2023 WALLY PARKS NHRA NOSTALGIA NATIONALS - EVENT PAGE
SUNDAY RESULTS - WITTENBERG AND COTTRELL FINISH YEAR OFF STRONG
Pete Wittenberg may have come up short of capturing his third March Meet title just twenty-four hours earlier on Saturday, falling to Jim Murphy in the final round. However, the driver of the Circuit Breaker Top Fuel dragster came back and went all the way on Sunday, using a slew of low 5.70 runs in eliminations to take home his first win at the season-ending race, the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals in Bakersfield, Ca.
"We hurt some parts but other than that we had a great time," Wittenberg said. “We overcame some hurdles. This win is outstanding, it couldn't have gone any better.
”I got to thank my wife. Five days I'm up here. We have twins, they're two years old. I think I'm going to put the trophy in the twin's room. My guys, they've taken their time away to help us out and get this done. To win is excellent."
Wittenberg was a force to be reckoned with from the start of eliminations on Sunday. Qualified in the No. 3 position, the 2020 Heritage Series champion ran a stout 5.718-second pass at over 252 miles per hour in round one to take down Bret Williamson.
The Circuit Breaker driver wound up spoiling the newly crowned Top Fuel champion Tyler Hilton's day in the semi-finals by beating him on a holeshot. Wittenberg got nearly a .03 of a second advantage over Hilton on the starting line and his 5.702 at 252 was good enough to defeat Hilton's quicker but losing 5.697 at 251.
Wittenberg closed it out in the final with another strong low-5.70 pass. This time he ran a sizzling 5.717 at 252 to topple Frank McBee Jr who was looking for his career Top Fuel win and racing in his first ever final.
"It's an honor to be a part of this legacy," Wittenberg said. "Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the Circuit Breaker. I'm thinking about making these special anniversary shirts. We've taken the Circuit Breaker to the next level. I mean I licensed in this car and it went quicker and faster than it ever did before. I made some changes after and that's the homage I wanted to give the legacy. I wanted it to be top-tier. I wanted them to know when we were here, we were here. It feels so perfect. It's like a dream."
Bobby Cottrell has virtually done it all in Nitro Funny Car in the NHRA Heritage Series. And although he has won the season-ending race in Bakersfield once in his career back in 2019, a string of bad luck in the semi-finals the last two years has kept the now six-time Heritage Series champion out of the winner's circle at the second Bakersfield race. That is until today when Cottrell put together an amazing performance at the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals defeating Brad Thompson in the final to close out the year in style.
"This race has been like an Achilles heel," Cottrell said. "Once we made it past the semi-finals you know we just kind of hunkered down and did the best we could and came out on top. You know it was kind of hard on me because we sat out the two qualifying passes and thanks kind of hard on a driver you know. By the first round, that's everybody's fourth pass and that's my second pass.
”I told Bucky that's wearing me out, I don't get any practice or anything like that, but we came out on top. Thank God my team is just phenomenal, I can't be any happier. Bucky is just Bucky. I'm trying to not get emotional about it but just every race we just click."
Cottrell had a bracket car, running between a 5.64 to a 5.66 all throughout eliminations. The driver of the famous green Bardahl '69 Camaro used back-to-back 5.64 at over 260 miles per hour passes to defeat Drew Austin and Tim Boychuk in the first two rounds. Then he backed that up with a 5.65 at 258 to get around Derrick Moreira in the final four and clinch a berth in another final round.
Brad Thompson, Cottrell's opponent gave it a ride in the final round, cutting an impressive (.023) light to Cottrell's (.029) but it was to no avail as the champ was just too strong. Cottrell finished the day with a 5.660 and another blistering 260 mile-per-hour speed to win the race, and finish the year off strong.
"I dumped the clutch, went (.029) on the tree, I was pretty hopped up on the starting line," Cottrell said. "Went 207 or 208 miles per hour to half-track. It hung the wheels for a little bit when I went into high gear so that's a pretty good feeling for a driver so it was pretty fun.
”Unfortunately, we had to run Drew (Austin) in the first round, you know Walt just passed away. He came to me kind of emotional after, obviously Bucky's brother, Drew's grandpa, Pat's dad, you know this one's for Walt. He was just an icon in the sport. He helped me get my job actually with Bucky. Every time Bucky gave me a hard time he was one of the guys who stood up for me so, I'll always remember him, and I'll always love him. This is for you, Walt."
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - FINISHING UNFINISHED BUSINESS
It had been nearly twenty years since Jim Murphy last visited the winner circle at the March Meet, with the most recent coming in 2004. In his final start in the highly revered race, Murphy went all the way on Saturday at the rain-delayed event, defeating Pete Wittenberg in the final round to claim his fifth March Meet title overall, tying the legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits for the most all-time in Top Fuel eliminator.
"It's really special, I got to tell you," Murphy said. "We won it in 1998 and 1999. Won it again in 2003 and 2004, and we've been trying ever since to tie Garlits with five. I didn't know if it was ever going to come, and here it is at my last race. It's just awesome. It's a storybook ending."
