THE BIGGEST PURSE IN MARCH MEET TOP FUEL HISTORY ANNOUNCED
A proverbial pot of gold awaits the winner in Top Fuel at the 65th running of the iconic March Meet at historic Famoso Dragstrip in Bakersfield, California. The race is slated for March 2-5.
Bob McLennan, the owner and crew chief of the famed Champion Speed Shop Top Fuel dragster and head of the AAFD (All-American Fuel Dragsters) association, recently announced with the help of Top Fuel driver Jim Young and Famoso track operator Blake Bowser that the eliminator field would be racing for the largest purse in the history of the March Meet.
A total of $60,000 in prize money will be up for grabs, with $10,000 awarded to the winner from Custom Floaters, and Planet Fitness is putting up $5,000 for the runner-up. The semifinalists will earn $3,000, while the quarterfinalists will be paid $2,500.
Each car that qualifies for the race will be guaranteed $2,000, and every non-qualifier will receive $1,000. The five teams reported making the long haul and traveling a great distance to race in Bakersfield are guaranteed $1,500 to help with travel costs.
The 2022 Heritage Series championship-winning Great Expectations Top Fuel team, with driver Tyler Hilton, reportedly donated their travel money to boost the semifinal and quarterfinal earnings.
"We have a unique payout structure that Blake (Bowser) had to buy into, and he did," McLennan said. "Jim Young came up with Custom Floaters for $10,000, and Planet Fitness is in for $5,000, so that's where the whole $60,000 purse comes in.
“As Jim Young would say, going home empty-handed on Sunday is just not fun. And there are two schools of thought out there. Well, you try harder next time. But the cost to get to Bakersfield from east of the Mississippi is crazy. So we have a purse patterned after the Indy racing league (which) … doesn't pay a winner after a race. Every car is paid to show up, and that's how they entertain the fans. The fans get a great show and are willing to pay X amount of dollars to attend the race. Same thing with the March Meet. People who attend the March Meet know this is the race of races."
With the rejuvenation within the Top Fuel class and a 19-car field of entrants cars expected to show, it is anticipated that there will be a 16-car field at the March Meet for the first time since 2014.
"It's incredible," McLennan said. "It's a huge amount of money to put up to have a 16-car show versus an eight-car show. Having a 16-car show helps us grow the class. We had nine cars for an eight-car show three years ago, and this year we'll possibly have 19 cars; 18 cars for sure for a 16-car show.
“It's an experiment. Nobody has ever done this in Top Fuel before. It's always been the winner gets it, and that's it. But the world has changed to get participation so that the fans can have a great time."
Blake Bowser, Famoso Dragstrip track operator, has been working hand in hand with McLennan and Jim Young to make the 16-car field happen and fully open to extra sponsorship money for the class coming in.
"This is all possible because of the outside money coming in," Bowser said. "The track is putting up just a normal purse, comparable to a 16-car field for Funny Car. But the outside money is making all this payout at the bottom take place. That strictly comes from the support Jim and Bobby put together.
“I've always told Bobby, if you could bring money to the table, I won't touch one penny of this outside money. It's going right to the drivers of the team owners, or whatever the case may be. So it's great to see, and I welcome that in any class who wants to bring extra money. We won't touch it. You guys want to spend it a certain way. Great, go for it."
If teams traveling from the East and Midwest cannot show up due to inclement weather or due to any unfortunate circumstances and only 16 cars or fewer attend, there is a contingency plan in place.
"For the fans' sake and the excitement of the race, I want to have a bump spot," Bowser said. “Guys have to make runs to get into the field. You don't just show up and get in. So, Bob, Jim, and I have talked, and if we have 16 or fewer, we won't have a bump spot, so we'll go with an eight-car deal and a four-car shootout. But it sounds like we're going to be OK."
Brett Williamson, the 2022 March Meet winner in Top Fuel, is going to try and go back to back in 2023, while Jim Murphy, last year's runner-up, is looking for redemption and trying to win his fifth March Meet and tie "Big Daddy" Don Garlits for the most March Meet wins ever in Top Fuel.
Two-time March Meet champions Adam Sorokin and Pete Wittenberg will try and capture their third crown at the fabled event, while reigning Heritage Series Top Fuel champion Hilton is hoping to score his first.