Chicago Jon Hoffman

Chicago Jon has been providing us with racing movie reviews for a couple of years now – here’s one.  We asked him to share a drag racing story with us. For those of you who, like us, miss Chris Martin, Chicago Jon may just fill the bill. Sit back and enjoy the wild ride

My First Tear-Gas-Riot, aka the 1976 Nationals

I think it’s the 'nature-of-the-beast' that anytime you enjoy the current edition of a particular experience, it sends your memory stumbling back to the past. With the recent 60th Indy Nationals in my rear-view mirror, I'm thinking of past Indys and first Indys, and so, race fans, let me ramble for a bit about my trip to Indy in 1976.

A 'trick-question', as my first Indy was 1972, but 1976, with the addition of ample quantities of "200-MPH tape", some pop-rivets and chutzpa, yammers its way into this feature as (drum-roll, please) my first "Tear Gas Riot". (not to be confused with "My first disbursed-by-helicopter-and-attack-dog-riot" -- that doesn't happen for another four years. But I digress….)

1976 was also the first time it was exclusively MY show, as my brother, "Longest-8-Miles" had recently married, and (stop me if sounds familiar) suddenly stopped going to the races...("But Honey, drag racing is fun, and AAAAHHHH!!! What’s with the cattle-prod? All my friends are there, and EEERRGGHH!!! Yeah, I guess I don't wanna do that anymore; is that what I think now?")

So, with the ink still damp on my drivers license, it was time to stop being the 'tag-along-pest-of-a-little-brother' and begin my own era. Dad had to wire the money to the Travel Lodge in downtown Indy so I'd have a room, and I was off. I began keeping a journal of my Indy adventures that year, after having read and re-read Carl Gottlieb’s "The Jaws Log", a diary of the making of Spielberg’s epic. (See, even then I was Mister-Movie-Geek-Arama-Lamma-ding-dong) because, even then I was dreaming of being a racing photojournalist. (It’s "tres predictable" for me to mention what my favorite Aerosmith song is, right?)

And so, after checking into the Lodge, a place that Johnny Carson’s classic Art Fern character would have just LOVED ("You want aluminum-siding? you'll GET aluminum-siding! You want cedar-shake? You’ll GET cedar-shake! You want stucco?? Mmmmmm, boy, will you get STUCCO!") and hit the streets, looking for action. Saturday evening was marked by running into Frank Bradley and team at the Burger Chef on Crawfordsville (great guy btw) and Ronnie Sox in a Holiday Inn parking lot. That icon had the patience of a saint, the journal is peppered with "talked to Ronnie here, talked to him there", but re-reading it these many years later, a more realistic account should'a been "annoying teenage-pest bothers Ronnie, ONCE AGAIN", but that evening, seeing his Colt re-branded as a Billy the Kid car, he explained to me that "I had a good car, he had a lot of good motors, we decided to team up".

And then, I thought why not swing by the track? Even as early as passing the IGA grocery store in Clermont, I was aware that there was (B) a lot of traffic, and (A) it was moving brutally slow, but I paid it no mind. About the time I could see the screen for the drive-in, however, I was suddenly all, "What the hell STINKS?”

Well, kiddies, you don't 'tug on Superman’s cape, spit into the wind', and you sure as HELL don't dive headfirst into a Mosh-RIOT going on by the "biker-campground" across the street from IRP!

With my eyeballs looking like something out of a Tex Avery cartoon, and the highway overwhelmed with party-monsters, cops, and the afore-mentioned 'stink', a delightful-concoction utilized by the 5-0 commonly known as TEAR GAS, Dad’s venerable Ford is now bucking and bouncing like a carnival ride on CRACK, people surrounding it and bouncing it on all fenders, distorted faces yelling and screaming, beating of fists on the windows … the distorted blaring of bullhorns that may have been offering helpful information, but only sounded like "GRODNIZA-FILLA-BLOORING-DORK." It felt like the scene in the 1953 version of War of the Worlds, where the Los Angelenoes seize Gene Barry’s truck and toss him aside...("AAAAHH!! Yo, Burkster, what’s with the prod? You KNEW I'd work in a movie reference or two? BBBLLLZZZAAPP!! o.k., O.K.!  Back to the story…")