RUPERT IS BACK AT FULL STRENGTH WITH POINTS LEAD IN HAND
Many racers will tell you that ending a season on a positive note, especially with a victory, is a good way to set the tone for the upcoming year, and that certainly was the case for Jason Rupert, who closed the 2016 season by winning at a track he had always wanted to conquer, Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif.
"We had been trying to win there for a really long time, but for whatever reason, it just never happened," said Rupert, who has piloted the Rupert & Littlefield Rolling Thunder Nostalgia Funny Car to six national championships, three in IHRA and three in NHRA. "I never had good luck there when I was racing Top Alcohol Funny Car, either. We’ve qualified No. 1 there a bunch of times and made the first 260-mph run there at the March Meet in 2012.
"Bakersfield is an important race to us. It’s the toughest race to win because you have more than 30 cars there," he added. "We’re all from Southern California, so it’s also the race where all of our friends and families are there. My dad doesn’t make it to many of the races anymore, so it was cool to have him there with us for a win."
After finishing the 2016 season strongly, the team expected to pick were it left off but instead embarked on what Rupert described as an "up-and-down season" this year.
"We bought some new parts over the winter and really thought we could pick up where we left off, but that didn’t happen," Rupert said. "We really struggled in Bakersfield [the first race of the 2017 season] but got out of there with a semifinal. It wasn’t getting any better when we were in Boise [Idaho.]. We changed everything back to what we knew before eliminations, and it came around for us.
"The team has worked really hard. We are getting a handle on it again," he added. "The competition just keeps getting better and better, so we have to press hard to keep moving ahead, but I think we’re back to full strength."
The team certainly seems to be back in top form after reaching the final round at the recent NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series event in Mission, B.C., and leaving with the points lead.
"The motor looked really good after going 5.62 twice in eliminations, so we knew we could step on it if we ran the final before the track got cold," said Rupert. "The air is really good there, and [final-round opponent] Bobby Cottrell made a bunch of runs over 260 mph. We knew it would be a tough race. They made a great run. I thought running 5.55 or 5.56 would be enough to get it done. It might have done it if I had cut the light I wanted to.
"After the race, we were picking apart the run on the computer until someone said, ‘Hey, it still ran 5.56.’ We’ve been as quick as 5.52 at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in IHRA, but that was the quickest run we’ve made in NHRA."
With that 5.56 under their belt, the team will keep pressing on at the remaining three NHRA Heritage Racing Series events and attempt to win a seventh national championship.
"We’ve been really fortunate to win three in NHRA and three in IHRA in the six full seasons that we’ve been racing in this class," said Rupert. "Besides the first one always being so special, each one kind of means more than the last because you’ve had the target on your back for so long and the level of competition gets better and better. It’s hard to stay ahead. To look at all the cars that are running well and know you won the championship would mean you did something great."