2018 NHRA CALIFORNIA HOT ROD REUNION - EVENT NOTEBOOK
RACE NOTEBOOK - CHAMPIONS CROWNED ON FINAL DAY OF HERITAGE SEASON
RUPERT DELIVERS - Veteran Nostalgia Funny Car driver Jason Rupert was likely sleeping easy Sunday night.
Earlier in the day, Rupert captured the Nostalgia Funny Car crown at the 2018 California Hot Rod Reunion presented by Automobile Club of Southern California.
Rupert claimed the title by clocking a 5.634-second time at 259.51 mph run in the finals in his Camaro Funny Car to defeat Rian Konno’s 5.855-second 241.84 mph lap at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield.
The victory was extra special for Rupert, a multi-time Nostalgia Funny Car champion, since the plan is for him to start competing in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in the nitro Funny Car ranks as he purchased the complete Funny Car operation from the late Steve Plueger's estate.
“I’m not sure if I’m through racing, but I am going to concentrate efforts on the big-show car for sure,” Rupert said. “It means a lot (to win this race) because there were a bunch of people speculating we had some sort of illegal device on our car and that’s the reason we were blowing it up because we had to take it off and that wasn’t the case at all. To come back out here, and if this is my last race in Nostalgia, to end my Nostalgia racing career like this is the perfect way to do it. It means a lot.”
Rupert’s victory parade consisted of wins over Tony Jurado, Matt Bynum, season champion Bobby Cottrell and then Konno. Although Rupert had a memorable Bakersfield performance, getting to the winner’s circle Sunday was quite the journey. A journey which included Rupert breaking his ankle during the season.
Rupert is the son of former nitro racer Frank Rupert.
“That was terrible,” Rupert said. “We got back from Tucson (Ariz.) and it felt like we had our problem fixed and I had an accident in my shop and broke my ankle and that was just terrible. I broke my thumb once, but I don’t consider that bad, but the recovery of that (broken ankle) and waiting it for it to heal so you can come back was not easy. I went to a couple of races, probably a little premature because after holding that pedal clutch in with that nitro motor on the starting line, you don’t realize how much force is on it. I couldn’t walk for a week after that. I feel good now and it is a great way to end the season.”
Rupert acknowledged there were times in his career when he thought winning races was the last thing that would happen for him.
Like a year ago at this race. At the 2017 CHRR weekend where he made three top three qualifying runs, only to have them erased when his car put oil on the racing surface, rendering him a DNQ.
“I thought that a lot,” said Rupert when asked if he thought he was cursed. “Then, you have to dig out of a hole. There are peaks and valleys. You get down there and you have to crawl back out and start running again. I think every drag racer goes through that. I try a lot of stuff and when you try stuff and some stuff isn’t proven because you’re trying to keep ahead and get ahead there is always that element of failure that can pop up. If it works and gets you ahead, that’s worth it, but you have to be careful with what you try. We might all be cursed.”
Rupert said getting everything back in place with his team was a work in process throughout the season.
“We went up and ran Spokane (Wash.) after I broke my ankle and the first couple of runs I was timid and didn’t have a whole lot of confidence because of breaking my ankle and blowing all the stuff up at the end of (last year) and the beginning of this year. Then, we ran really good in that altitude and I thought you know what next weekend we are going to Seattle and I think we can run 260 (mph) and we did, and I felt like we were back.”
As good as Rupert felt, things weren’t smooth sailing this weekend in Bakersfield.
“The parachute kept falling out for some reason and I was thinking what in the heck is going on,” Rupert said. “Basically, we got that fixed and that 5.638 run we made in first round the parachute actually came out and I thought I drove through oil or something down there because the motor spiked up in an instance and I shut it off. Luckily, we have photographers out here because Brad got a hold of a picture that showed that the parachute was coming out so prematurely that it was actually lifting the back end of the car off the ground when I was still on the throttle. Right then, it was like we know what is going on, we should be able to go fast now.”
NO DOUBT - This was quite the weekend for Nostalgia Top Fuel driver Mendy Fry.
Prior to even competing at the 2018 California Hot Rod Reunion presented by Automobile Club of Southern California, she was crowned the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Drag Racing Series champion for the first time.
That, however, didn’t keep Fry from putting her best foot forward at the Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield this weekend.
Fry mowed through the competition, culminating with her defeating Rick McGee in the finals.
Fry clocked a 5.610-second elapsed time at 259.36 mph to edge McGee’s 5.749-second run at 256.50 mph.
“As the season progressed, we knew we had the car to beat pretty much every time,” Fry said. “It just started unfolding that way and it has just been an amazing season. I can’t say enough about my team. They are so amazing. They give me the car that everyone else has to chase.”
Fry acknowledged winning the series championship was the focus for her and her team from race one in 2018.
