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California Hot Rod Reunion Part 2
The 13th annual California Hot Rod Reunion had it all – great track action, a fantastic line-up of cars old and new, warm weather (in the 80’s all weekend) and terrific off-track attractions to keep fans occupied. There really is no other event like it – except of course the similar nostalgia meet in Kentucky and the March meeting at Fomoso which apparently attracts three times as many cars.
As a big FED nostalgia fan, the vast array of restored old cars on display was truly mind-blowing (report elsewhere) but the event was much more than that. The Reunion brought together street rodders, hot rodders, drag racers and the newest group of performance fans, “rat rodders” for a weekend of family fun and fellowship at historic Famoso Raceway.
Hot Rod legend Ron Nunes at the wheel of his Corvette
The schedule featured nostalgic drag racing for Top Fuelers, Supercharged Gassers and A/Fxers; night time eliminations in Top Fuel, plus there were exhibition passes for funny cars and fuel altereds on the Saturday evening followed by the legendary cacklefest.
Throughout the entire weekend a giant street rod and custom car exhibition was held behind the main grandstand, where you could also find dozens of trade stands selling everything from back issues of your favorite magazines (though surprisingly there were no new magazines available), model cars, hats, T-shirts, completely rebuilt flathead engines, speed parts, wheels and a whole lot more. For those looking for nostalgia parts to finish off a project, there were exotic used induction systems galore, and unfinished street rods ready to be towed home.
Race ready Hemi engine from $20,000 and other parts from Chuck Taylor
Steel bodies Willys had $20,000+ price tag
Red Ram Hemi 270 $1600 and 392 Hemi for $2600 - call 001 661 951 1862 for details
On the Friday night after practice and qualifying runs at the track, a free reception took place at the DoubleTree Hotel in Bakersfield to honour some of the pioneers of the sport. Amongst them was the event Grand Marshall and former fast lady Paula Murphy. Parked up just outside the hotel foyer was the freshly restored Stellings & Hampshire AA/FD, which was brought to life with a resounding cackle – a stirring occasion for all who heard it.
Paula Murphy - Grand Marshal-ette for the Reunion
Tommy Ivo displays a prototype model of his twin engined rail to be released by gmp. Pure Hell and Rat Trap are to follow shortly
Saturday’s Pit Pass Barbecue took place during the lunch period (must remember that next time!) and was included in the ticket price. Out on the track, the qualifying highlights were set in FED Top Fuel where Mendy Fry went 5.874/251.32mph to become the first woman to dip in to the 5s and top 250mph. Low ET qualifier was Bill Dunlap who scorched the track with a 5.830/255.31 pass.
Night time eliminations in Top Fuel
Night time Top Fuel eliminations began at around 8.00pm in front a full house, though the lower percentage of nitromethane that these cars run meant it wasn’t quite the spectacle I was expecting. By comparison, the pairing of Rat Trap and the Blue Blazer fuel altereds later in the evening, loaded up with 95 per cent, produced massive header flames. True to form they entertained the crowds with wild side-by-side action - Blue Blazer almost clipped the guardrail in a lurid left lurch - and Rat Trap lit up the sky with massive header flames and metal particles at the top of the strip. And if this wasn’t enough, Mike Boyd then put down an unbelievable run in the Winged Express which saw the car turn violently left at the top end of the track but Mike kept his foot in and somehow brought it straight.
Mike Boyd on one of his 1/8 mile burnouts - wild!
Following on from the exhibition runs was the highlight (for me) of the whole event, when no fewer than 37 nostalgia dragsters were push started down the fire up road and then parked up on track. Of course this took some time to get all of the cars lined up and by the time the last car was in place, many of the cars had shut off to avoid overheating. However, this did not detract from a stunning spectacle, which had photographers clambering to get the best shots of the dancing header flames and the fans in rapturous applause when the last car engine was cut.
Congratulations to the NHRA and all who took part in an incredible show. “How do you top that,” I asked one official – “more cars next year,” came the response.
Rodzilla complete with M14 tank engine
The candidate for the most bizarre vehicle of the weekend must go to Rodzilla - a 1920/30’s Studebaker sedan body atop a custom built chassis – I say chassis but it was more like a section of the Forth Road Bridge. However, it needed to be tough to hold a massive M14 tank engine which normally would develop around 900hp. However, this was deemed far too pedestrian and so it has been turbocharged to develop 1150hp. The whole show rides on monster size wheels and tyres and returns less than 2.0 mpg! “You’re crazy,” shouted one spectator as it rolled by – “thanks came the gleeful response from the driver.”
Neat looking Austin Devon gasser
One thing apparent at this year’s CHRR was the huge contingent of foreign visitors – mostly Brits from what I experienced, who made the pilgrimage to the event. I bumped in to Dorset Horn driver Dick Sharp amongst others who was having an equally great time. The NHRA estimate that foreign visitors contribute more than $3 million to the local economy over the course of the three-day event.
Wrapping up the reunion were the finals on Sunday and fittingly, local driver Rick McGee walked away with his first Top Fuel race win with a time of 6.134/227.15mph.
From a personal viewpoint the fact that this event is run on such a friendly, accessible level means that the drivers and organisers are more than happy to spend time talking with you – just like Formula 1!
There were many other highlights from this event and I’m pleased to say that there will be more stories to come in DRCReview and specifically from some of the US drag racing personalities who have raced in the UK at some stage in their lives. Stay tuned!
Story & photos: Andy Kirk
Fad T's are making a comeback
ARE are reintroducing the famed spindle mount Torq Thrust wheel in aluminium
Ed Schwartz drives and co-owns this 1970 Vega bodied funny car. It uses a new chassis and drivetrain clothed with a genuine 1970 fibreglass body and looked era perfect on track
Steel Topolino body sold without problem for $1500 - there ain't too many left