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How I Survived The 1979 Street Machine Nationals

The night Car Craft lit up 21st and Shadeland

By , Photography by Scott Sullivan

But Springfield was still in the future, far from the incredible buzz that attracted all kinds of enthusiasts to the Nationals in 1979. Among them was another car crafter who would eventually write for the magazine, Chuck Hanson. I met him and his wife, LaRae, that year along with a rebel band of crazy Tennessee friends. Chuck was driving a bright-yellow '74 Camaro. I later traveled to Tennessee to visit his collection of big-block Chevrolets, a visit that became somewhat hazy after my introduction to his friend Jack Daniels. That relationship with Chuck eventually helped convince then-editor Jon Asher to hire him as Car Craft's southern representative.

At the end of the three-day excess, while the city swept up the detritus and debris, each and every participant realized that they had been part of something truly special. And there was something else afoot, too, something beyond the tire smoke and exhibitions of speed. It was a gnawing among the prescient that a movement was gaining momentum—a fat-tire movement about to be blessed with the Pro Street moniker that would add a whole new level of enthusiasm to street machines. Those who saw this coming would be the ones to build the cars that we now all recognize as trend-setters. And it all evolved out of that crazy night on 21st and Shadeland.

The Matt and Debbie Hay Connection

By the '79 Nationals, Matt Hay was a seasoned veteran of the craziness. He had attended the previous year with his '66 Mustang powered by a 6-71 supercharged small-block Chevy and giant tires sticking out of the wheelwells. The car appeared as a one-photo feature by Gray Baskerville in the Nov. '78 issue of Hot Rod and was enough to launch Matt and Debbie's future with fat-tired cars. We'll let Matt tell the story.

"In the small town of New Paris, Indiana, there was the greatest speed shop of all, Competition Engineering, owned by the late Jerry Marquart. The machine shop work and engine building was second to none. I used to hang out there, just a starry-eyed kid dreaming of the day I would have a car worthy enough to display the Competition Engineering sticker on the back window. Jerry Marquart was also the local NHRA drag-racing hero. He owned several NHRA Class records and had a shelf displaying his NHRA Wallys for all to see. As I got to know Jerry better, I was invited to his Christmas parties at the shop. The who's who of northern Indiana and NHRA Division 3 would be there, Pro Stock drivers, Funny Car, Top Fuel, and alcohol guys. It was a Mecca and a dream for someone like me to be a part of that setting.

"As time went on, Comp built my engines and sold me the parts I needed to compete in drag racing and Pro Street. Our first Street Machine Nationals was in 1978 with a '66 Mustang with a supercharged 350 Chevy LT1 and fat rear tires sticking out past the fenderwells. That was the norm back in the day. But later that summer, Deb and I knew we would need to tub the 'Stang to keep up with this new trend called Pro Street. But money was an issue. It just so happened late one summer day I went to Comp to hang out and Jerry was there. I told him my intensions for tubbing the 'Stang and he said, ‘Matt, I have just the deal for you.'

"He was planning on updating the rear end in his record-setting Corvette and would sell me the narrowed rear end out of the 'Vette. My jaw dropped. Even though I did not have the $1,500 to buy it, I raced over to Deb's house to tell her the news. Even though Jerry is no longer with us, he will always be the man, and thanks to Larry ‘Dean' Hertzler for keeping me motivated back in the early days.

"Now for the rest of the story. This was 1978 and Deb and I were not married. And yet, later that week, Deb went down to the bank and secured a loan in her name and bought the narrowed rear end for me right out of Jerry's record-setting 'Vette. And we are still married today. I am the luckiest guy on the planet."

How Did This All Start?

The first Car Craft Street Machine Nationals took place at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in 1977, but the story goes a little deeper. According to then-editor Rick Voegelin, it started when the National Street Rod Association (NSRA) wanted to attract street machines to its traditional street rod shows. The NSRA had asked CC to help get the word out with promos published in the magazine in 1972. Then-editor Ro McGonegal sent Steve Collison to the show for a story for the Nov. '72 issue. Steve raved about the event…and planted the seed. Jon Asher covered a later show and appointed himself chief advocate for a Car Craft–sponsored street machine show. The rest, they say, is history.

How Long Ago Was This?

•In February 1974, the Ayatollah Khomeini assumed control of Iran after the Shah skedaddled
•Margaret Thatcher was elected Britain's new prime minister
•First-class postage cost $0.15
•The Pittsburg Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, 35–31
•Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" became a best seller
•Saturday Night Fever by the Bee Gees was, sadly, album of the year
•The Summit Racing Equipment ad in the Oct. '79 issue listed these prices:
-Holley 750 double pumper: $119.95
-Velocity stack air cleaner: $12.95
-Moroso SBC gold valve covers: $26.50
-TRW 11:1 pistons for 350: $89.95

Street Machine Nationals Chronicle

1977–1981: Indianapolis, Indiana
1982–1984: Springfield, Illinois
1985: East St. Louis, Illinois
1986–1998: Du Quoin, Illinois
2013: Return to the Street Machine Nationals in Du Quoin, Illinois

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