The biggest weekend of nostalgia racing in the world is upon us, as racers, racing fans, and hot rodders young and old have flocked to the fabled Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, California for the annual March Meet. A special thanks to the team at Fuel Air Spark Technology, our presenting sponsor, for enabling us to bring you the coverage and all the sights of this old school bash of drag racing and reminiscing!
The NHRA Heritage Series kicked off the start of its 2016 season with more than 400 racers turning out to take their shot at capturing one of the more coveted titles in drag racing. For over 50 years the March Meet has graced the famed Auto Club Famosa Raceway. “Anybody who is anything in the sport of drag racing has raced down this hollowed drag strip” said Crew Chief Kevin Poynter of the Nitroholic Funny Car team. Along with exciting on track action there was much to at the midway, swap meet, and car show.
Some of the wilder on track action took place on Friday afternoon as the “Lil’ Cuda” Outlaw Funny Car took to the track in an exhibition pass. As soon as the car left the starting line fuel got under the left rear slicks causing the car to suddenly veer to the left just passed the 60-foot timing cone. As the car headed for the wall it flipped onto its side then slammed hard into the wall and eventually coming to rest upside down. The driver, Chris Morel was uninjured in the accident, but the same could not be said for the car. The body was badly damaged and the chassis a little tweaked. Morel says it is all part of racing and plans to have the car repaired and ready to race, soon.
A short time later, on Friday, Adam Sorokin took his Champion Speed Shops dragster on a wild ride. Sorokin launched of the starting line hard and picked the front wheels up and they kept climbing until they were nearly 6 to 8-feet in the air. Sorokin got out of the throttle and the front end slammed back to the ground doing a little damage to the front axle. Sorokin and the team were able to put the car back together, and advanced to the final round where he would fall short to Rick Williamson.
Wherever and whenever there is a major drag racing event of this nature, with the variety of classes and competition, there will be delays due to breakage. This, more often results in the dreaded “oil down.” Unfortunately, the March Meet suffered from its fair share. The track staff and safety personnel did an extraordinary job in their efforts to clean up from these events as quickly as possible. The efforts and diligence resulted in some of the strongest on-track performances, ever. As race teams continue to stretch the performance limits on their race engines and parts, these delays in the action will occur. It’s part of racing.
One of the longest delays occurred during the second qualifying session for the Funny Cars on Saturday. John Weaver, driving his “Dream Weaver” Funny Car, had his hands full when fluid got under his car on the launch. This caused the car to dramatically head towards the wall. Only exceptional driving skill kept the car form hitting the wall, as it then headed towards the center line. Further corrective action on his part kept the car in his lane. During thisprocess, the car tipped onto the two right side wheels and then dropped abruptly back to the ground in the center of his lane. As he fought to keep the car under control, oil was deposited on the race track. Without realizing the oil problem, Weaver then idled the race car (safely) down the center of his lane (in the groove) to the turn-off exit past the finish line, resulting in nearly all the oil from his engine being deposited on to the race track. The total down time was approximately 2.5 hours. To the credit of the “clean-up” crew, the on track performances were not adversely affected, once the clean-up and track prep was completed.
In typical March Meet fashion, the fans were enthusiastic, dedicated, and patient. Fans made the best of the clean-up delays by taking advantage of the time to check out the many vendors, collect souvenirs, meet the race teams, and collect autographs from many of the drivers. Events, like the this have the best access for fans to the racer pit areas, as most of the teams welcome visits by the fans, especially young fans.
On Sunday. during eliminations. there were a pair of collisions in the shutdown area. The first involved veteran racer Bill Dunlop and Jim Murphy. Murphy won the round but had no idea of the difficulties Dunlop was having behind him. As Dunlop crossed the finish line, the engine let go, spraying hot oil onto his helmet and windshield, and reducing his visibility down to near zero. Dunlop crossed lanes and ran into the back left on Murphy’s WW2 dragster which, in turn, sent him airborn. Both drivers were uninjured in the incident and the dragster suffered only minor damage, which his team quickly repaired, allowing him to return for the next round of eliminations. The High Speed Motorsports dragster was not as lucky, as when it collided into the back of WW2 dragster, the front end was severely bent. The chassis of the High Speed Motorsports dragster will need to be front halved at a minimum, before it will be “race ready” again.
In the Fuel Altered class we saw another collision but this one was much worse than Dunlop and Murphy’s.
James General, Jr. had taken the win light over Tom Padilla in the Red Dragon AAFA. Generalao’s engine expired in the lights sending oil onto his helmet and faced shield which caused him to lose viability. He changed lanes, and Padilla (who also came very close to the outside wall in his lane during the run) had nowhere to go, causing him to plow into the back of him and sending them both towards the wall. Once contact was made, Padilla was able to detach and get away uninjured. His car suffered only minor damage to the left front of the chassis.
