SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - AN INCREDIBLE BAKERSFIELD MARCH MEET CONCLUDES
BAD JU-JU BE GONE - Cagey nitro tuner Roland Leong isn’t the kind of crew chief who takes getting snake bit matter-of-factly. And while he has had more than an inordinate amount of success in his drag racing career, the bad ju-ju Bakersfield has thrown his way lately was unacceptable.
Let the record reflect, the demons of Bakersfield as of late have been exorcised for he and driver Tim Boychuk.
Boychuk, before the packed grandstands of Auto Club Famoso Raceway scored his first Bakersfield March Meet title with Leong by defeating Chad Head in the final round. He ran a 5.803, 246.06 to score the victory.
“I don’t know what it was with this race lately,” said Leong, who has won Bakersfield before with Mike Snively (Top Fuel) and Rick Johnson (Funny Car). “Last year we had low elapsed time in the first round and the event got rained out and we couldn’t return. At the Reunion, we didn’t get to run. The year before we had low elapsed time of the first round and the driver red-lighted in the second round. It just seemed like something would always pop up to keep up from winning this event.”
Not this time. Boychuk was a man of destiny as he ran low elapsed time of the first round with a 5.759 to beat Dan Horan Jr. and then drove around an upset-minded Mike Halstead to reach the finals.”
“It’s finally there,” said Boychuk. “My guys have worked hard on this car and they always have, it was just the little stuff which always got us. We got it this year and it is a wonderful feeling.”
Boychuk had a feeling the day was going to produce a good outcome but based on past history was reserved in his celebration. In fact, he didn’t count on victory until his crew notified him via radio.
“I wasn’t about to celebrate anything because I knew Chad was stout out there all day long,” said Boychuk. “I had never raced against a pedal car before so I had no idea what to expect with one revving up beside me. I had all of these scenarios playing through my head and it turned out to be a regular run.”
Leong was reserved in his emotions until he watched the scoreboard light up.
“As long as I have been doing this, I learned you never bet on a drag race because stuff can happen. The crew was prepared and we just did what we knew how to do and in the end it worked in our favor.”
“To win this means a lot to all of us,” added Boychuk. “Now we just have to work on getting the Hot Rod Reunion title in the fall [at Bakersfield].”
THE LONG ROAD HOME - The road to the winner’s circle might have been littered with potholes but for Jim Young, it still navigated him safely at his destination.
Young, of Salem, WI., didn’t let major engine damage sustained Saturday afternoon deter him from turning up the wick on Frank and Debra Ousley’s AA/FD to drive past Rick White in the Nostalgia Top Fuel final at the 54th annual March Meet at Auto Club Famoso Raceway.
Just getting to race and win against the best drivers in the nostalgia Top Fuel inspired Young’s run for excellence.
“It means everything to us to win this race against the best and to beat the best,” said Young. “I want to thank my crew, and Frank and Debra Ousley for letting me drive and everyone who has supported us.”
Armed with a strong team and a potent crew was enough to swing confidence his way on Sunday.
“Going into the finals I felt pretty confident that we had it,” said Young. “As the air got better, the car was coming to us and it pulled all the way to the finish line.”
The Saturday night thrash, as Young admitted, was the toughest part of the weekend.
“Coming back after we blew the rods out of it,” said Young. “We had a lot of work to do and were able to come back on Sunday stronger and faster. “We had all night to get it back together but it was still a thrash,” explained Young. “Our team did a great job … everybody.”
On Sunday morning, he experienced no anxiety prior to the second round.
“You put it behind you and have confidence in your crew and your tune-up. It’s not easier said than done, I have a lot of confidence in my guys.”
And on Sunday at nostalgia racing’s most prestigious event, that faith paid off in a big way.
FRY’S CINDERELLA WEEKEND – Mendy Fry, who hadn’t won a round in Nostalgia Top Fuel in five years, continued to make up for lost ground. Fry ran to a 5.96, 237.46 to beat past series champion Adam Sorokin, whose dragster pulled the wheels in the air at the hit.
THE OTHER CINDERELLA – Mike Halstead understands a thing or two about how Mendy Fry feels today. Halstead entered the event as the No. 16 and took out top qualifier Jason Rupert in the first round of eliminations. The magic continued on Sunday with a 5.930 which was more than enough to beat Paul Romine’s troubled 6.68.
ISN’T IT IRONIC? – The two drivers enjoying the most magical eliminations day experience are connected indirectly. Halstead, driving the Nitro Angel Duster, is the same entry Fry drove when last in the AA/FC ranks.
A SHORTAGE OF OIL – Only one of the quarter-final races in the nitro ranks required a clean-up. This was a big improvement over Saturday’s first session which produced 2 hours, 30 minutes of clean-up downtime.
