2017 NHRA CHRR - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - INSPIRATION COMES WELL BEYOND THE BAKERSFIELD QUARTER-MILE
THE BIGGER PICTURE - Nostalgia Top Fuel champion Jim Murphy loves the Starfish story.
The veteran drag racer had just captured his sixth drag racing series championship (five in the Heritage Series and one in AHRA) yet, he couldn't seem to get the fictional, but inspirational tale out of his head.
For those unfamiliar with the story by Loren Eiseley, an elderly man happens upon a young man on the beach partaking in what appeared to be a futile act. The kid was surrounded by thousands of starfish, which has washed ashore and were in imminent danger of drying out in the sun before high tide could rescue them. One at a time, the kid was tossing them in the ocean.
After the man realized what he was doing, he attempted to counsel the kind-hearted lad, offering, "There must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy never missed a beat, bending over to pick up another and throw it as far as he could. He smiled, "It made a difference to that one.”
In the weeks leading into the California Hot Rod Reunion, Murphy couldn't help but feel like the kid on the beach, though at 75 his younger years are clearly behind him.
Murphy, a successful businessman from Santa Rosa, Ca., has watched over the last few weeks as wildfires have besieged his neighbors and longtime employees. He's watched helplessly as fires have destroyed customers houses as well as wineries his company was responsible for building.
And in time, he plans to toss as many starfish back in the ocean he's able to.
With this raging in his head, it was easy for Murphy to look past a tight championship battle only separating him and Mendy Fry by seven points headed into the Bakersfield, Ca., event.
Murphy gave himself a bit of cushion Saturday evening as he stopped Adam Sorokin in the finals of the rain-delayed Boise event. He needed only to win the semi-final round of Sunday's eliminations to clinch his crown, which he did in beating Sorokin a second time.
Win or lose, Murphy's mind was as far as it could be from the task at hand.
"I don’t really get nervous for these races," Murphy said. "In fact, I was having trouble getting up this weekend because of the fires and stuff up where I live, you know. And so it’s been kind of a little bit depressing all weekend what I’ve had to go through the last two weeks. But I’m very excited to win it, and I’ve got to go home and face a lot of stuff that isn’t going to be pretty."
Though Murphy is clearly one of the more successful drivers in this niche style of drag racing, winning championships was never his primary goal.
"We were just trying to have fun," Murphy admitted.
This fifth championship comes on the 20th anniversary of his first title in 2007.
His racing world was much different back then.
"That was tough because there were 20-30 cars at those races," Murphy recalled. "You know when this thing first started it was very popular. Now we get 10,11,12 it seems like."
Murphy reached the final round of the CHRR but failed to make the call. The victory over Sorokin came at a price as he crossed the finish line the engine expired, spraying him with oil and causing the seasoned veteran to lose sight of the track ahead. He drifted into the retaining wall, and the car went airborne and hit the track hard.
The decision to forfeit the final round was a precautionary measure.
"We kicked a rod out, and I was completely oiled in, I couldn’t see anything," Murphy recalled. "Went over and went up on the wall, and we’re just kind of afraid the chassis might be tweaked."
"I would have certainly loved to race the final," Murphy said. "We had big plans on having the opportunity for a triple crown like the horse racing. And we got to one with Boise, the second one with the championship and would have been great to put a bow on it but we weren’t able to."
The events of the past few weeks have led Murphy to reconsider his future.
"I’m going to have to reevaluate my whole life with the fires and stuff," Murphy said. "That’s going to dramatically change things, and I feel a real obligation to many of the clients I’ve had in the past. We’ll see what happens next year; I’m not sure yet."
"Racing next year is up in the air for now."
JUST WONDERING - Nostalgia Funny C ar driver, and newly christened 7.0 Pro champion Bobby Cottrell couldn't help but wonder.
What if he had a full season under his belt?
Cottrell finished third in the championship points on the strength of a totally dominating AA/FC win at the California Hot Rod Reunion behind the wheel of Bucky Austin's Funny Car beating an upset-minded Matt Bynum in the final round.
Now the event wasn't all peaches and cream for Cottrell, who opened up Friday's qualifying with a disqualification for spilling oil on the racing surface.
"It was a busy weekend," Cottrell said. "We hurt some parts, and I’m so thankful for my crew. They’ve worked their tails off. Every single round we had to change stuff. To get the win here in front of my family and my kids and stuff is pretty special."
Cottrell knew the mindset of his tuner Austin, specifically in a situation like this.
"That kind of stuff is fuel for Bucky," Cottrell said. "I knew he was going to come back swinging. I was not worried about it because I knew he was going to throw everything at it the next pass. It worked out. We kicked ass every round, so I’m just thankful to Bucky and the crew and everybody that works on the car and helps me through this deal. I’m happy."
Cottrell confirmed he'll return as the driver in 2018. There will be no wondering next season of the team's potential.
"We’re just going to start off strong and go from there," Cottrell said.
This weekend, once Cottrell had clinched his 7.0 championship, he withdrew from competition in the sportsman division.
"We hurt a motor in the Funny Car so, I work on the car I don’t just drive the car, as far as the Funny Car," Cottrell said. "I didn’t want to leave my crew high and dry, so I just stuck with them, and kind of threw the race out for 7.0. We already had the championship locked up, so I told them, ‘I’m sorry guys, we got the championship, but I’ve got to go work."
