"Fast Five" with Barbara Hamilton
Grand Marshall of the Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion talks about her racing experiences
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (Mar. 15, 2005) ^S Barbara Hamilton was the first woman to receive a license to drive a supercharged car in NHRA Championship Drag Racing. She will be honored as Grand Marshall of the 4th annual Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion, presented by DuPont Automotive Finishes. She took a few minutes to talk about her racing career and the honors she will receive over Father's Day weekend, June 16-18, at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Ky.
1. How does it feel to be named the Grand Marshall for the 4th Annual NHRA Holley National Hot Rod Reunion? What does the reunion mean to you?
It's an awesome honor that I am so proud of. When my husband Dick and I went to our first California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield in 1992, we both were in awe of the event and thought how great it would be to have one on the east coast.
When NHRA announced in 2003 that a reunion was being scheduled for Bowling Green, we were elated. All of us east coast people would now have an opportunity to renew old friendships and see lots of original and restored race cars of the '60s. I know I was in the first group of 25 that signed up for the event. Each one has been better than the last. I think what is so remarkable is that in addition to all of us old racers having a great reunion "party" each year; is the number of young adults that show such a great interest in how the racing was in the '60s. They are so knowledgeable, which amazes me, and so eager to hear our stories. I so enjoy talking to them all.
2. When you retired, did you think you'd be honored years later? Are you surprised that people remember your racing exploits?
No, I would have never believed that I would be honored so many years later. I think all of us racers are amazed at the interest and the homage being paid to us.
I always felt that no one would ever remember that I was the first female to receive a NHRA license to drive a supercharged car. It wasn't until I was notified by "Big Daddy" Don Garlits in 1991 that I had been selected for induction into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame for the 1992 class, that I realized that someone had remembered. I am surprised in some ways that people remember my racing. We were rather low key, my car was very plain, no lettering and I never had my name on it except when we went to the Nationals at Indy.
3. What are some of your fondest (and funniest) memories about drag racing in the '60s? What do you miss most? Do you still see any of your old drag racing friends?
There were so many great memories. My partner Nancy Leonello and I had some great experiences. Two gals in their early 20s, racing a blown Willys in supercharged gas coupe and sedan class traveling the midwest; it doesn't get any better than that. Our trip out west to Malformation in 1967, flat-towing the Willys (we never owned a trailer), racing at Long Beach and Irwindale was unbelievable.
One of the funniest stories I can remember was a race at Quaker City (my home track). We had run there Friday night and had blown a head gasket. We had to take off the blower, injectors, manifold and one cylinder head. I fixed the o-ring in the block, put on a new had gasket, and finished putting the motor back together. We finished late on Saturday night. We left for the track about noon on Sunday. Got there and tried several times to fire the car, without success. Pulled the line off the injectors and cranked the motor over to see if we were getting fuel from the pump ^S and we were. By that time, we had quite a large crowd gathering to watch us. Pulled a plug out and it was totally dry. As I was standing there, I spotted a tiny piece of duct tape and new immediately what I had done. I always put tape across the bottom of the blower when I removed it. In our tired haste Saturday night, I had forgotten to remove it. I didn't want to be embarrassed in front of everyone; so we just walked away and went up to the stands until the crowd went away.
I can recall another time, when I put the hydro back in without the big o-ring; and had automatic transmission fluid running out everywhere when I was warming up the trans on the jack stands at the track.
What I miss the most is the challenge.
Yes, I do see the racers. Every October in Cleveland we have a reunion for all the racers from northeast Ohio who raced during the late '50s and '60s. We have had as many as 140 people, with such names as Joe Shubeck, Joe Hrudka, Ron Hassel, Eddie Schartman, Big Wilson, Lou Novotny, Glen and Gene Swartz, the Nosse brothers, Micky Hart, Chuck Finders, Dave Meal, Larry Sikora and so many more. It's a truly great "gathering of geezers."
4. Are you surprised at the popularity of nostalgia drag racing? Why do you think people enjoy it so much.
No, it doesn't surprise me. There always has been a lot of interest in racing from the '60s, especially in gas coupe and sedan classes. I think that most people interested in drag racing today want to know how and where it originated. I think in many ways that we were pioneers. I think most of us owned, built, tuned and drove our own cars. We didn't have crate motors, fully assembled cylinder heads, electronics and computers. We bought parts from junk yards and built short blocks in our backyard garages. It didn't cost us a whole lot of money and most anyone could do it. I sometimes feel sad that some young person today couldn't compete as I did back then.
5. Do you still follow drag racing? What do you think of today's drivers?
Yes, I still follow drag racing. I wait every week for National Dragster to come and Dick and I attend several major events each year: always the Gators and always Indy. Today's racing is AWESOME. Horsepower has always tripped my trigger; and they sure know how to make it today. It is different today than it was years ago and though I love it today, I am glad that I raced when I did. It was simple and fun back then. It is very much a job today.
My favorite driver is John Force. I love his enthusiasm. I can feel how much he loves the sport. I am also in awe of the gals driving today; Shelly Anderson, Melanie Troxel, Hillary Will, Erica Enders, Ashley Force, Angelle Sampey, Karen Stoffer and others. I also have great respect for Kim Richards and her great mechanical ability. They are living their dreams ^S been there; done that. I know their frustration, joy and satisfaction.
They are building their memories now as we did 45 years ago. I hope they enjoy the moment.
The 4th annual Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion, presented by DuPont Automotive Finishes is a 3-day festival of speed, hot rods and American automotive enthusiasm. Produced by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California and located in Pomona, Calif., the Reunion is part of the museum's "living history" philosophy, which works to bring to life the sights, sounds and people who made history in the early days of drag racing, land speed racing and the golden age of American car culture.
Information, including a full activities schedule, entry forms and tickets, is available through the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum at museum.nhra.com
-Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum