The carnage of the 61st annual Good Vibrations March Meet was not lost on Bobby Cottrell. He understood when other drivers exploded engines or launched bodies into the air, they were trying to adjust to peculiar weather conditions in an attempt to come after his hard-fought title from last year.

Even a first-time Funny Car driver wanted a piece of the action.

This represents the new normal for the defending series champion Cottrell.

“This feels great and it is a great start to the season, obviously,” Cottrell said. “I can’t thank Bucky (Austin) and Mike and all the team enough. It’s just a cliché, but this is a dream come true and we’re happy.”

Cottrell claimed the coveted crown by defeating newcomer Jerry Espeseth in the finals. He clocked a 5.718-second elapsed time at 249.03 mph top zip past Espeseth, who slowed to 8.959 seconds.

Cottrell’s victory parade consisted of wins over Tim Boychuck, Steven Densham, and Kris Krabill before he ousted Espeseth in the final round.

“It actually was really tough (Sunday),” Cottrell said. “The air was a lot better than I think people thought and thank God Bucky made the right calls and I just tried to drive the car to the best of my ability.”

Up until Monday, in the days leading up to Bakersfield, Espeseth had never sat in a Funny Car. It was then when he felt the car under power for the first time.

Rupert's tutelage enabled the novice to look like a seasoned veteran by the time eliminations began late Saturday.

"These guys got a reputation out here and if it wasn’t them, it’d probably be a little bit less [pressure], but I knew that coming into this," Espeseth said. "I’ve had months to think about it and calm myself down. In my head I’ve driven this car 200-300 times. You just change one little procedure that you’re doing or staging and game over."

Even Espeseth couldn't have prepared himself for his most monumental victory by taking out No. 1 qualifier and the fastest AA/FC driver in the class Dan Horan in the semifinals.

Cottrell didn't take the Cinderella story lightly, and was prepared for the rookie.

“Every time we go up against that Rupert car, they are a great team,” Cottrell said. “They have a great Hot Rod, so just because he (Espeseth) was a rookie, I didn’t take that car lightly. Congratulations to him on making his first final at the March Meet, but we are just all happy.”

Cottrell understands its not the way you start a race but how you finish which counts.

“It started off kind of rough (Sunday), but after the second run in eliminations, we all put our heads together and we all got back in our motions and it is like we never left.”