"The Funny Car’s my priority now. I feel at home in the car, and I’m just thankful I got the opportunity, man. It’s just a dream come true."
And for Cottrell, the dream is just starting.
OUT OF THE SHADOWS - Jim Young admits he lurked in the shadows, perfectly content to let championship combatants Jim Murphy and Mendy Fry snag all the headlines during the California Hot Rod Reunion. In the end, the only headline he wanted was the event championship.
In an anticlimactic final round, Young match raced Adama Sorokin in a guaranteed victory when Murphy was unable to make the semi-final call following a dust-up with the retaining wall in the shutdown area following a semi-final round win.
“We’re really happy," Young said. "We went to most of the races this year. We were number one qualifier and top speed at every event; we just weren’t able to seal the deal. We came out here with a goal to run a 5.50, and we missed that a little in the final, but we ended up winning the race, so we’re real happy. I can’t thank the crew enough, everybody, this is a group effort, right from the finances down to the brain trust involved here. We all make the decisions together, and it’s paying off.”
Keeping a low profile in the Murphy and Fry show was not hard at all.
"We always knew that we could run with them, and even beat them, so I just went out there with the mindset that we’re going to win this round, and that’s what ended up happening," Young said. "It’s a shame for Murphy not to be able to run the final, but congratulations to him for winning the championship."
Make no mistake about it; Young wanted to run Murphy. He said he had something for the seasoned veteran.
"We were running 5.60’s at 260 and not hurting it," Young said. "We know we’ve got a 5.50 in it; it’s just a matter of when we need to pull it out. So, if we were running him, we probably would have not done what we did, we would have backed it down a little more. But we were shooting for a 5.50 at over 265 is what our goal was and the track kind of went away a little bit for those conditions."
The victory gives Young plenty of momentum for 2018, even though a measure of uncertainty remains about the future.
"I’m not sure what that’s going to bring," Young said. "The March Meet’s a tough one; it’s just a bad time of year with the snow plowing and everything out in Wisconsin, so we’ll see what happens. We’d like to run the full circuit, it’s just finances, it’s an expensive class to run, and we’re just lucky to be able to do it at the level that we do it right now."
IT'S THE REAL DEAL NOW - A day after it became apparent the 2017 NHRA Heritage Series Funny Car championship was his, Ryan Hodgson was officially able to raise his champagne glass in a toast.
Hodgson clinched the 2017 title when Jason Rupert failed to qualify at the California Hot Rod Association, essentially eliminating the only challenger to his point lead.
The chance to officially be recognized is something Hodgson sees as a long time coming.
"It feels great," Hodgson said. "We set those goals last year at this time what we wanted to do and then we achieved our goals, and we’re happy. Our team’s very happy and I’m real proud of our guys that work for us so hard throughout the year. God bless all the fans and the sponsors that help us do this."
Hodgson admits getting called champion is something he's getting used to, but he's careful to understand the title is a limited time before he's got to prove himself all over again.
"I just kind of don’t let that affect me," Hodgson said. "I just go with the flow, you know. You can call me whatever you want, I just don’t want anything like to get to my head. I just want to be a simple guy. You know, that’s great and all but I just want to be bigger than that."
Hodgson hopes this is something he gets to do more than once.
"It’s just my turn this year, and then someone gets another turn next year, and next year, and next year, and that’s how that works, right?" Hodgson said. "I just got to enjoy it while it lasts."
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE? - Matt Bynum, who works his 9-5 as the supercharger and ignition specialist for the DHL Funny Car driven by J.R. Todd, has a second home over in the NHRA's Heritage Series driving the Matthews Motorsports-owned Nitro Nick Camaro AA/FC. Sunday in Bakersfield at the California Hot Rod Hot Rod Reunion, he not only established a new speed record for the class at 263.05 miles per hour, but also drove his way to a runner-up finish, losing a tight race to Bobby Cottrell.
As impressive as Bynum's performances were in the series of yesteryear, he might have something bigger in the land of the here and now.
Recently, Bynum made some laps in the Lucas Oil-sponsored Toyota Funny Car for Del Worsham. He began the licensing process for the Big Show.
"It’s definitely all it’s cracked up to be," Bynam said. "It’s fast, really fast. You know, you hit the gas, and it’s about the same, and then as soon as you think it’s okay, it takes off. It’s really, really, really quick."
Bynum said the experience of driving an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series car is something he's wanted to do for as long as he can remember.
"When you hit the gas, you just got to hang on," Bynam reiterated. "It’s just really, really fast. I was talking to Capps about it in Dallas, and he says, you kind of get a little bit of appreciation for it because you get time to enjoy it. Those things go so fast, and it’s over so quick, and it’s a hundred percent true. It just, it goes out there, and it takes off, and it starts pulling, and it doesn't quit."
One thing the experience wasn't for Bynum is intimidating.
"Not intimidating, it just humbles you a lot because they move around so quick," Bynum explained. "You know these [AA/FC cars], you can drive them all over the race track, and nothing bad happens. In that thing, it gets over, and it puts a hole out, it moves around, and it takes off. If you get it out of the groove, it’ll smoke the tires. These things, you can kind of get away with it a little bit."