UNDER PRESSURE – Chad Head, whose first round win over Dennis LaCharite was the first of his short career, won a double deep-stage race in the quarters against Rick Rogers. Rogers’ deep-staged first and the rookie Head did the same. This was the only time the second generation racer would follow Rogers.
Head pulled off an incredible .001 reaction time as Rogers fouled.
DID YOU KNOW? – The same crew who regularly turn wrenched for Jim Head on the NHRA Full Throttle Series has been servicing the second-gen driver Head’s car. Also, helping out this weekend are Bob Tasca III’s tuners Chris Cunningham and Marc Denner.
VAN GUNDY LOSES AGAIN – Drag racing isn’t usually a double-elimination tournament but for Dale Van Gundy, the March Meet turned out to be. Van Gundy lost his first round match against Will Martin but was reinstated when Martin was disqualified for a staging violation.
Martin’s car had issues backing up from the burnout and then when he was had issues staging the car, a crewman stepped forward and pushed the classic Mustang flopper into the stage beams.
Van Gundy’s day ended against Kris Krabill.
TOP FUEL WINNERS – Advancing past the first round were Michael Irwin, Jim Young and Rick White to join Mendy Free.
FUNNY CAR WINNERS – Joining Mike Halstead in the semi-finals were Tim Boychuk, Kris Krabill and Chad Head.
AND THE CLOCK STRIKES MIDNIGHT – Working on an incredible streak of good fortunes, the nitro Cinderella stories came to an abrupt end in the semis.
Mendy Fry, driving Mike Fuller’s AA/FD, left on Rick White by .08. Unfortunately for her, her dragster smoked the tires enabling White to drive by for the 5.946-second win.
Mike Halstead, who took out No. 1 qualifier Jason Rupert in the first round, put a sizeable holeshot on Tim Boychuk in the Roland Leong-tuned Pontiac. Boychuk advanced to the finals with a 5.832.
SECOND-GEN ADVANCES TO FINALS – The run for rookie Funny Car driver Chad Head will continue into the finals. Head left on heavy-hitter Kris Krabill and scored the victory with a .0046 margin of victory.
Head won with a 5.856 but lost lane choice to Boychuk.
TOP FUEL FINALS – Jim Young will have lane choice over Rick White in the finals.
AND THE WINNERS ARE – In Top Fuel, Jim Young made the trip from Salem, WI., a worthwhile journey by delivering the March Meet crown to his team with a 5.684-second, 248.98 pass to knock off Rick White.
Funny Car saw the Roland Leong-tuned, Tim Boychuk-driven Pontiac stop rookie driver Chad Head in the Funny Car final. The victory marked the first March Meet crown for Boychuk and third for Leong.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
FRY IN A DRAGSTER – This season brings a familiar challenge for nostalgia nitroholic Mendy Fry.
Fry is back in the Nostalgia Top Fuel and driving Mike Fuller’s Forever Young AA/FD entry. During Saturday’s first round of eliminations, Fry took out No. 2 qualifier and local favorite Rick McGee.
Fry will honestly tell you that she’s a Funny Car girl at heart but when the offer came from Fuller to drive his dragster, she learned how to love the rails again. She last drove AA/FD in 2007.
“Funny Car is a really great class,” Fry said. “Obviously Top Fuel is struggling. I would love to drive Funny Car but I’m very lucky to have this ride. This is a great operation and hopefully we can inject some excitement into this Top Fuel class."
It didn’t take her long to reacquaint herself with the nuances of driving each.
“One gets the oil on you and the other you have a body over you shielding you from it,” said Fry. “They are very different [to drive]. The Funny Cars are short wheelbase and can make a turn on you very quickly. They are different than a dragster but usually stable on the top end whereas the dragster can move around in the last part of the run. Both of them have trouble getting to half-track. If a Funny Car makes it half-way, it usually goes all the way. A dragster, you’re not so sure. You have better visibility in a Funny Car believe it or not. In the Funny Car, you get the clutch dust. A dragster, you get the oil.”
Fry understands that despite winning Saturday’s first round, the team still has ground to make up in reemerging with championship contender status.
“I won’t pull any punches, this team used to be a heavy hitter,” said Fry. “They’ve struggled over the last few years. This year is mainly about getting our combination back together. We’re trying to get the car from A to B safely. We plan to step up the tune-up as we are able to do that.
“I don’t know that we are a championship contender this year. I believe our focus needs to be, at this time, focusing on perfecting our tune-up. Hopefully by the end of the year we will have something for [the competition].”
Fry confided the team has brought in Dale Suhr of Waterloo, Iowa, in their quest to refine the tune-up.
“We’re just trying something different,” said Fry. “If you keep trying the same thing and it isn’t working, then you need to try something different. “
BAKERSFIELD IS A SURE BET FOR SUTTON – You remember Larry Sutton?
