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1973 Chevy El Camino - One Last RIDE '73 El Camino

The Clark Rader El Camino Tour

Mike Fornataro Nov 1, 2002
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The side pipes of the semifamous National Trail Raceway '73 El Camino hammer out a bellow as we leave Ohio's icy grip for California's warm embrace. Sharing driving duties is my very good friend and Super Chevy Show coworker, Rich Martindale. Our itinerary includes meeting Chevrolet enthusiasts in Dallas and stopping at car shows in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Santa Maria, California. Our final destination is the Super Chevy Show in Pomona, California, where the El Camino will be presented to the National Hot Rod Association Motorsports Museum in memory of a man I am honored to have called a friend.

Blacker than midnight, with gold leaf-lettered flanks and licks of blue flame on its quivering hood, the El Camino received attention everywhere. It served as a support vehicle for National Trail Raceway near Hebron, Ohio, for 23 of its 29 years and was the signature ride of its late owner, Clark Rader, Jr. I had known Clark since I was six years old, and when he passed away last year, wife Marcia Rader fulfilled a wish of his and donated the car to NHRA. It was the honor of Rich and myself to drive it there, with the gracious support of our employer, Roger Gustin, producer of Super Chevy Shows and a longtime friend of Clark.

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Blue flames on a black Chevy hood-this was last road trip for a hard-working El Camino that spent its life around a drag strip.

Clark was greatly admired by auto enthusiasts in Central Ohio, and several pitched in to get his El Camino ready for what was to likely be the last of its many cross-country treks. A complete cosmetic detail, a new torque converter, and its installation were all donated to get the El ready, thanks to J&L Auto Detailing, Browns Transmission Service, and Wendell's Automotive, all of Newark, Ohio.

The elderly Elky behaved itself better than anticipated. The bench seat and suspension were soft as a mother's love, fine for freeway flying, but neither was the hot setup needed for abrupt changes in direction. A recently installed "crate motor" provided trouble-free service, and although the brakes lacked modern stopping power and the steering was as vague as a politician's promise to "get to the truth of the matter," you would never guess the car had nearly 300,000 miles on the clock.

Members of the Internet site and friends from the Metroplex Muscle Car Club arranged to meet us for an evening of "bench racing:" a fun bunch of Bow-Tie enthusiasts and some cool cars in the parking lot.

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Originally equipped with a four-speed, this warning tag became standard equipment after the steering column was changed to accommodate the TH350.

Our next scheduled stop was Scottsdale, Arizona, home of the longest-running weekly cruise-in in America. Every Saturday for 12 years cruisers have come to the Pavilion McDonalds, missing only the few times Christmas has fallen on Saturday-friendly folks, beautiful machines, great weather.

Rumbling out of Scottsdale at 7 p.m., we were determined to drive through Los Angeles, turn right, and head 150 miles north to Santa Maria, California. Us country boys discovered there is more traffic in LA at midnight than during rush hour in Columbus, Ohio. We got to Santa Maria at about 3 a.m. and caught a few hours of overpriced sleep in the only hotel in town that had a room available.

The next morning, we hosed down the El Camino and met Russell Woodward, owner of The El Camino Store, at the Chevy/GMC Truck Nationals. As guests of honor(?) we were positioned on the midway, telling anyone who asked about our trip, the Super Chevy Show, and the former owner of the El Camino.

After the show, we had two days to regroup before returning to LA, and where better to do that than nearby Pismo Beach, one of the most beautiful places in the world? The surf pounded the rocks directly below our hotel balcony, a much more soothing sound than the howling side pipes of the El Camino.

Once back in traffic-clogged Southern California, we made a run to the NHRA Motorsports Museum, home to a collection of both loaned and owned vehicles and automobilia. Historically significant drag race machines share floor space with hot rods, "Indy" racers, and stock cars. It's located in the Pomona Fairplex, a mammoth facility that includes the drag strip and is home to the NHRA Winternationals and the season-opening event of the Super Chevy Show series.

Mixed emotions await the end of every adventure. It was bittersweet to turn over the keys and walk away, but knowing how pleased Clark would be that his beloved El Camino will be preserved in the capable care of the NHRA made it all worthwhile. Thanks again to Marcia Rader, Roger Gustin, John Fornataro, Brian Brown, Wendell Stalling, and Steve Gibbs, director of the NHRA Museum, for aking it possible to fulfill Clark's wishes.



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