Drag racing event fueled by nostalgia

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Pittsburgh Raceway Park in New Alexandria turns the calendar back to the late '60s and '70s on Saturday for the PID/Keystone Nostalgia Nationals drag racing event.

The event started in 1997, when Tom Lang organized the first Pittsburgh International Dragway reunion race at Keystone Raceway Park, now Pittsburgh Raceway Park.

Lang, a radio talk show host who covers drag racing, had met so many former drag racers who raced the PID quarter-mile in South Fayette that he thought it was time to bring the memories back.

"So many of these racers talked about PID like people talk about Woodstock, because it was gone and people remembered it so fondly," Lang said. "After meeting all these people that raced there, I started thinking that it would be cool to get them together for a reunion."

The PID reunion returned to Pittsburgh Raceway Park five years ago and current owner Michael Tedesco has grown the event each year.

"Big Daddy" Don Garlits was on hand in 2008, and tomorrow 1989 NHRA Funny Car Champion Bruce Larson of Dauphin, Pa., will sign autographs and take questions from fans. Due to flooding of the Susquehanna River and Stony Creek near Larson's shop, he is unable to have his 1968 Camaro Funny Car, USA-1, on display.

Larson built the first all-fiberglass-bodied Funny Car, a 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle, and his 1968 Camaro Funny Car was the first flip-top fiberglass-bodied car built.

Larson had won several NHRA National events with a 1964 Ford Cobra, but the cost of racing at that level made it impossible to continue.

"I didn't stick to the whole NHRA tour in 1966 after I got out of the Cobra in the mid-60s because it took too much money to do that, and I could make real good money match-racing [going head-to-head with another competitor]. I'd go to a few NHRA events each year and do all the match-racing I could handle," Larson said.

Larson has many fond memories of match-racing in western part of the state, including some times at the Sunset Drag Strip near Mercer.

"Racing there was a hoot," Larson said. "[Owner] Alex [Theofilos] would bring in 32 Funny Cars and he did it on an off night when the guys were on their way to the East Coast. He'd get them in there."

Larson made a living match-racing until 1985, when he found a major sponsor, changed from a Chevy body to an Oldsmobile and teamed up with Joe Amato, another drag racer from Pennsylvania.

After winning six events and finishing second five times, Larson won the 1989 NHRA Funny Car title.

In 1992, Larson drove a Top Fuel dragster for Garlits, who retired due to a detached retina.

Larson recalls a story of when he drove "Big Daddy's" Top Fuel dragster for the first time.

"It wasn't much of a challenge after driving a Funny Car," Larson said. "I told Garlits that Funny Car drivers use to call dragster drivers sissies. He looked at me kind of funny and when I made my first test run at Gainesville I got out of the car with a big smile on my face and said you guys really were sissies."

Appearing along with Larson will be the Great Lakes Nostalgia Funny Car Circuit featuring Lance Good from Jeannette, the Southern Slingshot dragster and Altered group, the United Manual Transmission Racers versus the Pro Stick cars, Nostalgia Stock Eliminator cars and the East Coast AA Gas and Supercharged Racers Association.

The gates opens at 8 a.m.; dash plaques for all car cruisers. Show cars run at 2, 3 and 4 p.m.

Lugnuts

Motordrome Speedway hosts the Piney Lasky Fall Fest today with a pavilion party, a live band and six divisions of racing. On Saturday, there will be a 100-lap Super Late Model feature, MSA Super Modifieds and more racing. ... Pittsburgh's PA Motor Speedway has six divisions racing Saturday, preparing for the upcoming Pittsburgher weekend, Sept. 15-17.


D.J. Johnson can be reached at DJ1360rpm@aol.com .


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