2016 GOOD VIBRATIONS BAKERSFIELD MARCH MEET - EVENT NOTEBOOK
THE FORGOTTEN STANDOUT - Before the prestigious 2016 Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet this past weekend, Kris Krabill was a forgotten standout.
By the evening of March 6 that definitely wasn’t the case anymore.
Krabill sped past all the competitors, defeating Steven Densham in the finals in Bakersfield, Calif., at Auto Club Famoso Raceway.
Krabill clocked 5.582-second time at 256.94 mph to edge Densham’s 5.640-second lap at 254.57 mph.
“It’s my 40th birthday weekend, so I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Krabill said. “My wife and I are having a (baby) and my mom and my cousin are here. I couldn’t ask for a better weekend to get a March Meet win.”
It was especially gratifying for Krabill since all the talk at the March Meet was about Densham’s dominance and the fact that Ron Hodgson and his son Ryan’s brand-new Victory Race Cars-built 1969 Camaro Funny Car – primarily the body – was ruled to be within the spirit of the rules.
Densham, the son of veteran nitro Funny Car racer Gary Densham, won the March Meet last year.
“I knew we had a combination and once we got it working, we were running good numbers and I was on my game (March 6),” Krabill said. “You know what, I try to stay out of the stuff with the body (Hodgson’s) and all that. NHRA approved it, so it is what it is. Everybody has their own opinion, but we did it old-school style with a ’78.”
Krabill’s team stepped up big time on race day – highlighted by his record run of 5.552 seconds in his semifinal win over Dan Horan, who slowed to 11.974 seconds.
“We have been working on the engine and clutch combination and the last couple of runs when we got down in the 50s it was just running perfect,” Krabill said. “My shift points were right on and it was just the perfect combination. Running on all eight (cylinders), that was the big thing. I knew if we could get it on all eight, I knew we would haul a**, and that’s exactly what it did. All the round wins were important and they were all critical, and you can’t get into the winner’s circle without four wins. Every team out here can beat you and everybody is tough.”
Krabill believes his latest victory was a statement win.
“There are a lot of great drivers, don’t get me wrong,” Krabill said. “But, they are going to have to bring it, especially now that I have a car that can run some good numbers. That’s a double, lethal injection.”
WILLIAMSON MAKES STATEMENT - Rick Williamson probably had hard time sleeping March 6 – for good reason.
The Stockton, Calif., native, and veteran racer finally won the coveted Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet.
Williamson beat all racers, concluding with his win over Adam Sorokin in the finals in Bakersfield, Calif., at Auto Club Famoso Raceway.
Williamson clocked a 5.572-second run at 245.27 mph to speed past Sorokin, who slowed to 6.709 seconds.
“They gave me a bad a** hot rod this weekend,” Williamson said. “Mike and Kathy Craig gave us the car and the crew put it together and we couldn’t have done it without them. They made it easy. This feels great. I remember coming here (to the March Meet) with my (late) dad when I was a little kid when he ran the Hairy Canary. I started driving alcohol dragster and we ran here and then the Funny Car and then the Fuel Funny Car, and now we are winning. It’s hard to believe.”
Williamson’s father passed away 18 months ago and that was heavy on his mind this weekend.
“I know he was watching,” Rick said. “. We needed this win. The whole crew did. They busted their butts. I guess I get all the glory but those guys are the guys who deserve the glory. Those guys are unbelievable. Mike and Kathy Craig, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.”
During Williamson’s victory parade, he knocked off dominant Tony Bartone, who won the March Meet in 2015.
“I remember last year at the Hot Rod Reunion they were talking about everybody who has won the previous Hot Rod Reunions, but they never said we won it in 2012,” Williamson said. “That kind of put a chip on my shoulder. We are just going to keep doing what we are doing and hopefully we can talk Mike and Kathy into going to Bowling Green.”
FUEL ALTERED MISHAP - A scary moment ensued as Fuel Altered racers James Generalao Jr. and Tom Padilla became entangled in a two-car crash during eliminations at the Good Vibrations March Meet in Bakersfield, Ca. Neither driver was seriously injured but both was transported to a local hospital to be checked out.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - RAIN FORECAST? NO PROBLEM WE CAN STILL PACK THE HOUSE
FIRST ROUND FAVORITES OUT - California Hot Rod Reunion's dominant Funny Car, the Hodgson Motorsports Camaro, was a first round casualty after losing on a holeshot to Richard Townsend. Hodgson struggled throughout qualifying, only finishing up in the No. 10 spot on the grid.
