California Hot Rod Reunion
October 19-21, 2012
The Sunday report (Friday and Saturday results are here).
21st annual California Hot Rod Reunion Sunday report
7.0 Pro, A/Fuel, Jr. Fuel, Pro Mod, Funny Car, Top Fuel
It must be noted right at the start of this report that for a racetrack with a truly storied history as the birthplace of professional drag racing - starting with the fabled March Meet in 1959, when Don Garlits was paid the unheard sum of $5000 to come out and race against the big dogs on the west coast - that the dragster heritage that has been attached to this facility since that time has evolved over the years to where the funny cars are becoming the dominant class in the large events at Famoso Raceway. And the California Hot Rod Reunion this year has seen the floppers turn out in record numbers.
There aren't the most nitro funny cars in the pits that have ever been recorded, that being nearly 40 cars two years ago, but the huge influx of Northwest U.S. and Western Canadian alcohol funnys boosted the total fibre-bodied contingent to 48 blown nitro or alky cars. By comparison, adding up all the dragsters in Top Fuel, A/Fuel, Jr. Fuel, and 7.0 Pro yields a grand total of just 48 cars. Of course if you throw in the large contingent of diggers in the Nostalgia Eliminator 1 field, then the scales tip in favour of the dragster faction, but just the fact that parity in competitor numbers in the upper ranks has been achieved is quite remarkable.
The final factor to be considered is the reaction of the fans to the various types of cars. While the hard core spectators that seem to be in the majority at this event will cheer for all the racers, the loudest and liveliest reactions seem to be generated when the floppers are on track. The only thing close is when the "Winged Express" or the "Rat Trap" or "Bradford's Fiat" (fuel altereds) come out to make everyone go WTF?, which they so often seem to do.
That's enough preamble, so let's get straight into eliminations as it was a very long day at the track, finally finishing with Les Davenport crossing the finish line first in the A/Fuel final just after 7:00 pm. Sidenote: in retrospect it must have seemed like a good idea at the time to run everyone in the class, all 12 cars, and make it four rounds of eliminations in one day, but it really made for an unncessarily late end to the racing. With the extra turn-around time required for these high maintenance cars it just took too long to run all four rounds on Sunday.
Move ahead to 2012 and the final pre-entry total was 49 cars, but due to attrition and other circumstances, such as the Sekura Bros' last minute cancellation due to business committments, the actual number competing came in at 41 racers. Very impressive stuff, but most interesting of all was the mix. From a very much dragster oriented look in the early years, the field had evolved to include 15 funnys, 12 altereds, and just 14 dragsters. Amazing parity, and the great diversity of body styles, paint schemes, and powerplants made for a very impressive show for the fans.
When you factor in the appeal of (mostly) blown alcohol engines powering these beasts, and consider that almost every car is capable of producing a 6-second, 200-mph timeslip if run at full potential, then the entertainment and performance values are very good indeed. Yes, it is an indexed category but fast enough to almost entirely eliminate the sandbaggers and make it very much a "balls to the wall" type of drag racing - with a smart tuneup strategy and good reaction times mandatory for success.
The early word from the CHRR management was that just 16 of the 41 cars would qualify for eliminations on Sunday, but almost every racer polled on the question was certain that due to the sheer numbers of competitors, there would be an "A" (or "eh?" if you're north of the border) and "B" fields of 16 cars each. In the end, the decision was made to just let everyone run, so that while the "A" remained at 16 cars, the remaining 25 cars would all go into eliminations on the "B" side. Truly a win-win-win for the racers, the track, and most important of all, the spectators.
There were a few drop-outs on the "B" side, so the 21 healthy cars that were left opened up the first round of eliminations in what can only be described as totally random pairings, such as the #20 car facing #21 and #37 opposing #41, etc. just to confuse the issue once more.
Sherri Bodnarchuk broke in the final qualifer and could not make round one.
The action continued with a pair of funny cars, one Northwest BB/FC (Shane Harter) and one Alberta car (Jeremy Gelinski) and they both flirted with the index, with Harter taking the winlight at 7.08 over Jelinski's breaking out 6.992.
Two pairs later, one of the oddest entries of the event, the '77 Firebird of Rocky Pirrone, broke out so far that we've got to wonder what they were trying to accomplish, as a 6.366 on the 7.0 was so far out of bounds that it was beyond laughable. When you consider that they hauled the car all the way from Pennsylvania to make runs like that, it's a very expensive ego trip in this writer's opinion. (Note: Rocky had said all along that the real reason for coming out tto the event was to showcase the teams two AA/GS (The Mazmanian and the Pittman), he just brought along the Flopper for some fun and had no plans on slowing down the car).