“It was a huge motivation (to win the championship),” Fry said. “We finished second the year before and that was my first year with the team and I lost a race or two for us and we just got through it. It was a huge motivator over the winter to try and sort my stuff out because I knew they were going to have the car. The driver can only make the car slower and I didn’t want to do that this year.”
On Sunday, Fry started from the No. 1 qualifying spot with a 5.600-second elapsed time at 231.44 mph in the eight-car field. Then, she beat Tyler Hilton, Pete Wittenberg and McGee.
Despite her season success, Fry wasn’t grounded by superstitions.
“I just wanted to make sure I was consistent and did my job and like I said, the way they have the car running right now, a trained monkey could drive it and I’m just glad I’m the monkey they picked.”
As for next season, Fry knows nothing will handed to her team.
“Well look, there’s a target on our back,” Fry said. “Everybody is improving, and everybody is gunning for us. We know we have to bring game and we know that it is not going to be easy. We have to do what we do and do it better. That’s the motivator to put the No. 1 back on our car.”
Being a star in the Nostalgia ranks is something Fry is at peace with.
“I wouldn’t mind putting my foot down in a Top Fuel car,” Fry said. “It would great to do a race or two, but honestly this is where I belong. I have no desire to make that my living and love the fact that I can come here and compete for a championship and focus on that. I will not say no to going down the track in one of those cars. I would love to see what that feels like, honestly.”
With her latest prestigious victory under her belt, Fry took a moment to talk about what she would like her legacy to be.
“I want people to remember me as a racer,” Fry said. “Not necessarily a female racer, but a racer. One that worked really hard and drove a lot of cars to get the opportunity to get the right car. That’s what I want to be remembered by.”
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS - Bobby Cottrell, Drew Austin and John Marottek each claimed 2018 NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series Championships this past weekend at the California Hot Rod Reunion presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California at Auto Club Famoso Raceway. The three joined Mendy Fry who had already locked up her championship, along with nine other racers to clinch championships at the season ending event.
Cottrell had all but clinched the Nostalgia Funny Car championship coming into the weekend, then did so by qualifying for the 16-car funny car field. The Whittier, Calif., racer, driving for Bucky Austin, won three events this year on his way to the title. Cottrell fell to event winner Jason Rupert in the semifinals as Rupert went on to beat out Rian Konno in the Funny Car final with the quickest funny car run of the event at 5.634 seconds.
Drew Austin and Marottek not only clinched championships in A/Fuel and Jr. Fuel respectively, but they won the event as did Fry in Nostalgia Top Fuel. Austin beat Wayne Ramay in the A/Fuel final which moved him ahead of Kin Bates for the championship. The two have been locked in a battle all season. Marottek clinch early in the weekend, then beat out Don Enriquez in the final posting a 6.997, 155.96 mph victory lap for his third win of the year.
Fry, who was on a victory lap all weekend, qualified No. 1 then marched through the field and knocked out Rick McGee in the final with a 5.610, 259.36 mph lap. The win was Fry’s third of the season in four final rounds.
Robert Johnson also doubled up on the weekend taking both the event win and the series championship in Nostalgia Eliminator II. Five racers had a shot at the title coming into the weekend with Johnson coming out on top with a win over Jaclyn Generalao Jones in the final.
Brad Denny, Frank Merenda and Kevin Riley each advanced to the final round and clinched their series championships on the way. Denny took the 7.0 Pro championship with a round 3 win before losing to Steve Faller in the final. Faller clocked in at 7.004 at 193.52 for his victory.
Merenda took the A/Gas Championship then fell to Brian Rogers in the final and Riley did the same in B/Gas giving in to Val Miller in the money round. Rogers went 7.650 for his win and Miller stopped the clocks at 8.555 on his winning run.
Dustin Lee and Ed DeStaute took home championships in Nostalgia Eliminator I and Nostalgia Eliminator III. Both came into the event leading the points as Lee advanced to the third round to win the championship while DeStaute needed just one round win to grab his title. Bernie Plourd raced to the event win in NE1 over Jim Seivers and former series champion Lindsey Lister took out Wes Anderson for the NE3 trophy.
Chris Rea, Ed Carey and Dale Hicks rounded out the series championships as Rea lost in round 1 of C/Gas but held on to the points lead and the championship when Scott Morgan fell in the round 2. Carey took care of business in round 1 to clinch in D/Gas and Hicks held on to his points lead with all contenders falling in early rounds.
Bill Becker took the event win in C/Gas over Mark Capps; Bill Norton put Larry Cook on the trailer in D/Gas; and Alex George won against Mark Dyck in Hot Rod.
There were several non-Heritage series classes in competition this weekend as well with second generation driver Brian Hope taking the win in AA/Fuel Altered; Scott White won in AA/Gas; Roger Holder beat Ed Thornton in Nostalgia Pro Mod; and Jack Goodrich won in A/FX.
