NAPA Auto Parts Ignitor Nitro Opener at Firebird Raceway

Funny Cars at Firebird: NAPA Ignitor Lights Up Northwest

Photography by Gary Himes and Steven Bunker

The oldest major drag racing event in the Pacific Northwest, the NAPA Auto Parts Ignitor Opener presented by Peterson Chevrolet, returned to the green hills of western Idaho last weekend. The event helped to commemorate 50 years of racing at Firebird Raceway and featured a pit area full of fabulous Nitro Funny Cars, including our very own house car – the Fuel Curve ’70 Camaro driven by Marc Meadors.

While the nitro burning Funny Cars grabbed the headlines, the weekend featured over 400 racers as it was also the opening stop in the Division 6 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series.

Aside from the prestige of winning such a historic event, the fuel-burning floppers were fighting for NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series points. The stout field of funnies included Ryan Hodgson, Bobby Cottrell (new driver for Bucky Austin), perennial champ Jason Rupert, Dan Horan Jr., Michael Peck (driving for Don Nelson), Cameron Ferre (driving for Tim Boychuk), Marc Meadors in the Fuel Curve car, Wally Giavia, Bill Windham, Chris Davis, and Jon Rice. That’s a stout group gunning for one of eight open spots in the elimination bracket.

Mike Peck California Hustler | NAPA Auto Parts Ignitor Nitro Ope

California Hustler driver Mike Peck is all business inside his “office” for the day.

Qualifying, as well as eliminations, were not without some controversy and animosity. Since Ryan Hodgson debuted a radical, wind-cheating, bulbous-nosed ’69 Camaro bodied race car at the 2015 Hot Rod Reunion, dissension as to styling and aesthetics have brewed within the class ranks. While some top runners have joined the vanguard following suit with the over-aggressive Camaro body, others, like defending Heritage Series Champion Jason Rupert have cried foul, refusing to join in opting instead for more conventional and visually stimulating body lines. Rupert’s ’69 Camaro, while certainly aggressive, still does resemble its Detroit roots.

Of course, our focus wasn’t on space-aged “nostalgia” floppers. Our focus was pinned to our own Fuel Curve house Funny Car. Driven by Marc Meadors and tuned by Jason Bunker the Fuel Curve ’70 Camaro qualified in the seventh slot with a 5.91/236 mph which matched us against Dan Horan Jr in Sunday’s first round. Meadors and the team fought hard with a weekend-best 5.87/241.67 mph charge in round one but Horan streaked to the win with a superior 5.703/255.53 mph.

Later in eliminations, the action was epic. Class heavyweights Jason Rupert and Ryan Hodgson (the main combatants in the body drama) gave the Boise fans what they craved in the semi-finals. Together, they laid down the quickest side-by-side Nitro Funny Car race in Firebird history, with Rupert’s 5.66/251.86 mph run edging Hodgson’s 5.69/249.44 mph blast. Rupert parlayed that momentum and even upped the ante to remove all doubt who was king of the race, dispatching Dan Horan in the trophy round. Rupert’s weekend-best charge of 5.60/256.80 mph comfortably defeated Horan’s 5.76/247.52 mph run. Score one for the “traditionalists!”

Jason Rupert vs Ryan Hodgson | NAPA Auto Parts Ignitor Nitro Ope

Here is the quickest side-by-side drag race in Firebird Raceway history! Jason Rupert’s 5.66/251.86 mph charge (near lane) edged Ryan Hodgson’s 5.69/249.44 mph

“We had a rough start to the weekend,” Rupert said of his fifth-place qualifying time of 5.87. “But the win was huge. Looks like we’ve got our car back.” Hard to argue with that statement. Considering Firebird Raceway’s altitude of 2,566 feet above sea level, all of the funny car teams put on an outstanding show. Rupert dedicated the win to his father who was admitted to the hospital on the day preceding the race.

Next up on the NHRA Heritage Series Funny Car schedule is the NHRA Lucas Oil National Open in Mission, BC, Canada on the July 22-24 weekend. In the meantime, our car is scheduled to undergo some upgrades, including its new Fuel Curve paint job. Trust us, it will move the needle.

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Senior Editor, Digital Media

With three decades of automotive journalism under his belt, John Drummond serves as Senior Editor – Digital Media for Fuel Curve and Goodguys Rod & Custom Association where he has worked since 1990. Drummond got his start in motorsports reporting by making a fake press pass to gain starting line access. The ruse worked and he began covering auto races as far back as 1986 in Northern California, eventually getting his stories published worldwide. He has owned and driven everything from a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere to a ridiculously modded Subaru WRX as well as a string of Mercedes AMG’s, most of which had the warranties voided the day after leaving the dealership.

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