A true grit story unfolded in the next pairing, as returning veteran Leon Aines from Vancouver Island, BC made a good second lap on his brand new car, again without a burnout to speak of, and coupled an .008 light with an early shutoff 7.27 at just 147 mph to easily take out his sleeping (.243 light) opponent and advance to the round of 11. More on this unfolding story of the "Beach City Canso" very soon.
Luck of the draw brought Cal Tebb (Rocky Mountain) up against Greg Howland (NW BB/FC) in a very entertaining clash. Big, big, BIG smoky burnouts, then disappointment for the Albertan as he broke out with a 6.98, making Howland's very off-pace 7.50 pass a winner. Closing out the round was another Northwest car, the second Harter family entry, driven by Jesse Welch and he was unable to come near the index either, carding just a 7.53 on his solo pass.
Just four floppers remained in the show and one was assured of exiting as the second pair of the round featured Greg Howland's "Zeus" against Jesse Welch in an all-Northwest BB/FC battle. Howland took the decision handily with a much better light and a 7.08 to 7.49 advantage on e.t. The next pair brought some nasty excitement to the party as the two Aussie blown altereds met and Peter Leahy's "Party Time" (real truth in advertising there!) took the win when Matthew Leonard banged the wall near the finish line to negate his 7.37 e.t. and make Leahy's late launching 7.36 the winner by default.
And the little Canso that could, kept it going for another round as Leon Aines left hard and ran a good 7.35 at just 161 mph with a "still fat and lazy tuneup" according to crew chief, driver, and owner Leon, to move ahead to the third round. Shane Harter in the Wenatchee-based 'Vette closed out the round with a victory over the gorgeous Sturgeon Brothers dragster and made it a total of three floppers, two diggers and an altered in the round of six.
The Cinderella story of the meet finally came to an end at the conclusion of the "Beach City Canso" burnout as the engine broke a valve spring, dropped the valve, smacked the piston and shut itself off at the 1000 ft mark. Making the situation even worse was the distinct possibility of a final round berth for Aines and crew as the winner of his match against Australian Peter Leahy would advance to the final on a semifinal bye run. All in all, an excellent effort for a team that arrived in Bakersfield on Friday morning at 2:00 am, with a car that they had just finished assembling and passing SFI scrutiny on Tuesday afternoon in Canada.
Final Round "B" field
The very first pairing saw Fort McMurray's David Brant get an early start on the long drive home as he broke out by the slimmest of margins - three thousandths of a second - with a 6.997 at 198 mph falling to the altered of Todd Miller. Even if he hadn't broken out, the .351 light the "Reaper" caught might have made the whole exercise completely academic. Sidenote: many of the trackside photographers - and there were LOTS of them - had a moment's silence knowing that the highly entertaining Reaper support crew wouldn't be seen again this year.
Back to racing and lightning struck again as Joey Steckler's Rocky Mountain car lost a side-by-side double breakout race against Mike Smith's dragster, with Smith breaking out the least, 6.98 to Steckler's larger infraction at 6.92. Yet another Albertan had fallen by the wayside and prepared to load up for the 1800 mile trip home. The bad luck continued for the fibreglass warriors as Jesse Adams in the "Machine Gun Kelli" flopper dropped a close decision to 2012 Series Champion Richard High's dragster.
It took the "Tiki Warrior" of Ron Huegli to put things right for the funny car brigade, as the low qualifier showed how to win on showmanship and performance, laying down a burnout that saw him stop at the finish line, before backing up and running a 7.04 pass at nearly 200 mph to take the automatic win when his opponent left before the tree was activated. Things went back to bad in the next match as Edmonton's Darrell Webb left late (.241 reaction time), broke out big time (6.88 e.t.), then just for good measure, failed to get it stopped and drove into the sandtrap. Not quite a "day at the beach" for that team.
With only one car advancing to the second round, out of the five that began eliminations, things were looking rather tenuous for a funny car win at this year's Hot Rod Reunion, but the Huegli team has shown they know how to index race and always come to play to win. Being the closest to the index in the field and cutting good lights has got to help too.
There was only one upset in the first round, as #7 qualifier Bobby Cottrell, subbing for Jerry Kumre Jr., took out the #6 car of Chip Beverett. The #9 qualifier, Bill Wayne, got lucky with a bye run when #4 Darrell Waters didn't show and John Harless advanced when Mike Pauluk failed to fire. The two big guns in the class, #2 qualifier and 2012 series champion, Kin Bates, quickly dispatched Bill Genco with a very strong 6.34 at 220 mph, numbers that were just short of his best qualifying stats of 6.33 and 221 mph.