QUALIFYING NOTEBOOK - CHAMPS SEAL THE DEAL IN DAYS FILLED WITH OILDOWN DELAYS
THE LADY IS A CHAMP - Mendy Fry clinched her first Top Fuel world championship in the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Drag Racing Series before her team fired the dragster for the first time. It’s been a banner year for Fry, who has put together impressive performances time and time again, winning two races in 2018.
Just because Fry was already the champion didn't mean she was willing to coast through the weekend. She drove her way to the top of the qualifying list and remained there throughout the three sessions.
When you're named the champion before the final race of the season, the choices are simple, you can cruise through the event or you can turn up the wick even more as a reminder of why you're the champion.
Give the choice, newly crowned NHRA Nostalgia Top Fuel champion Mendy Fry chose the latter during first day qualifying at the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, Ca.
Fry drove her way to the top of the eight-car field with a 5.600-second elapsed time at 231.44 miles per hour.
"We didn't come here to lose," Fry said. "There's not a lot of love lost for us here from the competitors. People have all stepped up out here. It's not going to be an easy race to win."
There's a portion of the team working towards the title defense already.
"On that run, we were trying a few new things. They worked out really well. We are going to build on that, and every run we are going to go up there to try and win the race. We do want to try out some new parts and pieces for next year, but not at the expense of losing the race."
Fry has enjoyed immense success driving the High-Speed Motorsports dragster for Tom Shelar. After racing in Nostalgia Funny Car, Fry went back to the Top Fuel ranks in 2017, joining up with Shelar for a memorable campaign. She won the March Meet in Bakersfield that year, finishing second to Jim Young in a tight points battle. But this season Fry and her team have been a step ahead, consistently running low E.T. and top speed at nearly every event, going to four final rounds. While it’s already been a dream season for Fry, winning the Hot Rod Reunion® would be the ultimate capper to the season.
“This title belongs to the team,” Fry said. “They’ve upped the bar for me as a driver, and thankfully I haven’t screwed it up this year. The thing that’s really helped is getting to know the car. They’re giving me something that repeats and because the team is so consistent and the maintenance on the car is second to none, it’s really upped my confidence level. I love this track and going there. My first Top Fuel win happened at the March Meet and it feels like I’m home here.”
COTTRELL SEALS THE DEAL - In the days before the California Hot Rod Reunion, it it was clear the AA/FC championship was Bobby Cattrell's to lose. He wasted little time in sealing the deal when he qualified seventh at the event. This marks Cattrell’s first series championship in this category.
Driving for the legendary Bucky Austin for the second season has brought out the best in Cottrell, who enjoyed success in A/Fuel and 7.0 Pro before moving to the Funny Car ranks. Now, he’s on the verge of his first championship, a fact that still hasn’t sunk in yet.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Cottrell said. “If you would have told me I would have a chance to win a championship my second year driving Funny Car I would have laughed in your face. It’s just been a dream season and I was trying not to screw it up. Everybody just clicks on the team. Everyone has a job to do and they’re very good at it, and having Bucky on my side, his direction and leadership has really made the biggest difference in my driving the last couple years.”
Cottrell jumped at the opportunity to move to Nostalgia Funny Car and drive for Austin a year ago, and he’s come into his own this year alongside the talented team. Cottrell won the March Meet in Bakersfield and has seven overall wins in 2018, including a number of victories in the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Drag Racing Series. He still has a tiny bit of work to do to clinch the championship at the Hot Rod Reunion® over Shawn Bowen, but Cottrell is still aiming for a big result.
“Bucky is just very aggressive and he just gets me intense, gets me fired up,” Cottrell said. “Like I tell the crew, this (opponent) is trying to take what’s mine and I’m not going to let it happen. I’m glad he gave me the opportunity and I’m just excited about it. Just the way he’s explained stuff, he’s really easy to understand. I build cars for a living, so we connected in that aspect and it’s worked out so far. Everyone on this team is passionate and I don’t want to let them down.”
JUST NOT THE SAME - The labor was onceone of love, but for Pete Ward, it's now a job that's not as fun as it once was.
Ward used to coordinate the souvenir stand operated by his best friend Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen at the gate to the area known as "The Patch" at Auto Club Famosa Raceway.
"It’s just a very unusual, uncomfortable situation," Ward said as he paused from setting out the numerous autographed pieces of memorabilia.
This weekend wasn't the first time he's set up the stand without McEwen, but it is the first time he had no chance of speaking to the legend drag racing fans knew as The Mongoose.
"We were here a couple of years ago, when Goose had his pacemaker put in he couldn’t make it, so this is the only time that he has officially not been here in a long, long time and we miss the hell out of him," Ward said.
Ward and McEwen go back a while, 1982 to be exact. McEwen hired him when he raced the Coors-sponsored Funny Car.
"We’ve been through so much together, good times and bad times," Ward reminisced. "He’s always there. He was a hell of a guy. You could always count on the Goose. If he said he was going to do something, he’d do it. He’d always honor his word whether it was to his own detriment or not."
