As nitro funny car racing matures, the task of picking the final rounds and a top ten in the class is getting tougher and tougher with each event. The 26th California Hot Rod Reunion at Auto Club Famoso Raceway will be one of those proverbial “gunfights” where any one of ten or more or a wildcard could be holding up the Wally trophy for what has become the NHRA Heritage Series World Finals.
With the rainout at the Firebird Raceway Nightfire Nationals in August the funny car final will be decided in the third Reunion qualifying session between Heritage Series points leader and Salt Lake City event winner Ryan Hodgson versus Jason Rupert, who set low ET and top speed at Boise, running 5.62-259.01.
Funny Car rookie Bobby Cottrell can’t be counted out either. He won an incredibly close victory over past-champion Rupert at the Heritage Mission Raceway event and a runner-up to Hodgson at Rocky Mountain Raceways there is no doubt that Bucky Austin and Mike O’Brien have the regained their Championship winning form in the Northwest Hitter.
Special thanks to the judges who helped this year with the notes and odds for the thirty plus nitro funny cars in the pits this weekend. With all the nitro horsepower here, it’ll be a thankless job and this year – the Magic 8 Ball is cloudy, so here it goes.
(1-1 Even money) Jason Rupert – Littlefield & Rupert “Black Plague” ’69 Camaro – tough to bet against this team, with the weather cooperating could we see the 5.50 elapsed time barrier crushed? Won the 2016 IHRA Championship, last year’s Reunion, Rupert is a three-time NHRA and three-time IHRA Champ. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(1-1 Even Money) Ryan Hodgson – “Pacemaker” Victory ’69 Camaro – NHRA Heritage Series MPH record holder with tuning by Bob Papirnick and Jim Basko, this Canadian Hall of Fame crew could make it to the final round just like they did in winning the Good Vibrations March Meet this year. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(2-1) Bobby Cottrell – “Northwest Hitter” Victory ’69 Camaro – 2016 Heritage Series Championship winning team, another team that has visited the Famoso Winner’s Circle as Cottrell does double-duty in his 7.0 Pro dragster this weekend. The car is still the Heritage Series ET record holder. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(3-1) Shawn Bowen “Bartone & Lebor” ’69 Camaro – Got say this is a win waiting to happen, Bowen has been a winner in IHRA and the Drag Racing Online Challenge and it just a couple of Heritage Series events has shown his driving ability. No pressure here! A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(3-1) Steven Densham – “Teacher’s Pet” ‘69 Camaro – The 2015 Heritage Series Champion has been absent from Heritage Series competition recently, that doesn’t mean pops and crew chief Gary Densham has lost his tune-up prowess, consistency always pays.
(3-1) John Hale – “One Bad Texan” ’69 Camaro – a two-time DRO funny car series champion is back, but recuperating crew chief Guy Tipton is sitting this one out – ready for the final round, but Hale has a dogfight to get there. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(4-1) Dan Horan Jr – “Patriot” Victory ’69 Camaro – the 2014 Heritage Series Champion was talking retirement and sat out much of this season. Time to shake off the cobwebs, but he’s got David Fears twisting the wrenches and funny car legend Dale Pulde close by on the phone. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(4-1) Mark Sanders – “Mr. Explosive” ’71 Mustang – Has been working hard laying concrete, but still fitting in some racing this year, guaranteed hasn’t lost his touch or his voice! Son/Tuner Jake the Snake has been tuning and driving and crewing with CAPCO top fuel team. This team is win waiting to happen.
(6-1) Marc Meadors – “Good Times” ’70 Camaro – a seasoned driver and dedicated crew led by Jason Bunker – they won here in the Pure Hell Pro Mod and a first class operation, could go to the semi’s an beyond.
(6-1) Tim Nemeth – “Iceman” ’78 Pontiac Firebird – Past IHRA winner and hard charger from Canada, after spending lots of time on his fishing boat, he’ll be rested and ready. A strong dark horse in this field.
(6-1) Matt Bynum – “Nitro Nick” ’70 Camaro – owner Cecil Matthews is a smart racer and the car is back in the Nitro Nick livery and almost dry, driver Matt works on the DHL Toyota funny car and has the Hotline to Kalitta Racing, he wants to wear the last remaining Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member jacket.
(7-1) Mike Peck – “California Hustler” ’78 Pontiac Firebird – Pro tuner Ronnie Swearingen and solid crew found the 5.60’s at 259+ at the 25th Reunion. Peck’s confidence-building runner-up at the Seattle United Nitro Funny Car Invitational showed consistency.
(8-1) Steve Easton – “Burn-N-Money” ’70 Barracuda – Owner Bob Godfrey is one of the dudes who started this class, a smart match racer and tuner who doesn’t waste parts. Easton is having fun this year and surprised Godfrey by running more Heritage Series events than were on the calendar in January.
