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The Best of Season, The Worst of Seasons

'02 Super Chevy Was a Roller Coaster

Tony Kelly Apr 17, 2003

Nothing is more dramatic and surprising than real-life. During the Super Chevy '02 Season, life threw us some curves, but then we had some rewards, too. About a third of the way into the season at Atlanta Dragway we watched in disbelief and horror as our friend and colleague Jerry Gannon was fatally injured in the crash of his jet Funny Car. For most of us involved in each and every show, it took months and months for some healing to begin, and we're still working to understand why such things happen.

For fans and participants in the car shows and races, 2002 was a banner year. Many events had a record attendance, and the performances by the bracket racers and Nitro Coupes were amazing. In a battle that went right down to the wire, Dan Nickelson took the season Nitro Coupe Championship from defending '01 Champ Jim Nordhougen. We were treated to some phenomenal elapsed times and speeds by all of the Nitro contenders. Gary Irving brought out his beautiful '37 Chevy coupe and had it in the finals more than once, eventually doing some damage on a thrill ride in Tucson. He'll be back, though, and the Irving team is one to watch in 2003. We'll also be looking forward to Mike Swinarski's campaign in his stunning '57 Bel Air Nitro machine, which only appeared at a few events this year, having been completed just in time for the Montgomery, Alabama, Show. That car was well dialed-in the first run off the trailer and can only get better.

In the show car area we were treated to the debut of the Rusty Ragtop, the Super Chevy Nova convertible built to Gold Class Standards by Ronney Kissinger of R&R Motor Sports in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. While not entered for competition, the car is an example of what it takes to build for Gold Class. Overall, the level of show cars is rising, and the quality of cars now taking class and specialty award wins has surpassed what most people have come to expect of any single-marque outdoor show. Many Gold Class cars have been, or are headed for, major indoor shows this winter and will certainly be competitive. By the way, for those who might think Pro Street cars are dead, come see the spectacular new versions turning out at each Super Chevy Show around the country.

Our famous Goodmark Chevelle was on hand at several shows this year and never failed to draw a crowd. For next season we'll have another famous car on hand, but it's a little early to talk about that right now. Look for more details in future issues; it will be worth it.


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We began our celebration of the 30th Anniversary of SUPER CHEVY Magazine at Pomona with the selection of Debbie Spears' '59 Impala convertible--a great way to start!

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We hear a good deal about "clones," but when we got to Phoenix, we found this one. It is a copy of a car which it is said to be the only one ever built. Not having a DNA sample, James Schafer of Phoenix built this '65 Z16 convertible from old photos and articles about the original. It's unknown where or if the real one exists, but until we find it, this will do.

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We're glad we grabbed this "photo op." Jet car driver Jerry Gannon, right, is relaxing in the Arizona sun with pals Fran and Jeff Eppler during a break between rounds when Fran and Jerry blazed down the quarter mile side-by-side.

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Memphis packs 'em in. Get to this show early or park outside.

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And why not with great show machines such as John Griffis' '71 Malibu, which he brought over from Little Rock, AR?

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When we travel to Dallas, there are two things we look forward to: Bubba's barbecue and big cars. We can't show you Bubba's, but we can let you take a look at Mike and Sandra Reeves' great '55 Bel Air from Burleson, TX.

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Epping, NH, on Memorial Day for Super Chevy is second only to being at the Indy 500 that weekend. Of course, at Epping the crowds are a bit smaller, and at Indy you probably can't get a good look at a truck as neat as Ron Guillard's '55 panel down from Arundel, ME.

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At Atlanta, the crash that took Jerry Gannon from us happened Saturday. We wouldn't have blamed the racers for packing it in, but even though their hearts weren't totally in it, they raced hard and showed what it is to be a professional. Dan Nickelson took the event with a hard run against runner-up Jim Nordhougen.

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Bristol, TN, is also known as Thunder Valley. Drag racers compete on a world-class strip between two hills covered with greenery. We even took the Goodmark Chevelle on its maiden quarter-mile journey there.

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For show cars, Bristol has a great reputation owing to entries such as Tommy Brewer's '69 Z/28 from Lexington, NC.

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It just doesn't get any bigger than Indy. If you can only go to one Super Chevy Show, go to Indy. We kick off the summer swing at Indianapolis with hundreds, and hundreds, and then more hundreds of show cars, race cars, vendors, swappers, and car corral sellers and thousands of fans for four days of non-stop action.

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A good example of the quality of cars entered was Wayne and Barb Moore's '48 pickup from Independence, KY, which stopped the crowds and took home some great awards.