Meeting and greeting the fans has been a mixed emotion of sorts.
"There are folks here that didn’t realize he’s gone, and quite frankly we’re just another sideshow for them, we’re just another elephant at the circus," Ward said. "But for the folks that have been here before that know Tom or have crossed paths with Tom, they can tell that there’s a different feel to it.
"There’s kind of a reverence if you will. Sometimes you just look at them and they look at you, and you can just see it in their eyes."
Ward said he's unsure how long the memorabilia stand will exist.
"We might come back to the March Meet, but this can’t go on much longer I wouldn’t think," Ward said.
As Ward sees it, the stand just isn't the same without its inspirational figure.
"Tom was the heart and soul of this deal," Ward explained. "He’d sit here and hold court and entertain us and the fans. Of course at the Reunion, the best part of the Reunion are the people that show up. Just all of the old racers that would be here and it was always kind of like a reunion, and unfortunately, we’re losing a lot of them."
CAPPS, THE STUNT DRIVER - Ron Capps might be a rockstar Funny Car driver, but his brother Jon, well ... he's a movie star. Well, kind of sorta.
Jon, who drives a nostalgia Funny Car in the NHRA Heritage Series, works as a stunt driver in Hollywood and is currently working on a new movie scheduled to come out. The theme of the film is the 1966 edition of the 24-hours of LeMans
"It’s about the feud between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford," Capps revealed. "So Ferrari was kicking everybody’s butt, and Ford, there were some things that went down with purchasing companies, and so Ford decided he was going to build the baddest race car there is, and ever was, and so he basically told Enzo to go pack sand and I’m going to build a GT40 and come kick your butt.
"That was in 1964, and he hired Dan Gurney, he hired a bunch of other guys, and Shelby and all those guys, Ken Miles and all those guys, and built a GT40 and went to Le Mans in 1966 finished 1, 2, 3."
Capps said the coolest part of working in the movie is the company he's been able to keep.
"The cool thing about this movie is some of the stunt guys we have driving, we’ve got Alex Gurney, Dan Gurney’s son, we’ve got Jeff Bucknum who is Ronnie Bucknum’s son, all drove GT 40’s that year," Capps explained. "We’ve also got Phil Hill’s son driving on it. So we’ve got three of the four guys that raced that year, their sons are actually doing stunt work in the movie, and they’re all super accomplished race car drivers themselves, between open-wheel cars and prototype cars. It’s just been amazing."
The movie, which apparently is unnamed at the time, according to Capps, will feature prominent actors such as Matt Damon, Christian Bale as well as Jon Bernthal.
"We’ve been doing some amazing stunt work," Capps said. "We are going to wrap it up here in the next couple weeks, and I can’t wait for it to come out next June."
Capps remains mum on who his stunts are for.
"Some people will say that it’s the role I was born to act," Capps admitted. "I don’t have any speaking roles, I’m just a stunt guy, but there’s one specific guy that I drive a car, and it will become evident.
"I’ve had a blast, and I’ve had some headaches."
THE CLASS OF 2018 - Kelly Brown, the 1978 Top Fuel world champion, served as the 2018 Grand Marshal for the 27th annual California Hot Rod Reunion® presented by Automobile Club of Southern California.
Along with Brown, the rest of the 2018 honorees at the annual fan-favorite event included Bob Brandt, Jerry Darien, Jim Murphy, Rick Voegelin and Dave Wallace Jr.
Brown hitchhiked to the first Bakersfield March Meet in 1959 and was an instant fan of the sport, advancing to the Top Gas finals at the 1967 Winternationals. Jim Brissette hired him for Top Fuel testing the next year and Brown earned runner-up finishes at the Springnationals and U.S. Nationals. Brown earned a runner-up in Funny Car at the Springnationals in 1971, moving back to Top Fuel after a five-year hiatus doing stunt work. He won three events in 1978 en route to the championship, earning a spot on the Car Craft Magazine All-Star Drag Racing team. He won four events, including the U.S. Nationals, the following year, and was eventually inducted in the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame this year.
Bob Brandt was a top-flight crew chief, working for Don “the Snake” Prudhomme during his run of four straight Funny Car championships from 1975 to 1979. He was a part of Prudhomme’s 34 national event wins in the process. He started working with Prudhomme in 1970, quickly earning his role as crew chief. Prudhomme and Brandt had immense success and set many national records, including the first five-second run and 250 mph run. He served as crew chief for Top Fuel’s Gary Ormsby in the 1980s, also tuning Cruz Pedregon to eight Funny Car wins in 1994 and 1995. Brandt also worked with crew chief Dan Olson during Tony Schumacher’s 1999 Top Fuel season that ended with his first championship.
