Fiberglass Forest at NHRA’s Hot Rod Reunion
The 26th annual NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion resembled a 64 Funny Car “Fiberglass Forest” at the legendary Orange County International Raceway as no less than 30 nitro funny cars charged the all-concrete quarter mile at Auto Club Famoso Raceway. Of course, the festivities featured an entire weekend menu of racing, reminiscing and hot rodding which included a bustling midway, banquets downtown, the popular Cacklefest and plenty of bench racing along with pit side partying.
Even though front engine top fuel cars dominated vintage drag racing for decades, it’s clear that the nitro funny car class has taken over as the sport’s premier division. Less than three-tenths of a second separated the field of 16 qualified cars led by Bucky Austin’s Bardahl-backed ’69 Camaro (5.563 @ 256.06mph) with Bobby Cottrell doing the driving. Come Sunday, nobody could match wits with Austin and Cottrell. If Cottrell’s pole-qualifying 5.563 wasn’t enough, he and Austin lowered the boom in Sunday’s quarterfinals with a 5.528/261.02 blast which easily held up for Low ET and was the quickest run ever in American nostalgia funny car history. Whoa! Cottrell defeated Matt Bynum in the trophy dash to take the event win. Canada’s Ryan Hodgson meanwhile finished with a semi-final effort which secured enough Heritage Series points to crown him Funny Car Champion for 2017.
Our Fuel Curve funny car had a solid outing albeit with mechanical woes. An opening qualifier of 5.782/238.17 put the team right in the thick of things but bearing issues and mad pit thrash’s kept the team from improving on that time. In Saturday night’s opening round of eliminations, driver Marc Meadors gave it his all at 5.905/227.19 but lost to eventual runner-up Matt Bynum’s 5.661/261.78.
In top fuel, 10 cars made the tow to Bakersfield headlined by a tight NHRA Heritage Series championship points battle between Jim Murphy and Femme fatale Mendy Fry. With Fry gaining the pole position in qualifying with a 5.600/224.47 she appeared to be unstoppable. But Murphy and crew chief Roland Leong came to life during eliminations while Fry bowed out in the semis handing the championship to Murphy who ran a career-best 5.604/246.08 in his semi-final race. By advancing one round further than Fry, Murphy won his first Heritage Series Top Fuel title. As for the Top Fuel event win, that went to Wisconsin’s Jimi Young who simply coasted to the title with a 6.310 @ 137.86 when Murphy couldn’t make the curtain call.
But perhaps our favorite moment of the weekend came Sunday during an exhibition run. Driving Rich Guasco’s legendary “Pure Hell” fuel altered, driver Brian Hope ripped off a historic 5.92 eclipsing their best-ever run by nearly two tenths of a second. And this is no outlaw car. It’s a by-the-rules, 11-inch tire race car. To run that low into the 5.90s is a testament to the decades-long tuning prowess of Rich Guasco. It was one of the most impressive runs in the long history of vintage drag racing.
One of the featured attractions every year here is the Cacklefest. Over 45 restored and recreated front engine dragsters and altereds all being pushed down from the big end, making the sweeping turn through the water box then cackling down the track to parallel park next to one another is one of the neatest sights in drag racing. Some of the cars belch 4-foot hi flames watering eyes both from fumes and emotions. It’s like watching drag racing history come alive right before your very eyes.
The NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion is the ultimate fundraiser for the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona as most of the proceeds go towards keeping the museum operating at full steam. It’s also a success in that this event exposes generations of race fans to the glorious and colorful history of drag racing. They get to meet the sport’s legends then watch new legends being born during the action-packed racing action taking place on the track. In that regard, the CHRR as its known is a winner. During the course of the busy weekend, those who helped further the sport of drag racing were honored at the venue. Bakersfield native Rick Stewart served as Grand Marshal while Pete Eastwood, Bill Holland, Bob Lambeck, Bob Panella, Sr. and Jimmy Scott were also honored.
If you’re looking for complete event results in all classes, Competition Plus has all of the timing sheets neatly displayed in their event notebook.
As the Fuel Curve funny car team pulled into Pleasanton, California late Sunday following the race, the team can be proud of the progress made in their first full nitro funny car season. With the data, the experience and valuable information gathered so far, they will be a force at the season-opening March Meet March 1-4 right back here at Famoso Raceway.
Photography by Steven Bunker, Mike Bumbeck and Calvin LaLoosh
CHRR Photo Extra!