2022 CALIFORNIA HOT ROD REUNION - EVENT PAGE
FINAL NOTEBOOK - HILTON, MORRIS SEAL THE DEAL TO FINISH THE SEASON
LEAVING NOTHING ON THE TABLE - Tyler Hilton and his Great Expectations team invested considerably in their Top Fuel program before the California Hot Rod Reunion. That investment was purchasing a championship-proven dragster previously campaigned by Tony Bartone and Steve Boggs in hopes of helping Tyler have a realistic shot of winning the 2022 NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel Championship. Well, it paid off for them.
Hilton rolled into this weekend's 30th annual California Hot Rod Reunion, second in the Top Fuel points, just two rounds behind leader Bret Williamson for the Top Fuel Championship. Hilton not only got around Williamson to win the Top championship, but he also qualified number one, set low elapsed time with a career-best 5.592, and won the race, leaving nothing on the table for the competition.
"It's like a dream," Hilton said. "Low ET and win the race? Yeah. We weren't really putting too much pressure on it. We were just trying to get the car to go A to B, not hurt anything, and just go a little quicker each time. Just read the racetrack and do what we needed to do."
The drama for the Top Fuel championship started in qualifying when points leader Bret Williamson failed to qualify, effectively ending his hopes of winning the title and opening the door for the three guys behind him in points.
One of those guys who still had a shot for the championship was Bryan Hall, who qualified in the number eight spot and would match up against Hilton in round one on Sunday Morning. Hall, who had a massive engine explosion during the final qualifying session on Saturday night, controlled his destiny. If Hall could beat Hilton in round one, the drama would begin as Hall or Adam Sorokin would need to win the race to win the championship.
Hilton would stop all of that from happening. Hilton defeated Hall in the opening round, setting low elapsed time of the race with a career-best 5.592 at 248 miles per hour and officially clinching the 2022 Top Fuel championship.
With the championship now wrapped up, Hilton and his Great Expectations team turned their attention to trying to put the cherry on top by winning the race.
In the semifinals, Hilton squared off against the former champion in the class Pete Wittenberg. Hilton would get the advantage on the starting line and not look back as Wittenberg smoked the tires at the hit, and Hilton sailed on through for the win, running a 5.788 at 210 miles per hour to advance into the final round.
It was a fitting matchup in the final round as Hilton faced the second-best Top Fuel car on the property that weekend in Pete Kaiser.
Kaiser, who tuned Dan Horan to the 2021 Heritage series Top Fuel championship, jumped back behind the wheel of a Top Fuel Dragster for the first time in six years, and it seemed as if he never left.
Doing just a one-off race in the car that he tuned to the championship last season, Kaiser qualified in the number two position on the weekend and took down some heavy hitters in the class.
Kaiser kicked off his day by defeating Jim Murphy in the opening round with a 5.684 at 258 miles per hour before having a bye into the final round as his opponent Adam Sorokin could not make the call in the semifinals.
As the sun set on the 2022 NHRA Heritage Series season, and in the final round at Bakersfield, the final round between Hilton and Kaiser would not disappoint.
Both drivers thundered down the track with header flames high in the sky, with Hilton coming out on top, running an impressive 5.645 at 238 miles per hour to Kaiser's 5.704 at 251 miles per hour, putting an exclamation point on his weekend in Bakersfield.
"We've been to a couple of finals here," Hilton said. "It's Bakersfield. It's Famoso. The history of it's significant to us too. The history of Top Fuel and nitro racing. And so that's part of it too. So yeah, it means a lot to win this race, for sure."
While this may have been the greatest weekend of racing for the young Hilton, he believes this is just the beginning of a lot more success to come and is looking forward to the competition next season.
"I don't think we're done yet," Hilton said. "I think it was a good introduction to start next year off too. We'll do some good work over the off-season and get ready for March."
"There are two or three new Top Fuel cars in the class that are coming out probably in March. And the class is growing. It's going to make everyone have to work harder. So I think the bigger the class gets, the better the competition will get. And the times and people, how they can run will get lower and lower. And it's going to be interesting next year for sure."
Sometimes you just know, and Billy Morris knew.
Morris drove his way to a first NHRA Heritage Series race win, stopping Tony Jurado in the Nostalgia Funny car [AA/FC] finals of the California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, Ca.