Jerry Darien grabbed a Top Alcohol Dragster win at the 1981 Winternationals, but his career included much more as a engine builder, tuner and mentor to top names like Gary Scelzi, Brandon Bernstein, Morgan Lucas, Courtney Force, Brittany Force, Melanie Troxel, Ashley Force-Hood and Frank Pedregon. In all, competitors under his guidance have won more than 100 races and captured three world championships. Darien started competing in 1973, moving to engine work in 1989. This year, a pair of Darien’s Hemi engines were used by Danny Thompson to set a new world Land Speed Record of 448.757 mph.
Jim Murphy claimed the 2017 NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series Nostalgia Top Fuel championship, but his successful racing career dates back to the 1970s. Murphy raced Top Fuel from 1973-1976, competing on a limited basis after that through 1985, moving to the Funny Car ranks until 1993. He moved to the Nostalgia Top Fuel ranks a few years later and has enjoyed impressive success in the class, winning his third March Meet in 2003 and making the first 250-mph run the same year. The 2017 championship was his second in the NHRA Heritage Series.
Honoree Rick Voegelin was a popular technical journalist for decades, working for Car Craft Magazine in the 1970s and moving into public relations effort for three decades following. After graduating as a Regents Scholar at the University of California, he soon started working for Car Craft, becoming a key figure in the magazine’s success. From there, Voegelin founded his own public relations and advertising agency, High Performance Communications, in 1979, a three-decade tenure that saw him work with the top racers, manufacturers and racing series sanctioning bodies.
Dave Wallace Jr., a 2018 honoree, had his first byline by age 14, becoming a reporter for Hot Rod in the 1970s. After putting together three successful one-shot drag racing history books, he ran Drag Racing magazine for four years from 1984-1987. Following that, he opened his own advertising agency, also serving as editor of Hot Rod Deluxe before being inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2008.
A PARALLEL UNIVERSE - California Hot Rod Reunion honorees Dave Wallace and Rick Voegelin never worked in the same office, but they did travel in parallel universes.
"He was doing the weeklies and I was doing the monthlies," Voegelin said. "When he was at Petersen, he was at Hot Rod, I was at Car Craft. We’d do anything to beat Hot Rod to a story.
"So actually other than the fact that we used to carpool occasionally from Orange County, and would hang out together at the races, we had really very little daily interaction, although of course we knew each other and we were well aware of each other’s work. But we were always just slightly out of sync. Seven degrees of separation or something."
"We would meet at this Coco’s coffee shop, and we would talk about how even though we were in the biz and we loved doing what we were doing, we both wanted to do [advertising agency] kind of thing," Wallace added.
Wallace and Voegelin worked in what was considered by man to have been the golden ages of journalism.
"It was incredibly creative," Voegelin said. "We weren’t just doing drag racing reporting, we were also trying to do journalism. I think we were really affected by, influenced by publications like Rolling Stone, and Mother Earth News, and all the crazy stuff that was going on with journalism in the 60’s and 70’s. So that accounts for all the lead shots that we used to do, and we would spend so much time on titles. And occasionally it came out really good and creative, and occasionally it came out just really silly, but you can’t hit them all."
It might have been the golden age of drag racing journalism, but for Wallace, he believed the second generation of drag racing journalist were starting to explore their horizons to the fullest.
"The first wave guys like Eric Rickman in the 50’s, they were designing the whole occupation because there wasn’t an occupation before," Wallace explained. "We came in kind of on the tail end of that and we just figured it would always be that way.
"We just thought it’d get better and better. Maybe T.V. will come, won’t that be great? What could go wrong? Maybe we’ll get T.V. and sponsors and it will get bigger and bigger. The great thing was that the times were interesting. It was an interesting time so if you were just being a reporter, you had AHRA IHRA NHRA for a lot of that once IHRA came in.
"You had independent promoters, match races and stuff going on. It was wide open, it was a wide open deal. Nobody was suing anybody for saying something nasty about your sponsor or any of that. We had total freedom really in most cases I think. That was the beauty that I thought, was the freedom to do stuff without worrying about."
Wallace said he remembers the time seeing former National DRAGSTER staffer Chris Martin become disheartened and knew their craft was changing.
"I remember Chris Martin told me that what really broke it for him was one time he was doing a caption of Joe Amato, and it was like the TRW and Keystone. Chris got a nasty letter from TRW and they copied everybody up to Wally Parks saying that the TRW is supposed to be ahead of the Keystone, not behind them. It’s like, if that had happened to us one time, we would have been in probably a different occupation. A lot of freedom."
Today changing landscape of publishing disappoints Voegelin.
"The reality is, we were selling 250,000 copies a month on the newsstand," Voegelin recalled. "We were selling 400,000 copies a month with subscribers. I look at the newsstand stats now for magazines and they’re like not even getting in the five figures. So I understand why, it’s not the world that it was back then. We were writing on IBM Selectrics, we were taking photos on film, we had a three month lead time.