Bynum gives credit where credit is due.
"I got to thank Nicky Boninfante because Nicky set that whole thing up, and Del, and Cory Lee and the whole group of guys for staying and helping," Bynum said. "I think we’re going to try and do it again here before the year is over, try and finish the license."
ANOTHER FUEL ALTERED INCIDENT - Kurt Cruise of Sacramento, Calif. exited his Bad News Fuel Altered 1954 Fiat on his own after it made contact with the right guard wall during the third qualifying session at the California Hot Rod Reunion presented by Automobile Club of Southern California.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - THE THRILLS OF VICTORY AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT
THE AGONY OF DEFEAT - The look on Jason Rupert's face told the story. His oil soaked-shirt and the molten pieces of aluminum on the rag in his hand provided the gory details.
On this day, Rupert, the six-time AA/FC champion had scored a pyrrhic victory; a victory at too high of a cost.
Rupert ran a 5.654 elapsed time, 248.43, a pass which secured victory at the rain-delayed Heritage Series event from Boise, Idaho, over Ryan Hodgson. The run would also have been second quickest in the field, but because his wounded engine laid oil down on the racing surface, it was disallowed leaving him with no qualifying run despite three consecutive top three performances.
Such is life for Rupert, who seemingly has caught all the breaks for the last six seasons. On this weekend at the California Hot Rod Reunion, the second-generation drag racing had butterfingers when it came to catching one.
"Aw man. To tear up three motors in three runs, I’ve never even come close to doing that," Rupert admitted. "Especially to be disqualified. We wouldn’t have been able to come back anyway, I mean that’s all the parts we have. Basically, the car ran well, it e.t.’d well. Every single one of our runs we would have been in the top half of the show.
"It’s just when you spill a little oil on the track, the rules are rules. I’m going to have to work a little bit better. I have a really good containment device on my car but I’m going to make it better to where if this ever happens again, I won’t spill anything on the track. I don’t want to say that there wasn’t a ton of oil on the track."
Rupert wouldn't say the punishment didn't fit the crime. He felt bad for the issues his problem caused.
"I felt bad for the guys that clean up the track, I felt bad for the fans," Rupert said. "You know, we’ll fix it and we’ll be back. I’ve got a gremlin going on somewhere, I’ll find it."
In the midst of a weekend full of plague, the victory from Boise provided a silver lining.
"That was good. I wish we could have won the Boise race in Boise," Rupert said, mustering a smile. "But you know, what do you do? It just gives us something to shoot harder for next year. I mean we’ve won six championships in a row, I can’t really cry about it. Gosh. We had a couple of problems this year. But I mean my team’s doing a great job. I mean, they’re out there working right now. They’re all hopped up for next year already. So we’re going to hit it as hard as we can again and try to win another one."
MURPHY SEALS THE DEAL - Jim Murphy completed unfinished business as the sun faded into a sunset overlooking Auto Club Famoso Raceway.
Murphy not only sealed victory at the rain-delayed Boise Heritage event, by beating Adam Sorokin in the final round, his 5.651, 249.30 also vaulted him to the No. 1 qualifying position.
NOT OFFICIAL YET - The NHRA Heritage Series hasn't officially christened Ryan Hodgson as the AA/FC world champion. The only driver with a realistic mathematical chance of catching the point leader, Jason Rupert, failed to make the show.
Hodgson ended qualifying as fourth quickest. However, he lost in the finals of the rain-delayed Boise event contested in the Q-3 session at the CHRR.
"I didn’t see him until the very end, you know, and he kind of popped up there and I started chasing him down," Hodgson explained. "You know the car tried real hard the last 30 feet I couldn’t catch him, and then I went, ‘Oh, son of a bitch."
On this day, even in defeat Hodgson still managed victory. Rupert oiled the track, disqualifying himself from Bakersfield qualifying.
"We’ve been trying to beat him all year, and finally we got here," Hodgson said. "We accomplished our goals."
Hodgson, solidly in the field, put his focus on winning the race.
"Only thing I had to do is I know Jason’s like deadly quick on the light, so I had to try to be deadly quick too," Hodgson said. "He still beat me, but you know I was right on his heels."
Finally, Hodgson said, he can bring a championship to a Pacemaker team which has fought tooth and nail in search of a championship for almost 50 years.
"It means a lot to me and my family," Hodgson said. "Probably most my Dad, you know his son winning the championship. They’ve been trying to win the NHRA World Championship probably for 50 years, and I know that they got second against Don Prudhomme one year with Gordie Bonnin driving. Here we are 40 or 50 years later, I accomplished the goal.
"We’ve had a lot of good teams and crews over the years, and I’m blessed with these guys. I could never, I don’t think there’s a better crew with Bob and Jim and Bevan and everybody helping me all the time. You know they sacrifice a lot to help me accomplish my goals. And I think it’s their goals too."
KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE - Jon Capps is adamant about one thing; he's not about to give up on his dream of driving a fuel car.
Capps, the younger brother of current NHRA Funny Car champion Ron Capps, is racing this weekend behind the wheel of John Weaver's Plymouth Arrow AA/FC.
"I’m lucky enough to drive the Dream Weaver Funny Car," Capps confirmed. "We’ve got Enumclaw Cascade Automotive on the side on board with them, great group of guys over here. John Weaver’s normally driving this car. He’s got a bum knee, so I’m lucky enough to get to drive this thing."