Murphy opened up eliminations with a clutch round win on Friday afternoon at Famoso Dragstrip when his opponent Tyler Hilton smoked the tires, handing the reining NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel champion and current points leader coming into the weekend his first-round loss of the season as the driver of the Great Expectations Top Fuel Dragster was undefeated on the year up until that point.
Sitting second in the points entering the double race at Famoso, Murphy not only kept his drive for March Meet title number five alive, but he also kept his championship hopes on life support with that round win. Murphy's 5.804 at 246 miles per hour was good enough for lane choice over Tyler Hester in the semifinals.
Unfortunately, in the continuation of eliminations on Saturday afternoon, it seemed like his road to glory got cut short sooner than expected in the semifinals when Hester, at the wheel of the Overtime Special, seemed to eliminate Murphy in competition as both cars were neck and neck approaching the finish line.
While a 5.849 at 239 and a win light lit up the scoreboard in Hester's lane, nothing showed in Murphy's lane as his scoreboard was absolutely blank. Due to the malfunction in the timing system, officials could not deduce a decisive winner, so a rerun of the semifinal matchup between Murphy and Hester was declared to take place in the middle of the day. The two racers returned to the starting line and put on a phenomenal drag race again. This time, there was no doubt in who won the race as Murphy pulled it out, and his scoreboard lit up this time with a 5.751 at 255 to Hester's 5.834 at 244. Murphy's semifinal elapsed time was also good enough to put him fourth in the qualified field.
In the final round, it was a clash of the titans as Murphy went head to head against two-time March Meet winner and driver of the Circuit Breaker Top Fuel Dragster, Pete Wittenberg. Wittenberg seemed to have the better car throughout eliminations, laying down a 5.798 at 249 in the opening round, defeating Frank McBee Jr, which was good enough for the No. 1 qualifying position after the first session. Wittenberg stepped up and went in quicker in the semis, running an even stronger 5.716 at 251 to take down a tire-smoking Bryan Hall.
With the shadows lengthening over the iconic Famoso Dragstrip, the final round showdown between Murphy and Wittenberg did not disappoint as both drivers put on a March Meet final for the ages. Murphy edged out Wittenberg in a close one, as the WW2 driver's 5.773 at 252 was good enough to outlast Wittenberg's 5.807 at 249.
Murphy now turns his attention to Sunday, the final day of his driving career, and the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals. His March Meet win on Saturday pulled him to within just -24 points behind leader Tyler Hilton in the battle for the championship, and Murphy says he's not going down without a fight.
"Oh, we want it real bad. Real real bad," Murphy exclaimed. "We're going to have a good time finishing it up tomorrow. We haven't quit just yet."
While all eyes were on Murphy claiming his fifth March Meet trophy, Pete Kaiser, who hadn't been behind the wheel of a Top Fuel Dragster since this race last year, where he came up just short in the final round, was riding to the No. 1 qualifying spot on Saturday afternoon. Kaiser paid down a phenomenal 5.631-second pass at over 259 miles per hour in the second session, jolting him to the top of the charts, and will take on Tyler Hester in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. However, Kaiser had no idea he would be behind the wheel of the Horan-owned race car this weekend.
"Feels good to come out here once a year, jump in the car, and do that," Kaiser admitted. "Last year, I was way more prepared for this because Dan (Horan) told me three months in advance, 'Hey, you're going to drive at the Reunion in October, and I said, 'OK, cool."
"So I got on this big exercise regimen and lost a bunch of weight. Then last night after he lost in eliminations for the March Meet he goes, 'You drive that car man. I got to get my kids' Funny Car running better, so you're driving tomorrow.' So pretty cool."
Points leader Tyler Hilton, who's going for his second consecutive NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel crown enters championship Sunday at Famoso qualified in the No. 2 position with a strong 5.657 at 238 which he also ran in the second session and will face off against Adam Sorokin in the Champion Speed Shop in round number one.
The rest of the first-round matchups in Top Fuel at the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals include Pete Wittenberg versus Bret Williamson; and Jim Murphy versus Frank McBee Jr.
If that wasn't exciting enough in Top Fuel, the hits just kept on coming in Nitro Funny Car as the floppers competed in their first round of eliminations for the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals on Saturday afternoon. It was upset Saturday night as No. 1 and No. 2 qualifiers Jerry Espeseth and Billy Morris fell in the opening round.
Jim Maroney in the Speed Sport Camaro from the No. 16 qualifying position pulled off the upset of the round when he took down the No. 1 qualifier and the only 5.50 race car on the property. Maroney used a 5.770 at 257 to take down Espeseth who fell off considerably, only running a 5.988 at 235.
No. 15 qualifier Derrick Moreira followed suit, upsetting the defending Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals champion Morris. Both drivers ran into trouble and had problems during the run but the Problem Child Funny Car driver Morris just suffered worse, slowing to only a 9.959 to Moreira's 6.211 at 236.
Nonetheless, the matchup everyone was looking forward to in the first round of Nitro Funny Car was the "battle of the Austins" as young Drew Austin took on the six-time and reigning NHRA Heritage Series Nitro Funny Car champion Bobby Cottrell. These two drivers went at it on the very same racetrack seven months ago in round two of the March Meet and put on a show as Cottrell's 5.79 was just enough to squeak by Austin's 5.80.
