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Bombers cars enjoy burst of popularity

Cars that dominated the streets 20 years ago are still ticking. But now they take a beating as crews use mallets to smooth mangled fenders and body panels — resulting in these battle-worn stock cars having a bad case of metallurgical hives.

Then they hit the track and get beat some more — this time by other NASCAR Bombers.

But drivers aren’t really interested in what their cars look like. They take their heavy-metal steeds to tracks to race, not to display. And it’s those 70 mph shows that have the Bombers’ popularity booming at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Bullring and on the dirt at Pahrump Valley Speedway.

Tonight, a collection of iron including a 1972 Cadillac and 1986 Ford Crown Victoria will lumber around the three-eighths-mile paved oval for 25 laps in what is becoming the Bullring’s most popular and entertaining series.

Starting fields for Bombers this year have ranged from 20 to 30 cars, more than double the turnout from just a couple of years ago.

For about $2,500, drivers say they can transform a clunker to a Bomber to race in the Bullring’s NASCAR All-American Series every other Saturday night. Most of the money goes for safety enhancements, including rollbars, and performance upgrades, mostly for a rebuilt engine.

The Bombers class was started 10 years ago when fans and even racers referred to the division as the "clown class."

No one is laughing anymore.

"Bombers are the sole reason a lot of fans come to the Bullring," said Chris Blair, LVMS director of short-track operations.

"They like the full-bodied, heavy-metal cars beating and banging while they run four wide and sometimes five wide. It’s a great show."

There’s enough interest that veteran racer Gary Wyatt, the 2005 Bullring champion, has created a website — TheBomberNation.com — and plans to produce a calendar with photos of Bombers cars and drivers.

J.J. Nunn, an active Bombers driver, recalls when the division was introduced in 2001 and was not taken seriously.

"When we started racing Bombers at the Bullring, they would water the track before we raced so we’d crash more," said Nunn, who hopes his boatlike 1976 Buick Electra is ready for tonight.

Blair noted the evolution: "The races aren’t crashfests anymore."

The track is no longer watered, but the cars still do plenty of beating and banging. It has become a legitimate series in which races are stopped for crashes. In early years, cautions were not waved and racers had to dodge crashed cars.

Bombers races are no longer rolling demolition derbies. Now Bombers are usually scheduled as the penultimate division behind the premier Super Late Models stock cars on the Bullring card.

While Super Late Models participation has declined to a few more than 10 cars, partially because of the economy and high cost — about $25,000 — to build a competitive car, a Bomber can be fielded for one-tenth of that.

For a chance to win a Bullring race and $200, drivers spend at least $140 a night not counting the cost of getting helpers into the pits. A set of street-legal, treaded tires costs about $300 and will last for four or five asphalt races, racers said. About $30 will buy enough high-octane gasoline for the night.

Nearly all drivers have a certain amount of mechanical competence, and that helps.

Bombers points leader Wade Pearson, 43, dropped out of the last race when his No. 00 1976 Monte Carlo developed an engine problem. He won two of the season’s first three races and would like to compete in a higher division, but it’s too expensive, he said. But the family budget can afford another Bomber for his wife, Gerri, who is 26th in points.

Family racing is not uncommon among Bombers.

Ben "Big Jim" Sherard owns and drives the No. 13 1971 Chevrolet Malibu that was runner-up to Pete Meyer in the last Bullring race May 14. Sherard picked up the car at an Arizona junkyard and has invested about $3,000 in the 350-cubic-inch engine.

His teammate and brother, Harold "From Hell" Sherard, pilots the No. Six66 1983 Cadillac "Coupe de Hell."

They spend the week working as mechanics on Metro police cars.

Another driver, Scott Castle, has unique sponsorship for his flat-back, 5,000-pound No. 810 1975 Caddy. The eclectic backers range from motorcycle-themed Hogs & Heifers Saloon to the fluffy Cupcakery, which provides treats to kids at some races.

Most Bombers have at least one sponsor, usually an auto salvage yard or body shop.

The reasons are apparent.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247.

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