(Photos by Dyan Lover, Mike Burghardt, Jeff Burghardt, Bob Snyder and Darr Hawthorne) This season should be an awesome year for nitro funny cars, so many owners, drivers and crew chiefs have stepped up their games, although some have not tested, so far. The ultra-competitive season opener for the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series begins this weekend with the Good Vibrations March Meet presented by Lucas Oil. This event celebrates 60 Years of the Original Smoker’s Car Club and racing at Famoso Raceway in 1959.
While some of last year’s front runners from the Midwest and Texas, such as #1 qualifier Mike McIntire Jr’s “McAttack” Camaro, John Hale’s “One Bad Texan” Camaro and the “Crop Duster” Monza elected to sit out this event and Goodguys’ Marc Meadors’ “Fuel Curve” Camaro won’t be ready until April. Nitro veterans like Paul Romine and his “Man O War” Mustang decided to make the trek from Indy, since NHRA Tech Department allowed an MSD-type 12-amp magneto in the off season, after a multi-year lobbying effort from racers.
Our “experts” have contributed their hunches for the nitro funny car class this year, to advise on the Funny Car Gypsy’s odds for the Auto Club Famoso Raceway Winners Circle on Sunday evening or as last year on Monday. It’s a tough decision, especially since owners joining in pre-season testing was light this winter… a little at Wild Horse Pass, a few more at Famoso and over the past weekend with Bucky’s Test-N-Tune weekend.
This event will bring out two distinct funny car fields to rabid nitro spectators; a 16-car qualified, all-out NHRA Heritage series 16-car eliminator and a Classic 8-car Field that’ll qualify and run on a 5.90 index, designed to go easier on the funny car owners who don’t want to put in a fresh rack of pistons every round. Special thanks to both Jeff Utterback and track manager Blake Bowser for offering a way for owners to play with nitro in a more sensible way – with an Index as has been done to revitalize the AA/Fuel Altered class. Thanks also to Stith Printing for stepping up with a crisp $500 bonus for the #1 Qualifier in the Classic class!
Going into qualifying a funny car team must declare which class they want to run in; Heritage or Classic and the Classic class has already brought out George Doty’s “Crazy Horse” Mustang driven by Rodney Flournoy, the first in the 5-second zone way back in the Goodguys VRA days, and the iconic “Pisano & Matsubara” Vega owned by Danny Pisano and driven by Jeff Utterback, for the Classic eliminator. Since the Classic class will be run on a 5.90-second elapsed time index, here we concentrate on the heads up NHRA Heritage Series Class.
Some twenty-two members are supporting the United Nitro Funny Car Championship, sponsored by Good Vibrations Motorsports in a five race series with healthy payouts and a points fund, directed by promoter Bill Doner. So the UNFC and NHRA Heritage Series are now bringing nitro funny car racing to even more fans and with the addition of the NHRA Museum finally inviting the Heritage class to the Holley Hot Rod Reunion in Bowing Green for the first time, making this almost a National series.
Anyway, here’s the consensus of the Top 25 nitro funny cars presented to the BANGshift Funny Car Gypsy for the 2018 Good Vibrations March Meet. There’s no guarantee on the Odds and as far as we know there are no Vegas casinos that’ll take your bet, however cash wagering in the refurbished Famoso grandstands or the new starting line Famoso Beer Garden (above) might prove productive. Wagering on the weather is a sucker bet, but will certainly be a factor.
(1-1 Even Money) Bobby Cottrell – “Northwest Hitter” ’69 Victory Camaro – On a roll after multiple wins last year capped by the ’17 Reunion trophy, qualifying #1 and a best of 5.528 in eliminations. Pre-season testing went as planned. Maybe a 5.40 in there? A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(2-1) Matt Bynum – “Nitro Nick” ’70 Chevrolet Camaro – owner Cecil Matthews proved his smarts in a runner-up finish at last year’s Reunion and driver Bynum grabbing the last remaining Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member jacket re-setting the national record at 263.05. Bynum’s driving is second to none, he’s wanted to drive a nitro funny car since he was a kid and sure could be in the final round, again.
(2-1) Shawn Bowen – “Bartone & Lebor” ’69 Chevrolet Camaro – This may be the race for that breakthrough Heritage Series win. Bowen’s won in IHRA and the Drag Racing Online Challenge and racing in a few Heritage Series events last year shows they can do this. This funny car sparkles! A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(2-1) Ryan Hodgson – “Pacemaker” ’69 Victory Camaro – 2017 NHRA Heritage Series Champ and was the MPH record holder. Bob Papirnick and Jim Basko have a strong crew and could make it to the final round having won last year’s Good Vibrations March Meet. Hard to bet against. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(2-1) Jeff Arend – “California Hustler” ’78 Pontiac Firebird – Veteran tuner Ronnie Swearingen and solid crew has found the 5.60’s at 259+. Arend looks like the driver this team needed as the odds-on leader in pre-season testing at Famoso with the car’s best 60-foot times, ever. Could be the final round here for owner Don Nelson.
(3-1) Steven Densham – “Teacher’s Pet” ‘69 Chevrolet Camaro – Steven and pops Gary Densham won the 2015 Heritage Series Championship and any drag racer who has burned nitro for as many years as this team can never be counted out. This car loves to carry the wheels off the line and driver Steven seems to thrive on it.