He’s the stern-faced gentleman who, decades ago, regularly stood between many nitro cars at Lions, Irwindale and Orange County strips, as the official track starter and did so while wearing a trademark black Stetson and puffed on a pipe.
Sutton still wears the hat, smokes the pipe and even brandishes the stern look. The only thing that has changed is the venue.
Consider him a full-fledged Bakersfield March Meet junkie now.
“I’m getting a little too old and I don’t want to miss any more of these races,” said Sutton, smiling. “This is the most awesome race, period … along with the Reunions, I wouldn’t miss this one on a bet.”
Sutton’s assignment this weekend was to help wherever needed on longtime friend Dennis Taylor’s Evil, Wicked, Mean and Nasty Ford AA/FC Mustang. He might have ruled the starting line one day but that didn’t mean he didn’t know his way around a nitro engine.
“The first two days, I was assigned to EVERYTHING,” said Sutton. “It was just Dennis and I but with the full crew at the track I assume the more traditional role of jack-of-all-trades.”
Though the team failed to make the qualified field Sutton will still be a part of the Sunday action. He will be honored during Sunday’s prerace festivities for winning the fifth annual War Stories Showdown competition, a story-telling tournament organized and promoted by CompetitionPlus.com.
“I think it’s great,” said Sutton, who joined Scotty Cannon (2007), John Force (2008), Bill Doner (2009) and Louie Force (2010) as a winner. “They tried to get me in the competition a couple of times and I turned them down and the one time I accepted, we won. I knew I could BS with the rest of them. I told a few stories and I have a million more, some I can’t tell. I guess I will save the rest of them for the big competition in a few years.”
JUST WHEN YOU’VE SEEN IT ALL – The tower workers, including one media outlet working from the control tower, had a bit of excitement during Friday’s qualifying. While a pair of nitro floppers burned out, a bat (yes, the winged kind) did a fly through of the tower prompting a number of the grown men to scurry like a housewife running from a mouse.
The bat, with an 8-inch wing span, made at least 9 laps around the room prompting at least three members of the crew to flee for safety. The one media member ran into the announcing booth and shut the door behind him.
A quick thinking race director opened the side window and ushered the bat out.
As for the Funny Car run, we haven’t a clue what happened as our reporter missed that one.
As youthful as Will Martin is, the nostalgia Funny Car driver learned early in his career that one should never say never. His new crew chief learned this same lesson much later in life.
Martin brought in Brett Johansen, a veteran tuner who ended up eating his words.
“We brought him over from the dragsters,” explained Martin, the two-time Pro 7.0 series champion. “I can remember him swearing that he would never tune a Funny Car. Here we are at this event and he’s tuning me.”
Johansen has made serious gains in just seven runs with Martin in tuning the classic Mustang AA/FC 5.826-second elapsed time at 218.62 miles per hour. He reached the finish line first during Saturday’s opening round of eliminations Dale Van Gundy but was later disqualified for a staging violation.
Regardless of the early departure, Martin and his team are encouraged for the future through serious performance gains for a team that was admittedly not performing up to par last season.
“Last year we didn’t get the job done,” Martin admitted. “My sponsors expressed to us that we weren’t getting it done either. We had to make some big changes and we didn’t even wait until the end ;last season. We did it in mid-season. The car is starting to respond as we knew it would.”
Martin’s competitive drive is invigorated with the addition of Johansen, who brings along a few extra perks.
“We were pretty fortunate to get him as our crew chief and in turn he brought over a whole crew,” Martin explained. “We basically have the entire 2008 Nostalgia Top Fuel championship team with us. It’s been a phenomenal experience thus far.”
Johansen admitted he made the famous utterance.
“I said it at one time,” admitted Johansen. “The right opportunity came along and I saw it as a change. So I said, ‘Why not?”
He’s admittedly glad he did because in tuning the flopper he has a larger window in which put a combination in Martin’s car.
“It’s different,” said Johansen. “I have more knobs to turn, a transmission and bigger tires, blower overdrive … it’s a whole new world.”
And Johansen doesn’t mind the fact he’s had to retract his statement.
IN A NITRO STATE OF MIND - Dennis Taylor has sworn off alcohol. Alcohol racing … that is. He’s returned to his roots in a nitro-burning nostalgia Funny Car, more commonly referred to in the nostalgia circles as AA/FC.
“Yes, I am officially in one of those old-timey Funny Cars,” admitted Taylor. “We’ve stopped racing the alcohol car on the NHRA side and enjoying racing this car on the NHRA Heritage Series and do some match races.”
Taylor has long been regarded as one of the Top Alcohol Funny Car frontrunners over the past decade but now stands poised to write a new chapter in his racing career while utilizing a familiar storyline.