Morris, the former drag boat racer who converted to drag racing on land, had reached the final round against Tony Jurado.
Morris, who had yet to win a national event, knew if he wanted to win this weekend, it couldn't be status quo versus Jurado.
"We knew Tony Jurado was going to be tough in the final," Morris said. "We knew we had to throw one at him, and we're glad we did because he ran hard as well."
Morris had been plenty tough through the first three rounds with a series of 5.60s to stop Brad Thompson [5.664], Nathan Sitko [5.601], and Tim Boychuk [5.620]. Jurado had worked his way to the final round on the strength of 5.77 best.
"We were planning on running another low .60, actually," Morris said. "The 5.58 kind of came out nowhere. We knew we had to run a solid pass. We thought we had Gerardo covered, but obviously, these guys figured it out because they were right behind us, and they were coming for us because they out-mile-an-hour-ed us at the top end."
The last time Morris raced to a final round, he reached the money run facing Bobby Cottrell. This time Cotrell was gone in the semi-finals, losing to Jurado.
What had transpired in front of Morris in the semi-finals was cause for concern heading into the finals.
"I'd like to say I was chill, but I was nervous as hell, man," Morris admitted. "I mean, we really wanted this win. We've been at this thing for four years; we've been close. Obviously, Bobby went out; we really like to race him in the final because we owe him a few, but we went at it, and I think the ball finally fell in our court."
Morris credits team owner Eddie Knox for getting this team to the pinnacle. Just like Morris, he was a drag boat racer. Land presents different challenges.
"You can't pull one of these things out of the stands and expect to do big things with it, so Eddie's really been meticulous and going over every part of the car, and it's really showing now," Morris said. "Finally, paying dividends.
"Right now, it doesn't really even feel real, but just having my name up there with all the legends that have won the Hot Rod Reunion, I never thought I would even be here to race in this category. So, having my name up there, doing it with my dad and Eddie and all the guys, it just... It couldn't be better. Couldn't be better."
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
STEALING THE SHOW - Everyone was wondering if we would see a nitro car dip into the 5.50s here this weekend. Well, surprise, surprise, Bobby Cottrell in the Bucky Austin tuned 1969 Chevy Camaro was the one to do it.
Cottrell stopped the clocks at 5.595 seconds at 261 miles per hour in the final session of Nitro Funny Car qualifying on Saturday afternoon, lowering his number one qualifying time and taking a boatload of momentum heading into round one of eliminations later in the evening.
IT'S LIKE I NEVER EVEN LEFT - Pete Kaiser continued his fantastic return to the driver's seat this weekend as he put together two impressive runs during the two qualifying sessions on Saturday in Bakersfield.
Kaiser rocketed his American-themed Top Fuel Dragster to the top of the leaderboard after the second qualifying session on Saturday afternoon with a blistering 5.660 at 255 miles per hour, snatching away the top spot from Hilton, who improved with a 5.693 at 220 miles per hour in the other lane.
With the sun setting on Famoso Drag Strip during the final session of Top Fuel qualifying, Kaiser was able to take advantage of the cool conditions and improve once again, running a 5.654 at 259 miles per hour, only bettered by Hilton's 5.633 in the final session.
Kaiser will head into the first round of eliminations in the number two position.
SETTING THE TONE - Tom Padilla, aboard the "Red Dragon" AA/Fuel Altered, set the pace in the lone session on Saturday, running a 6.146 at 200 miles per hour.
The Altereds were supposed to have two runs on Saturday apart of their Chicago-Style format for the California Hot Rod Reunion, but numerous delays throughout the day pushed the action late into the evening, bumping their second run into Sunday morning.
MISSING THE BIG DANCE - After his dominating victory at the last race out in Tulsa, everyone figured Shawn Bowen would be a force to be reckoned with when he announced he would make the trek out west to compete at the season finale in Bakersfield.
Unfortunately for the Violator Top Fuel driver, that was not the case. Bowen struggled on all three qualifying passes throughout the weekend, mustering up a best of 6.100 at 165 miles per hour and failing to make the show at Bakersfield.
THE DARK HORSE - Former NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel Champion Pete Wittenberg may not have laid down the flashy times in qualifying, but he had a consistent car during the two runs on Saturday.