(3-1) Jason Rupert – “Rolling Thunder” “69 Chevrolet Camaro – Tough to bet against this team, but DNQ’d at Reunion with oildowns. Won the 2016 IHRA Championship, 2016 Reunion and Rupert is a three-time NHRA Heritage and three-time IHRA Champ – usually has field crushing performance. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(3-1) Paul Romine – “Man O War” ’79 Ford Mustang – Romine is a multi-time IHRA Champ and maybe one of the craftiest racers out there. As he says, “I always want to race against the best.” With the new MSD 12-amp mag now available, nothing may stop him.
(5-1) Bill Windham – “Shakedown” ’69 Chevrolet Camaro – After some mis-steps last season, it looked like Windham and his team may have turned the corner in pre-season Famoso testing. Veteran driver, veteran crew and a new, spacious workplace at the track. A dark horse for sure.
(5-1) Mark Sanders – “Mr Explosive” ’71 Ford Mustang – No better driver out there, son Jake the Snake has immersed himself in the Indy nitro world. learning from some of the best in the business. This team usually kicks ass.
(6-1) Dan Horan – “Patriot” ’69 Victory Camaro – The 2014 Heritage Series Champ who often talks retirement and sat out much of last season. He’s got longtime leader David Fears turning the wrenches with him, but has elected to enter his late father’s Top Fueler, yes thats two nitro cars, could be a lot of work. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(6-1) Brad Thompson – “Jailbreak” ’69 Victory Camaro – Qualified well at the Reunion with a 5.69, showing his old form and winning performance. He’ll be double-dipping with his Ridge Route Terror rear engine dragster. Great to see this team turn their program around, back to the 5.60’s – now with the new MSD mag from sponsor System 1 and help from veteran Steve Faria.
(7-1) Billy Morris – “Problem Child” ’69 Chevy Camaro – New, great looking entry with frustrating pre-season testing, then overnight turned the corner to get Billy his license. Top Fuel Hydro World Champ Eddie Knox drives this team with tuner Jon Wurtz. Could be a real dark horse, but sand racer Billy knows how to win – this’ll be the toughest funny car field of the year. If you make it to Famoso, stop by and welcome these guys.
(7-1) Tim Boychuk – “Happy Hour” “78 Pontiac Firebird – Canadian Boychuk races hard with crew chief Twig Ziegler, sometimes running hot and sometimes cold, but could make the Semi’s with some breaks.
(7-1) Rian Konno – “Kazanjian Lemon & Konno” ’73 Ford Mustang – This car has been steadily improving with guidance from crafty Hawaiian Roland Leong who tuned the Heritage Top Fuel champ last year. Stuck in the 5.80’s – needs 70’s at least. Racing in the memory of longtime friend John Egan.
(7-1) Steve Easton – “Burnin’ Money” ’70 Plymouth Barracuda – Early on, owner Bob Godfrey helped start this class, he match races and doesn’t waste parts. Easton has been racing Pro-mods and A/Fuel in the Mello Yello series. A resourceful team
(8-1) Don Hudson – “Beachcomber” ’78 Pontiac Firebird – Strong central California coast team, good running car, smart driver with lots of funny car seat time. Should qualify this great looking car, but the crew led by Paolo Galli needs to find the 5.70’s to advance in this field.
(10-1) Claude Lavoie – “Sandman Special” ’72 Plymouth Satellite GTX – Lavoie has been sitting out the quarter mile for a could of years, but when he races his Rodeck Hemi-powered flopper, he usually does well. Hard to pick this one.
(10-1) Cory Lee – “Pedaler” ’79 Dodge Challenger – Driver Cory Lee is back with veteran owner Gary Turner, should qualify, good parts and smart people, but not much racing in the past year as Cory worked the Mello Yello show with Del Worsham. Former driver James Day moves over to pilot the “Black Sunshine” AA/Fuel Altered.
(10-1) Chris Davis – “Old School Nitro” ’77 Plymouth Arrow – awesome looking funny car with good showings in the Northwest and a killer 300 foot wheel stand at the UNFC race in Seattle last year, hard working and dedicated crew, the fans love this car!
(10-1) Mike Halstead – “Code Red” ’78 Chevy Camaro – Sounds like owner Lee Jennings may have some tricks up his sleeve, he’s driven and tuned for many years and loves to kick some ass with proven knowledge in top fuel and funny car, Halstead is confident and knows the Famoso 1320 well.
(11-1) Geoff Monise – “Quarter Pounder” ’77 Chevy Monza – Monise is piloting this old school classic, legacy funny car. Keith Clark tunes with a dedicated team – if weather is a factor Clack knows Famoso..
(12-1) Rick O’Rogers – “Fighting Irish” ’74 Chevy Camaro – Great looking classic team, will need more than 5.80’s in this March Meet pack, owner Charlie O’Neill knows how to motivate hard working team
(12-1) Kris Krabill – “Darkside” ’79 Dodge Challenger – Owner/Tuner Smokey Alleman knows what he’s doing and veteran driver Krabill has spent lot of time in the Winners Circle, these guys are crafty and should qualify. They’ve got new T-shirts, too!
(13-1) Shawn Van Horn – “Choo Choo Mama” ’78 Pontiac Firebird – these former fuel altered racers are still learning with their fuel funny car side have a shot at qualifying. A&W Root Beer floats, the best!
That’s a lot to digest, but you can bet your last dollar – if only those odds makers in Vegas would take your cash!