“My racing history goes back a long ways and you have to remember that my career really started in Top Fuel,” said Taylor. “It’s kind of like coming home in a sense. The only reason we really started racing alcohol was that I got an offer to drive somebody’s car. I really enjoyed the competition and enjoyed driving the cars. I still miss driving the alcohol cars they were both fun and difficult to drive. I like the challenge of all of that. In fact, this nitro car has a pedal clutch in it and if it wasn’t for that, it might be a boring ride.”
Taylor got his taste of the nostalgia over the last couple years as the driver of Garry Messenger’s Future Flash Dodge Charger. He debuted of his own last fall during the California Hot Rod Reunion.
“This is just scaled back to have some fun,” said Taylor. “I use it to help promote my business. I have a lot of customers out here racing in this class. It’s always good to be at the race track when you have a racing related business.”
Taylor fell short of the March Meet field despite having a dream team of sorts. His crew chief is Bob Brooks, who was assisted this weekend by iconic fuel racing figures Dale Armstrong and Larry Sutton.
“The talent here is pretty overwhelming,” said Taylor.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK -
MAKING HIS MARK - Jason Rupert was in his own zip code Friday during Bakersfield March Meet qualifying.
The Nostalgia Funny Car pilot, from Yorba Linda, CA, became the first driver in the class to exceed 260 miles per hour with a 262.03 blast. As impressive as his trap speed was, it paled in comparison to his 5.668 elapsed time which was .058 quicker than No. 2 qualifier Chad Head.
“That was a good run,” said Rupert, who ran 259.86 last week while testing at Phoenix. “We were really shooting for the first 5.5-second run but missed it but got the 260 which was great. We were gunning for the milestones and it ended up running better than we believed it would. I would have been a lot happier with the 260 and not hurt it.”
Don’t be fooled, Rupert was giddy about the 260.
“That’s a nice feather in the cap for me and all of the guys for sure,” said Rupert. “My team, they work their a** off.”
Rupert is a former Top Alcohol Dragster racer who moved over to the Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks before moving to the Nostalgia Funny Car ranks with help from Gary Densham and Del Worsham. He is the son of past drag racer Frank Rupert.
Rupert’s run came at a cost as his engine pulled a rod cap off. The damage sustained forced the team to set out the second session.
“It looked like everything was running fine, the clutch was beautiful and everything looked beautiful,” said Rupert. “I haven’t taken the motor apart yet so I don’t know what really happened.”
Friday’s carnage came as a surprise for a car which is usually praised for its efficiency.
“The engine runs so good it surprises me half the time,” said Rupert. “Fortunately it has a tune-up with a small margin to it. You can go over the edge real easy. I’m just so happy. This take a full team effort.”
A TRUE HOME RUN - Rick McGee has parts strewn throughout his pits at the Bakersfield March Meet. Many of them were burned, used up and spent. He couldn’t have been happier.
The end result of the carnage was a personal best 5.653 elapsed time and the provisional qualifying position after two sessions at the event hosted by Auto Club Famoso Dragway outside of Bakersfield, Ca.
“Sometimes you win the battle but lose the war,” admitted an elated McGee. “That’s what happened here. We ended up hitting the No. 3 rod journal. We’re changing it out, it ain’t worth running.”
McGee, of nearby Exeter, lives 50 miles from the track and races two events annually with his nostalgia Top Fuel dragster. These events are in Bakersfield.
Bakersfield has been awful good to McGee.
This marks the second time in two Bakersfield events that McGee has reset his personal bests. Last October during the California Hot Rod Reunion he ran a then best 5.69.
McGee, though seeded No. 1 headed in Saturday, is cautious about rating his Sunday chances.
“There’s a lot of fast guys out here,” said McGee. “All we are doing is out here is playing. We only get to play with them twice a year. We don’t get to test. This is our testing.”
And for McGee, he and his team know their role, even if it is to play only the home games.
“We race on a budget and we don’t have the same dollars to race on that most of these guys do,” McGee said. “We keep coming back because we enjoy it.”
THERE SHE BLOWS - Roger Garten’s beautiful 1973 Mustang left the Auto Club Famoso Raceway starting line as a hardtop and came to a stop as a roadster during Friday’s second qualifying session at the Match Meet.
Garten was uninjured when his Funny Car suffered a supercharger explosion and separated the body from the chassis. He still ran a 6.32 elapsed time, which fell short of the 5.986 bump spot, and is done for the weekend.
A half-hour after the incident, Garten was still searching for answers.
“Until we completely check the car, we won’t know for sure,” said Garten. “I think it just ran out of fuel. It felt like it laid over and then – BANG.
Garten said Friday’s incident was the first time in his drag racing career that he’s had the body lift off of his car.
“We can’t fix this, this is the end of our weekend,” said Garten. “Now I will have to find another body to fix this one up.
In addition to the engine and body damage Garten also broke the rearend on his car.
