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"What? Over? Did you say OVER? NOTHING is over til WE decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? HELL NO!” -- Bluto Blutarsky (John Belushi), 'ANIMAL HOUSE', 1978
So, on October the second, I found myself pounding the familiar grounds of Byron Dragway, but for only the third time ever this late in the year. The previous two visits were as follows. In November of 1987 I did a "fence hopping" road trip to get some video footage for what goes down in Chicago Jon history as my first video production. (FYI: it stunk) The second was a stark and unsettling visit in 1989. We were fresh off attending the first race at Heartland Park Topeka, but had heard bleak and unsettling stories about Byron. Now, before I go further, I will say that...I should not go further. Yeah, that makes sense. OK, let me plug another fine column here on the Mother Ship that is Drag Racing Online, penned by Aaron Polburn. Aaron makes the good point that the internet has FAR too much bad reporting. You could say that the 'inter-web' has more bologna than an Oscar Meyer factory.
And since I do not know the EXACT facts, and SPECIFIC particulars, I will not start up with, "Well, I think it was this, and a handful of that, with some left-handed wingnuts on the side." The fact is that, at a facility that had not seen racing (or maintenance) in "a while", they were running whatever they could down the unkempt and unprepped track, because word was there were legal problems afoot, and the nattering nabobs of negativity, in the form of zoning-dinks, were saying, Well, Mr. Race Track, either you race or you lose your permits. So dualie cabs, haulers, mopeds, and WHATEVER were traveling the 1/4 mile. (Some Googling on my part did, indeed, find a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo, much 'party-of-the-first-part' junk, and an ample heap of 'citing case number XYZ, article OU812, Auntie Lou vs. Kalamazoo', stuff better suited for Perry Mason -- check that, Saul Goodman – translation. I'm not sure HOW they ended up in Dutch, but they were, wooden shoes and all.) And what I refer to as the "Technicality Nationals" went into the books.
Somewhere in between haulers in 1989 and a packed house for the 2016 Wheelstanding Extravaganza, Ron Leek, BJ Vangsness and a HOST of others rolled up the sleeves, busted their asses, took a chapter from track nine of Warren Zevon’s signature album of 1978, and got things running again, and Midwest racers have a place to continue to call home.
From its humble beginnings in what I believe was 1964, the track has hosted at least a bazillion cars and a heapin’ helping of history. On a tour of Big Daddy Don Garlits’ excellent Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida, he tells the story of Chrysler making him run the 426, which he was admittedly doing quite poorly with. Performing what he calls "the Bateman twist", he makes a change to the tune-up, in which he hopes to INTENTIONALLY blow the thing up! Well, this was at a match race at (then Rockford) Byron -- only the car proceeds to stay intact, and shatter the speed record in the process. I wasn't there on that day, but I have seen a lot, and I mean a LOT of great action there, I could churn out something the size of the New York phone book (for which the Burkster would KILL me) in terms of Byron stories, but some won't hurt, like....