Old Bridge Township Raceway Park was carved out of the meadows and woods of central New Jersey. So it's probably appropriate to do a turn on the Garden State's onetime buzzphrase: "Nitro and Nostalgia. Perfect Together."
You would have had a hard time finding someone to argue that sentiment Sunday, when the historic strip outside Englishtown presented the inaugural Funny Car Reunion, a celebration of fiberglass madness from the 1970s and 1980s, to augment its established Old Time Drags event for classic muscle cars and hot rods.
The event was the brainchild of Steve Bell, Raceway Park's track photographer, a drag racing addict since his teens who grew up loving the Funny Cars before they turned into aerodynamic roller skates with huge wings and no marque identity. The reunion wasn't a race, but instead an opportunity for those who connected with the class in its nascent years to revel in its history.
"I just thought I could get some of these guys that I grew up together," Bell said.
Bell and his cohort, former Raceway Park announcer "Berserko Bob" Doerrer, hatched the idea last year after a nostalgia drags and muscle event at the track that most observers said could have drawn better. They must have hit on something big, because this time, the stands, at least on the pit side, were mobbed.
What for? About 25 Funny Cars clad in the kind of fiberglass most people could remember as somewhat reminiscent of production cars. Everything from Novas to Corvettes clad tube chassis of various vintages and powertrains.
Action was aplenty: The two funnies at the top of the e.t. lists, both nitro cars with `70s bodies, ended up broken. Frank Jonkman of Bradford, Ontario, had the throttle linkage snap on his "Nitromare" Mustang and burrowed through the sand trap and catch fence, damaging the car's period-correct chassis. Youthful nostalgia Funny aficionado Rob Bruce of Flint, Mich., turned his blower into scrap while setting top e.t., the resulting fire blackening his "Zombie" '70 Firebird.
Other participants included the ageless Bruce Larson, the NHRA's 1989 Funny Car champion, who brought a Logghe-built '68 Camaro that is perhaps the most perfect and precise original Funny Car extant.
To understand the significance of this event, a little Raceway Park history is needed. The track was famous nationally for being the match-race stomping grounds of the legendary "Jungle Jim" Liberman, whose former significant other, Pam Hardy, was the reunion's grand marshal.
Liberman was a favorite of the late Raceway Park impresario Vinnie Napp, and by most cognoscenti's view, was the prototype for John Force as a Funny Car showman. The track was, and is, the home base of midweek booked-in Funny Car match races that cement the track's heritage in this class.
Unanimously, the participants and observers are looking for FCR 2 to materialize next year. Bell and Doerrer hope it can become an East Coast counterpart to the NHRA's California Hot Rod Reunion, given some years of successful gestation.
Larson, an East Coast drag legend, was enthusiastic.
"This race is amazing," he said.