model 80. Pelissier is a long-time Meltdown participant and made the long tow from Lorrette, Manitoba, Canada to Eau Claire with his brother Paul. The Scout has a long history as a drag car and was featured in the 1973 issue of the Hot Rod Yearbook. Dave discovered it in 2008 in a drastic state of disrepair. He has since restored the Scout and outfitted it with a 406 Dart combination with a real GMC 6-71 BLOWER and Hilborn injection up top. Pelissier has run a best of 9.71 at 141 MPH with the bumper dragging crowd pleaser.
Dave Pelissier will race anyone, but there is no one that he enjoys lining up with more than his brother Paul in the “Prefect Storm” Ford Prefect.
A new feature of The Fall-Out was the Burnout Contest. Not the typical “smoke ‘em till they blow” deal, the object was to put up plenty of smoke in the waterbox then carry it as far down track as possible. With a well crafted rolling tool cart on the line courtesy of C-Tech Manufacturing, six entries across classifications joined in the fun.
And when the smoke cleared, it was Fox Lake, Illinois’ Skip Hjortland that won the prize. As a matter of practice Hjortland’s 55 Chevy always puts on a smoke show for a hundred feet or more. For this contest he put up so much smoke in “the box” that every compartment was filled with burnt rubber. Skip was forced to bring the beast to a halt soon after getting it rolling as he was no longer able to see the steering wheel, let alone out the windshield!
With daylight fast disappearing, the cars were soon silenced. At this point Meltdown Drags Association President Eric Koopmeiners and VP Paul Zielsdorf gathered all participants up to distribute gift certificates and awards courtesy of Fall-Out sponsors, including Competition Products, C-Tech Manufacturing and Greg’s Speed Shop. The drawing for a complete crate engine went to Bill Killough, courtesy of Suburban GM Parts’ Tom Kuether.
Capping off the weekend was the Racer Appreciation Dinner, sponsored by the Meltdown Drags Association and Vintage Drag Racing 101.