Wittenberg, piloting the Circuit Breaker Top Fuel Dragster, recorded a 5.764 at 243 miles per hour in the first run on Saturday afternoon, which was good enough to put him in the No. 4 spot out of the fifteen cars to show up. Wittenberg backed that up with a solid 5.77 in the final session to end his day on a high note.
Wittenberg is one to look out for in eliminations.
THE DOOR IS OPEN - In what is hands down the biggest shocking turn of events, the championship points leader coming into the event, Bret Williamson, failed to make the show.
Williamson, who struggled on all three qualifying passes, was bumped out of the eight-car field after the second session and forced to bump his way in on the last shot on Saturday evening.
Unfortunately, Williamson had problems during the burnout on his final attempt and barely made it past the Christmas tree once he stepped on the gas.
Williamsons' struggles open the door for Tyler Hilton, Adam Sorokin, and Bryan to fight amongst themselves to try to steal the championship away on the final day of the season on Sunday.
SHOWTIME - On a day when we lost Funny Car legend Tom Hoover, Cory Lee, a former driver for Hoover, used his driving abilities to get around Dan Horan in the opening round of Nostalgia Funny Car eliminations at the California Hot Rod Reunion.
Lee got the starting line advantage on Horan by about six-hundredths of a second and outran him by six-thousandths on the racetrack, running a 5.794 at 258 miles per hour to Horan's 5.800 at 259 miles per hour, as both drivers put on a fantastic side-by-side show for the fans.
FEELING RIGHT AT HOME - Tony Jurado may have dabbled with the big-show Nitro Funny Car last year, but he is returning to the Heritage Series this weekend in Bakersfield, and he seems like he is right at home.
In his Capitol Punishment 1969 Camaro Funny Car, Jurado put together a solid effort in qualifying, running a best of 5.70 at 259 miles per hour to put him in the number four spot after qualifying.
Jurado would parlay that into a first-round win over Bill Windham on Saturday night and will have a chance to race for the trophy on Sunday.
FROM CAR CHIEF TO DRIVER - Matt Bynum, car chief on Alexis Dejoria's Bandero, Tequila Patron Big Show Nitro Funny Car, is taking a break from crewing this weekend and jumping behind the wheel of a Nostalgia Funny Car.
Bynum, who's won in the Nostalgia Funny Car at Bakersfield in the past, winning the 2020 March Meet, has put together a solid weekend so far.
Qualified tenth with a solid 5.825 at 238 miles per hour, Bynum would use a 5.882 at 241 miles per hour to take down Kamaka Pocock in the opening round and earn a spot in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
IF YOU STAY READY, YOU DON'T HAVE TO GET READY - Nathan Sitko had no plans of driving a Nitro Funny Car when he decided to make the trip down from his home in Canada to check out the action at the 30th annual California Hot Rod Reunion as a spectator.
That is until fellow Canadian driver Ryan Hodgson, driver of the Pacemaker Bubble Up Firebird Trans-Am, fell ill before the season finale in Bakersfield, opening the door for Sitko to get the opportunity to jump behind the wheel.
"About two and a half weeks ago, I was not even planning on coming here," Nathan said. "We were not bringing our car down here. We are kind of done with our season. However, one of my crew guys and I decided to make the trip to watch, and I figured, well, I'm not going to drive thirty hours from home and leave my firesuit at home because you never know. I threw it in the trunk of the car and drove down here, and as I was driving through Salt Lake City, I got a call from Ron Hodgson, and he said they might need a driver for the car, and luckily I had my gear with me."
Sitko comes from a family of racers. His grandfather began racing in the late 1950s before his down to dad and uncle caught the racing bug. Sitko and his brother are now behind the wheel, keeping on the family name.
Sitko began racing Junior Dragsters at eight years before switching to Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks when he was sixteen. Sitko jumped up to the Nostalgia Nitro Ranks in 2010 and has never looked back.
"I have had some moderate success here and there," Sitko said. "Had a big fire, crashed a car. All those Funny Car things that happen. I've been driving Funny Cars since about 2004. Being that I am thirty-seven, I think that's a pretty long time for someone my age. It's still pretty exciting to us. We do it on a hobby level. So it is great to have an opportunity like this to drive Hodgson's car. Just to get back to the California Hot Rod Reunion, we have not raced here since 2016 with our own car."