Capps was one of the 16-qualifiers in the tight Funny Car field anchored by a 5.839 bump. He made it in the show at No. 13.
Capps is hoping for the day when he doesn't have to get a substitute driving job, but he's more than willing to take advantage of those opportunities before him.
"I’d love to be able to come out and race on the NHRA circuit full time, and it’s been a lifelong dream, and I’m still alive so it might happen," Capps said.
But, he knows more times than not, getting the dream driving gig is more of a right place, right time and right relationship scenario.
"Typically you’ve got to find sponsorship, bring them to the table and if it makes dollars and sense to teams and people then they get involved in a marketing relationship," Capps explained. "There are the days of just walking into a ride are so few, and far between these days it’s almost unheard of, you know."
For now, he's fine just driving in the shadows of his sibling. Jon is awful proud of Ron, and there's no sibling rivalry to speak of.
"I tell you what; it makes me proud," Capps said. "I’m really proud of what he’s done, what he’s been able to do. He’s worked his butt off. Last year’s championship was really cool to see. This year’s turned out to be great. He’s doing amazing. That whole NAPA team over there’s doing great. Robert Hight’s coming on strong right now. It’d be real nice to see Ron win again."
And for Capps, it would be just as nice to get a steady big show driving gig.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE MILLENNIAL - Brant Inglis knew a long time ago he was born with an old soul. Understand, your typical 17-year old doesn't usually restore a flathead-powered, front-engine dragster, a car likely built before his parents were of driving age.
Inglis turned 26 on October 21, the second day of the 2017 NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, and to see the smile on his face, there was nowhere else he would have rather been; even if it meant traveling 2,500 miles to participate.
"This is where I belong," Inglis said. Before 2002 I was in a rear engine dragster, I ran Jr. Dragsters. Carbon fiber was all the rage; we got to have this, we’ve got to have a computer. All I wanted to do was put a brake handle in the race car.
"Ever since then, I ran my first pass, actually the first front motor car I ever raced is here, restored - the Royal Canadian owned by Rod Hodges. That’s the first front motor car I ever made a pass in. Ever since then, I’ve been screwed up. I’ve got four of these cars now. Four front motor cars, three with history, one competition car. It’s a bad deal. This stuff's a disease."
Inglis, of Calgary, Alb., was at Auto Club Famoso Raceway to participate in the Cacklefest with the Syndicate Scuderia dragster built Jack Williams, real, a famous Canadian car.
"I got the honor and privilege to be able to help them put the motor back together early this year," Inglis revealed. "And now I’m back out here helping them sort of keep her squared away and sorted out, and keep the history alive."
Inglis knew a long time ago his destiny was to be a time traveler of sorts. He built his first flathead engine and put it in a 1958 Chassis Research Dragster chassis.
"I was the first one to put a running motor in it, first one to drive it down the race track at 25 years old, just like they did back then, we put a nitro flathead down the race track with the same parts they were using," Inglis said.
Inglis could have easily swayed from this lifestyle after a not so pleasant 2016 Cacklefest experience.
"The gory truth. We were still in Canada, I got an email from NHRA saying I wasn’t eligible to be one of the 40 cars in the cackle event," Inglis recalled. "So I emailed NHRA back, I said, ‘You know, I’m coming down, what else can we do besides the cackle?"
"I mean this is Holy Grail, and I’m towing 2,500 miles for this deal’. I got the notice from NHRA, ‘You can do anything except for that, we’re just limited in the 40 cars in the cackle for historical value."
Inglis said fair enough and set out on his journey to Bakersfield. Once he arrived, he settled into the atmosphere.
"I showed up down here, and we fired," Inglis said. "We got the notice by the tech inspector that you couldn’t fire your car in the pits unless you were in a designated area. It was a bit of an uproar. We fired once in the pits with the Red Greth. He took me under his wing. I was tuning nitro on carburetors, which I found out later is a really good way to blow up a flathead."
Despite the issues of last year's event, Inglis was determined not to let one bad experience ruin what he believes is his annual destiny.
"At that point in time, it sucked," Inglis explained. "Wednesday I was ready to go home, turn around and go home, just call it. But you know this event, it’s about the people, not about the cars. I’ll maintain that forever. When I’m in the car, it’s not about me being seen; it’s about people seeing how that car used to be run. So no matter where I can do that, I’m going to keep doing it. You know, we had some words."
Saturday at the CHRR, Inglis said the issues of the past are now there, where they should be.
"Just here a couple of minutes ago I got a personal apology from Greg Sharp for what happened last year," Inglis admitted. "So we’ll have the car back next year, and we’ll have her dialed in and make some real, real good noise."
And hopefully, some of his fellow millennials will take notice. There are times he wants to ask some of them, "Guys, do you understand what you’re missing here?"
"I don’t know where the hell the world went wrong," Inglis said with a solemn look on his face. "There’s some dumbasses out there."
THE CHANCE OF A LIFETIME - AA/FC racer Rob Markworth hoped one day his big opportunity would come, and it did. It wasn't quite what he envisioned.
Markworth returned as the driver of the War Horse at the California Hot Rod Reunion, the first official race for the storied race car back in action for the first time at the track where its original driver died following an accident while racing at Auto Club Famoso Raceway on June 28, 2015.