Tim Nemeth also took out No. 6 qualifier Brad Thompson, 5.84 to 5.90.
NO ONE DOES IT LIKE THE DONES - Some thirty-five years after drag racing's master promoter left drag racing to go fishing, Bill Doner, who is very much familiar with 1970s-era Funny Cars, is back in the game again.
Doner is the front man for the newly organized United Nitro Funny Cars, an organized group of nostalgia flopper racers.
"A lot of the guys doing these nostalgic funny cars were coming to me and asking what can you do to help us organize this thing and try to take it to another level," Doner said; "I resisted that. That’s a big project and not one that I want to sink my teeth into."
Forgive the once invincible drag racing promoter, who controlled the Funny Car match race scene on the West Coast for much of the 1970s, for being a bit gun-shy regarding the challenge after the failure to bring championship drag racing to Lake Havasu, Arizona.
Credit the efforts of longtime friend Ron Hodgson, Bucky Austin and Tim Boychuk for encouraging Doner to cast his line once again and promote drag racing.
"They came to me and said that they’ll front my deal for a couple of months, but then they’re going to have to go out and get dues from these guys," Doner explained. "So for the last two months, I’ve been out there pounding on guys to try and get them to join our operation."
The master of the legendary 64 Funny Car promotion has jumped into the new challenge with both feet, pulling in as much as $20,000 in contingency awards in nearly eight weeks.
"The winning guy, if he has the right stuff and the right business, he can make between $8000 and $10000 in stuff," Doner said with a renewed enthusiasm. "The Big Show [NHRA] has John Force and the Schumacher cars, but with these guys, there were 33 of them here for the Hot Rod Reunion last October."
Doner believes the time to unite this unique breed of nitro machinery is more imperative than ever.
"You don’t have any more Jungle Jims, Chi-Town Hustlers and Don "the Snake" Prudhommes touring the country anymore," Doner said. "We’re gonna figure out what to do with this brand within the parameters of the NHRA and the IHRA, they’re the sanctioning bodies and they make the rules for the cars. I don’t do that."
Doner confirmed the UNFC has already 15 paid members, and if he attains his goal, there will be 30 by the end of the season. And while Doner was largely a West Coast icon in his days, he understands the key to long range success is uniting all nostalgia Funny Car racers nationwide.
"I’d love to go race in the Midwest, the South and everywhere else we can," Doner explained. "Will we go to the race tracks and put on some of our own races in 2017? That’s a possibility, and I don’t want to alarm the NHRA and IHRA, within their parameters, their tracks. ,
"These guys need some places to run. Some of them only run twice a year."
Doner isn't the same person physically he was back in his heyday, but the intensity and drive haven't changed.
"I'm about 40 years older now but don't feel like I have lost my fastball entirely," Doner said. “I might still have a change-up and sometimes a curve but I’ve obviously slowed down. It’s not like the previous years when I could run to several race tracks and 1000 races a year. I’ve ran every single weekend in a whole year but I can’t do that anymore. So we won’t run Christmas weekend, I promise."
But if he does, Doner promises, he'll bring in Santa Claus as a dignitary.
After all, Doner has had some serious dignitaries in his day.
THE SPARE NECESSITIES – Funny Car champion Steven Densham has only one Camaro body in his trailer to last for the entire weekend. He does, however, have a spare windshield for his 1969 Camaro flopper.
It came in handy during the wee hours of Saturday morning, as Densham's team worked to repair the damage done during the Q-2 session when a supercharger backfired at the tail-end of a 5.6-second pass.
"We just mainly had to replace a window, a windshield cracked, and we broke one of the body pads, so we had to replace that," explained Densham. "For the most part, it’s mainly cosmetic at this point. Structurally it seems like its fine, just a little fire damage when all that fire went on. We’ll paint that but that’s about it."
