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The 12th Annual California Hot Rod Reunion returned to the "Patch" in a most fashionable way, as fans were treated to three beautiful days of racing, while racers and event honorees, past and present, basked in their achievements.  Event organizers added more to the show this year, by featuring Top Fuel qualifying under the lights Saturday, followed by the fourth running of the popular "Cacklefest".  Also added to the mix were a handful of nostalgia funny cars, that put on a most excellent exhibition show.

Event Grand Marshal, Bob Muravez, had the most grand time of anyone on the grounds, as he ran his first 5 during Saturday's evening qualifying session with a 5.92, and proceeded to back that up three more times during eliminations.  The most jaw-dropping display of drama and determination ever witnessed at a Reunion happened between the second and third round for Muravez, as the "Western Hoist Special" team had to thrash a motor together between rounds.  As the rest of the semi-finalists entered the staging lanes and made the swing around onto the track, Muravez was nowhere to be found.  Word had spread that the team might not make it and that Jeff Diehl, who had lost in the second round, was suited up and waiting in wings to fire.  Jim Murphy, who was Muravez's opponent, waited patiently for the word to go out.  Just as "Fire in the hole!" was ready to be called, Muravez and the "Western Hoist Special" team set low e.t. through the staging lanes and jumped to the front of the line, but with an un-fired motor.  You could almost hear a throttle stop drop in the distance, as the tension was deafening and nearly everyone held their breath as the starter motor spun and cleared the motors' thirsty throat, before spinning over again with a squirt of gas and a flip of the mag switch.  A collective exhale from the team could be heard throughout Bakersfield as the "Western Hoist Special" cackled to life.  They marched right through the water-box and into a burnout, while Murphy and crew fired their entry and proceeded on with the same.  If that wasn't enough to give you goose-bumps, Muravez then proceed to strap a holeshot on Murphy and win with a career best 5.902 over Murphy's quicker 5.892.  The margin of victory was .0314!  Unfreakinbelievable!  The crowd went absolutely nuts!  Unfortunately for Muravez and company, that run exhausted the remainder of their parts inventory and were forced to sit out the final round.  Muravez did show up at the starting line to watch the final round and said to the starter, "This has been the absolute best weekend of my life."  

So, if you missed yet another California Hot Rod Reunion, shame on you.  The date for the 13th edition is set for October 1-3, 2004, and don't forget the return of the National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Kentucky, June 18-20, 2004.  Better start making those plans for one or both soon!

The following photo highlights are just a portion of what goes on during this event.  Enjoy!  Dawn & Mark


Howard Haight (near lane) and Chuck Tanko prepare for battle during round one of Top Fuel eliminations.  It was Haight advancing to the second round, as he used a 5.997 to dispose of Tanko's early shut-off 7.982.

Robert Donavan made the long tow out from Oklahoma to compete in the Jr. Fuel "B" field.  Donovan qualified in the eighth spot with a 7.698, but lost to Dan Fenton in round one.
Phil Featherston stormed through the F/X class in his Fairlane qualifying on the pole with a 10.04 (on a 10.00 index), and then went on to win the title over a Bob Shahan in the final.

Jeff Diehl not only snagged his first AA/FD 5 second run during the first round of eliminations, but also became just the fifth member of the Nitro-Sheriff's 250 MPH Club.  Diehl joins Jack Harris, Jim Murphy, Gerry Steiner and Howard Haight.
Going into the final qualifying session of A/Fuel, Mark Mittel was sitting on the bump spot of the field with a 7.24 .  Mittel stepped up to a 7.14, but that wasn't enough to keep from being bumped into the 17th spot as it took a 6.994 to make the show.

Jack Beckman was the busiest driver at the "Patch".  Beckman, who had qualified in two separate rides for both A/Fuel and Nostalgia Eliminator, also stepped in to shoe Jeff Gaynor's retro flopper.
John Lenko was just one of 34 drivers trying to make their way into the 16-car Nostalgia Eliminator show.  Lenko ran a best of 7.71 against the 7.60 index, but to make the show took a 7.67!  Wow!