The paint scheme on the Pacemaker / Bubble Up 1968 Firebird Trans-Am is a tribute to the great "240" Gordie Bonin, whom we lost in 2013. Sitko, a fellow Canadian himself, is honored to get the chance to jump behind the wheel of a car with an iconic paint scheme.
"It's awesome. It's a beautiful car," Sitko said. "The good thing is I fit really well in the car. Everything is still in the exact location as my car, so it is really easy to make the switch over. But driving the Gordin Bonin tribute Bubble Up car is awesome. Gordie was a great guy and a great friend of mine and my family, so it's really cool."
ONE AND DONE - It had been six years since Pete Kaiser had been behind the wheel of a Nostalgia Top Fuel car, but that changed this weekend in Bakersfield, California. Kaiser, who tuned Dan Horan to the 2021 NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel title a year ago, returned to the cockpit of the 3,500 horsepower breathing dragon at this weekend's California Hot Rod Reunion, and it seemed like he never even left.
In his first run in over six years, during the first qualifying session on Friday, Kaiser quickly dusted off the rust and dropped everyone's jaw. Kaiser laid down an impressive 5.795 at 248 miles per hour, putting him in the number three spot after day one of qualifying.
"It went good," Kaiser said. "I was really nervous, but everything went well. We got some new crew members on the car, but everything went really well."
Everyone was surprised when Kaiser announced he would jump back behind the wheel of the racecar for the NHRA Heritage Series season finale. And while the 1995 Nostalgia Top Fuel champ admits he enjoys tuning more than driving these days, he had recently caught the need for speed again.
"I got the bug again in the summertime because the dragster was out of the points," Kaiser said. "So I told Dan, let me drive that dragster at the Reunion, and he said go ahead and do it."
The car Kaiser is driving this weekend is the one he tuned Dan Horan to the 2021 NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel championship, meaning Kaiser should be at home as he transitions back into the driver's seat.
"I'm confident in the car, but I didn't want to be the weak link," Kaiser admitted. "I know the crew's good. We got the parts. We got a great owner. The money is here. The car is here. So if it doesn't do good, it's for one reason, the guy in the seat."
However, even though Kaiser has seemingly found the desire to go fast again, do not expect to see him in the driver's seat anytime soon after this, as this is strictly a one-off deal.
"I think this will be it," Kaiser said. "I am having a lot of fun driving, but I really, really like running the car better."
THE LAST RIDE - All third-generation racer Kyle Hough has ever known is racing a AA/ Fuel Altered. Even before jumping behind the wheel of the family-owned racecar at just seventeen years of age, since he was a little kid, Hough was always destined to follow in his father's and grandfather's footsteps and pilot the legendary Nanook Fuel Altered.
However, that chapter of his racing career will end after this weekend, as Hough announced last year he would be moving up to the Nostalgia Top Fuel ranks in 2023. For Hough, the realization of the possibility of this being the last time he's behind the wheel of the Nanook Fuel Altered for the foreseeable future is an emotional one.
"Fuel Altereds' is pretty much all we've known our entire lives, except for the one season my grandfather drove the Super Shops Funny Car," Hough said. "We've run Fuel Alterds' for fifty, sixty years. So it's emotional but also rewarding that we've accomplished a lot with the Fuel Altered, and excited to move into a new class with a bunch of tough competitors."
Hough has pointed out that their new Top Fuel program is their main focus. However, he would still love nothing more than to finish his Fuel Altered career off strong and go out on top. So with nothing to lose, Hough plans to throw the kitchen sink at it here this weekend in Bakersfield.
"My dad and I talked already, and we're throwing a hail mary out there on the first run on Saturday," Hough said. "We're going to go after it. We'll try and run a high 5.90 and low 6.0 off the trailer, be aggressive with it and see what happens. We've got two other shots if it doesn't go down the track. The air will be good Saturday afternoon for that first session, and we'll try and run a good number. But it's exciting. A lot of emotions for that first run in what could be our last race with the Fuel Altered."
FINISHING STRONG - Exactly one year ago at the California Hot Rod Reunion from Bakersfield, California, Drew Austin turned the Nostalgia Funny Car world upside down when he captured a convincing win in his Nitro Funny Car debut. Running one of the quickest elapsed times in the history of the class at 5.54 in the second round en route to his first career Nostalgia Funny Car victory.