Generalao would not be so lucky, as the impact with the wall caused the car to turn and begin tumbling down the shutdown area. The car flipped and rolled three or four times before coming to a rest. Generalao limbed out of his destroyed race car under his own power and was checked by the medical staff on hand. “He was feeling a little dizzy,” said a member of the team, so track officials had him transported to a local area hospital for further evaluation.
Padilla, when asked, explained that after a run, his shutdown procedure is always the same on tracks with plenty of shutdown area, like Famoso. First, he gets off the throttle when crosses the finish line. Then, he hits the fuel shut off and mag kill switch. At this point, he then deploys the parachutes. In this case, things happened so fast, as General’s problems brought expectantly (and quickly) into his lane before he could get his chutes deployed.
The midway area at the famed March Meet always has some interesting and unique items along with Drag racing history and memorabilia. Many vendors sold t-shirts from historical events of the past, and of tracks that are no longer in existence such as Lions Dragstrip, Orange County Raceway, Irwindale Dragstrip, Badlands Raceway (aka Fremont Dragstrip), and many others. Die cast cars are in no short supply in the Midway, from Hot Wheels to actual race car replicas. There are selections of many hard-to-find collector die cast cars and model car kits of all scales and sizes to meet the needs of collectors, young and old. You can also find a large variety of metal painted signs featuring hot rods, pin up girls, airplanes, race cars, and much more.
If you are looking for performance parts for your street rod or race car ,or to boost up your daily driver, you can find it on the midway. The swap meet this year was not as big as it usually is, but the fans and car buffs still rummaged through looking for hidden treasures or missing parts needed for a project car.
The Famed March Meet car show featured more than 80 hot rods from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s on display in the grove. Besides exciting on track racing, there is plenty to see and do at the next march Meet, and we plan on being there!
In Funny Car Hollywood, Kris Krabill conquered the 16-car field with record setting elapsed times and speeds. In the opening round, Krabill took down Chris Davis who is returning to competition after an incident the tore up his race car during the summer last year. Krabill put up a 5.757 at 248 mph to move on to round two. Krabill then took on Richard Townsend and the Nitroholic team. Townsend made a solid 5.772 at 250 mph pass, but it wasn’t enough to hold off Krabill’s 5.639 at 254 mph. In the semifinal round, Krabill made short work of Dan Horan when he set the Nostalgia Funny Car record and the quickest pass in the history of the class with a 5.552 at 261 mph, thus moving him into a final round matchup with Steven Densham (son of legendary Funny Car racer Gary Densham). In a perfect set of irony, these two drivers were the numbers one and two qualifiers for the event. Both drivers left the starting line together and made the quickest side-by-side pass of the weekend, with Krabill coming out on top with a 5.582 at 256 mph to Densham’s 5.6740 at 254 mph.
In Top Fuel, Rick Williamson brought home the hardware. Williamson took on Jim Young in the opening round. He made short work of Young as he got off the starting line first and never looked back, putting a stellar 5.615 at 244 mph up on the scoreboard, to a respectable 5.740 at 210 mph. In round two, he would take on two-time NHRA Heritage Series Champion and former March Meet champion Tony Bartone. Williamson was able to put the champ on the trailer with his performance of a 5.639 at 234 mph while Bartone struggled for control of his race car and crossed the centerline, taking out the timing cones and disqualifying him. In the final round, Williamson took on Adam Sorokin, whose father, Mike, won this event in Top Fuel some 50 years ago. Sorokin got off the starting line first, but started losing traction and, try as he might, all he could do was watch as Williamson blasted to a 5.572 at 245 mph.
In AA/Fuel Altered, Roger Lechtenberg emerged as the event champion. He took down Bryan Hall in the opening round with a 6.081 at 204 mph to a 7.863 at 122 mph. In round two, he was supposed to square off against Jim Holtz, but Holtz was unable to answer the call. Dan His, on the opposite side of the ladder, was supposed to match up with James Generalao Jr., who could not make the call after suffering a horrific crash in the opening round. He was alert and was able climb from his car under his own power and was transported to local hospital for further evaluation. Hix, the two-time and defending March Meet champion, ran a 6.1331 at 202 mph, but it was not enough to make it three in a row here at the March Meet. Lechtenberg drove around him with a 6.090 at 209 mph to capture the trophy.
Drew Austin, the number two qualifier, took down the number one qualifier of Kin Bates to capture the A/Fuel trophy. Austin put a 6.418 at 220 mph up on the scoreboard to a 7.583 at 132 mph.
Luckily, Mother Nature was kind enough to let up racing continued with sporadic sprinkles throughout the day.