Garten said the incident happened so quickly that he didn’t have time to think, just react.
“You see the body come up and you want to do your best to keep it straight,” Garten said. “The fire bottles, and everything goes off automatically. The only thing about my incident is there was enough oil came out of the engine and ended up spotting face shield and luckily I was still able to see.”
SCHUTZ CRASHES - Nostalgia Top Fuel racer Denver Schutz was involved in a high speed accident during qualifying at the Bakersfield March on Friday. He was examined by onsite medical personnel and transported to the Kern County Medical Center for further evaluation.
“He is fine,” confirmed son Darren Schutz, crew chief for the front-engine dragster team.
Schutz’s dragster apparently encountered severe tire shake, drifted out of the groove and then took out the eighth-mile cone before slamming into the left retaining wall.
“He just got out of the groove and hit the cone,” explained Schutz. “Instead of going over into the other lane, he brought it back over and got on two wheels and brought it back down and just slapped the wall.”
Keeping a nostalgia dragster in the groove can be a challenging task considering they run 13-inch wide slicks.
“They are a bit tricky,” Schutz said.
In an unrelated accident, Mark Sanders, the nostalgia Funny Car driver who hit the wall in Thursday practice was released from KCMC this morning and was at trackside on Friday.
VERY MUCH FUN, VERY MUCH SERIOUS - Chad Head isn’t really sure whether competing in this weekend’s Bakersfield March Meet creates more excitement or nervousness. For the son of veteran NHRA fuel Funny Car racer Jim Head, he is driving his father’s nostalgia Funny Car at the revered event for the first time.
“Well, the continuing goal is to have fun and not hit anything,” Head said.
Last year, at the urging of close friend Del Worsham, Jim had him build a 1970s era Pontiac Firebird Funny Car and as a matter-of-fact joke announced his son Chad, the racing operations manager for the Alan Johnson-managed Al Anabi Racing team would be the driver. Jim said it was a joke but Chad was very much serious.
Head made his competition debut at the California Hot Rod Reunion last October in Bakersfield and did well in reaching his objective of not hitting anything. He qualified for final eliminations but lost early.
“As a driver I have a long way to go,” said Head when asked if the goal for this weekend had advanced to winning over just evading foam blocks and guardwalls. “I know I have the [crew] guys to make it happen. It’s still the same goal – have fun, not hit anything and make those around me smile.”
A smile from his father, known for his headstrong approach, would go a long way towards building confidence.
“When I run, he has been nowhere to be found or at least from my view inside of the car,” Head admitted. “When I got back to the pits after a run, he’s all into dissecting the run and has his nose stuck to the computer. I really can’t tell his emotions from the next run. I do get to see Johnny Davis and he’s smiling ear to ear. He’s the first person I see in the shutdown area. But Dad is having fun; I know … enough people have told me.
“Doing this car has been an opportunity for Dad to stop and smell the roses. I think this car allows him to gain a different perspective from outside of the car. Let’s face it, he rarely gets that opportunity.”
Head tested on the Monday after the NHRA Arizona Nationals event with positive results.
“It was pretty good and we didn’t catch it on fire like we did last year,” Head said. “That was an accomplishment. Made three runs and had a good time. I only screwed up a couple of times.”
The second-generation Head will be tuned by his father’s big show crew and coordinated by Jim’s main man Johnny Davis. Jim will serve as the crew chief/tuner. Also joining in the action will be Bob Tasca III tuners Chris Cunningham and Marc Denner.
Call the experience fun, but according to Head, fun is fun, but running this car is serious fun.
“I’ll tell you one thing, my dad’s guys are busting their a**,” Head said. “We can talk about how fun it is, but someone still has to do the work and they are serious about what they do. They are busting their hump to make sure this car performs.”
Head will pit with Worsham and his Blue Max car, driving once again by Ron Capps.
The weekend will enable Head to get away from his vast work duties during the NHRA Full Throttle tour and concentrate on racing as a hobby.
“We have a good time at work with the Al Anabi team because we have a great group of people and two really good drivers. We have a great group of people there. Work is work. I’m not discussing what goes on at the NHRA events. If someone walks to talk about what happened at the race before, I will just act like I didn’t hear them. I am here this weekend to enjoy the time with my team and my father.”
And by his own admission, not hit anything.
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - EXTRA DAY HAS ITS ADVANTAGES
PRACICE MAKES PERFECT - Though the sportsman portion of Thursday’s action at the Bakersfield March Meet were official qualifying runs, the nitro classes were afforded testing in preparation for Friday’s action.
A total of 15 AA/FC entries made test runs on Thursday and it was John Hale who laid down the best run with a 5.725, 235.72 to edge Will Martin’s 5.830. Chad Head was third quickest with a 5.898.