Markworth, once a crewmember on the famed Mustang Funny Car, was given the opportunity to drive earlier this year.
"I call it the Cinderella story," Markworth admitted. "I mean I never thought I’d ever get a chance to drive a Funny Car, let alone being the War Horse. I mean I remember seeing it when I was a kid, and now getting to drive it is amazing. This is my first chance to drive a fuel car. I mean it means the world to me. This is my team, it’s the original team that I worked with. We all changed one position and I mean I couldn’t ask for a better deal. And Don Cooper, the owner of the car, I thank him a lot for giving me this opportunity."
Markworth worked for two seasons with Garten, ascending as high as the role of car chief. The experience of learning under the tutelage of Garten was a priceless experience.
"He taught me a lot. Because I worked under a lot of guys but Roger just, he made it very simple and very easy and had a good, competitive, hard running car that didn’t hurt a lot of parts," Markworth said. "It made it a lot of fun."
When the opportunity to drive the historic car presented itself, Markworth admits the first time he climbed behind the wheel he could feel Garten's spirit calm him, and guide him through the challenging process.
Markworth says it's difficult to recall those initial moments without tears flooding his eyes.
Markworth even has the last two air bleeds he pulled out of the car and makes every run with them in a baggie inside of the waistband of his firesuit. The mementos have been with him on every run since he started.
"I feel him like you wouldn’t even imagine," Markworth said. "He’s definitely there, and I carry him. And that’s the blessing. Some people may think it’s weird to be in a car that somebody may have had a bad experience in, but to me, that’s like a hug from him, you know? It’s amazing."
Markworth licensed in the car back in April in Bakersfield, needing only three runs seal his driving credentials.
"I ran a 6.09 at 231 to get my license," Markworth recalled. "And then we were already bought into a show out in Denver for a match race, so that was my first time with a car in the other lane was Bob Godfrey. I asked him to be there, kind of be my training wheels because he’s such a good driver, if I did anything weird, he could be there to get out of my way."
Markworth did fine in his debut, and though he fell short of qualifying this weekend, he knows his better days are just on the near horizon.
He even tries his best to imagine winning a race.
Markworth pauses, searching for the words and makes several attempts before falling silent.
Then, he finds the words, kinda sorta.
"Man, I couldn’t imagine," Markworth said.
HE'S NOT ONLY A MEMBER HE'S THE PRESIDENT - Randy Ranew, the driving force behind the popular Redline Shirt Club is excited about what he sees these days.
The Redline Shirt Club, a program which specializes in delivering nostalgia-themed t-shirts to its members monthly for a monthly fee with no required length of membership, has enjoyed considerable growth in the last few years.
"This month's t-shirt we did Jeb Allen," Ranew said. "It was a really beautiful shirt; it came out great. I had always wanted to do a Jeb Allen shirt, but I wasn’t able to contact him. So our good buddy Tom McEwen found him, contacted him for me. Jeb Allen gave his approval; we came out with a design and that shirt is a shirt for October."
If its members enjoyed the October offering, chances are they will love what's ahead in November.
"I finally tracked down Tom Hoover and his wife," Ranew said. "They are excited about doing the shirt club. We’re doing a special edition of the Winternationals car, the Corvette that won the Winternationals in 1979. So that’ll be the Showtime Corvette. Then we got the Blue Max coming up after that in December. That will be the Mustang II."
Future projects are kept secret until the contractural i's are dotted, and t's are crossed, Raney adds, and without dropping names says there are some exciting projects ahead.
Ranew said he has criteria for which subject make the cut.
"I grew up in the 70’s," Ranew explained. "The cars that I loved from back then I think were the cars that everybody else loved back then. And we kind of have a rule where we want to feature only the true legends of drag racing, cars that have won national events, cars that have won championships, cars that have won AHRA, IHRA, NHRA championships.
"I’ll get emails or calls from guys who have Funny Cars, beautiful cars, we’d love to feature them, but they’re just not quite the cars that we want to feature. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, we’re trying to be appealing to most everybody."
Ranew's membership list spans country-wide, even continent-wide and expands as far as Germany, Sweden, and New Zealand.
"We are now moving into the late 70’s, and 80’s now," Ranew said. "We’ve got the 60’s and 70’s covered pretty well for the last six years. But of course, we always have to get approval from the owner, the team, the driver before we move forward."
Joining the Red Line shirt club is not hard at all.
"There’s no joining fee to join the club," Ranew said. "All you do is you go to the website, you just join the club through https://www.redlineshirtclub.com. It’ll ask you for your name, address, your billing info; we’ll ship you your first shirt. Sizes small to extra large are $23.95, the 2X, 3X, 4X are just a couple of bucks more. But that’s all you’ve got to do.
"We’ve got guys that have been members for four or five years that have got a shirt every month for the past four or five years, so I could imagine what their closets look like. I had a guy send me a picture of his closet, that’s all he had was Red Line Shirt Club shirts from front to back, so he was pretty proud of that. You know, and I’m pretty proud of that too."