"Our coverage for the Winternationals would be in the May issue, our coverage for the U.S. Nationals would be in the December issue if we really pushed the deadline to get it in there. So, it’s a different world. We had real staffs back then. You know every magazine at Petersen was an independent business unit. We had a publisher, we had an editor, we had a managing editor, we had a copy editor, we had two, three, four staff guys, we had an art director, we had an assistant art director. Now it’s like there’s one guy who has to put the whole magazine together and if he’s lucky he might have a few thousand dollars for a freelance budget and he’s got to do the whole job. He’s sharing a managing editor, and a copy editor with four other books. And of course the books all look homogenized, they have no personality, no individuality. They’re just kind of a commodity."
Wallace has watched as the world of drag racing journalism has changed.
"There sure is a lot more of it," Wallace said. "The difference is, I think that even when Rick and I were doing it as late as the 70’s, late 70’s, everybody saw it. Whatever we did, everybody saw it in our world. Now it’s so fragmented that I could do something with CompetitionPlus.com or something with another online publication, if anybody ever saw it I wouldn’t hear about it unless I was really following social media for that. It’s really scattered now.
"Back then where before if you made a mistake, and I used to say I called a 780 Holley a 750 once, I got 30 letters about how dumb I was, at Hot Rod. And today, I don’t hear anything from anybody. We do a story in Hot Rod, I have a column at Hot Rod, two departments every month, I can’t think that anybody ever noticed either one of them to comment on.
"But at that time, it was very centralized and you knew that whatever you were doing was going to be seen by everybody in our world. Now I can’t even track all the stuff."
BIG SHOW BOUND FOR RUPERT - Jason Rupert's drag racing career has been a storybook tale.
The multi-time Nostalgia Funny Car champion will soon begin writing another chapter.
Rupert purchased the complete Funny Car operation from the late Steve Plueger's estate.
"We gave him a deposit, and unfortunately he passed away before the deal was done," Rupert explained. "It went into the court system for a little while, so we didn’t get it as soon as we wanted to, but it all worked out. Everything was as agreed on. Paul Trabue and Plueger’s guys helped us get everything put in the trailer. I’m really sad about Steve passing away. We were excited for him and a couple of his guys to go with us. Now he’ll be with us in spirit."
Rupert, the son of former nitro racer Frank Rupert, has always envisioned his future to include nitro racing on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.
"It’s been in the back of my mind ever since I started racing," Rupert admitted. "I ran the alcohol car for a long time and then the nostalgia thing, we started doing that, we’ve done really well with that. But I’m a realist enough to know that if I was to put one together myself, it would take me so long to put it together, and Steve gave us the opportunity to kind of leap forward on that and buy a car that was complete, that was a running car.
"So now I’m just kind of going through everything. It’s like that show Storage Wars. Every time I open a cabinet, it’s like, ‘Wow, look at that."
Rupert has no set timetable for his NHRA debut other than to say when the car is ready, and the team can be competitive.
"I’m going to try and do it as fast as I can, but I’m not going to cut any corners," Rupert confirmed. "I want the thing to run good and be competitive and not hurt a bunch of stuff. I know with any of these cars you can hurt stuff even if you are ready, so I understand that part of it, but it’s kind of up in the air when we’re ready to do it, and it’s right, and I have some people that are going to help me out. When we all agree the thing’s ready to go to the race track, it will go to the race track."
Speaking of hurting parts, Rupert learned the hard way going into this weekend, even if a car is prepared in advance, it can also break before its started. Such was the case on Friday when Rupert rolled his Camaro Funny Car out of the trailer. For Rupert, it was a reminder of the terrible 2017 CHRR weekend where he made three top three qualifying runs, only to have them erased when his car put oil on the racing surface, rendering him a DNQ.
"You know these tool steel head studs and main studs, they are coated to protect them from rust because of the heat treat, and apparently the thing sitting in the trailer, and it rained pretty good, and there was a little bit of rust on the head studs," Rupert explained. "We took the valve covers off to put the pushrods in and there were two broken head studs, so we had to pull the heads off. That was a surprise."
Rupert has been through more than his fair share of breakage over the last couple of seasons, but this early challenge was a head-scratcher.
"Racing’s hard. You’ve got to be tough," Rupert said. "You’ve got to go it’s peaks and valleys. You’re always getting beat up. You’ve just got to get up and face it, try to overcome it."
CAT'S IN THE CRADLE - Dennis Taylor, a successful safety equipment manager and for Alcohol Funny Car standout, is okay with the role he accepted two years ago. He's content with being a spectator, racing dad and team owner.
Taylor made the conversion over to Nostalgia Funny Car about a decade ago and has since handed over the driver chores of his Evil, Wicked, Mean and Nasty entry to his son Justin, who has embraced the challenge.