The AA/FD entries were led by Adam Sorokin’s early-shutoff 6.112, 175.62
PARTY AT CHUY'S PLACE - There was plenty to eat, and more than enough to drink but both paled in comparison to the celebration last night at Chuy’s & The Original Road House Grill in Bakersfield. The NAPA 2012 March Meet kick-off party ushers in the biggest celebration in town – the annual March Meet drag race.
“The prerace celebration has become a popular Bakersfield tradition,” said Blake Bowser, vice president and general manager of the Kern County Racing Association
“The March Meet and the kickoff party are pure Bakersfield. We have a lot of local support from companies such as NAPA, Golden Empire Towing, Elite Site Services, H&S Body Works and Towing, and Golden Empire Fleet Services, so everyone’s involved and excited that the March Meet is ready to go.”
CHA-CHING - When it was announced that Bakersfield’s biggest event, the March Meet nostalgia drag race, was being extended from three days to four, racing fans and hot rodders across the globe cheered. Locally, Bakersfield and Kern country city officials and business owners celebrated as well. They know an extra day of racing could mean an additional $1 million in revenue, bringing the four-day March Meet total to an estimated $6 million.
The iconic race – now in its 54th year – is set for Mar. 1-4 at historic Auto Club Famoso Raceway.
“We knew the extra day would be good for the local economy and racing fans,” said Blake Bowser, vice president and general manager of the Kern County Racing Association, operators of Auto Club Famoso and producers of the iconic March Meet. “The March Meet is Bakersfield’s biggest draw, bringing in thousands of spectators, including racers and fans from Europe, Australia, Japan, Canada and all across the U.S.”
Bowser said “racers like to spend money,” and he estimated last year’s event generated more than $5 million in tourist revenue. “Local merchants look forward to the March Meet because it has such a positive economic impact.”
Bowser said advance ticket sales are way up, a good sign for the local economy. He said the money flow has already begun as motor homes are already starting to stakeout their territory at Auto Club Famoso Raceway. “It’s amazing but true: weeks before the race, folks are at the gate with their campers, lining up to get a spot. It’s a March Meet tradition.”
The four-day speed fest really kicks into gear as thousands of fans pour into Auto Club Famoso Raceway, money in hand. “I’ve said it before and it’s true: the March Meet really is the area’s special stimulus package,” said Bowser. “With the March Meet rapidly approaching, things couldn’t be better in Bakersfield.”
Now celebrating 54 years of racing, the March Meet has been expanded to a four-day speedfest that enthusiasts call ‘the jewel of Nostalgia Racing.’ It attracts drag racers and spectators from around the world and also includes a hot rod car show, swap meet and a vendors’ midway. The 2012 March Meet will be held Mar. 1-4 at historic Auto Club Famoso Raceway. March Meet advance ticket sales, as well as tickets for car show registration and camping, are now available on the Auto Club Famoso Raceway website and at www.TheFOAT.com.
Father and son drag racing legends Larry Dixon Sr. and Larry Dixon Jr. are the 2012 Grand Marshals.
WHEN A PLAN COMES TOGETHER - While many NHRA nitro Funny Car drivers are enjoying a week off from the national event circuit, Ron Capps isn’t.
Capps is doing what he loves to do - drive a Funny Car. This Thursday through Sunday, Capps will be driving the Nostalgia “Blue Max” Funny Car owned by Chuck and Del Worsham at the March Meet at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif.
“It has been kind of low key,” said Capps about the lack of hype about him driving the Blue Max Funny Car this year. “We haven’t really talked about it much.”
Capps, who pilots NAPA Auto Parts Dodge for Don Schumacher Racing on the NHRA circuit, said he almost had to skip this year’s March Meet.
“Del had to fly back to Michigan to go through (Kalitta Motorsports) Patron car after the weekend they had in Phoenix,” Capps said. “He wanted to make sure he went back (to Michigan) and made sure they had everything straightened out before Gainesville (Fla.) with his team. Del said if he did make it back to California by Friday he would come up there (to the March Meet), and he asked me if I would be cool not running it (the Blue Max Funny Car). I was kind of bummed and I said yeah. He did say, though, that his dad (Chuck) might still want to run it (the Funny Car) and I said well just let me know. Del called me a couple of hours later and said my dad is all in.”
Chuck Worsham decided to run the Blue Max Funny Car, thanks to some help from his friends.
“Grant Downing, who builds all the stuff at Worshams and all of the guys there, and his dad and a couple people pitched in money and they are getting the car ready right now,” Capps said. “Tommy DeLago (Matt Hagan’s crew chief) is coming out and he and Chuck Worsham, along with Jon Oberhofer (Kalitta Motorsports crew chief) are going to be making the calls on the car. It should be pretty neat, and hopefully Del gets back on Friday and is able to come up Saturday.”