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - FREAKY FRIDAY WEATHER PAVES WAY FOR PECULIAR FIRST DAY OF QUALIYFING
FRIDAY'S FINEST - Bobby Cottrell didn't let the disqualification of his first run during the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion didn't deter him. The driver of the Bucky Austin Chevrolet Camaro had laid by far the quickest run of the opening session with a 5.62, but because he deposited oil on the racing surface the run was thrown out.
No problem for Cottrell who entered the event third in Funny Car points, as he just corked off an even quicker 5.563 elapsed time at 256.06 miles per hour.
Cottrell lead a contingent of the swoopy Camaros as Dan Horan Jr., and point leader Ryan Hodgson filled the top three spots.
Bakersfield March Meet winner Mendy Fry picked up where she left off at seven months ago by racing to the top of the list in Friday's lone Top Fuel session.
Fry's 5.692 was considerably ahead of the pack as the second quickest belonged to Adam Sorokin, who turned in a 5.742.
DON'T WAKE HER UP - Mendy Fry, the popular Nostalgia Top Fuel driver, left the Bakersfield March Meet and willing to tell anyone who asked she was living a dream. The longtime nostalgia fuel racer had just won her first Heritage Series event as a Top Fuel racer, and for the first time in her life was the point leader behind the wheel of Tom Shelar's High Speed Motorsports AA/FD dragster.
Seven months later, the dream just keeps getting better. She's no longer leading the points, but is close enough this weekend if she plays her cards right, she could be when all is said and done on Sunday.
"It’s sort of hit me, I just don’t want to think about it, I just want to go out there and run our race, right? Fry explained. "That’s the way we did in Tulsa and had a good result there. So we’ll see how this goes. We’ll get our baseline for the weekend and take it from there."
Fry's baseline proved to be the top of the line, as she paced the Q-1 session.
At some point, seeing is believing for Fry.
"Well, Tulsa really made it believable, right?" Fry asked. "I mean, because the March Meet we won, but we really only were contested in one of the rounds. The other two rounds it was because someone else screwed up. And I was making mistakes as a driver as well, and so we really seemed to have hit our stride later in the season. You know, we tested before Tulsa and that was huge. It’s become believable now. But I still wake up every day and just go, ‘Teeeheee’."
Not only does the exuberant Fry make up her own words, she likewise charts her own pathway these days.
"You know, it is like I had a dream come true because I’ve been in and out of cars, I’ve sat whole seasons out," Fry explained. "I haven’t had an opportunity like this really ever. I mean these guys gave me my first shot in 2004."
Times change, and for Fry, for the better.
"The two-car deal went away in ’05, and they weren’t the team then that they are now," Fry said. "And the class isn’t the class that it was then. Now I get in something that’s running 5.50’s, and I’m just like, ‘Wow."
"That’s what 260 miles an hour feels like. It’s pretty amazing."
Winning a championship, she admits, would be even more.
SATURDAY'S SCHEDULE - The California Hot Rod Reunion will continue Saturday with two additional qualifying rounds for Top Fuel and Funny Car and nostalgia racing beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday evening will also feature the famous Cacklefest with crowd-pleasing push starts and displays of dozens of nitro-burning machines.
TIGHT RACES – The top two divisions in NHRA Heritage Series competition could go down to the final day of the California Hot Rod Reunion.
In Nostalgia Top Fuel, Jim Murphy entered Bakersfield with a slim seven-point lead over Mendy Fry
Over in the Funny Car portion, Ryan Hodgson rolled into Auto Club Famoso Raceway with a 43-point lead over six-time champion Jason Rupert.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING - Over the last two decades, the National Hot Rod Associations Mello Yello Drag Racing Series has been in contact with the Department of Homeland Security over the use and availability of nitromethane. This communication was largely due to the fact convicted terrorist Timothy McVeigh used nitromethane purchased at an NHRA event as an ingredient of the bomb which blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, Ok.
Thursday at the California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, Ca., the dialogue opened to include the NHRA Heritage Series and its participants and Cacklefest cars.
The reason for the meeting, NHRA's Josh Peterson confirmed, was to reenforce the regulations established with the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series contestants and suppliers.
"Department of Homeland Security has regulations as to how much nitro you can have if you don’t want to have to go through the screening process," Peterson said. "They set a limit of 400 pounds, which is about 42 gallons, that any one person can have in the pit. Very similar to what we do at the national events. When they do the deliveries, they deliver 400 pounds to each pit to prevent them from having to be, each individual team, to be screened."
Rumors ran rampant suggesting the Cacklefest cars were limited to the 42 gallons for the entire event. Such is not the case, confirmed Peterson.
"They can get more, that’s not a problem," Peterson explained. "They go to the supplier, and they get some more. But really what Homeland Security wants to do is just make sure that it’s regulated and it’s not getting into anybody's hands that it shouldn’t get into the hands of to prevent what happened in Oklahoma City. They have regulations and guidelines, and they’re just going through the process of trying to educate everybody on what those regulations are, so they and we can all protect nitro and keep doing and enjoying what everybody wants to do - race their cars, cackle their cars, and putting on good shows."
Peterson confirmed there are annual meetings at the start of each season to ensure all involved are kept abreast of the regulations. He said it's the NHRA's goal to be a good steward in this area.
