For 54 years now, the groves north of Bakersfield, California, have thundered with the sound of dragsters, funny cars, and drag racing machines of every sort. When Wally Parks and the NHRA banned the use of nitromethane back in the ‘60s, Famoso Raceway hosted the Fuel And Gas Championship, which became big time when Don Garlits trailered his Top Fuel car from Florida to the West Coast to show what he had. He lost that first attempt, but would win many more after that, and helped Famoso become the legend that it is today.
Nowadays, the superstar drivers and 4-second Fuel cars don’t run at Famoso, but their spiritual forefathers do; the world of vintage drag racing includes nitro-burning Funny Cars, front-engine dragsters, altereds, and all sorts of neato old-school race cars and hot rods. Turbos? You won’t find them here. Rear-engine rails? Nope.
The March Meet is a throwback to the early days of drag racing, and that has attracted an enormous crowd of spectators, many of the rockabilly ilk. You’ll see rat rods, customs, and pre-’63 hot rods in the small show area, a fairly large swap meet populated with flathead intakes, Stromberg carbs, original Hilborn stack fuelie setups, unfinished or well-used race cars…you name it.
But the main draw is the action on the dragstrip, where the top classes are, of course, Top Fuel and Funny Car. But there are several other classes that kept butts in the stands, like Nostalgia Eliminator 1, 2, and 3 (non-nitro, front-engine dragsters), Hot Rod, A, B, C, and D/Gas, Junior Fuel, and A/Fuel, and a few others.
This year’s March Meet was turned into a 4-day event, starting on Thursday, March 1, with the first round of non-Fuel qualifying starting then. Top Fuel and Funny Car’s first round of qualifying wasn’t until noon on Friday, when the crowd first starts streaming in (don’t want to waste a round on empty stands now, right?).
The second round also took place on Friday, and wrapped up on Saturday. Hot Rod, and Nostalgia Eliminator 1 had their first round of eliminations on Saturday, in front of the weekend’s biggest crowd—which was enormous! From morning until Top Fuel and Funny Car first-round eliminations finally wrapped up at 7:00 pm and the jet cars came out, the stands were packed, and that’s not a lie.
There were 27 Funny Cars trying to get on the 16-car ladder, and by the time qualifying was over, Jason Rupert’s Brad Anderson-motored ’69 Camaro sat at the top with a 5.668 at 262 mph. NHRA Top Fuel Funny Car driver Ron Capps, driving Gary Densham’s ’77 Plymouth Arrow nostalgia Funny, ran 5.797 at 251 for the ninth spot on the ladder. There were only 14 Top Fuel cars, led by Long Island’s Tony Bartone, with Michael Irwin at the bottom. The range went from a best of 5.62 to a 7.06.
This year’s March Meet Grand Marshals were the Dixon boys, Larry Sr. and Jr. Larry Dixon Sr. won the March Meet in 1968, in a Comp Eliminator dragster, while Junior was the NHRA Rookie of the Year and 3-time Top Fuel World Champion. Sr. has been racing at Famoso since the early days, and Jr. has been tagging along since he was a fetus, so having both of them share the Grand Marshall duties was pretty cool.
So, who came out on top in the first rounds of Top Fuel and Funny Car eliminations? You’ll have to wait for tomorrow evening’s final recap to find out!