Everyone expected, with the driving capabilities Austin possesses behind the wheel coupled with the knowledge his father Pat has tuning the race car, that the team would be a force to be reckoned with during the 2022 season. He is ultimately being considered one to give the four-time and reigning Funny Car Bobby Cottrell and Bucky Austin a run for their money. But unfortunately, that hasn't happened.
The young Austin has had some shining moments this year, like kicking off the 2022 NHRA Heritage Series season with a number one qualifying spot at the March Meet and dipping into the 5.50s once again. However, the team has not been able to put it all together on race day.
"It's been a long year for us," Austin admitted. "We've struggled this year. We come out and look like all-stars in the first race we ever debuted the Funny Car. Then we suddenly realize nitro isn't as easy as we came out and made it look with the Reunion being our first race out."
"Before the Reunion last year, we had eight to ten laps. Not even full laps, just eight to ten laps down the drag strip on that car. One was the experience I had being inside the Funny Car and the experience my dad had tuning the car. It was kind of a perfect storm at the Reunion. Everything seemed to go together great for us. We thought we had a really good handle on the car leaving the Reunion. Well, we didn't, and we've been tearing some stuff up this year."
But despite Austin's struggles this season, nobody expects them to stay down for long. And for the younger Austin, he's more than eager to try and go back to back at the California Hot Rod Reunion, finish the year off strong, and build some momentum heading into next season.
"I want to come out swinging, "Austin said. I'm sick and tired of struggling this year. Every time we go to the racetrack, our goal is to win, and that's our approach every time."
HILTON AND PADILLA LEAD NITRO FIELDS WHILE COTTRELL SHINES IN ROUND 1 OF FUNNY CAR
When Tyler Hilton said he wasn't going o change anything but the paint scheme on his new Hemi front-engine Top Fuel Dragster once campaigned by Tony Bartone and Steve Boggs, he meant it, and it's working in his favor.
Hilton rocked the house in the final qualifying session, which was run under the lights on Saturday night due to numerous delays. Hilton lost the number one qualifying spot after the second session on Saturday afternoon to Pete Kaiser. But the driver of the Great Expectations Top Fuel Dragster was able to wrestle the number-one spot right back in the final session. Hilton recorded another career-best elapsed time in a thrilling and dramatic last qualifying session of the 2022 season, running a sizzling 5.633 at 241 miles per hour.
"Run was good, "Hilton said. "I ad brain fade backing up and up there on the line, but whatever it was qualifying. The thing left good picked up a little all the way. It was spinning pretty good from half-track on. The track was losing heat. I went down to about a thousand or eleven hundred feet. The motor is happy. Just drive it a little further when we need to."
Hilton, who came into the season finale in Bakersfield in the fight of his life for the 2022 NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel Championship with Bret Williamson, now sits just one win light away from the title on Sunday. In a shocking turn of events, the championship points leader, Bret Williamson, failed to make the eight-car show, forcing him to sit on the sidelines to see how his fate plays out on Sunday.
Two other Top Fuel drivers also have an outside chance of stealing the championship away on the season's final day. If Hilton is defeated in round one on Sunday morning, then third or fourth in the points, Adam Sorokin or Bryan Hall needs to go on to win the entire event to win the championship. Hall controls his destiny as he matches up with Hilton in round one. But a devastating explosion for Hall in the final qualifying session on Saturday night has the H&H Nitro Nomad doubtful of a return to action. Adam Sorokin will square off against Tyler Hester.
The Fuel Altereds are also in action this weekend at Bakersfield, running a Chicago-Style format with the two runs scheduled for Saturday afternoon and the plan of the top four cars coming back and duking it out on Sunday. Well, due to the numerous delays on Saturday, which forced the action well into the evening, the Fuel Altered guys were only able to make one run on Saturday, and Tom Padilla, behind the wheel of The Red Dragon, was the one to make the most of it.
A wild and wacky first session for the Alterds saw Padilla set the pace with a 6.146 at 200 miles per hour, a full seven hundredths better elapsed time-wise than the next best guy. That next best guy happened to be your 2022 Night Fire Nationals winner in Fuel Altered, James Generalao Jr. Generalao stopped the clocks at 6.210 at 225 miles per hour to put him in the number two spot. While Kyle Hough, who is making his final start behind the wheel of the legendary Nanook for a move to Nostalgia Top Fuel next season, rounded out the quick three with 6.259 at 172 miles per hour.