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Next stop--Maple Grove, PA. This show is almost as big as Indy, but we love the location. Rolling hills of farmland in country many consider Amish is a wonderful backdrop for the explosive sounds of Nitro Coupes. Car show entries typically overflow the grassy display areas, and the Manufacturers Midway is one of the best we see all year. The Northeastern United States has great show cars and racers, and we often have visitors from Canada. Gordon Tustian, Paul Carr, and Mark Buchanan drove their '70 Malibus from Ontario and enjoyed every mile.

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Norwalk, OH, is home to one of the best-run dragstrips in the country, and the racers pour in for Super Chevy Shows. They are joined by truly great show cars, many of which are older models as shown in this view of some very nice rods.

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Super Chevy rolled into Seattle after an absence of several years, and we got a look at all the cars we've been missing. One of those belonged to Craig and Liana Barton from nearby Lynwood, WA, and was a fine '58 Impala.

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Corvettes are definitely popular in Denver. GM gave us a new Z06 to shorten the drive over the Rockies, and when we got there, we were in good company. Joe Kring's '69 was a prime example of the great Vettes in Mile High country.

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On the Route 66 track in Chicago, Jim Nordhougen does one of his famous half-track burnouts with his wild '41 Chevy Nitro Coupe.

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In the show area, we were equally impressed with Dave Halverson's '62 bubbletop 409 which he rescued from a junkyard and dragged home to Cedar Rapids, IA.

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So what did we expect? We snuck along to the "big end" of the dragstrip for some top speed photos, and who was waiting but this Longhorn? Well, it was Houston, and we didn't get chased, so it was worthwhile.

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Speaking of worthwhile, Gary Irving's team ran in two finals in Houston. The rain-delayed Columbus event was finished up with fellow Canadian Bruce Bolton defeating Gary, but Irving made up for it a while later by coming out on top for the Houston trophy over John Reynolds. Two finals in one event keeps the adrenaline pumping.

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Virginia in the fall is one of our favorite stops for great racing and packed stands. Gary Irving was back in the finals for the third event in a row, this time taking the win from Dan Nickelson. Cars such as Chris Bowman's '65 Chevelle are another reason we like Virginia, and judging by the crowds it drew, we're not alone.

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Last season, when we flew to Columbus, OH, it was three days after the attacks on New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. It was a very tense trip. This year, we're happy to say that things went much more smoothly. A very successful auction of rare and valuable motorsports items was held to benefit Jerry Gannon's family. We also finally got a chance to meet teenaged Victor Ramey who is the proud owner of a '62 wagon built with donations of money, labor, and merchandise to Make-A-Wish. Surprising us was another '62 wagon, also owned by a teenager, Jason Pilkentown, OH, which is his daily driver to high school.

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Montgomery, AL, is filled with Chevy-crazy fans, racers, and show car entrants. We drove the Goodmark Chevelle over from Atlanta and had our picture taken many times on the road; these folks know their cars! Get to Montgomery early as the swap meet and car corral gets off to a start when the sun first comes up and there are some great things to look at.

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Nothing like expert help. Gold Class car builder Ronney Kissinger pitched in to detail the Goodmark Chevelle when we brought it in to Montgomery from Atlanta. Ronney brought the Rusty Ragtop over from his shop in Siloam Springs, AR.

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Gainesville, FL, is serious about racers. Even the show cars have a racy look to them as we saw in the blown and tubbed '61 Impala owned by Dale Faulds, Jr., of (how fitting) Daytona Beach. In the Nitro Coupe finals, Gary Irving did it again, defeating Dan Nickelson in the final run. If you're wondering how a guy like Irving can be in so many finals and not take the season crown, it has to do with being able to be at every event. Nickelson not only won often, but he ran every race accumulating points along the way.

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Snowbirds know what to do in the winter: head for the desert. Super Chevy finishes up the season in Tucson and Las Vegas where the sun and the Chevys shine. People from all over the West and Southwest put Tucson on their calendar and help to make it the great show it is. If Smokey and Diane Crosman's '66 Nova was any brighter, we'd have to have a sun filter to look at it being displayed by Meguair's and showing off the Meguair's Outstanding Body Appearance "Medallion Award."

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Right around the corner was the Goodmark Chevelle, soaking up sun and admiring glances.

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Finally to Las Vegas for the season wrap-up. We crowned Dan Nickelson the Nitro Coupe Champion for 2002 and watched as he never let up, taking the Las Vegas final with the same kind of "all out" run that had typified his entire year. By the way, the beauty in this photo was added by Susan Gustin. Roger and Susan tied the knot in Las Vegas just before the show. Congratulations to all.


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