As a first timer set to cover the 2003 GS Nationals, I was beset upon by people whose sole intent was to inform me how "that race has gone downhill since the '90s," and "it has lost its excitement." Months before a jet was to whisk me down to Kentucky for the May 13 through 17 event, the message boards were aflame with flames denouncing this annual celebration of Buick power and relegating it to "has-been" status. Discussions reeked of Mustang heads-up classes: once huge money and big names go elsewhere, the event gets "boring." Regardless, we all know that there are many great events in Buick's little corner of the world, but the Nats are known as the granddaddy of them all. As such, I was psyched to spend a week with several hundred examples of Buick's bad boy. But when I flew in on Tuesday, a sea of tan-colored citizen vehicles--and a complete lack of forced-inducted Bufords--left me a bit unnerved...were all of the naysayers right?
Not by a long shot. Once inside Bowling Green's city limits, that V-6 turbo sound--unique in all of motorsports--started its song. The sweet spool got progressively louder each day as the Drury Inn and the Outback Steakhouse filled up, and by Wednesday it bounced triumphantly off of the asphalt and echoed over the rolling hills at Beech Bend Raceway. Due to the expected soggy weather conditions the street action was light, but where else in America can you see two real GNXs drive by in a span of a few minutes? Still, the number of Buicks on the Scottsville Road cruise scene was impressive--but the racetrack was even better.
GS Nats virgins, imagine this: pulling into a track absolutely packed with sinister GNs, colorful T-Types and Turbo-Ts, white-hot turbo Trans Ams, cool hybrid conversions, and more Limiteds and GNXs in one place than you have ever seen. They were everywhere--squeezed into vendor spots at the swap meet, tucked between race cars in the pits, parked horizontally in the grass. A few old Buicks with turbo transplants were really turning heads on the strip, but bar-none the best conversion was the 2003 Caddy CTS with a turbo 4.1 bolted in. As for the atmosphere, the grills were smoking and the smack-talk was flying, and when the Friday car show rolled around, the oval track in the middle of Turbopalooza was the spot for some of the most pristine G-bodies in the world. The weather was off and on, but showgoers didn't mind as they wound through the vendors and picked up those elusive turbo Regal parts. And when evening rolled around, extensive restoration and performance seminars at the track and the nearby Travelodge gave many participants a leg up on their beer-and-steak-consuming counterparts.
As if those activities weren't cool enough, the GS Nats is a spectator's event--front-row seats are mere feet from the recessed track. And with test and tune from Tuesday through Saturday, Gambler's racing Wednesday through Friday, and the big race on Saturday, the turbo whine was loud and constant. A steady stream of bracket bandits flowed all week, mixed in with the drivers looking to just make a pass or two. On the other end of the spectrum, Bill Anderson worked through various bugs to go low 8s with his GN, and the TS-class qualifying was intense. TSO, TSE, TSM, and TSS contestants were just torturing the G-bodies on the line. Many of the big boys were pulling big air that week, but TSM jockey Louie Lopez's moon shot took the cake. A high-boost launch left him at a 70-degree angle, staring at sky. Months later when he came down, the GN bounced hard and headed for the wall. He pedaled, got it straightened out, and still went 10.9 at 127. More drama took place at the packed track when TSO contestants Cal Hartline and Dave Fiscus squared off during qualifying. Hartline's GN had trashed a head days before, and a side-by-side drag race between two of TSO's 8-second warriors turned ugly with the other head blowing on the top end. Cal's GN turned sideways at 140-plus and blew a front tire, and the track was enveloped in smoke. Amazingly, Fiscus got clear and popped the chute, and Hartline slid to a stop without smacking the wall. Naturally, explosive applause ensued.
Friday and Saturday saw several classes being juggled to work around the occasional rain shower, but the GSCA was able to get all of the racing off--no small feat. In TSS, Michael Cross of Belmont, MS redlit in his WE4, allowing Dusty Bradford of Moulton, AL to cruise to victory in his '87 GN with a .700 reaction time on the Pro tree, a 1.52 60-foot, and a 10.73 ET at 124 miles an hour. In TSM, defending champ Jason Cramer of Tooele, UT gave Dave Bamford of Dearborn, MI a head start on the .400 Pro tree--.512 to .492. The race was within a few hundredths all the way down the track--Jason's GN posted a 1.44 60-foot and a 6.39 eighth, while Dave's GN posted a 1.49 60 and a 6.43 eighth--both with identical 108 mph speeds. The finish was way too close to call from the starting line, but Cramer barely won with a 10.05 at 133 to Dave's 10.07 at 134!
The hotly contested TSE final caught Willard Brown of Tampa, FL sleeping at the Pro tree, but even though Bruce Alred of Roseville, MI cut a .631 light to Willard's .701, Brown's 1.41 60-foot was 15 hundredths quicker. Willard's white T was three tenths quicker at the eighth mile, and a 9.64 at 141 ended up beating Alred's 9.98 at 140. And in an anti-climactic TSO, what looked to be a mismatch for Batavia, Ohio's Dave Fiscus against the slower Odell Cantrell of Pendleton, IN never materialized. As best as could be figured, smoke from the burnouts double-bulbed the stage beams and triggered the .400 Pro tree's autostart function, which ended up red-lighted Fiscus' 8-second Buick. O.C. cut a .661 light and a 1.43 60-foot in his two-tone Regal, then got out of it on his way to a 9.89 at 116.
The weather at the 2003 GS Nats was iffy, but we've never been to a more satisfying event. The camaraderie is seemingly effortless, and it's not every race where racers loan expensive parts to needy strangers. This event was a great time, and any Buick aficionados that haven't experienced it yet are in for a real treat. Next year's GS Nationals are currently slated for May 18-22, 2004, so get those LC2-powered GMs shined up and ready to rumble, and we'll see you there.