Central State Gassers
“Racing of any kind is an adrenaline rush. For me, there’s nothing like it,” Jason Baffrey of the Central State Gasser Association (CSGA) says. “It’s the noise, the smell, the control of the car and the force at the launch. All those things go together to make it one of the most amazing experiences you’ll ever have.”
Drag racing is popular today, but it will never be like it was during the gasser wars of the 1960s. Back then, Friday night was street-race night, Saturday night was date night and Sunday afternoon was for the drag strip. Racers modified cars from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, and set them roaring against each other to prove their speed and power.
There was no air-conditioning to fight the oppressive heat of those summer afternoons at the fairgrounds’ track. Eyes and noses burned from the nitrous oxide. There were no shift lights or power brakes. “I was 16 or 17, and I had no helmet or seat belt. I just had a T-shirt and I went out there and ran, everybody did. That’s how it was,” Fred Wietleman recalls.
“In modern times, if you go to drag races, most of the cars look essentially alike,” Baffrey says. The Edmond resident races a 1956 Ford and was the 2009 champion. “We’re bringing those old cars, and the personality that those cars have, back to the forefront.”
The CSGA was started a few years ago by Wietleman and three others. “We’d all raced back in the old days and the current kind of racing was so foreign to us that it wasn’t any fun,” he says. Part of the association’s purpose is to give people an idea of what drag racing was like in the ’60s and show off cars from the hot-rod era. “We’ve taken that love of old hot rods and brought it to the mainstream,” Baffrey says. “We’re doing it because we love the sport and we love the cars.”
“It’s a tight-knit community,” Baffrey says. “You have very close friendships and those people become like family.”
The CSGA is not a member of the National Hot Rod Association, so they are not bound by NHRA rules. However, they do follow its safety guidelines. CSGA cars have roll-cages, five-point safety harnesses, and meet all other NHRA specifications. Drivers wear helmets and fire suits.
Wietleman races “Wild 1,” a silver 1931 Chevy that he’s updated as little as possible. “All the safety features that you need to go safe, I’ve got on the car, but I didn’t compromise any of the old-school stuff,” he says. “I want to get in a car and I want to be taken back. I don’t want air-conditioning, power breaks. I want the old stuff. I want to feel like I’m in a car. … It’s like pushing a brick through the air. It’s not aerodynamic like new cars are. At 135 mph, in that car, you feel that speed.” He bought “Wild 1” at a swap meet in Bakersfield, Calif., in 1998. “This is a real car,” he says. “It’s not a wannabe or a poseur or some kind of street car, it’s a real car. It’s been raced its whole life. It’s got a lot of history.”
“I’ve grown up around cars and hot rods, so pretty much anything that has an engine and makes a lot of noise and goes fast, I like,” Baffrey explains. He started riding motorcycles when he was four. Eventually, he and his dad, Melvin Baffrey, started racing dune buggies. In the early 1990s, they built the 1956 Ford Baffrey races in the CSGA. “About 90 percent of the work we did ourselves,” he says. “That goes for most of the guys in our group. Part of the fun is building the cars and working on them.”
Baffrey and his dad are a team, but when he pulls to the starting line, it’s just him and the other driver. “It’s a head-to-head competition,” he says. “In drag racing, it’s you versus another car and everything is up to you, while in football and baseball you count on your teammates.”
Wietleman shares Baffrey’s sentiments. “I’m having the time of my life, it couldn’t get any better than this,” he says. “Even if you lose, it’s the greatest thing on earth. Everybody that does it feels the same way.”
“Sometimes, there are some misconceptions,” Baffrey says. “There is a distinction between organized drag racing and street racing.” He explains that the CSGA doesn’t encourage street racing. That’s the reason they go to official tracks. The CSGA uses the Ardmore Dragway and Thunder Valley Raceway Park in Noble. The 1/8-mile track at Thunder Valley is the oldest continually-operated track in the country. Drag racing runs from
March to November, and the CSGA races at each place about once a month.
“We encourage people with old cars to come out and race with us because the more cars, the merrier,” Baffrey says.
“It doesn’t matter how fast you are or how good you are,” Wietleman says. “You have to have some competition to get better. We have young guys and we have a lot of gray-haired guys. Car guys are the best guys in the world.”
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