Closing out the round was low qualifier, and #2 in the points, Calgary's Les Davenport, who charged hard until his engine started smoking heavily and slowed to a 6.32 e.t. - low of the round - at just 188 mph. The other racers must have noticed the .962 sixty foot time for the Davenport & Kaplan entry, best of the round by a bunch. If Davenport could fix his apparently wounded mount, it would be bad news for the rest of the field
Bates earned his third round berth with a consistent 6.36 at 215 mph win over a tiresmoking Shawn Corbari, while Davenport took out a similarly smoking Bobby Cottrell with another early shutoff pass at 6.36 and an even slower speed of 174 mph. No smoke this time so things were looking good for the Canadian with a scheduled bye run into the final.
The bye run for Davenport gave him a chance to test his tuneup and after a stellar .956 short time, he clicked it off before half track to an 8.54 at 84 mph to waltz into the final round against arch-rival Bates.
The difference was the .028 versus .105 reaction time for Davenport over Bates, and that was just the capper on a day of great leaves by Davenport, who averaged an .045 light for the race. Making the victory even more impressive was the driving job Davenport had to do when the car got waaaay out of shape at half track, nearly crossed the centerline, then shot back into his lane heading for the guardwall before he wrangled it across the finish line with all four wheels on the ground and all the shiny stuff still shiny. Whew, what a way to finish the race with a "never lift" philosophy prevailing.
Making this situation even more ludicrous is the three separate indexes assigned to the cars: "A" at 6.89, "B" at 6.98, and "C" at 7.24. So what do the spectators think of it and do they understand the various subtleties at work here? They understand it well enough to know that it gives them five minutes to head for the john or the taco stand or the beer tent.
While the technology in play is very impressive, the end result is really not terribly entertaining and mainly interesting only to the people involved. Bud Hammer was low qualifier at 7.08 and parlayed that into a first round bye run, a 6.99 (on a 6.98 index) win in the second round, a 7.02 win over a close 7.04 from Bud Lander in the semifinal and another 7.04 win over veteran of veterans Don Enriquez in the final, despite a very sleepy .308 reaction time.
That prediction came true very quickly in the first pair of the round as Meadors blasted out a 5.87 at 248.75 to take the win, despite leaving a red light glowing at the starting line. His opponent, John Overholser, crossed the centerline and gave the automatic win back to a much relieved Meadors. Bret Williamson, the #3 qualifier followed that pairing with an easy win over Sean Renteria but was well back of Meadors' performance with just a 6.23 - 229 mph timeslip.
An interesting pairing followed, as the only two nitrous cars in the otherwise all-screw blown field met, with veteran doorslammer racer Joe Lepone, Jr., taking an easy win over ex-IHRA racer Terry Housley with his best performance of the weekend at 6.215 and 232.55 mph. Not bad, but no match for Meadors. The round closed with #2 qualifier Scott Bailey taking out Rob Cacioppo with a solid 6.01 - 235 for the second best numbers of the round.
Racing started with a real barn-burner between Steven Densham and Rick Rogers, with Densham taking a close one, 5.75 to 5.78. Making it even closer was the slight reaction time advantage for Rogers to make it a very slim margin (4 feet) at the finish line. What a way to start raceday. The next pair featured the surprise of the event, as Rian Konno turned a career best 5.88 to qualify and got past his first round opponent with another solid e.t. But he was matched up here with one of the Paul Smith - Henry Gutteriez team cars, the "Brand X" Mustang driven by Mike Lewis.
Lewis didn't spare the horses either as he took an almost wire to wire win, spotting Konno four hundreths at the starting line, then pulling away early to a solid 5.77 to 6.12 victory. Three of the first four cars down the track improved on their best times for the event and there was still some really heavy hitters pulling to the head of the lanes.
Chad Head, the low qualifier at 5.760 - 251.57, blew that number into the weeds with a booming 5.685 at 251.16 to run away from Ronny Young's otherwise very good 5.79 - 224 pass in a losing effort for the "Blue Max" team. Not helping Young's cause was a full tenth of a second deficit at the starting line that made the result almost academic very early on.
Closing the round was a hotly anticipated match between two Northwest competitors, with Edmonton's Gary Eickmann taking out the favoured "Northwest Hitter" car of Kris Krabill. That put an end to Krabill's chance to overtake the non-qualifying John Hale for second place in the Hot Rod Heritage Series points standings. Eickmann made his career best run in the Claude Lavoie car at 5.81 - 245 mph to take out Krabills' 5.90 at 249 mph. Making it close at the finish line was the reaction time advantage of six hundredths for Krabill, which left him just half a car length in arrears at the stripe.
And that put a wrap on a very fast, close and exciting round of nitro funny car racing. It certainly doesn't get much better than that for peformance and entertainment values. In contrast to some earlier sessions, not a drop of oil or a single part was left on the track and the entire exercise took less than 15 minutes.