Del Worsham won the NHRA Top Fuel world championship last season while driving for Al-Anabi Racing. Worsham retired from driving in the offseason and is now the crew chief for the Alexis DeJoria-driven Funny Car sponsored by Patron at Kalitta Motorsports.
DeJoria failed to qualify at the Arizona Nationals, the last event on the NHRA circuit. The NHRA schedule resumes with the Gatornationals March 8-11 in Gainesville, Fla.
Competing in Nostalgia Funny Car races is a thrill for Capps.
“When I first drove a Nostalgia Funny Car, I drove Jeff Gaynor’s car, and for me it was like a dream come true,” Capps said. “When I went and did it, I didn’t even think about whether people cared if I did it or not. Then, it was all over the internet and websites and a lot of people were talking about me being there. I loved it so much that weekend, I found myself doing what I did when I first started driving for Don Prudhomme. I was going (around) and bragging about it to people and trying to explain how cool it was. After I did my first Nostalgia race, I knew I wanted to do it again, but I felt people would love this (Nostalgia racing) if they would just come check it out. So I found myself pushing it (Nostalgia racing) and letting people know about it. Then, it started growing and growing and growing.”
This weekend, the March Meet will once again have over 32 Nostalgia Funny Cars showing up for a 16-car show.
“To have over 32 Funny Car show up for a big race like this is huge,” Capps said. “I feel good about that because I feel like I have kind of let people know what they are missing.”
A year ago, Capps had a wild ride in the Blue Max Funny Car in the first round at the March Meet. Just near the finish line, Capps had the body blow off the Funny Car.
“Ironically, a couple of things happened on that run that used to happen to those cars a lot,” Capps said. “Del (Worsham) was bummed out about it because we felt like we were going to win that first round no problem. You have to remember this Blue Max (Funny Car) was built at the very early stages when Nostalgia racing was starting to be a big deal. This car was built at a 118-inch wheel base to the exact specs of what the Blue Max car was back in the day. Now, most of these guys running Nostalgia Funny Car have some of our big show chassis that are 125 inches. That is a huge amount of extra length in the chassis, believe it or not. So when we show up with this car that is 118 cubic inches we are fighting a little bit of an uphill battle. And, on top of that, Del came up with this idea to put a pedal clutch in it, which if you have not heard a pedal clutch back in the day and heard a nitro car come up to 4,000 rpm or 5,000 rpm like an alcohol car, you do not know what cool is. You should see the people around
these cars when the rpms start going up, they go nuts. We are fighting a couple of things that we think are pretty cool and pretty Nostalgic, but that is why we do it.”
Some people may believe Capps drives in the Nostalgia ranks for fun, but that is not the case. He is all about winning.
“If we could win the March Meet, I swear to you that trophy would go right in the middle of all those other Wallys I have,” Capps said. “It is that big of a deal. This thing is the 52nd annual and I went every year of my life to the real March Meets. I watched (Don) Garlits hobble around on a half a foot working on his car with no ropes around the pit area. I watched Connie (Kalitta), Shirley (Muldowney), Don Schumacher, all of them come to that race, the (U.S.) Fuel and Gas Championships (the March Meet) every year of my life, so it is a huge event for me personally.”
WHILE YOU'RE HERE, YOU MIGHT WANT TO - “Bring the Family!” That’s the word from Blake Bowser as Bakersfield’s biggest event, the March Meet nostalgia drag race, is once again descending upon historic Auto Club Famoso Raceway, Mar. 1-4. “The March Meet is a true Bakersfield celebration providing affordable family fun. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Bowser, VP and general manager of the Kern County Racing Association (which runs the raceway and produces the March Meet), said the world famous race – now in its 54th year – has something for everyone. “There are so many cool things going on, it attracts fans from around the world, the country, state and Kern County.” The event’s become so big, Bowser expanded it to four days this year and calls it “March Meet Week.”
Top 10 things to do during the March Meet:
1. Take a leap: This year, March Meet Week starts on Leap Year Day, Wednesday night, Feb. 29, at 8660 Rosedale Hwy. parking lot between Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler restaurant and The Original Roadhouse Grill. “We’ve been doing it for a few years now and it’s become super popular.” The public is invited to come by starting at 6p.m. to enjoy pre-race festivities, including mingling with racers and checking out the hot rods and race cars in the parking lot.
2. And on the fourth day…: For the first time in its glorious run, the March Meet is now four days instead of three. “Switching to four days is a cool idea and will make the event even better,” said Bowser. “I mean, what’s better than four days of running nitro cars?”
3. Father and son act: The March Meet always features drag racing legends as Grand Marshals. The custom continues as father and son drag racers Larry Dixon Sr. and Larry Dixon Jr. are the 2012 Grand Marshals.