With unofficial teammate Jason Rupert at the IHRA season opener, where he was the No. 1 qualifier, 1, Densham found an ally in the Nitro Cowboy Dennis Swearingen,
"He’s the one that helped us put all of the body pads back in and did all of the fiberglass work," Densham said.
TRAIN ‘EM UP - Cory Lee understands the value of direction.
Lee believes his life's destiny became crystal clear when he was an impressionable eight-year-old kid,
"When I was a kid and looked at the early Funny Cars, I knew being involved with them was what I was going to do,” Lee said. "It was a childhood dream, everyone has a dream that they’re going to be a fireman, astronaut or whatever but I said I was going to drive a Funny Car and by the time I was 17, I started driving a Funny Car."
Fortunately Lee was able to gain both inspiration and knowledge from three flopper legends, Gary Burgin, Ed McCullough and Al Segrini.
"Very intelligent individuals and very informative to my growing mind," Lee said. "They just helped me excel to the point that I made waves moving up the ladder. I not only knew how the cars were put together but I started to understand how they worked and my ultimate goal was to drive them."
Lee's first big break came through Harlan Thompson, when the veteran enabled him to field a car and drive it in Europe. From there, he did a tour of Australia and his efforts didn't go unnoticed.
Tom Hoover, the legendary driver of the Showtime Funny Car, provided his first real domestic opportunity.
"I got the job, it paid no money but provided valuable experience," admitted Lee. "I took that opportunity and ran with it. I’m at the point now that I’m enjoying the fruits of the labor.
"I get to associate with pretty cool cats like Del Worsham and some of the contemporaries and I also get to come over and play with the cars that I saw as a youth and just enjoy it all."
Lee will quickly tell you the legends taught him some profound lessons; lessons he uses today.
"Every one of them had something to offer," Lee said. "Segrini was a clean freak and organization guy but in my mind he just continued to develop what skills I already had. McCullough’s intensity and aggressiveness taught me about tune up and several others along the way- they all offered something. Hoover was a hustler. He showed me how you have to get out there and talk the talk and whatever they want to hear you tell them to get to the bottom line to race Funny Cars. Everybody offered something and I’ve taken a little bit of the fruits of everybody and made my salad."
Lee pulls double duty as driver for the Hustler AA/FC on the Heritage Series and as a crew chief for the Worsham Family's Funny Car currently driven by Jim Campbell.
"Two different worlds," Lee said. "The NHRA show is a very intense scene over there and it’s all about money unfortunately. We work pretty hard over there but we don’t have the funding that John Force and Don Schumacher have and it takes a lot of the fun out of it and turns it into a job; one that we enjoy, of course.
"The nostalgia car is a hoot. It goes back into the times when it’s affordable and it’s fun. Honestly, it’s two different worlds and it just balances out my life."
Lee has already begun the process of "paying it forward" by helping aspiring kids like himself.
"I keep an eye out," said Lee. "There are a lot of good guys. We really need good crewmembers and there are some of them that think they can get to the driver’s seat but it doesn’t work like that any longer. Unfortunately, it takes dollars. The days of the young guy working hard and getting to drive a car are long gone I believe.
"The Nostalgia scene offers that to some degree. There are some good guys out here unfortunately that don’t have the funding, like Morgan Lucas and others like him that do have the funding from their families or their background. It’s kind of out of balance but there are some good guys out here and I always keep my eye out for them."
And, as Lee will attest, dreams do come true with the right direction.
WHEN ONE WRONG MAKES A RIGHT - In this world of GPS controlled vehicles, it's not as easy to take a wrong turn as it was in the past.
David LaFluer, 58, from Buda, Tex., remembers all too well the day he made a wrong turn and ended up with a part of drag racing history.
LaFluer owns the original Pel Truck, a 1948 Chevrolet Panel truck, used to stage drag races throughout South Louisiana and East Texas.
"They built the truck with an observation deck on top of it and with a little ladder that goes on the sides," explained LaFluer. "It used to bring drag races to South Louisiana and East Texas before there were any established drag strips. They would sit at airports and every other Sunday they would be at Apaloosa, LA.”
LaFluer would attend those races. This is why one day when he made a wrong turn en route to a construction job, he came face to face with his destiny and knew very well what he was looking at.