"It’s the people that keep me coming back," Taylor said, as he watched Justin preparing the Mustang Funny Car for a qualifying lap. "I deal with all these people day in and day out anyway because of our company. I never really had any problem when I quit driving alcohol cars to go to a race and do business and see the people. I may not go sit in the grandstands and watch all the runs. I kind of don’t need to. But if I had a different job, if I was a landscape guy or something like that, yeah it would be tough to come to the races."
The synergy between the two generations of Taylor has been everything the father expected and more.
"We work hand in hand every day at the shop too, so we’re around each other all the time," Taylor explained. "In a sense, he was kind of a late bloomer as far as wanting to drive and it really surprised me when he said he wanted to drive.
"You know, I’ve always had that second-generation theory that the second generation even if you don’t think they’re paying attention, they’re soaking up every word you’re talking about about driving, either good, bad or indifferent. I finally had to give in and trust that instinct, and he’s done a very, very fine job.
"Justin’s never driven anything else but a nitro Funny Car. But he has excellent feedback, he knows where he is on the track, he knows what’s going on, and he’s very mechanically involved with the car, so when the thing makes a hiccup, he has a pretty good idea of what’s wrong."
Justin, 36, understood long ago the importance of being like a sponge, as his dad described, and soaking up all the knowledge he could.
"It’s pretty neat actually," Justin explained. "When I drove here in ’15, I licensed just before we ran the Reunion in ’15. Somebody oiled down in front of us, and we came around the corner. I sat in the car for 8 or 10 minutes or whatever it was, and I just had a chance to take it all in and look at all the photographers hanging over the guardrail, look at all the fans in the stands. It’s pretty cool to be the show. I really enjoy it."
And as proud as Taylor is of his son, his role outside of the car can sometimes be more frightening than it was for him behind the wheel.
"I never wanted any of my kids to drive race cars because I know what can happen," Taylor explained. "This was my deal, you know. It took me really a couple of years to get used to it. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to do it. Unfortunately or fortunately he’s so valuable to our company that I don’t want him to do this forever. He’s got a family. I don’t want to see him take those chances forever, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders.
"You see a lot of drivers that don’t really think when they drive, and I think he’s one of the thinkers. I’m not just saying that because he’s my son. If he didn’t do a good job, I’d certainly let him know."
BRINGING IN THE BIG GUNS - How important is winning the California Hot Rod Reunion AA/Funny Car title to John Hale? It's important enough that the Texas-based former Big Show driver brought in the big gun for the weekend.
Hale's former employer, Big Jim Dunn was on hand helping with the tuning.
"We’ve got a legendary tuner and driver in our pit for the weekend," Hale declared. "How cool is that?
Hale thundered to the No. 5 qualifying spot with a 5.732 elapsed time at 253.04 miles per hour.
For Dunn, it was an off-weekend from the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Needless to say, there's no such thing as an off-weekend for the seasoned veteran.
"I'm here because I like racing," Dunn said. "That’s simple. I mean what else am I supposed to do, go to the movies and watch somebody bang somebody?"
Speaking of banging, Dunn was more than willing to blend in with the team his former driver has assembled.
"He’s got his own guys, I just throw in my two cents, and we sort of followed it<' Dunn said. "He’ll go quicker with each run. Last time I was here, we smoked and melted four pistons, this time we didn’t hurt nothing and went quicker, so we’re about three percent safe."
Just to set the record straight, Dunn likes helping Hale, and not necessarily the style of car he races.
"Everybody says, ‘Why don’t you go up and watch them?" Dunn said. "I said, ‘I didn’t like them when I raced them."
Dunn said the nostalgia Funny Cars are an animal of a different sort.
"We detuned it five percent from last year," Dunn explained. "Slowed the blower down, took fuel out of it, took clutch off of it, took mag out of it. So that shows you how far off we were last year. They don’t run good when they’re eating parts. It’s not like the old days where it was lean is mean. Now happy is really good."
For Hale, having Dunn in his corner is a bit like having the Bear Bryant of nitro drag racing on his side,
"He’s kind of like a coach that gives you a dirty stare when you’re coming off the field," Hale explained. "You know he’s there, and you’ve got to do good."
BICYCLES AND DRAGSTERS - Little did Gary Turner realize, crafting a custom bicycle for his five-year-old son would lead to one of the more iconic brands in BMX racing.
Turner, the owner of The Pedaler AA/FC, created the GT brand and for years integrated the worlds of bicycles with drag racing.
"For my five-year-old son, I was always digging around for something for him to play with," Turner recalled. "So I cut up a bicycle, and I found out about these kids that were riding in this parking lot, not a parking lot, but in a little dirt field a few miles from where we lived, so I had taken and cut up a bicycle, and I rearranged it a little bit. I had taken him down there and let him play around with these other kids, and that’s how it started."
Turner smiles when he recollects of being involved in both the golden eras of drag racing and the bicycle motocross movement. He was in the dead-front center in the middle of two extreme sports.