Densham's 5.76 at 247 mph took care of Gary Eickmann's good effort of 5.90 at 244.78, but another late leave really sealed his fate, with the 392-powered GTX unable to make up an .088 to .196 difference at the startline. It was a good effort all weekend by the Canadian team and this was their best ever finish at the Reunion or the March Meet. With his 5.76 pass, Densham looked good for lane choice in the final.
The other match of the round was a completely different animal as both cars got loose early. While Mike Lewis pedalled and saved his run, lighting up the scoreboards with a 6.79 at 213 mph, young Mr. Head didn't come close to getting his car to hook up and blazed the hides nearly the full length of the track, ending up with the very weird combination of 7.39 at 235 mph. Oh, and he bombed the blower at the finish line too just for good measure.
TOP FUEL DRAGSTER
It started very well with Adam Sorokin taking the winlight and the 2012 season championship for the heritage series with a 5.697 to 5.690 win over Rick White. The winning margin for Sorokin was all on the starting line with a nice .076 holeshot that was able to hold off the very hard-charging White's 5.690 - 259 mph pass. There was a flash of fire from Sorokin's car at the finish line but apparently no oil as the next pair was signalled to fire.
That second match featured even better numbers, as Tony Bartone pounded out a big 5.692 at 268.33 mph for a new top speed of the meet, while taking out Rick McGee's even quicker 5.650 (new low e.t.) at 253 mph. Again it was a reaction time victory as Bartone's half a tenth advantage at the start made for nearly a half car length margin at the finish. Two pairs of cars, no oil and some tremendous numbers. Doesn't really get much better than that.
Paul Romine took on Jim Murphy in the next pairing and joined the 5.60 club with a winning 5.69 at a slowing 235 mph to take a sizeable victory over Murphy's off-pace 5.81 at 227 mph. Contributing to the low top end speeds were the smoked-out pistons well before the finish line and then it got even more exciting for Romine as he brushed the wall in the shutdown area. What a combination: lose the engine, win the race, hit the wall.
Following a rather lengthy cleanup, the last car of the round, low qualifying Rick Williamson, came out for his bye run (due to the 14-car field) and put down his best numbers of the weekend at 5.71 - 259, trying for lane choice over Bartone, but lost the engine in the lights and the call went out for the cleanup crew down at the far end. A great start to the round with two very good and close races, then some good numbers, but too much carnage to finish the session.
In the other semifinal match, Paul Romine wasn't able to appear with a reportedly bent frame and let Adam Sorokin take the automatic win. The "Champion Speed Shop" car left hard then clicked off early, but ran long enough to secure lane choice with a 6.48 - 135 mph pass. When the best e.t. of the round is 6.48 in Top Fuel, then that pretty much sums up the racing for the semifinals, doesn't it?
other lane stayed clean as Williamson charged hard to make up the
small starting line deficit, but didn't pass Sorokin until the blower
banging and surged ahead for a two car length win and a time of
5.80 at 235 mph for the victory. It was an exciting and messy finish
for the Top Fuel class, and yet another oildown for the overworked
cleanup crew to deal with.
Top Fuel preview (courtesy AA/FD inc. news)
With NHRAs Heritage Series Points Title on the line, Top Fuel drivers Adam Sorokin and Rick Williamson lead a field of fifteen AA/Fuel Dragsters into battle next weekend at the 21st California Hot Rod Reunion in Famoso.
driving the Champion Speed Shop Chevrolet, is leading the series
by 61 points -- less than three round of racing. Number 2 in points,
Williamson, manning the Team Craig machine, will be gunning for
the Champion Speed Shop dragster in hopes of upending Sorokins
title quest. All of which matters little to East Coast and Midwest
drag racers towing to Bakersfield looking to prove to Left Coast
racers and fans that the baddest fuelers arent from California.
Of those, strongman Tony Bartone and the Bartone Brothers car from
As always, consistently-fierce competitors Jim Murphy, Rick White and Rick McGee will all play a major role in setting the pace for the 21st Reunion in their Chrysler 392-type powered dragsters. In contrast to their approach, among entries sporting the 426-hemi powerplant are young gun Terry Cox, Brendan Murry and Dan Horan Jr.
competing will be the Worlds Fastest CPA, Mendy
Fry, the lone female of the group, piloting Mike Fullers explosive
Forever Young car. Rounding out the field is respected
wheelman Bill Dunlap in the High Speed Motorsports entry,
as well as John Rasmussen driving for Bob Richardsons Circuit
Breaker machine and El Segundo peacenik beach-bum Jim Boyd
and his vintage-perfect "Red Turkey."
California Hot Rod Reunion
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