"I was going to college for architecture, and we had to redesign the front of our teacher’s house, and I turned down the wrong street," LaFluer recalled. "I was trying to get to the next street over, and I looked over to the side, and I saw the truck sitting in this guy’s driveway, and because I used to go to those races, I instantly recognized it."
LaFluer wasted no time in telling his gearhead friends of his unexpected find.
"I was in college, and I didn’t have any money," LaFluer said, recalling the moment he and the fellas wanted to purchase the downtrodden piece of drag racing history.
The obstacle before LaFluer was in convincing owner Wilfred Davey to part with the vehicle.
To say LaFluer was intimidated by the prospect of approaching Davey would be an understatement.
"I said to him I’ve got $500 personally invested and with my friends, we ended up with $1500," said LaFluer. "I told him that I remembered that truck and wanted to restore it and make it just like it was before."
LaFluer said Davey was skeptical of him.
"He’s looking at me and he looks over at my car then drags me into his house and his wife is sitting in the back and he says, 'tell her what you told me.’”
LaFluer made his presentation again and couldn't have prepared himself for what followed.
"I said the same stuff again and they looked at each other and said, "it’s yours - come here."
LaFluer said he was stunned as Davey went over to his file cabinet and pulled out the truck’s pink slip, signs it and hands it to him, along with a whole stack of black and white 8x10s from when he used to be the event photographer.
Davey also included a folder from the 1964 NHRA Winternationals, but LaFluer grimaces when recalling the next words from the gentleman.
"He looked at me, and this still haunts me, he said ‘too bad you didn’t come here last year, I threw away about 10000 negatives.’”
To understand the true value of LaFluer's gift, one must fully understand the background of the vehicle and its accessories.
"Mr. Davey set up the truck and set up those races around there," LaFluer explained. I actually have the very first Christmas tree. He designed it, and it’s collapsible, it folds down, so it fits inside the truck and all that. This was NHRA sanctioned drag racing where they kept points."
LaFluer said he learned early on the magnitude of his find when he crossed paths with legendary announcer Dave McClelland. McClelland got his start as an aspiring 10-year old announcer with a truck like this.
"I was in Bakersfield at the Reunion last year and he was emceeing the event and I had my phone out and I brought a picture of the truck," LaFluer recalled. "He was talking to a few gentlemen and I slowly started walking towards hi and had my phone up with a picture of that truck showing. Dave looked over at me and he saw it and he grabbed one of those guy’s shirts and just started pointing to that picture and said 'That, is where I got my start! That right there.”
"I was waiting for that reaction, and I got it."
And just to think, the opportunity came from a wrong turn.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - CHAMPIONS PICK UP WHERE THEY LEFT OFF IN 2015
THE PRICE OF SUCCESS - Steven Densham proved Friday evening he could pick up where he left off in 2016.
Densham maintained a torrid 5.6-second place to lead provisional Funny Car qualifying at the Good Vibrations March Meet in Bakersfield, Ca.
The second-generation Funny Car driver thundered to a 5.644, 253.99 pass during Friday's first session, and was on pace to better the run when he exploded the burst panel and slowed to a 5.679 during the second session.
"The first run was good, but we blew everything up on the second one," said Densham. "That wasn't good for us, so we are going to have to put on new heads and other parts for tomorrow. To run in the 5.60s twice is good; Dad has the car tuned up."
Densham had the only Funny Car in the 5.60s in either session.
"We are just picking away at it," Densham said. "We've finally stripped the blower after five years so it's making more boost. We had an O-ring push out on the pump and spray fuel in the motor, too much air and it hit the burst panel. It sent the fire down into the pump and back through the fuel tank and ballooned it. It ruined a lot of crap."
The mishap damaged Densham's only body.
"Hopefully, we can get it fixed," Densham said. "Obviously it shows you don't need a super aerodynamic body to run No. 1."
IT’S A GUSHER – If the property of Auto Club Famoso is ever sold, it can use an abundance of oil as an asset, at least from Friday’s qualifying. Racing was delayed 2 hours, 44 minutes while the hard-working staff cleaned up oil spilled on the racing surface.
