The RPM Nationals, A Flathead-Powered Flashback
The inaugural RPM Nationals was a time capsule. Its story begins halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles in a little town along State Route 58 with a population of about 1,200. On a recent fall Saturday morning, the good people of Santa Margarita must have thought they were in an episode of the Twilight Zone as they woke to hundreds of vintage hot rods cruising through their quaint little town.
Gow jobs, antique rails and hot rods from all over California and as far away as Arizona, Nevada and Washington made the trip to Santa Margarita Ranch for the inaugural RPM Nationals presented by Hop Up Magazine, PF Flyers and Uppercut Deluxe.
No matter which direction you came from, the drive into the event was a scenic one. Santa Margarita Ranch had it all: hills, trees, cows, dirt roads, old barns and in the middle of it all, an old paved runway, the perfect location for an old-school 1/8-mile drag race.
The RPM Nationals was the brainchild of Mason Dyer, Justin Baas and Russ Hare. Their goal was to host a vintage flathead and 4-cylinder drag race where all the cars had to be pre-1936 and period correct. While they weren’t racing for pink slips, it was just like it used to be…drop the flag, stand on the gas and see whose home built hot rod was the fastest.
If you build it, they will come, and that they did with nearly 100 cars turning up to participate. The first car down the track was the famed Bean Bandits dragster originally driven by drag racing Hall of Famer Joaquin Arnett. What followed was a day of flatheads, bangers, fuel and fun.
There was plenty of time for grudge racing and time trials before eliminations got under way. There were roadsters, coupes, sedans, historical cars and even a couple of belly tankers that lined up side by side. To make the racing as fair as possible, the cars were split into four classes: 4-cylinder street car, 4-cylinder full race, V8 street car and V8 full race.
But the RPM Nationals wasn’t only a drag race, it was a happening. There was also a pre-1960s car show featuring traditional hot rods and customs, a vintage swap meet and plenty of reminiscing about the good ol’ days. There was a great crowd too – youngsters, hipsters, baby boomers and graybeards bonded by their affinity for old school hot rods and the lifestyle that accompanies them.
They came to race, they came to watch, they came for a good time and they were not disappointed. The RPM Nationals exceeded expectations and showcased all that is good about hot rodding: preserving the past, building your own car, hanging with friends and making new ones. At the RPM Nationals, drivers competed against one another for nothing more than bragging rights and a firm handshake from the loser…just like it used to be.
A repeat performance is in store next fall. Stay up to date with the latest information at the RPM Nationals website as plans are already in the works for next year’s event. Stand on the gas!