"Fast Five" with Mike Spitzer
Chassis builder "humbled" at being named an honoree at National Hot Rod Reunion
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (May 16, 2006) -- One thing you can say about Mike Spitzer: he can build almost anything. Although best known for his Competition Eliminator cars in NHRA Championship drag racing, he's built everything from land-speed record cars and top alcohol dragsters to nostalgia front-engine dragsters and beautifully engineered junior dragsters. In fact, his company Spitzer Enterprises has built more than 3,500 race cars! Building upon that success, Spitzer will be honored at the 4th annual Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion, presented by DuPont Automotive Finishes, June 16-18, at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Ky.
1. How does it feel to be named an Honoree at the 4th annual NHRA Holley National Hot Rod Reunion? What does the Reunion mean to you?
Mike Spitzer: To be named as an honoree is one of the most special moments of my life, ranking right up there with getting married, having my children and being named Car Craft's All Star Sportsman Chassis Builder of the Year on two occasions. More than anything, I am deeply humbled that my peers feel that my achievements are worthy of this level of recognition. The Reunion is about recognizing and passing on the deep heritage of the sport of drag racing. There are so many areas in life where the heritage is all but forgotten ^S be it of a family, a building, or a sport. I think the Hot Rod Reunion is so critical in allowing younger generations to understand the pioneers, starting with Wally Parks, who had the vision to start such a great organization and to take it to the level that it has grown to. People like Bob Stange, Mark Williams, Bill Holland, and all of the past, present and future Honorees have, in their own special way, contributed to making the sport of drag racing better, safer, and something that I am very proud to say that I have been a part of for 35 years. Hopefully, we'll continue to make contributions for many years to come!
2. When you retired, did you think you'd be honored years later? Are you surprised that people remember your exploits?
Spitzer: At 63 years of age, I have not retired yet, and don't have any reason to in the near future. I was once told that "you quit working so that you can do what you want to do when you want to, and you can do all kinds of fun things in your life." I must already be retired and just don't realize it yet, because I am doing exactly what I want to do and I am having so much fun doing it. As far as people remembering me, I never felt like I have done enough in my career to be honored, so it is a great feeling that people remember my exploits. I don't know all of the people involved in the honoree selection process, but I do want them to know how proud I am to be an Honoree at the Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green. That weekend is a weekend that I can hardly wait for, but I hope the weekend itself lasts forever. My Car Craft Chassis Builder of the Year awards are just for the years of 1994 and 1999. The Hot Rod Reunion honor is for my lifetime, which I believe makes it the most meaningful award that I have ever received.
3. What are some of your fondest (and funniest) memories about the drag racing sport during your time?
Spitzer: One of my fondest memories of the sport was when my brother Jim and I, along with our good friend Jim Ross, built a rear engine C/Dragster in 1970, when most of our competition was still racing front-engine cars. Based on everyone's expression when we rolled up at our first meet, you would have thought we had just landed a spaceship from Mars. Prior to this, neither my brother, nor I, nor Jim Ross had ever raced. My brother promptly qualified #1 and set a new record, which boosted our confidence tremendously. I got orders for three dragsters ^S from Mars, of course ^S shortly thereafter, and that is when my wife Karen and I founded Spitzer Race Cars, which is still a major part of our lives.
The second most emotional time in my career was when our son Dean, now deceased, drove his own C/Dragster for the first time in Terre Haute, Ind. Our son built nearly all of his first car by himself, and after he was strapped in and ready to go for his first run, I knelt by the car to give him some last minute advice. It took me just a moment to realize that no one was standing within 10 feet of the car, as they had all backed off to give Dean and I our private moment. This was a licensing run, so Dean only ran through 2 gears and shut off the car, as instructed. After the run, Dean's first words to me were "Boy, Dad, I'm glad you didn't ask me to go any faster, because it seemed really fast."
My Car Craft Chassis Builder of the Year awards are also among my most exciting moments in drag racing. This award was the highest that a chassis builder could receive, and to earn it twice means a lot to me. I could not have won these two awards without all of the people who were involved, including my wife Karen, my daughter Sherri, my son Dean, all of our past and current employees, and all of our many customers over the years.
One of the funniest moments I remember was when me and Larry Snyder were partners with a Super Eliminator dragster in IHRA. This car was powered by a supercharged small-block Chevrolet. We qualified #1 at a race in New Hampshire. After the first round, I told Larry that we needed to get the air bottle filled. He returned 10 minutes later with the bottle and a big smile on his face. We stepped up the car in the semi-final, won the round, and then heard rumors that we were cheating. This really angered me, because I've never cheated, and I told Larry to show them what a fast car really meant. Larry won the round, and we were promptly pulled over by the officials for an inspection to squelch the cheating rumors. They found a small air line that didn't appear to go anywhere ^S it didn't, because we had hooked it up once to test an air trans brake that didn't work and Larry just didn't pull out the loose line. Larry pulled out the trans brake button, the line and everything and handed it to the official. The officials cleared the car, we got back to the trailer, and Larry put his arms around me and said, "This is an awesome day, and I am glad you didn't know before the final round, because you would have been really upset, even though we weren't cheating." I asked him what he was talking about, and he laughed and said, "You know when I filled the air bottle? I couldn't find anybody to fill it with air, so I went to NOS and they filled it with nitrous for me." I just shook my head and walked away.