Top Fuel qualifying session three came with a surprise as Rick White grabbed the pole away from Tony Bartone with a run of 5.564 at 254.04 mph. Bartone did hang on to the number two position with his 5.622 at 233.84 mph. Jim Young picked up the number three spot with a 5.733 at 243.11 mph and Bill Dunlop took the fourth position with a 5.738 at 253.33 mph. The opening round of Top Fuel is set to take place Sunday morning with White No. 1 qualifier taking on the No. 8 qualifier Champion Speed Shop dragster of Adam Sorokin. No. 2 Qualifier Bartone will take on No. 7 Dusty Green. Jim Young, No. 4 will match up with Rick Williamson, the No. 6 qualifier. Bill Dunlop at No. 4 will square off against the No. 5 qualified dragster of Jim Murphy, tuned by Roland Leong.
In the Nostalgia Funny Car class, qualifying wrapped up in the early afternoon after a short rain delay. Steven Densham held the top
spot with a 5.644 at 256.99 mph. Hollywood Kris Krabill moved from the four spot to second with his run of a 5.677 at 249.94 mph. Dan Horan dropped from the two spot to the third position with his time of 5.728 at 252.33 mph. Cory Lee and the California Hustler Funny Car team grabbed the fourth qualifying position.
Funny Car elimination round one took place shortly before dusk. Steven Densham took down Rian Konno with a 5.666 at 251.25 mph to a 7.621 at 108.95 mph. James Day, driving Gary Turner’s ‘Peddler’, took down the ‘Fighting Irish’ Camaro of Rick Rogers with a 5.870 at 249.16 to a 7.554 at 118.18 mph. Cory Lee took down the ‘Quarter Pounder’ ’77 Monza of Pete Peterson with a smooth 5.746 at 256.50 mph to a 6.000 at 238.38 mph.
Matt Bynum defeated Don Hudson with a 5.797 at 249.72 mph to a 5.965 at 241.58. Hollywood Kris Krabill defeated Chris Davis with a 5.757 at 248.20 mph to a 6.091 at 217.91 mph. And Richard Townsend and his ‘Nitroholic’ team took down the 2015 California Hot Rod Reunion champion, Ryan Hodgson, on a holeshot.
Townsend cut a .118 light to a .156 and put a 5.840 at 249.03 mph to a quicker but losing 5.810 at 255.29 mph. Dan Horan defeated Marc White and the ‘Crop Duster’ team with a 5.719 at 258.52 mph to a 5.879 at 239.57 mph. Tim Nemeth in the ‘Icebreaker’ Firebird took out Brad Thompson with a 5.845 at 233.64 mph to a 5.980 at 238.85 mph. Round two of eliminations will take place Sunday morning. The pairings for round two are Denham versus Day, Lee versus Bynum, Krabill versus Townsend, and Horan versus Nemeth.
A/Fuel made one qualifying attempt to set the eight-car field. Kin Bates took top honors with a 6.162 at 228.00 mph. Drew Austin (son of Alcohol Funny Car Legend Pat Austin) picked up the number two spot with a 6.218 at 222.62 mph. Bill Wayne put a 6.332 at 215.82 mph on the scoreboard to pick up the third qualifying position. Eliminations for A/Fuel set for Sunday.
This year’s Good Vibrations March Meet features an eight-car qualified car field in Nostalgia Top Fuel. After the first day of qualifying, two-time season NTF champion (2014 and 2015), Tony Bartone of Long Island, New York leads the way with a 5.676 at only 212.39 mph. “Only,” you say? Bartone has a tenth of a second advantage on the rest of the field, even though he clicked it off early, somewhere between the 800- 1,000-foot mark. Rick White holds the second spot with a strong 5.778 at 205.54 mph and is closely followed by Rick Williamson of Stockton, California with a 5.794 at 203.19 mph.
Adam Sorokin in the Champion Speed Shop dragster had an interesting day of qualifying — in the first session, he launched hard into a huge wheelstand, requiring him to shut off early and coast down track. His car didn’t suffer serious damage and he was able to log a 5.923 at 219.40 mph in his second session effort to put him on the bump spot. Terry Cox in the “Cheetah” dragster holds the category event top speed honors thus far at 256.16 mph.
In Funny Car, the first day of qualification saw 22 drivers take shots at the track. Leading the way was Steven Densham in the “Teacher’s
Pet” Camaro. Densham currently has the quickest and most consistent Funny Car of the event, turning in an opening session 5.644 at 253.99 mph and then backing that up with a strong 5.67 in the second session. With this effort, Densham sits almost nine-hundredths of a second ahead of the No. 2 qualifier, Dan Horan. Horan recorded a best of 5.728 at 252.33 mph in the second session with his radical (and controversial) 1969 Camaro. Cory Lee holds down the three spot with a strong 5.731 at 255.97 mph (top speed for Funny cars)
The final rounds of nitro qualifying (NTF and NFC) start at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, with the first round Funny Car eliminations starting at 3:15 pm.. The nostalgia Fuel Altered class will also complete their qualifying on Saturday.