THE GOOSE IS MISSING IN ACTION - A key spoke in the wheel known as the Bakersfield March Meet is missing this weekend.
The legendary Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen, after 15 consecutive years of perfect attendance at the event, was instead confined to a hospital bed at an Orange County, Ca. hospital receiving a new pacemaker.
Pete Ward, Editor at Drag Racer magazine and one of McEwen's closest friends manned the former Funny Car racer's memorabilia stand located at the base of the Auto Club - Famoso control tower.
"Just trying to make a few bucks for the Mongoose to help with his medical bills," said Ward, as he collected the money for t-shirts.
Ward, who has been the official spokesperson, said about ten days ago McEwen started feeling low on energy.
"As long as he was sitting or lying down, he was fine, but if he got up and got any kind of motivation going, he’d just run out of steam like somebody pinching off your fuel line," Ward explained. "On Monday, he finally decided that he needed to see somebody. He went to an urgent care facility, and they shipped him off to the emergency room at Sun Valley Hospital and shortly after they put him in the Intensive Care Unit."
McEwen underwent tests on Tuesday and Wednesday, before undergoing the procedure on Thursday.
"They put a pacemaker in so hopefully he’ll get his heart fired back up, and be back to full speed again," said Ward. "He hated missing this event, but he just wasn’t in any condition to do it."
TIME TO STOP TALKING AND START RACING - The last time Ryan Hodgson and chassis builder Ron Williams raced Bakersfield, they left the California Hot Rod Reunion with no doubt their '69 Camaro was the Funny Car to beat. Over the winter, the competition voiced their opinion that the Hodgson car, bearing a striking resemblance to a Pro Modified version of the car, was holding an unfair advantage and well outside of the spirit of the rules.
They believe the fussing and complaining to the NHRA's technical department was much ado about nothing.
"When you walk up to it you can hardly tell the difference in what’s been done," said Hodgson.
NHRA's tech department required Hodgson make adjustments to the Camaro body starting with the front-end at the grill opening and make it taller. A one-inch lip around the back of the car was removed. Adjustments were also made to the front fender configuration in an attempt to "tuck them in."
Williams, who owns Victory Race Cars, said because of his decades of experience he learned not to take the whole experience personal.
"It just kind of goes with the territory," Williams said. "When you’re around a team that’s fast you’re going to have a lot of knives thrown at you. Obviously, it just reconfirms how fast the hot rod is by everyone that wants to complain about it or to change it. I actually like it; I feed off that kind of stuff, and all the publicity."
Hodgson said if those complaining believe the original body was the only key to their success might be better served by investigating further.
"I’d say that we’ve got the right guys on the team tuning, dialing, building, and putting combinations together," Hodgson explained. "The [original] body likely slowed the car down maybe four mph."
Hodgson believes the changes may not have the desired effect.
"Actually I think that what we’ve done, it’s actually going to go faster, to tell you the truth, that’s what I think is going to happen," said Hodgson.
Williams agrees, "The thing is that there are all these nuts and bolts that this team has to line up. All the stars have to line up and we were very fortunate to run that fast. There’s a good group of guys, good driver, good crew guys, money behind the team, the thing that people are so jealous about is that the car definitely hauled ass, and it’s not going away."
There are a handful of cars already running similar bodies to the one fielded by Hodgson, and more are on the way.
"It’s a big sign for everyone out here to step their program up, and if it’s up to me, they’re going to have to have that Camaro body to keep up with it," Williams continued. "It’s worth five mph, three gallons at the pump and it’s definitely game day, so you better have your act together to go to the starting line."
Williams said he's building these cars with safety in mind first, and performance is a natural byproduct.
"It keeps my drivers safe, it keeps them stuck to the racetrack, and that’s my job," Williams explained. "I have no deaths under my watch, and I’ve been building Funny Cars for 30 years. I just want to make sure that my drivers are safe; that’s very important."
Hodgson believes it’s time to stop talking and race.
"It’s a free country, and everybody is entitled to their opinions," Hodgson said. "They’ve voiced them all and God bless them."
GET THE HORSE IN THE BARN - Danny Gracia and members of the NHRA technical department were at the Good Vibrations March Meet in Bakersfield, Ca. taking measurements and checking angles on the different eras of Funny Car bodies competing this weekend.