4. Are you surprised at the popularity of vintage drag racing? Why do you think people enjoy it so much?
Spitzer: I can honestly say that I am not surprised at how popular the vintage drag racing is ^S between the NHRA nostalgia races and the ones that the GoodGuys put on, there are some very good programs for vintage cars. I think there is a large group of people that really enjoy seeing the style of cars that ran 25 to 30 years ago. I also think the nostalgia races are at a somewhat slower pace than the fuel classes of the modern day races. The vintage programs have allowed people who cannot afford to run a car on the NHRA POWERade series the opportunity to be involved in the sport in a less costly alternative.
5. Do you still follow drag racing? What do you think of today's drivers and builders?
Spitzer: I follow racing and am still very involved with several cars. Additionally, we build many cars at our race shop for the top alcohol dragsters and funny cars and comp eliminator, super comp and super gas. In a year's time, we do maintain a pretty hectic pace. I think today's drivers are very talented individuals ^S they drive their cars well and they are very adept at handling their television interviews. I watch Alan Johnson tune the Army top fuel car and he is the best tuner I have ever seen in the business. Wayne Dupuy is very good as well. I feel like there are very good chassis builders out there right now ^S Brad Hadman, Murf McKinney, Davey Uyehara and Joe Monden are just a few.
The 4th annual Holley NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion, presented by DuPont Automotive Finishes, June 16-18 at Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green, Ky., 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.
Unique among motorsports events, the Reunion honors some of the top names in hot rodding from the past and features a fabulous array of cool drag cars, street rods and customs of the historic and present-day hot rod eras.
Those purchasing their credentials at least two weeks before the event receive significant added value in Saturday's Parish Heacock Pit Pass Barbeque, a "goodie" bag and a colorful and collectible plastic souvenir credential. A junior credential has been added this year at only $10 for a three-day admission and the barbeque. Credentials are available at 1-800- 884-NHRA or through an application on the Museum's web site at museum.nhra.com.
This year's honorees are Malcolm Durham, Bobby Langley, Gene and Ron Logghe, Jim Farr and Bill Roell ^S known as "Short Round and Dauber" ^S and Mike Spitzer. The Justice Brothers Reunion Spotlight award will shine on Top Fuel Pioneer Motorcycles. Those honored will be feted at a reception open at no charge to the general public.
The Reunion features a wide variety of activities and events, including:
* Hot Heads Eliminator NHRA vintage drag racing, featuring some the sport's most famous and historic cars and drivers, racing in such classes at Top Fuel, Supercharged Gassers, classic Funny Cars and Super Stocks
* Street rod "show and shine," presented by SoffSeal, with thousands of gleaming pre-1972 hot rods, custom cars, classics and muscle cars. "Memory Lane" will have a display of nostalgic race cars.
* Cruise Night through historic Bowling Green to the Holley plant on Thurs., June 15.
* National Hot Rod Reunion Reception, held at the Holiday Inn University Plaza's Bowling Green Convention Center ballroom on Friday evening, June 16. Open to everyone at no charge, it's a tribute to the Reunion's Grand Marshal and Honorees and a chance for fans to meet some of drag racing's heroes.
* Parish Heacock Pit Pass Barbeque on Saturday afternoon, June 17, in a special tent.
* Cacklefest on Saturday evening, where nitro-burning historic, front-engine top-fuel dragsters and other classic race cars are push started just like in the "old days."
* The Swap meet and Reunion Midway filled with manufacturer exhibits and demonstrations
* A separate amusement park with rides and games for all ages, including a brand-new roller coaster, adjacent to the park.
Information, including a full activities schedule, entry forms and tickets, is available through the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum at http://museum.nhra.com or by sending a post card or note to NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion, P.O. Box 2345, Pomona, Calif. 91769. Requests can be emailed to email@example.com.
Proceeds of the Holley Hot Rod Reunion, presented by DuPont Automotive Finishes, will benefit the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. Named for the founder of the National Hot Rod Association, the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, houses the very roots of hot rodding. Scores of famous vehicles spanning American motorsports history are on display, including winning cars representing more than half a century of drag racing, dry lakes and salt- flat racers, oval track challengers and exhibits describing their colorful backgrounds.
The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, is located at Fairplex Gate 1, 1101 W. McKinley Ave. in Pomona, Calif. For further information call 909/622- 2133 or visit museum.nhra.com.
Courtesy: Wally Parks NHRA Motorsport Museum