"They didn’t really have BMX as it’s grown today," Turner recalled. "Back in 1972 it was just almost racing in a plowed field kind of thing. You know, the dirt fields. These kids had made their own little BMX track. There was a gentleman up in Magic Mountain area who had a motocross track called Indian Dunes, and they raced motocross up there. And he had made a little dirt track for the kids to ride bicycles on. Mainly it was the boys that their Dads would be out there racing motorcycles and the boys would be riding their bikes in the dirt field.
"In my opinion, BMX started was these kids were trying to copy their Dads and copy these guys racing these motorcycles. That’s how it started."
In the early 1980s, Tom "Mongoose" McEwen joined Turner in the world of drag racers peddling bicycles. McEwen, along with Skip Hess, launched the Mongoose BMX product line.
Believe it or not, many of the early GT product lines incorporated knowledge Turner gleaned from his days in racing Junior Fuel.
"Quite a bit of the drag racing knowledge as far as the fabricating of the material, the chromoly tubing is where it kind of went hand in hand went into the bikes," Turner admitted. "And because I loved cars, back in the early days, I was always trying to fix my own car up. When I first started, I had taken a rear end to a guy, and he welded it ass-backward, so I said, ‘Well I can learn all this stuff."
"So that’s what I did. I learned how to be a welder and a machinist so that I could make car parts on the side. You know, I worked at a machine shop during the daytime, and then if I needed something, I carved it up myself."
Turner's bikes were not moderately successful in BMX, they impressively successful.
"It was always instantly gratifying to see my bikes win," Turner said. "That was where, you know, people always say about the success of GT, but my deal was that it was great to see the bike and the rider, the kid that was on that bike, to see them excel and to win a race, that was exciting to me."
Words cannot describe the pride Turner held when Del Worsham was one of those kids who graduated from BMX to racing a nitro Funny Car. Even though Worsham didn't ride a GT bike, he was still a part of the family.
"I can’t even put into words watching Del ride his bicycle, but he was always into cars along with his Dad," Turner said. "But I think that just honed his skills, his skills as far as reaction times and ability skills. I think that just helped him a hell of a lot."
And for Turner, Worsham's success validated what he always believed, drag racing and BMX were always a parallel universe.
BACK TO THE SCENE - Nostalgia Funny Car racer Steve Easton didn't have many flashbacks rolling through the gates of Auto Club Famoso Raceway, but that didn't mean the memories of last March weren't very much embedded in his mind.
During the Q-2 session at the Good Vibrations Bakersfield March Meet, Easton driving the Robert Godfrey-owned suffered an engine explosion which launched the body off of the chassis.
Easton was uninjured, but the car was unrepairable for a return at the event.
"Yeah that was probably the wrong kind of exciting," Easton admitted.
Easton said the team decided to skip this weekend's event, as a matter of dollars and sense.
"We got the car all back together and took it up to Denver for a match race earlier in the year which got rained out," Easton said. "We only have one rack of pistons and rods, so we pretty much had to sit out a race. Without having at least two motors, it’s pretty pointless coming to an event. So we’re just getting the arsenal rebuilt, trying to tip into a newer trailer and get prepped for next year. Try and make a couple of changes to the combination and hopefully come back out strong again."
Godfrey has remained busy in his downtime by racing Pro Modified. Over the course of the last month he and the Patriot Pro Mod team have made amazing strides picking up two wins and running a career best elapsed time. On September 22 Easton picked up his second win of the season at D.A.D.’s Big Tire Outlaw at Quaker City Motorsports Park.
"I love Pro Mod. I love Nostalgia Funny Car and Nitro Funny Car, but I’ve got a special place in my heart for Pro Mod," Easton said. "I started racing AA/Gas and then raced a couple of Pro Mod cars and got the chance to move to Cleveland and run a Pro Mod for the summer.
"Just tuning the car and driving it and had a really good summer. We put a Hemi in the car this year from a Chevy, got it all changed over. Came up with a fuel system and went out and just started testing and went to a few races, and then got close enough to where we could qualify at a race, and won the first race I qualified at."
Racing a AA/FC can be a challenge, but driving Pro Modified brings forth a different skillset.
"I’m loving it," Easton admitted. "It’s such a challenge to drive. You know, a lot of the tracks back east that we’re racing on are eighth-mile tracks that have got a lot of heritage in the race track. The racing surface is not a brand new big show race track, so it makes it a lot of fun to drive.
"On the tuneup side of things, probably a lot less challenging than a Nostalgia Funny Car, but as a driver, man. I couldn’t ask for anything more fun to spend my summer doing, really. Wheeled the hell out of that thing, hole-shotted a bunch of the really fast guys and that’s how I won my first race.
"I had a holeshot in the first round against the number one qualifier, and then when we got through to the final round, I had a holeshot in the final round to take my first win in the car. So that was pretty cool from a driver’s side of things. I hadn’t ever pulled off something that good before as a driver."