The Nitro Funny Cars kicked off their first round of eliminations on Saturday night under the lights in Bakersfield, and no one shined more than the four-time and reigning champ, Bobby Cottrell.
Cottrell set low elapsed time for the round with a 5.623 at 260 miles per hour against Jeff Utterback, who replaced Geoff Monise as an alternate to advance into round number two on Sunday.
In Round number two on Sunday, Cottrell will have a date with the man known for his excellent driving capabilities and starting line prowess, James Day. Day struggled in qualifying, not making it into the show til the last shot on Saturday afternoon. But the driver of the Matthews Motorsports Nostalgia Funny Car was able to step up big time in round number. Day made his best run of the weekend at 5.706 at 247 miles per hour to topple Michael Peck Sr and keep his season alive.
Billy The Kid Morris, at the wheel of the Problem Child Nostalgia Funny Car, recorded the second-best time of the round at 5.664 seconds at 257 miles per hour to take out Brad Thompson and advance into round two. But the upset of the round had to be when your defending California Hot Rod Reunion champion in Nostalgia Funny Car, Drew Austin, fell in the opening round to Nathan Sitko, filling in for the ill Ryan Hodgson.
Austin got a significant advantage on the starting line, but Sitko had the power and reeled him in to take the round-one win. Sitko ran an impressive 5.717 at 251 miles per hour to Austin's 5.831 at 242 miles per hour. Sitko will race Billy Morris in round two.
Cory Lee, who barely got around Dan Horan in the opening round, will square off against Tony Jurado, who took down Bill Windham in round two.
And finally, Tim Boychuck got around Chris Davis. He will take on Matt Bynum in the quarter-finals, as Bynum took care of business against the reining Legends of Nitro, rookie of the year in Nostalgia Funny Car, Kamala Pocock.
FRIDAY EVENT NOTEBOOK - STORYLINES SHAPING UP FOR FINAL BATTLE
THE GODFATHER PART 2 - 1995 Nostalgia Top Fuel championship-winning driver and 2021 Nostalgia Top Fuel championship-winning crew chief with Dan Horan, Pete Kaiser, returned to the driver's seat after a six-year hiatus at this weekend's race in Bakersfield, California, and looked like her never left.
In his first pass down the track in six years, Kaiser laid down an impressive 5.795 at 248 miles per hour to slide into the number three spot after the first day of qualifying for the Top Fuel cars at the 30th annual California Hot Rod Reunion.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY - Billy "The Kid" Morris, driving the Eddie Knox-owned and tuned "Problem Child" Nostalgia Funny Car, had one of the most consistent cars during the first qualifying day at the 30th annual California Hot Rod Reunion.
In the opening session, Morris ripped off a stellar 5.723 at 239 miles per hour, good enough to put him in the No. 3 position.
Morris backed up his 5.72 with a 5.75 in the second qualifying session, making him one of only a handful of cars to get down the track on both runs.
Morris now sits comfortably in fourth heading into the final qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.
A PUNCHERS CHANCE - Adam Sorokin may be a long shot from winning the NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel Championship, entering the season's final race this weekend in Bakersfield, California. But the driver of the Champion Speed Shops knows that if the two ahead of him in points, Bret Williamson and Tyler Hilton, stumble, it'll be his for the taking.
"We're a dark horse for sure in this race," Sorokin said. "But you know what? Tyler didn't qualify at Tulsa, and Brett went out in the first round. Both of those guys can possibly not qualify for this show, which would leave it open to Bryan and me to try to win that race and win the championship. It would be a surprise, but things happen. It's drag racing, so shit happens. Right?"
Sorokin currently sits third in the Top Fuel points standings, 82 points out of the lead. However, after a considerably slow start to the season, the Champion Speed Shops team decided to do a chassis change at the last race out in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The team saw an immediate improvement. Sorokin wheeled his small block Chevy Dragster to a No. 2 qualifying position and a runner-up finish, falling just short to Shawn Bowen in the final round.
"We had struggled with that new chassis for the last couple of years, especially with the sixty-foot times," Sorokin admitted. "We didn't see any improvement, no matter what we threw at it, more mag, more blower, more percentage, whatever it would be, it wasn't responding well. That made Bobby McLennan, the owner of the car, decide, you know what, we're not necessarily in this points chase, let's bring the old car out and see how it reacts at Tulsa and see if we got any returns from it. We went right out, and immediately the car responded. We're like, this chassis likes the combination a lot better than the other chassis.
