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Reunion Brings Thousands to Bakersfield

Huge crowds, a great group of Honorees and excellent racing marked the 16th annual Automobile Club of Southern California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by Holley.  The three-day festival of speed, at historic Auto Club Famoso Raceway just outside Bakersfield, brought together thousands of hot rod fans and hundreds of racers.


Ed “The Ace” McCulloch, with 21 NHRA National victories to his credit, served as Grand Marshal.  McCulloch has retired from active driving, but serves as crew chief for NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series Funny Car driver Ron Capps.  On an off-weekend for the POWERade series, Capps showed up to not only support McCulloch, but to race a nostalgia funny car in competition, although Capps didn’t make it to the final.

The legendary cacklesfest was the biggest ever this year


“We had good weather, great fan support and amazing racing,” said Tony Thacker, executive director of the non-profit Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, which produces the Hot Rod Heritage Series and the Reunions.  “We’re glad that more people were able to join us this year than ever before.”


Thacker said that the Hot Rod Heritage Series, previously limited to the California and National Hot Rod Reunions, would be expanded for 2008, beginning and ending at Auto Club Famoso Raceway.  The first event will be the March Meet, on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Fuel & Gas Championships, while the final event will be next year’s Auto Club of So. Calif. Hot Rod Reunion, presented by Holley.  The series is part of the Parks Museum’s emphasis on bringing to life the rich history of hot rodding.

There were familiar performers like Mike Boyd in the Winged Express (above) and unfamiliar ones like the Glassup's (below) who had shipped their car out from the UK especially for the occasion   


The event was the first Reunion since the passing of Wally Parks, founder of both the NHRA and the Museum.  The 94-year-old Parks passed away on Sept. 28.  Parks received a moment of silence during the free-to-the-public Friday night reception for the Reunion’s Honorees.


In addition to McCulloch, those honored were car builder John Buttera, the team of Childs and Albert, racer Gary “Red” Greth, promoter Mike Jones and the team of Kuhl and Olson.

John Buttera was one of the Honorees at this year's event - seen here about to collect his award from Tony Thacker


Brad Thompson took the Nostalgia Top Fuel class victory with the quickest and fastest time and speed of the meet - 5.721 seconds at 261.62 mph over Pete Kaiser's 5.924 and 228.54 respectively.  Thompson capped a perfect weekend in which he set the elapsed time and top speed records during qualifying.  His was the quickest of 20 dragsters in the class, one of the largest showings in recent years.


In Nostalgia Funny Car, run in the “Chicago style,” Bucky Austin took the honors in the “Northwest Hitter” over Terry Capp in “Bubble Up.”  In Chicago-style racing, only the top eight qualifiers advance to eliminations.  At Bakersfield, 16 cars ran for time, sending eight home after just one qualifying run.  The eight-fastest ran again, with Capp and Austin the two quickest winners, advancing to the final.   

Perhaps the scariest moment in the weekend’s racing came when Funny Car driver Randy Walls lit his car on fire.  Walls exited the car and suffered only a blister on his hand in the intense flames, but the car burned to the ground.

Tommy Ivo was in action off-the track for a change - much to the appreciation of the fans


Meanwhile, vendors reported a brisk business in souvenirs, the Auto Club helped members with instructions on how to get around a major traffic jam between Bakersfield and Los Angeles and spectators and reporters from around the world filled the grandstands and lined the fences.


The dates for next year's 17th annual Automobile Club of Southern California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by Holley, are pending.

Story: Michael F. Hollander

Gene Winfield displayed his recently completed salt flats race car

Nostalgia Funny Car comprised an impressive 16 car field

As always, the cacklefest attracted a diverse mix of race cars

Nostalgic Top Fuel action - as if piloting a dragster wasn't scary enough, you then have to figure our where you are going by peering around that massive blower

Dave McClelland, (left) the voice of NHRA drag racing and Linda Vaughn, Miss Hurst Golden shifter, at the Friday night reception

Part of the extensive hot rod display, which is always a major feature of the event

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