Seven months later, the results were the same to no one's surprise, Cottrell went low for the round with a stellar 5.640 elapsed time and a booming top-end speed of over 260 miles per hour. The young Austin got a considerable starting line advantage over Cottrell, cutting a .040 reaction time to Cottrell's (.171) but it wasn't enough as Austin was only able to muster a 6.273, 184.
The second-best run of the round went to Cory McClenathan who laid down an impressive 5.667, 257 which was also a career-best elapsed time for the for the former NHRA Top Fuel driver. Geoff Monise at the wheel of the Quarter Pounder in the other lane recorded a strong 5.756 at 249 but just wasn't enough to hang with the thirty-four-time NHRA Top Fuel national event winner.
The rest of the first-round winners in Nitro Funny Car included Brad Thompson (Cory Lee), James Day (Ryan Hodgson), Michael Peck Sr. (Kamaka Pocock), and Tim Boychuk (Ryan Horan).
The rest of Nitro Funny Car and Top Fuel eliminations from the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals conclude on Sunday.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - MURPHY KEEPS CHAMPIONSHIP HOPES ALIVE, WITTENBERG & ESPESETH LEAD DAY ONE NITRO FIELDS AT FAMOSO
With the Top Fuel championship still up for grabs heading into the season-ending race for the NHRA Heritage Series, the Wally Parks Nostalgia Nationals at Famoso Dragstrip, all eyes were on No. 1 and No. 2 in the Top Fuel points coming in, Tyler Hilton and Jim Murphy.
Hilton entered Famoso with a comfortable 82-point lead over Murphy, and the championship picture would get a little clearer right from the first qualifying session. For eight drivers in Top Fuel, the lone session on Friday at the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals also acted as the first round for the 65th running of the Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet. The crown jewel race, also held at Famoso, was originally slated to be run back in March but was delayed due to weather.
Aboard his Great Expectations Top Fuel dragster, Hilton set low e.t. during qualifying that weekend in March, while Murphy didn’t get into the show until the final session. Coincidentally, both drivers qualified No. 1 and No. 8, meaning they would square off in round one in the makeup of the March Meet with huge championship implications on the line.
Hilton was 2-0 on the season against Murphy, having defeated him in back-to-back final rounds, first at the other Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals held at BeechBend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and then again at the Night Fire Nationals in Boise, Idaho.
If he could find a way to get around Murphy once again in round one on Friday, then Hilton would all but clinch his second consecutive Heritage Series Top Fuel championship. However, Murphy, who announced he was calling it a career at the conclusion of this weekend, turned the Top Fuel championship battle upside down when Hilton smoked the tires on the run, and Murphy streaked away to a 5.804-second pass at over 246 miles per hour to score the round win and keep his title hopes alive. With elapsed times also counting towards qualifying for the race on Sunday, Murphy’s 5.80 also put him in the No. 2 qualified position after day one.
Hilton did a great job of getting his car to recover when he ran into trouble, still recording a 6.167 at 256, but it was to no avail as the Great Expectations driver, who was undefeated up until that point, suffered his first-round loss of the season at an inopportune time.
Not including qualifying points, if Murphy can go on and win the March Meet makeup on Saturday with the semi-finals and final round slated to run during the second and third session of qualifying, he can cut Hilton’s lead down to just twenty-two points heading into season-finale on Sunday.
Pete Wittenberg, who was also competing in round one of the March Meet on Friday afternoon, not only won his opening round matchup over Frank McBee Jr and kept his hopes of winning his third March Meet title alive, but his 5.798 pass at over 249 miles per hour was good enough to give him the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot at the end of day one.
Other first-round winners included Bryan Hall over Brendan Murry and
Tyler Hester over Dan Horan Jr.
The championship in Nitro Funny Car may have been sown up at the last race on tour in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by Bobby Cottrell for the sixth consecutive year in a row, but twenty-one other Funny Car drivers, including Cottrell, came to Bakersfield looking to take home the final wally of the season.
Jerry Espeseth, at the wheel of the Atlas-sponsored ’73 Camaro with big show Nitro Funny Car driver Jason Rupert and Brad Littlefield tuning dropped everyone’s jaw right out of the box. In the very first pair of Nitro Funny Cars down the track on Friday, Espeseth laid down a stellar 5.595 at over 259 miles per hour to put him on the pole. Not only did the run hold up after the first session, but it also held up after the second session, which featured better conditions as well. With just one session left to go on Saturday, Espeseth, who fell short in the final of the then-called California Hot Rod Reunion, now Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals back in 2021, hopes he can stay on top.
Your six-time reigning and defending champion, Bobby Cottrell, at the wheel of the famous Bucky Austin-owned Bardalh green ’69 Camaro, sits in the No. 2 position after day one. Cottrell stood on his 5.629 at 258 from the opening stanza, opting not to make a run in the second session.
James Day, piloting the Matthews Motorsports ’70 Camaro, currently sits third with an impressive 5.646 at 244, while defending Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals champion Billy Morris at the wheel of the Problem Child ’69 Camaro rounds out the quick four with a 5.670 at 252.