"We think that the other chassis's a little bit too stiff, and it's not letting us do the same things that we were doing with the old car. We bring out the old car. We go back to the tire pressures we were using with the old car, everything. The motor's back a little bit further than the new car. I think it's out 36 inches instead of 40 on the new car. The chassis tubing is a little thicker on the new car than on the old Sterling. That old Sterling, man, it was just getting back together with an old girlfriend. You knew everybody's moves, and everything worked out just right."
Sorokin hadn't been behind the wheel of that 2009 chassis in over three years, but as you can see, it worked out for them in their favor. The team has brought that same chassis to the season's final race in Bakersfield this weekend in hopes of closing out the season and capturing Adam's first win in a very long time.
"They don't have a podium in Drag Racing," Sorokin said. "You don't have first, second, and third. You just got runner-up. Ricky Bobby said it the best. If you're not first, you're last. I want to take a win home. You start wanting one after you haven't had one in a while. You forget how it feels and how good it feels when you win that race. We want to end the year with a win and possibly a dark horse championship. But to win at the Hot Rod Reunion, it's a big race for us, and we would love to win that."
But Sorokin knows that with fifteen cars showing up to this weekend's race in Bakersfield and only eight spots available to qualify, he and his team will have more than their fair share of work cut out for them.
"With 15 cars coming, man, it's going to be a race just to get into that race itself," Sorokin said. "That means seven people are going home. You got to hit the ground running. It's not imperative to be the number one or two qualifier, but you want to be in that top five. Then that gives you a bit more favorable pairing, and then we can work from there. With the cars that are coming that are capable of running sixties and stuff like that, the big thing is that a lot of those guys can overpower the tracks, spin the tires, and find themselves outside on Sunday. You don't want to screw the pooch on the first couple of hits and then have one shot to get in. That's always scary. You got to be smart about it."
But one thing is for sure, if Tyler Hilton or Bret Williamson do "screw the pooch" in qualifying, then Adam Sorokin and the Champion Speed Shops will be ready to pounce.
DOUBLE OR NOTHING - One would think championship points leader Brett Williamson already has enough on his plate coming into this weekend's 30th annual California Hot Rod Reunion. Not only is he trying to focus on securing his first Nostalgia Top Fuel Championship. But his most significant threat in the points, Tyler Hilton and the Great Expectations team announced they purchased a championship-winning car formerly driven by Tony Bartone and tuned by Steve Boggs to debut this weekend.
Well, as it turns out, Williamson would have added even more to his already loaded plate as he will be pulling double duty at Bakersfield and piloting a Pro Mod car this weekend. But wait, there's more. Williamson enters Bakersfield as the points leader in the Pro Mod, making it two championships up for grabs this weekend for Williamson.
Williamson has had a career year behind the wheel of the Mike Fuller-owned and tuned Forever Young Top Fuel car in 2022. With two wins at two of the Heritage series' most prominent races, like the March Meet and the Night-Fire Nationals in Boise, Idaho, Williamson enters the season finale at Bakersfield with a slim two-round advantage over Tyler Hilton.
But having won the one and only Xtreme Pro Mod West series race contested in Sacramento earlier this year, and the series ending their season in joint with the Heritage Series at the California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, Williamson is now tasked with trying to capture two titles in the same weekend.
"Yeah, that's no extra pressure right there," Williamson sarcastically admitted. "Everybody keeps coming by saying, oh yeah, you got this. Well, I won't have it until Sunday afternoon."
However, this isn't Williamson's first rodeo, having pulled double duty in the past and jumping behind the wheel of two of the wildest machines you can think of, a Nostalgia Top Fuel car and a Pro Mod car, on the same weekend. But this time, the stakes are much higher.
"It's pretty tough," Williamson admitted. "We've done it before, and hopefully, we can all do it again, including me. Hopefully, I remember how to drive both separately."
But make no bones about it. Williamson is an immense competitor and would love nothing more than to walk away from Bakersfield this weekend with two titles in hand.
"I want it real bad," Williamson admitted. "We're this close; I'd hate to mess it all up now."