“The March Meet is about family,” said Bowser, “and that’s why Larry Dixon Sr. and Jr. are the perfect choices for Grand Marshals.” Dixon Sr. won a March Meet title in ’68, while Dixon Jr. is a three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ and former Rookie of the Year. “Fans can come meet them all four days and get autographs,” said Bowser. “The Dixons are drag racing royalty, representing almost 50 years of the sport.”
4. Idol time: The March Meet always attracts drag racing stars of the past, present and future. Bring your camera because you could run into Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Del Worsham, Gary Densham, etc.
5. Hot Rod Heaven: Check out the colorful hot rods, street rods, muscle cars and classics parked in the fan-friendly, tree-lined “Grove” area inside the track. “It’s the coolest car show around,” said Bowser. “Every year I am amazed at the number of locals and car clubs that come to be part of the March Meet.”
6. Better than eBay: Looking for hard-to-find old car parts, tools and choice memorabilia? Then check out the swap meet area located past The Grove area. It’s open all four days, but Bowser said to “get there early because the good stuff sometimes goes fast.”
7. Shopping spree: Open all four days, the Midway Area has become a purveyor of hot rod women’s fashion, ranging from ’50s-type hair stylists to ruby red lipstick to leopard print purses. Vendors also feature original art, new and vintage clothing, custom jewelry, automotive parts and products, etc.
8. Rockin’ Club: The Auto Club booth, located by the Grove, is action central. Drag racing stars such as 2010 NHRA Funny Car champ Robert Hight – and sometimes his boss, 15-time NHRA Funny Car titlist John Force – are there posing for fans’ pictures and signing autographs. Additionally, there are contests, prizes and race cars. And if your battery is dead in the parking lot, they’ll give you a jump.
9. Members only: Don't miss your chance for the ultimate March Meet experience. The Quarter Mile Courtyard provides ticket holders exclusive seating and viewing near the starting line that is elevated to give an excellent vista of the race track. Also included with VIP purchase; private restrooms, exclusive food and beverage vendor and an enclosed courtyard seating area. Limited seating is available. Ticket holders can upgrade their general admission tickets for seating in the Quarter Mile Courtyard at the track. VIP seating is also available on-line.
10. Race central: The March Meet means racing – period. There are lots of other fun activities, but it does boil down to four days of the best nostalgia drag racing on the planet. 500 competitors will vie for titles in 13 classes. Last years' event champions, Kris Krabill (Nostalgia Funny Car) and Rick White (Nostalgia Top Fuel) will be back to defend their titles and earn the coveted “Wally” trophy. The tradition-rich March Meet is also the season opener for NHRA’s Hot Rod Heritage Series.
11. Bonus: Party in the pits: When the racing ends, the fun still goes on as nighttime parties rock the legendary track. It’s a late-night celebration with music and food around the pit area and camping grounds. “Nighttime pit parties are a March Meet tradition,” said Bowser.
Thursday, March 1, 2012 Rnd
Hot Rod TT1
Nostalgia Eliminator 3 Q1
Nostalgia Eliminator 2 Q1
Nostalgia Eliminator 1 Q1
Nitro Test Session (No qualifying)
7.0 Pro Q1
Jr Fuel Q1
Hot Rod TT2
5:00 PM Secure
Friday, March 02, 2012 Rnd
Hot Rod TT3
Nostalgia Eliminator 1 Q2
Funny Car Q1
Top Fuel Q1
Jr Fuel Q2
7.0 Pro Q2
Nostalgia Eliminator 3 Q2
Funny Car Q2
Top Fuel Q2
Nostalgia Eliminator 2 Q2
5:15 PM Secure
Saturday, March 03, 2012 Rnd
Hot Rod E1
Nostalgia Eliminator 1 Q3
Top Fuel Q3
Funny Car Q3
Jr Fuel Q3
7.0 Pro Q3
Nostalgia Eliminator 1 E1
Top Fuel E1
Funny Car E1
Nostalgia Eliminator 2 Q3
Nostalgia Eliminator 3 Q3
5:30 PM Secure
Sunday, March 04, 2012 Rnd
Hot Rod E2
Nostalgia Eliminator 3 E1
Nostalgia Eliminator 2 E1
Nostalgia Eliminator 1 E2
7.0 Pro E1
Top Fuel E2
Funny Car E2
Jr Fuel E1
7.0 Pro E2
Nostalgia Eliminator 1 E3
Nostalgia Eliminator 2 E2
Nostalgia Eliminator 3 E2
Top Fuel E3
Funny Car E3
7.0 Pro E3
Jr Fuel E2
Nostalgia Eliminator 1 E4
Hot Rod E3
Hot Rod E4
Nostalgia Eliminator 2 E3
Nostalgia Eliminator 3 E3
Hot Rod E5
Hot Rod E6
4:30 PM All Finals as they Return
5:30 PM Secure
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