"Right now they’re trying to educate everybody on the regulations," Peterson said. "I’m sure they’ll do some more training and more meetings. We’ve offered Department of Homeland Security to come to our track operating meetings that we do in the offseason in each of the seven divisions. And we’re not the only ones they’re talking to. They’re talking to other organizations as well that they know use nitromethane, so it’s not just us.
"If you want to say they’re picking on us, they’re not. We spoke to [Homeland Security] earlier this week in Washington D.C.; they laid out who they’re talking to and why, and it’s all for good."
BOISE IN BAKERSFIELD – There was unfinished business at the Boise Nightfire Nationals with finals in Nostalgia Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Modified carried over into this weekend. The finals will run Saturday.
Point leader Jim Murphy faces Adam Sorokin, while Hodgson and Rupert meet in the Funny Car final. For Murphy, the lead over Fry may be small, but he is simply excited to be in the position to try and win another world championship.
“I’ve gone into the final race two other seasons ahead in points and ended up losing in the final race, so hopefully the third time’s a charm,” said Murphy, who won a title in 2013. “The car is running really well, and it will be a lot of fun. I probably won’t get that many more chances (to win a title), so I would love to win it. It’s all very exciting, and this has always been a special race for me.”
Murphy raced NHRA Funny Car until 1993, eventually moving over to the Hot Rod Heritage Drag Racing Series, but had been mired in a slump the past couple years before talking with longtime friend and famed Top Fuel tuner Roland Leong.
Murphy’s dragster came around almost immediately, and he has been impressive in 2017, winning the National Hot Rod Reunion in June. The only thing left is success at Auto Club Famoso Raceway, and Murphy is confident with Leong and his team.
“He’s really sharp, and he picks away at something until he gets his arms around it,” Murphy said. “He’s really been a good fit. It’s a challenge for him, and we’re all enjoying it. The two points that will be big is staying focused and making no mistakes. There’s 4-5 cars running really well right now, and you don’t want someone taking you out. It’s important for us to run our own race or that will beat you for sure. We want to run the best we can, leave on time and see who the better racer is.”
NO ANXIETY - Ryan Hodgson has a 43 point lead in the Nostalgia Funny Car championship battle, but don’t expect the calm Canadian to change his demeanor heading into the biggest race of the season. He has enjoyed tremendous success in the Hot Rod Heritage Drag Racing Series, winning the Hot Rod Reunion in 2015, but even with a championship on the line, don’t expect Hodgson to get flustered.
“I stay relaxed all the time, and I’m not really one to get worked up,” Hodgson said. “I’m not going to let anyone get me wound up. These cars are so fast; there’s no need to ever get too worked up in there. I’m pretty even-headed through the whole thing, doing my routine and hopefully, the results will be the same. We’ve been working on the car every single day, and we want to stay in the momentum of doing it. We’re in that groove, always thinking about it.”
It’s been a recipe for success for Hodgson in 2017, as he won the March Meet, also picking up a victory in Salt Lake. Even more impressive was a string of consistent runs in the 5.60s this season. That consistency has paid dividends, and Hodgson hopes it will again be apparent in Bakersfield, as he attempts to win his first world title in trying to hold off three-time world champ Jason Rupert.
“The team has really jelled, and I’ve been really impressed with the progress of the car,” Hodgson said. “We’ve got our ducks in a row, and we’re so happy with the guys and everybody working on the car. That’s what it’s all about. Racing Jason has been really cool. I remember watching him run, and now I’m here racing him for a championship. We’ve been successful at the track, and we just want to keep doing what’s been working.”
THANKS, DAD - Jason Rupert grew up at the drag strip watching his father Frank run up and down the roads all over the west coast racing both Top Fuel and Funny Car.
Rupert aspired to be a drag racer for as long as he can remember. When the opportunity to give back to Frank, he quickly pounced on the opportunity.
One of Rupert's favorite and more successful rides was the Eagle Electric AA/FD; the car was restored by Stan Canter. Together he and brother Matthew purchased the car.
"It was very important that we got the car," Rupert said. We had an opportunity to grab it. The guy Stan Canter that restored it did an immaculate job, and it’s actually restored to the exact way it was. When we had a chance to buy it, we thought it’d perk my Dad up. Ever since he’s had it in his garage, it seems like he’s had a lot more energy lately. It’s really a neat deal."
There was no doubt it had to be this car.
"The car was influential in my life because when I was a little kid, I got hooked on drag racing by going to Orange County, and Irwindale, and all the places with my Dad," Rupert explained. "He was racing Funny Cars at the time, but my Grandfather had a scrapbook with the Eagle Electric car in it. Me and my brother used to go through that scrapbook, I mean page by page and read all the articles, and re-read, and look at all the pictures.
"When I walk in my parent’s garage and look at it sitting there, it’s almost surreal that it’s there, and we were able to end up with it to give to my Dad."
When the legendary Drag News publication ceased to include their top ten rankings, Rupert's Eagle Electric entry was forever frozen in time as the third-ranked dragster behind Pete Robinson and Jerry Glenn.
"Before all the sanctioning bodies had a national points system or divisional points system there was what was called the Drag News Top 10 list," Rupert explained. "I don’t know exactly how it worked, but I basically think that it worked like if you were number four you can challenge the number three guy, and I think you had to put money up and you had to say, 'ok, we’re going to run on this drag strip."
"Then the guy would accept your challenge, and then you go race him in a match race. Drag News would promote the race, and if you beat him, you ended up going one step higher on the ladder."