CHASING PERFECTION - Bobby Cottrell is on the brink of capturing his fifth consecutive Nostalgia Funny Car championship in the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series. Not many drivers can say they've done that. But not many drivers can also say they've gone the entire season undefeated. Well, the four-time and reigning NHRA Heritage Series Nostalgia Funny Car Champion Bobby Cottrell is staring that possibility in the face as he rolls into this weekend's 30th annual California Hot Rod Reunion.
Cottrell kicked off the 2022 season with a win at the historic Bakersfield March Meet, the fourth of his stellar career. He would back that up with a win at the Funny Car Ignitor in Boise, Idaho, in a fantastic final round against Billy Morris. Then Cottrell would pull off the hat trick, winning his third race in a row on the season in Bowling Green, Kentucky, for the Holley National Hot Rod Reunion. Finally, going four for four and conquering what many considered the second biggest race on the Heritage Series tour, the Night-Fire Nationals, again held in Boise, Idaho.
Although Kris Krabill won the Nitro Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in Nitro Funny Car, Cottrell and his Bucky's Auto Center team did not attend that race. Added in with the rule of a drop race in the Nostalgia Funny Car in the Heritage Series, Cottrell is still technically undefeated.
This leads us into this weekend's Heritage Series season finale in Bakersfield, California, as Cottrell is now just four win lights away from putting together a perfect season.
However, Cottrell has been down this road before, having entered the season's final race last year in Bakersfield with a chance of going undefeated until an untimely cracked fuel tank in the semi-finals against Jerry Espeseth ended his chances.
One year later, Cottrell is hoping lady luck will be on his side this time as he goes for a perfect season once again.
"I don't think a perfect season has even been done before in Funny Car," Cottrell said. "It's pretty important to me if we can do it. That would be a dream come true. We fell short last year, but we did really well. We won the championship. But we're just going to take it one run at a time and see what happens."
ALL EYES ON ME - Tyler Hilton and his dad Bobby have made a lot of bold moves this season. For instance, going against the grain, sticking to what they believe in, and racing in Bowling Green, Kentucky, earlier this year when the rest of the Top Fuel class decided to pull out and run in St.Louis that same weekend.
But nothing was bolder than when they decided to drop their big-block Chevy program and purchase a dominant Front-Engine Top Fuel car previously campaigned by championship-winning duo Tony Bartone and Steve Boggs while in the middle of running for a championship.
"We made a lot of runs with a Chevy car," Hilton said. "We've been passing it back and forth about making a change, and we decided to pull the trigger and do it. It was not a knee-jerk reaction. It was just time to do something different."
Hilton and his dad invested in a proven and championship-winning car. They also acquired the entire Steve Boggs combination and notebook on how to run the car, seemingly giving them a considerable advantage going into the final race at Bakersfield.
"The whole combination is there," Hilton said. "The biggest thing right now is just keeping restraint and not changing stuff that doesn't need to be changed."
Last weekend, in hopes of getting the car dialed in for the Reunion, Hilton and his Great Expectations team tested the new car for the first time at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Hilton was amazed at how different it was behind the wheel of his old Chevy car as opposed to his new Hemi rail.
"The Chevy car you sat low in it like an old car," Hilton said. "It was an old-school sitting five-point cage car. You laid down in it, and you couldn't see. At night you really couldn't see. It was a wall of fire and nothing. You drove out the seat of your pants a lot more, but this car is a lot different. You sit up, and it's got more room in it. It's a comfortable car for the driver, and we're excited to start a new chapter."
As for on-track results, Hilton made two test runs at different points in the day, with both runs being early shutoffs to focus solely on early numbers.
"We made two hits on Saturday," Hilton said. "Weather was cool, and the track was decent. The first time in the car, it went well on the first hit, and I shut it off early. We were just doing early number stuff. We didn't come back out until five p.m. on the second hit, and it cooled off, the track was ok for our type of car, but it still went well. It was good to have the high end of the tune-up and the low end. We're going to land somewhere in the middle, so we had both ends of the spectrum. Overall it went really well."
The car made its debut this weekend at the 30th annual California Hot Rod Reunion as Hilton is in the fight of his life for the Top Fuel championship, trailing Bret Williamson by just 32 points.
"As far as the whole points deal, we haven't even talked or thought about that, honestly," Hilton admitted. "We want to get this racecar and get it going down the racetrack. If you do that right, all that other stuff will hopefully fall into place."
FRIDAY QUALIFYING -