Racing the Good Vibrations Bakersfield March Meet at the legendary Famoso Dragstrip always has its challenges. At the 66th annual running of the historic event showcasing the pageantry of nostalgia racing, the challenges were not only on the track but also when Mother Nature tried to intervene. 

In the end, it was Tyler Hilton (Top Fuel), Shane Westerfield (Funny Car), and Mathew Leonard (Fuel Altered) claiming the top spots in their respective divisions.

For the defending series champion Hilton, it was just another chapter in his ever-expanding book with a storyline of struggle first and shine later. The third-generation drag racer used the cool conditions of the Q-3 session to lay down the best run of the Top Fuelers, a 5.625 elapsed time at 257.14 miles per hour. 

"That seems to be our MO," Hilton said. "It takes us a few laps to get going, but once we get going, we get there and end up where we need to be. That was a good lap for us. The conditions were kind of tricky. The track was pretty cold. The air was unbelievable, and it made a good lap. I had to drive it, though. I had to do some driving.

Hilton overtook Pete Kaiser, who led the first two sessions with an out-of-the-box 5.735. Adam Sorokin was third with a 5.745, a run he also scored out of the box.

Pete Wittenberg used his best run of qualifying, a 5.834, to go from outside the field into the final spot in the top half. 

Hilton made a major jump in that final session, too. He and his father, Bobby Hilton, made adjustments to the forever-changing conditions. 




"Just very minor changes," Hilton explained. "Just very minor, and some different parts. We changed some parts out. That was the main thing. We were having some parts issues."

What he ran on Saturday could be very good for what Hilton expects to see on Sunday's marathon race day. 

"I think it's going to translate over pretty close because it is going to be cool tomorrow," Hilton said. "It's going to be real cool. So you got the air right here. It was only 58 degrees when we ran, so I think that's going to be really comparable to tomorrow."

The Funny Car division was a bit more complex than the dragsters. The floppers only got two of their three qualifying sessions. In the midst of the Friday Q-2 session, rain began to fall three pairs in, but not before Nostalgia Funny Car rookie Westerfield made the run of his short AA/FC career.

Westerfield is driving the Funny Car, long known as the Problem Child, and took it to the top with a 5.613 elapsed time at 258.57 miles per hour. He drove around Geoff Monise (5.620) for his first-ever No. 1 qualifier at the most prestigious of all nostalgia races. 

"Typical Eddie Knox racing style right there," Westerfield said. "Go from the back to the front real quick and I'm kind of helping him not really tune the car, just help the car set up. He set this engine up and the car up on his own and it's a fast car. So I was just like, 'Man, if we were in this situation with the alcohol car, here's what I would try clutch-wise and tire pressure wise." 

"So we kind of put our heads together and made a mini rock pile and sent it down. We honestly figured it'd go maybe a mid-to-low 70."



"That's what we were trying to do. We just wanted to get in the show. It wasn't about trying to go No. 1; it was about just getting the car down [the track] and not hitting anything and doing a good job, and it was a handful down there, man, hit high gear, and it was moving all around. I've only driven at night in the [NHRA] night a couple times. Just trying to get used to the sounds and the noise and what's going on and I don't know if I was driving the car or if it was driving me down there, but it was fast and exciting and it was a good lap."

Coming in third was Bobby Cottrell with a 5.635, just ahead of Derrick Moreira (5.681) and Cory Lee (5.682). Cameron Ferre anchored the field with a 5.924.

"I've watched this nostalgia stuff for years and been a little bit around it," Westerfield added. "I'm not a historian by any means, but I've always dug the old nostalgia style of racing and how they did it, and obviously, this is one of their biggest races, the Super Bowl, their US Nationals, whatever you want to call it. So it's huge. I'm pretty thrilled right now to say I'm No. 1."

The Fuel Altered division was led by Howard's 6.031, followed by Mark Whynaught's 6.186. Past Fuel Altered winner Ron Capps was seventh quickest with a 6.658.

Sportsman eliminations open on Sunday at 8 AM PST.