The seemingly unemotional elder Rupert was clearly touched by his son's gesture.
"He’s not really that emotional of a guy, but basically when the presentation happened on the starting line up in Barona, I looked over, and there were tears coming out of his eyes, and that made me feel pretty good," Rupert admitted. " About two days later in the evening, I get a call from my Dad, and he’s a man of few words. His name’s Frank, and he is frank. But he basically said, ‘You know with you guys doing that with that car, giving that car to me means to me?"
"It means you guys must really like me a lot."
And this was all the validation Rupert needed to know they'd done the right thing.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT - James Day has found a comfort zone behind the wheel of Gary Turner's Pedaler Dodge Challenger Funny Car. In the weeks before the CHRR, the team had been developing a new combination but when time ran out for adequate testing, the lack of southern California drag strips in which to test sent them south to Barona, California to the eighth-mile drag strip located outside of San Diego.
"It was something we had to do last minute just so we didn’t show up here completely blind with the tuneup," Day said. "So we went out there and made a couple of 200-foot squirts, and it was still rough getting it stopped there, but we made it happen.
"So we learned enough to come here to make that first run. This race track is just so good, just didn’t have quite enough steam, so it shook the tires, and I pedaled it to get it to the shift point and make sure all of our parameters are square, and then I shut it off."
Day only mustered a 6.268 best in Friday's two sessions.
Would making more than a 200-foot run have helped? The risk just wasn't worth the reward if you consider the ramifications of going long in Barone.
"There’s a little bit of a sand trap that’s full of gravel, and then there’s a catch net with some tires, and then just after the catch net, there’s a massive cliff," Day said with a smile. "So that weighs a little heavy on you when you get down about 200-300 feet with that car, you’re looking for the parachutes and burying the brakes."
Just making the run there can be sporty enough.
"You do the best you can," Day explained. "Gary made sure that when he built this Funny Car that it was as close to period correct as possible, so this thing’s only 49 inches tall, so I lay on my back, so it’s hard to see over the motor."
OH HALE, I'M COMING - Funny Car racer John Hale came to Bakersfield intent on making his tuning calls this weekend.
Crewchief Guy Tipton was back in Texas recuperating from back surgery to repair a herniated disk and unable to make the trip. Or at least that's what Hale thought.
Hale was prepared for the challenge.
"We’ve kind of been mutually tuning the car as a team all this year, so you know we were pretty confident we could get the job done without him," Hale confirmed.
Hale didn't even get a call from Tipton to say he was coming, but he confirmed his tuner is en route.
"I guess he’s feeling good enough that he hopped on a plane and he’ll be here at 10 o’clock tonight," Hale confirmed.
ALL IN THE FAMILY - Third-generation drag racer Drew Austin paced the A/Fuel division with a 5.976, 230.33 to edge out veteran Kin Bates. He entered the event ranked second in the points, the same position he's finished for the previous two seasons.
The 24-year-old Austin, who is the son of multi-time champion Pat Austin, uses the time as sort of a family gathering considering his uncle Bucky Austin, fields a car as well.
“We’re all together, and we have a good time,” Austin said. “It’s actually like a vacation because you’re having such a good time. It’s such a big event, celebrating the NHRA and its history, and it’s really cool to see my dad reunite with his friends. You get to go there, enjoy everybody’s company and have a lot of fun. It’s a really cool race, the fans are exceptional, and everyone involved has a good time. But when the car comes out, I’m focused on it and nothing else.”
That’s a focus he learned from his famous father, who was voted No. 13 on NHRA’s top 50 drivers list in 2001. With 75 career victories, four national championships and bevy of other accomplishments, Pat Austin carved out one of the most impressive careers in NHRA history. But that vast array of knowledge has paid incredible dividends for Drew as well.
Austin had watched his father for years, picking up lessons, asking questions and trying to prepare himself the best he can when he made his A/Fuel debut at the California Hot Rod Reunion in 2014. He has made rapid improvements since then, in part because of those lessons he's learned.
“I always watched how he carried himself, when he got focused,” Austin said. “When that car came out of the trailer, he’s so focused, and into the car, nothing can take his mind off it. That’s how I’ve tried to prepare myself. In my opinion, he’s the best person to have ever driven a car, just by the way he carries himself. So when that car fires up, I’m all in, and there’s nothing else on your mind. Everything happens so fast; you don’t have time to think and then react.”
Austin’s skills have been evident the past three seasons, winning multiple races in that span. But a championship has always eluded him, finishing second to Bates each of the last two years. Austin hopes this year will be different, but he knows it will be a challenge to get past the ultra-successful Bates, who currently has a 19-point lead. The good news for Austin is the supreme confidence he has in a team that is enjoying their third year together. That family-like atmosphere is evident, another reason the California Hot Rod Reunion is a thrill for him.
“After Tulsa, me and my dad tore the whole car apart and put together a gameplan for the Hot Rod Reunion, so we feel good,” Austin said. “I’m learning more every time I go out, but I still consider myself really green in the racing community. The crew, everybody knows their roles, and that’s a big deal. We’ve got really good camaraderie on this team, and we all get along really well. We’ve got a good idea of what it takes to win, so hopefully, we can win the race and win a championship.”