Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! US 30 Drag Strip Reunion

In the 1960s, hot rods with names like “No Big Thing,” “Gearbox,” “Breakout,” and “Old Injun” would show their stuff at local race tracks. One of the best loved in the Midwest was the US30 Drag Strip.

On a cloudy Sunday in September, race fans gathered to honor the iconic drag strip. The track, which is no longer in existence, was located in Hobart, Indiana, and drew racers from across the Midwest.

The AHRA counted US30 as one of its flagship courses. Chicago’s WLS radio would enthusiastically advertise the event: “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! At smokin’ US30 Drag Strip . . . where the great ones run!”

The track opened in 1957, some say maybe even 1954, in the early days of organized racing. Located near Chicago and in the race-crazed state of Indiana, US 30 became a social gathering for three decades of faithful fans until it closed in 1984.

The Sunday show was an anticipated reunion of old friends, as fans swapped stories and showed photos of the glory days of racing. Dave Janosz, now of Tampa, FL, said, “The track was special because it was my first introduction to the world of drag racing. For me it was magical. The sounds, sights, and smells were intoxicating to me.”

The reunion drew a variety of cars (and their owners) that used to race US30. On display was a 1941 blown Willys Coupe, “Gearbox,” owned by Tom Gearhart, of Griffith, IN, and Randy Tavoletti, South Chicago Heights, IL. The coupe was raced in the 60s and 70s. Gearhart said, “When we bought the car it was a basket case.” After restoration, “it has been racing ever since” at tracks like Wiley, KY; US 66 in Joliet; and Byron, IL.

Their buddy, Chris DeYoung, of Glenwood, IL, also raced US 30 in the 60s; he was 21-years-old. “It’s not like it is today,” said DeYoung. “We’d live in the back of our trucks for the three-day meets. I remember taking baths in the creek.”

One interesting fact about US30 Drag Strip is that a racer named Ron Pellegrini claims to have raced the first “funny car” there. At the reunion, Bruce Zirzow of LaPorte, IN, brought his orange Cougar funny car. Although the car was built in the mid-60s, Zirzow acquired it in 1988. “I didn’t know they made Cougars into funny cars when I was a kid.”

Tony and Sue VerHulst, owners of “Old Injun,” a 1956 Pontiac with a 389 engine, first met each other in a garage. Their Pontiac, a former race car, is now their daily driver. Curious about the name, the couple drove all the way to Oklahoma to meet the original owner.  “Old Injun” was built in the 60s. In 1975, it had already garnered nearly 300 trophies. They want to restore it. “We’re trying to get it back to how it was in the early 60s,” said Tony.

A few sprinkles and overhanging clouds did little to dim the enthusiasm of the crowd. US30 may have disappeared from the racing circuit, but her memory lives strong in the hearts of these die-hard race fans.
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