Combustion Chamber-1979 Winternationals Road Trip


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This second installment of the “Combustion Chamber” is prepared to take you back 20 years on a humorous road trip with the Mazi family to the ’79 NHRA Winternationals. Included will be some not so terrific photos by the author (armed with a 110 camera I received at Christmas how could I go wrong?), but mostly a 10-day experience that probably ranks up there with some other teams’ great road trip stories. Enjoy the ride.  Dawn
image Sunday Morning: A picture of a typical departure. With all the luggage packed in the Opel, my parents and I leave on Sunday morning before the event to make the two-day trip from Cleveland, Ohio. The weather is not looking good for the trip, so my parents decide to head out early. Three family friends will be flying out to California later in the week to meet us. Things are going as planned for now. Author’s note: One year prior, the entire Mazi family (dad, mom, two sisters, and dog too) made the same trip in this single-cab hauler. After that trip it’s a wonder any of us still speak to one another!
Twelve hours later: Yep, a flat tire on the interstate. The weather was nasty, as evidence of the ice hanging from the wheel well. Protecting himself from the bitter cold in only a hooded wind breaker and my mom’s awful sunglasses, my dad started on the task at hand. I don’t recall him being too pleased with me for taking this photo, but looking back on it now it is pretty funny. Gathering from the next photo in my scrapbook I figure we’re somewhere near St. Louis, as I have captured half of the famous St. Louis Arch. While going through these photos I was beginning to feel like Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond in “Rain Man”, where he’s riding in the car, bobbing up and down in the seat taking picture after picture. But I digress. The tire is replaced in some small town and we are on the road once again. image
image 32 hours later: Yes, this is the Opel sitting in a parking lot covered with about 1/2′ of snow. Would you believe we’re in Arizona? It’s late Monday evening and we’re making our final “leg” of the trip across I-40 between Flagstaff and Kingman, Arizona, when the car hauler starts making an awful grinding noise. We all have raised eyebrows at this point when my mom asks what the problem is. My dad says it feels like it’s locking up in the rear and whatever it is we probably won’t make it the rest of the way up the mountain, as we were losing speed plenty quick. He gets on the CB radio and alerts the truckers who are behind us that we are experiencing problems. The truck is truly wounded at this point and we limp to a stop on the side of the Interstate about a mile shy of the next exit. My dad says he’s going to hitch a ride to the next exit and see if he can find a service station with a tow truck. My mom and I stay with the hauler and await his return. Within an hour we are retrieved and towed to the next exit. Welcome to Kingman, Arizona.
Tuesday Morning: We were dropped off at a Holiday Inn the night before and actually got a “good” night’s rest. My dad gets up early to inspect the car hauler. We unload the Opel into one of the parking spaces and prepare the hauler for teardown. Close inspection reveals the axle housing and everything else related, along with the brakes, are gone. My mom is busy on the phone contacting our friends who are to fly out the next day and alert them we are stranded and behind schedule. My dad makes the short walk over to a service station to see if he can find the necessary parts to repair the truck. Early conversations are not too promising as the owner claims it’ll be at least a week on delivery for some of the major parts. image
My dad comes back to the motel to discuss what our options are at this point. We’re only four hours away from Pomona and this is what they decide to do; Rent a U-Haul. The plan is to pick up one of those big boxy things, load the car into it and be on our way. Only problem was how do we get the car into it? It’s now Wednesday and my dad was able to locate an owner of a slide-ramp tow truck.  We’ll load the Opel onto that and then back it up to the U-Haul for loading. It turned out to be a good plan until a major snow storm swept  through paralyzing Kingman and much of the Interstate into California. We pack it in for yet another evening. Our friends have arrived in California and make a quick trip to the track to find out when Tech closes and alert the Officials that we’ll be there within a day or two. It turned out to be two, as the Interstate was impassable for most of Thursday. We had already missed three qualifying shots and there were only two remaining on Friday. It’s late Thursday evening and we didn’t travel this far not to make the race. My dad decides to put the required chains on the tires of the U-Haul and take a chance driving on the Interstate. We’re on our way once again. What normally should have been an hour drive to Needles, Arizona, turned out to be four, as my dad had to drive at a snail’s pace because the roads were so bad. Once we made it to the border the Interstate was clear, the chains came off and we beat feet to the track. It’s now 5:00 A.M. Friday morning.
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8:00 A.M Friday Morning: We pull into the Comp Pit area and were greeted by our friends who arrived two days earlier. It was quite a sight to the racers and spectators witnessing this “crew” discussing how they were going to get the Opel out of the U-Haul. My dad walks over to a group of guys standing behind a trailer. He explains that he needs to get the Opel unloaded and asks if he can use their trailer to prop the ramps up and back the car into it. They were kind enough to let him use it and even pitched in to help. Within an hour the Opel is safely unloaded. My dad can’t thank these guys enough until one of them turns around and yells, “No problem, it’s not even our trailer! The guy that owns it is up in the staging lanes waiting to run!”
image 10:00 A.M. Friday: The car is readied and we make it in time for the first qualifying shot that morning. By the time the second round of qualifying was over, my dad had managed to qualify eighth. We survived the first round on Saturday, but lost in the next round on Sunday. Our spirits are still great considering all.
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I was able to make it through the pits and take some more lousy pictures. I don’t dare show you the photos I shot from the stands of the funny car qualifying sessions. These are the “best of the worst” from top to bottom, l to r; The “Author”, with former West Coast Top Fuel driver, Dennis Baca; Tom Hoover’s “Showtime” Funny Car, (he went on to win the event); Larry Tores and his C/EA; Billy Meyer’s “odd looking” operation, and Gary Beck chatting with Don Prudhomme while we were waiting in the staging lanes to run.
Hopefully this photo makes up for all the bad ones. Too bad I can’t take credit for it though. I don’t know who to give credit to, since there’s no copyright name on the back of the photo. Oh well, it’s a nice shot from this event.

Additional note from Frank: Kingman, Arizona had not seen snow in twenty years prior to our breaking down there. Since there wasn’t a winch in the U-Haul, during the unloading process at the track we had Dawn inside the Opel working the brakes plenty hard to prevent the car from flying through the other guys trailer! It still took an entire week for parts to surface to fix the hauler back in Kingman! We thought that trip would never end

© M & H Photography -All text, photos, graphics, artwork and other contributed material within the Combustion Chamber  are copyrighted and may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without express written consent. 

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