Exploring the 25th California Hot Rod Reunion

The smell of burning Nitro and blistering fast cars brought huge crowds to the historic drag strip in Famoso, California. Thanks to the silver anniversary of the California Hot Rod Reunion, this event was destined to be one for the record books. This three-day long race event featured some fierce competition on the track, and a beautiful display of flames during two cackle events.

Following the burnout, a crew member helps the driver back up into the groove.

Racers and other participants began filling up the pits early in the week, and by Thursday, the racers were settled into their homes for the weekend. The days of the nitro-powered margarita machine, may have passed (possibly due to noise complaints) but everyone was ready to have a great weekend and enjoy some racing.

Gary Cochran sits behind the wheel of a rear engine nitro-powered machine. These historic race machines were fired up in the pits throughout the day to entertain the crowds.

The Reunion Part Of The Show

Celebrities of the sport were on hand to sign autographs and swap bench racing stories. Household names like, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme cruised around the pits on golf carts, greeting fans and checking out the restored racecars on display. Gary Cochran took part in the event by getting behind the wheel of a nitro-burning machine in the pits and during the cackle events.

On Friday night, cackle cars lined up around the starting line to form the Ring of Fire. This giant horseshoe of 25 historic racecars delighted fans at dusk. Just as the sun was setting the series of racecars fired up, one after another creating a cloud of nitro fumes.

Only 25 cars were allowed to take part in the Ring of Fire at the California Hot Rod Reunion.

Flames erupted from the Zoomies as the drivers gave each beast a little throttle. Engines produced a cacophony of sound that was not only heard, but felt as well. Ear protection did little to quiet the sound of the crowd or the sound of imeasurable horsepower.

AF/X racers delighted the crowds with wheels stands and some seriously smokey burnouts.

Saturday’s Show

Saturday at 8am, qualifying resumed, and fans packed the stands to watch wheel stands, burnouts, and some hardcore drag racing action. As the classes finished up their qualifying runs, racers and their crews began preparing for the beginning of eliminations at 4:30 in the afternoon. As daylight faded and eliminations concluded, the stage was set for the evening festivities.

Calling all nitro lovers! The Cacklefest featured a spectacular display of nitro-infused flames and amazing push vehicles.

The evening began with a special celebration recognizing honorees and Grand Marshals of the past. Once this portion concluded, the vintage racecars were lined up with their push/tow vehicles. Although few of the original push vehicles are still around, many have opted for period correct alternatives. Each vehicle is introduced with a brief history, and the current driver is named as it is pushed alongside the stands.

For example, the Mr. C AA/Comp car was driven by Cameron Ferre, who just made his top fuel debut this year. This event celebrates the icons of racing as well as the new generation of drivers and nitro enthusiasts. Once the cars reached the big end of the track, the nostalgic machines rumbled back up the track, parking diagonally across the lanes and giving the fans a fiery display of partially-atomized nitro fumes.

As the evening drew to a close, race teams and fans alike took the opportunity to see these beasts up close. Children were amazed as their shoes stuck to the sticky track surface as they checked out some of the legendary cars and met some of the equally iconic drivers.

Fenders, wheels, and engine parts only begin to describe the plethora of parts for sale in the swap meet.

Sunday’s Session

When Sunday morning rolled around, the weather did not want to cooperate, as rain clouds approached Famoso Raceway

Intermittent showers kept everyone on edge, but the weather system just brushed the area. A few sprinkles did little to dampen the spirits of those checking out the swap meet or cruising “The Grove.”

Wandering the swap meet at the California Hot Rod Reunion provided the opportunity to purchase project cars, blowers, tunnel rams, carburetors, and vintage safety gear. Almost anything required to build a gasser could be found in the swap meet area. If one was in the market for a 426 Hemi or Hemi parts, the swap meet had the materials to live out your inner Joe Dirt fantasy.

Many of the sellers had interesting methods of displaying their wares, such as a tricked out vintage school bus. Some of venders camped at the event for the weekend, and that classic bus probably made for a pretty comfortable house on wheels.

The pits were so packed, that the swap meet and car show continued out past where the pavement ends.

On the outskirts of the swap meet was a collection of vintage roadsters, trucks, coupes, and sedans. In middle of the cars, the metal flake paint job of a ’33 American Austin Bantam stood out from the rest. This Austin, dubbed the “Loose Tooth,” features a two-speed Powerglide that transfers the power of the 327 ci engine to the rear tires. From Austins to hay trucks, the car show had a little bit of everything.

The "Loose Tooth" is a '33 American Austin Bantam powered by a 327 ci engine. The power is transferred through a 31-spline Ford 9-inch differential with 4:56 gears.

Heading back to the stands, it was impossible to miss the manufacturer’s midway or vendor row. Racers could purchase parts directly from manufacturer’s/vendors, versus having to leave the track to find the local part’s house.

However, the collection of apparel provided fans with the opportunity to take a piece of the event home with them. Attendees were able to take part in the memorabilia auction, which featured everything from pictures to parts that were destined to be the highlight of someone’s collection.

The NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series racers did not disappoint fans during qualifying. Burnouts, tire smoke, and the smell of race fuel delighted the fans.

The Battle Continues

Back at the starting line, eliminations continued to delight fans with tire smoke, the smell of burnt race fuel, and serious drag racing action. As the finals approached, the stands remained full, despite the threat of rain and the fact that many had to be back at work bright and early Monday morning.

In Nostalgia Top Fuel, Tony Bartone walked away with the championship. Jason Rupert took home the top honor in the Nostalgia Funny Car, with a 5.59 e.t at 250 mph. A win would have been nice for his apponenet, Krabill, but he had already secured the championship well before this event.

Nostalgia Pro Mod was a battle of the Bow Ties, with a Corvette versus Camaro pairing. Brett Williamson in the Corvette managed to get the win over the Camaro driven by Jay Diedrich. Continuing with the Nostalgia classes, Hans Jakob worked his way to the winner’s circle by defeating Scott Corbett.

In the fuel classes, Drew Austin earned a win in A/Fuel, as did Alan Hull in the Junior Fuel class. In the 7.0 Pro class, Allen Taylor ran a 7.07 e.t. at 183.72 mph for the win over Dave Rosenberg. A/Gas featured another battle of the Bow Ties, with a Nova driven by Keith Morovich facing off with the Chevrolet of Brendon Frye.

In a close race, Morovich turned on the win light with a 7.609 e.t. to Frye’s 7.611 e.t. Mike Molea gathered a victory after the Chevy coupe of Howard Anderson experienced issues. A nearly bumper-dragging wheel stand prevented Ken Godsey from making a full pass in his Comet, which allowed Bob Moreland’s Chevelle to turn on the lights at the top of the track.

In the final round of Geezer Gasser, Greg Porter was victorious with a 9.24 e.t. while behind the wheel of his Chevy, over the Willys of Kirk Dupre.

Even if your team did not make the finals, there is always a chance next season.

When the final pairing completed their race, the winners headed off for photos, and the crowd left the stands. Competitors headed back to the pits to pack up and plan for the next season of racing in the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series.

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About the author

Lauren Camille

Lauren is a graduate of California State University Fullerton, and has experience working for several enthusiast publications. She enjoys drag racing, classic Fords, and vintage Lincolns. She currently races a 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback, and has a soft spot for 1960’s Lincolns. Currently, her collection includes: ’04 Cobra Convertible, ’65 Mustang Fastback, ’04 F350 6.0 diesel, ’96 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a ’87 Jeep Wrangler. She provides insightful content as a freelance writer for Power Automedia.
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