"We’re out here measuring bodies and taking a survey of what’s out here, comparing them from one manufacturer to the other," Gracia confirmed.
Finding common ground might be an overwhelming challenge for Gracia, who confirms as many as four different eras are portrayed as period-correct.
"We’re going to give it a try," said Gracia. "We’re going to try to see if we can come up with some numbers and how everything fits in there. We came up with some numbers, and we do want to do a comparison, maybe from there we’ll draw a line."
The problem Gracia and NHRA face are keeping older body styles old in appearance while fitting new-style chassis underneath the shells.
"A lot of the guys are getting chassis from Murf McKinney, and the driver sees something better, so he’s got better vision," Gracia explained. "In the old days everybody used to lay back but now with the new chassis, they sit the driver up, so it’s a better, safer driving car."
Period correct is a nice plan Gracia believes, but not at the expense of driver safety.
"We’re trying to make it better and please everybody," Gracia said; "We’re doing the right thing with the bodies, and that’s the main factor."
Among those areas under scrutiny are the front and the rear wheel openings.
"That establishes the width of the vehicle, and it can’t be any less than 60-inches so if we measure in those openings we should pretty much be in that ballpark," Gracia explained. "Windshield angle is pretty critical because it can lean the roof down and that’s another critical point that we’re making sure is no less than 32 inches."
While Gracia would not confirm, a source close to the situation confirmed the windshield angle in the classic Trans-Am bodies lays back at a further angle than the Ryan Hodgson Camaro, the primary source of the controversy forcing the sanctioning body's hand to clamp down on designs "not within the spirit of the rules."
And Gracia readily admits finding common ground became a challenge a long time ago.
"Yeah, that horse left the barn a long time ago," he said.
SCARY MOMENT - A broken fuel line sent aspiring AA/Funny Car driver Chris Morel on the ride of his life.
At the end of the Funny Car qualifying session, Morel was making an exhibition run when his classic Mopar made a sharp right and rolled over on the roof where it impacted the left lane retaining wall. The car, still under power, slid down the retaining wall before coming to a stop and catching fire.
Morel was uninjured for the most part in the mishap.
"Just a little whiplash," Morel said. "I had a little fuel leak get under my tires and stuck the car sideways. There was no saving it after that."
The most intense part of the accident for Morel was the uncertainty of what could happen as he awaited safety crews to arrive.
"The throttle was stuck, and I just didn't want it to flip back over while it was wide open. I got out of there as quickly as I could."
Morel said the accident will not deter his will to race.
"We will rebuild and be back in a few months," Morel said.
PEDDLING THE LEGENDS - Kevin Stith stands as one of the more popular stops among the 87 vendors located at the Bakersfield March Meet's Manufacturer Midway.
The Bakersfield March Meet vendors peddle everything from high-performance parts to diecast cars to pocketbooks.
Stith, the President of Stith Printing, sells the most valuable commodity amongst racers and race fans, t-shirts.
Stith doesn't market just any old t-shirt line. He's the creator of the Legends of Nitro product line, which produces classic reproductions of those shirts once sold by Jim Dunn, Roland Leong, James Warren and legends Raymond Beadle and Jungle Jim Liberman.
"There was a need to recreate some of the storied past, the colorful storied past, and Lana Chrisman had approached me to do some things for John Force and her dad, Jack Chrisman," Stith explained. "The next thing you know Shirley Muldowney and Rich Guasco, Roland Leong, Steve Plueger and everybody wanted some too. It’s really mushroomed into something that’s pretty unbelievable."
On an average weekend, Stith said he can sell as many as 3,000 shirts from his trailer.
Stith said the demand for the product line has been a humbling experience.
"Very, very humbling that that many people remember the past and also very surprised how many people want to learn about the past," Stith said of his 30-piece product line.
The shirts can be purchased online at www.legendsofnitro.com or hotrodsbystith.com.
In the world of business competition, Stith said he has a few surprises planned as additions to the Legends of Nitro line.
"I won't tell you who they are but will say one is a well-respected gentleman who has been racing for over seventy years. That ought to be rather easy to figure out."