(10-1) Don Hudson – “Beachcomber” ’78 Pontiac Firebird – Central California Coast team, good running car, smart driver with lots of funny car seat time. Should qualify well, the new paintjob is killer on this car, but the crew led by Paolo Galli needs to find the 5.70’s to advance in this field.
(10-1) Danny Gerber “Wasn’t Easy” ’78 Pontiac Firebird – this team’s luck changed after a new Kenny Youngblood paint makeover and Jon Wurtz tune-up, they won the cash at Spokane’s United Nitro Funny Car Invitational.
(11-1) 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 in Seattle, hard working and dedicated crew, the fans love this car!
(11-1) Bill Windham “Shakedown” ’69 Chevy Camaro – Windham thinks they’ve got a handle on previous inconsistency so they should be running stronger. Gremlins be gone – this will still be a stout field but should qualify well and looking good with new paint!
(11-1) James Day – “Pedaler” Dodge Challenger – Owner Gary Turner, another of the dudes who started this class, has made multiple visits to the Famoso Raceway Winners Circle over the years, but must find the 5.60’s to get to the finals. Good to see Turner on the mend after a stupid pit accident.
(12-1) Brad Thompson – “Jailbreak” ’69 Victory Camaro – a massive explosion at the Nightfires that all but totaled the car was traced back to the antique rules-mandated magnetos – time for a rule change with Brad as the poster-child. Now running a body donated to the cause by Bucky Austin, to make this event it took long hours to get here. Great looking car, but must find the 5.60’s again.
(12-1) Jon Capps – “Dream Weaver” ’77 Plymouth Arrow – Look for a strong showing for this former Del Worsham funny car. Jon is filling in for this event, he can drive a Mello Yello or Heritage Series funny car well, and it is in the genes.
(12-1) Geoff Monise – “Quarter Pounder” Chevy Monza – Ace fabricator Monise is piloting this old school Keith Clark-tuned Monza with a dedicated team that has collected Famoso cash here before.
(12-1) Rian Konno – “Kazanjian Lemon & Konno” ’73 Mustang – Don’t be surprised to see Roland Leong and his Hawaiian bro’s in Konno’s pit tuning on this iconic nitro team’s funny car, win this one for John Egan, will ya?
(12-1) Rick O’Rogers – “Fighting Irish” ’76 Chevrolet Camaro – by far one of the best-looking cars out there owned by Charlie O’Neill, has done well with a dedicated crew. Experienced Rogers has driven just about every kind of Heritage nitro car.
(13-1) Rob Markworth “War Horse” ’73 Mustang – New owner of the Tocco & Garten iconic funny car would be awesome to see this funny car make the final round, has been qualifying well. Fitting tribute to Roger Garten.
(13-1) Kris Krabill – “Smokey’s Darkside” Dodge Challenger – We all know how good Championship winning driver Krabill is, but with the change to a Rich Howell Hemi replacing the Arias motor – who knows. Smokey Alleman has pulled rabbits out of his hat from the Indy 500 to the here at the Patch.
(14-1) Bazz Young – “Down Under Thunder” ’69 Chevy Camaro – Bazz is back on his Wal-Mart cross-country tour with old school tuner Jerry Newman. They are here to have some fun and Newman hates wasting parts, should make the field!
(15-1) Shawn Van Horn – “Choo Choo Mama” ’78 Pontiac Firebird – these fuel altered guys are still learning fuel funny car side and do have a shot at qualifying. Bring on the Root Beer floats!
(15-1) Mike Hallstead – “Code Red” Chevrolet Camaro – Veteran nitro racer Lee Jennings loves to show up and kick some ass with proven knowledge in top fuel and funny car, wish they raced more.
(16-1) Cory Lee – the funny car formerly known as the “Violator” Dodge Challenger – New combo, northern California fires rearranged the priorities on this team, but driver Cory Lee knows a few tricks he hasn’t used yet. This was an event and championship winning funny car, could still be there. A long shot.
(20-1) Jeff Utterback – Pisano & Matsubara ’73 Chevrolet Vega – with owner Danny Pisano’s buyback of the iconic funny car, they are in test mode at the Reunion to decide what they’ll do in 2018. Utterback is back in the seat and already dusted off the cobwebs between the frame rails. A nostalgic pick, for sure.
(20-1) Elaine Sellers – “Lady Elaine” ’67 Chevy Nova – a long shot, but with some help from Bucky Austin in their transition to nitro driver Sellers is in the learning mode.
That’s a lot, but you can bet your last dollar if those odds makers in Vegas will take your cash.