(Photos by Dyan Lover and Darr Hawthorne) There is a drag strip on Famoso Road in Kern County, California that has been hosting prestigious drag racing events like the US Fuel & Gas Championships and the March Meet for sixty years. Originally, the one square mile patch of asphalt surrounded by grape vines and fruit trees, was called the Famoso Drags. Under the keen eye of the Smokers Club of Bakersfield, the 1959 U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships set in motion and established a drag race that has endured for decades and remains the destination as the best nitro drag race in the country.
Today, the Good Vibrations March Meet presented by Lucas Oil leads the pack in modern, non-professional nitro racing with pre-entries nearing seventy nitro powered racecars, the ability of those who want to race with nitromethane can compete against the best in their class. Auto Club Famoso Raceway’s Quarter Mile surface is now concrete and is the Mecca for this kind of drag racing – with an eye on including just about every kind of nitro racer in Sunday eliminations.
Nitro classes are the bedrock of this classic event, and now boast five categories with the addition of 5.90 Classic Funny Car class and a popular Rear Engine Top Fuel Dragster class. The 16-car open Heritage-type Funny Car class attracted 25 entries, paced by 2017 California Hot Rod Reunion winner Bobby Cottrell driving the Austin & O’Brien ’69 Victory Camaro with a 5.650. To say this team dominated the class would be an understatement.
In addition to being #1 qualifier, Bobby Cottrell set low ET at 5.588, and in the final round on a dark and cold track defeated Canadian Ryan Hodgson’s Pacemaker Victory Camaro, the 2017 NHRA Heritage Series funny car champion running 5.723 to Hodgson’s 5.957.
Cottrell’s 5.65 elapsed time knocked off first round #1 Qualifier Jeff Arend’s 5.664 in the California Hustler ’78 Firebird. Arend was defeated in Round one of eliminations on a killer hole shot by Rian Konno in the Kazanjian Lemon & Konno ’73 Mustang (.016 to Arend’s .141 reaction time).
Dean Oberg won the new 5.90 Index Classic Funny Car class behind the wheel of the “Holy Toledo” ’67 Jeep originally campaigned by Ed Lenarth. A catalyst for the new 5.90 Index Classic Funny Car class was to provide a place for those nitro funny car Owners and Drivers to race who won’t be completing in the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series and chasing the Series Points.
To support the new Classic Class, Kevin Stith at Legends of Nitro handed over a $500 Low Qualifier Bonus to Claude LaVoie and his team for the #1 position in his ’72 Plymouth Satellite nitro funny car.
If Bobby Cottrell was dominant in Funny Car, the same can be said for Mendy Fry in the High Speed Motorsports Top Fuel Dragster qualified #1 running 5.736 and was two tenths quicker than the #2 qualifier Bret Williamson’s 5.933. Fry’s dragster got quicker in eliminations with 5.696 and setting low ET at 5.600 elapsed time.
The only thing that stood in her way of a clean sweep was #3 qualifier (6.303) Pete Wittenberg (above). In the final round, Wittenberg, easily the underdog based on performance, held firm and left even with Mendy. With Fry pulling away to what looked like a convincing win, her dragster crossed the line down track, giving the Good Vibration March Meet win to Wittenberg.
Dan Horan Jr. took on double duty with his Patriot Camaro and wheeling his late father’s cool front motored Top Fuel Dragster qualifying #7, but lost in Round one to Bret Williamson.
Mike Halstead, driving Mike Stewart’s Mike’s Transmission Special, entry won Rear Engine Top Fuel Dragster with a stellar 5.546 ET at 257.14 mph in a first round victory over Brad Thompson’s Rain for Rent dragster. Halstead’s 5.546 ET was the quickest run of all the nitro cars!
In the Final Round Halstead defeated Billy McDevitt (above), who shut off early. Every Good Vibrations March Meet is drawing more and more nitro cars and the Rear Engine Top Fuel Dragster class is getting stronger car counts as well.
The fabulous fuel altereds have been a fan favorite since the time of the Standard 1320 record days, dating as far back as 1959, and their popularity has continued to grow thanks to being reinvented by Auto Club Famoso Raceway. The 6.0 Index class has grown steadily with new Fuel Altereds being built for the new season. At the Good Vibrations March Meet fourteen entrants fought for eight spots highlighted by Oregon’s Dan Hix’s near-perfect 6.005 ET in his Heatseaker ’34 Chevy AA/Fuel Altered. Hix is no stranger to the Famoso Raceway winner’s circle, becoming a three-time Good Vibrations March Meet winner.
In the final round, Hix’s 6.301 defeated Fallbrook, CA’s, Eric Gates ’23 Ford (above) who ran an off-pace 8.914.
Never has a team dominated a Heritage Racing Series class in the manner Adams-Bates has in A/Fuel dragster. The nine-time class champion began 2018 in the same way he finished 2017—with a Wally in the winner’s circle. In doing so, the team from Redding, CA, put on a display of consistency that would be the envy of Top Fuel Dragsters: 5.893; 5.918; 5.847; and 5.849 in the final against Rick Ewens.
Let’s not forget that this stellar performance came after Drew Austin obliterated the A/Fuel dragster elapsed time mark in qualifying with an awesome #1 at a 5.813 elapsed time! Although not a record since Austin did not back up the run, the air was so good at Famoso that their 5.813 would have qualified the Ford-powered A/Fueler into the Top Fuel class at #2!
Picking up on Kin Bates’ script, John Marottek dominated the Jr. Fuel dragsters. The #1 qualifier ran as quick as 6.855 and was never seriously challenged in eliminations. Sonoma, CA’s, Ronnie Lennon came out on top over a 27-car field in 7.0 Pro. After a tepid start (#17 qualifier), Lennon put together a consistent string of low seven second runs in eliminations, including a 7.007 against Lawton Ferreira II in the semi-final round.
In Nostalgia Eliminator 1, “Dirty” Dan Schrokosch showed that he still has what it takes to survive five rounds of eliminations, including a semi-final round win over 2017 champion Dustin Lee. Sam Tucker and Ed DeStaute came out victorious in Nostalgia Eliminator 2 and Nostalgia Eliminator 3, respectively. Tucker beat #1 qualifier J Todd Fernandez on a holeshot in the final round.
Rounding out the sixteen class March Meet roster were the Gassers and Hot Rod. Dale Hicks, Wilmington, CA, survived seven grueling rounds of eliminations to win Hot Rod. Other highlights included PJ Giacalone’s win over Larry Heseman’s perfect 9.600 in C/G, and Frank Merenda’s double breakout victory over Eric Bush in A/G. Tim Mulvihill gifted Neal Westbrook the Wally with a red light in B/G as did Dan Ficher against Don Fournier in D/G.
It was a long weekend as racers and Auto Club Famoso Raceway track personnel dodged rain showers off and on, drying the track five times alone on Saturday to keep the racecars on the track.
Between rounds, Ed “the Outlaw” Jones got the spectators on their feet to watch the Jelly Belly Wheelstanding Fire Engine and the Lucas Oil-MAV-TV Jet Dragsters. The next event on the Nitro Funny Car schedule is the first leg of the Inaugural United Nitro Funny Cars Championship presented by Good Vibrations Motorsports at Tucson Dragway April 13-14.