Glenn Gibbons qualified his "Pouncin' Poncho" Pontiac in the third spot of the F/X program with a great 10.13.  Gibbons lasted until the semi final round where he was defeated by eventual runner-up Bob Shahan.
Nostalgia Eliminator competitor Dave Gruzen qualified the "Mighty Mouse" entry in the seventh spot of the field with a 7.622.  Gruzen lasted through round two where he was sent packing by Don Taros.

Top Fuel shoe Brendan Murry bounces through the shutdown area after running a 6.88 during the first qualifying session.  Murry came back with a 6.77 that evening, but fell short of the 6.41 bump spot.
Jim Data ran a superb 7.68 in his '57 Pontiac during A/Gas qualifying, which placed him in the seventh spot of the field initially.  By the time the final qualifying session had closed, 21 cars attempted to make the 8 car show and Data was bumped to the ninth spot.  It took a 7.663 to make the cut!  Incredible!

This is Bob Muravez.  If you skipped the second paragraph in the opening segment, shame on you.  Now go back to the top of the page to read how his weekend went.  Congratulations to Jon & Jeannie Halstead, Crew Chief-Chris Nance, and the entire "Western Hoist Special" team for a job well done this weekend. 
Ronnie Lennon qualified the Battos Trucking '47 Crosley in the 12th slot of the Nostalgia Eliminator program with a 7.644.  Lennon ran right on the 7.60 index during his round one defeat of Chris Davis, before breaking out with a 7.55 against Bob Murphy in round two.

Randy Walls ran a career best 6.66 in his "Super Nova" during exhibition sessions allotted to the nostalgia funny car group. 
Scott Mason qualified his "Sudden Impact" AA/FD in the 14th spot of the show with a 6.32.  Mason came back with a career best 6.08 during his round one defeat of Rick Rogers, but the wounded entry was unable to return in round two.

"Johnny Rotten" Peterson (near lane) strapped a .10 of second holeshot on opponent Steve Woods in round one of AA/GS, but it was Woods by mid-track, as Peterson's 7.13 was no match for the 6.82 turned in by Woods.
Jim Pace may have thrilled fans with long smoky burnouts during A/Gas action, but he was less than thrilled with a round one loss to Augustine Herrera.

Bill Wayne qualified his A/Fuel entry in the second spot with a great 6.55.  Wayne lasted through the semi finals where he was defeated by eventual winner Sean Bellemeur, but not before he set low e.t. and top speed of the event with a 6.498/214.69 in round one.
Art Gustafson tried to break into the tough A/Gas field with his pretty Willys, but his 8.05 best was way off the 7.66 bump spot.

A/Fuel competitors Ron Attebury (near lane) and Jack Beckman have just completed their round two meeting, where Beckman banked the win light on holeshot-aided 6.632 over Attebury's quicker 6.608.
Jack Bielinski, out of Kent, Washington, brought the beautifully restored "Burkholder Brothers" AA/FA  out during exhibition sessions held at the Reunion.

Jim Lange earned a spot in the A/Fuel field with a 6.93 and a first round meeting with Steve San Paolo.  Despite more than a .10 of a second holeshot for Lange, both drivers were forced to abort their respective runs at mid-track, which resulted in a coasting battle to the lights.  San Paolo crept through first with an 8.14.
Joel Miner charged to the 10th spot of the F/X program with an 11.90 in his '64 Plymouth.  Unfortunately, Miner was unable to return for Sunday's eliminations.

Lee Jennings qualified his "California Trucker" entry in the ninth spot of the Top Fuel show with a fine 6.14.  Jennings stepped up to a 5.970 win over a tire-smoking Denver Schutz in round one, before falling to Jim Murphy in round two.
There's nothing like nitro racing under the lights, especially if the "Winged Express" is present.  Mike Boyd wheeled the famous altered to an all-over-track blast Saturday evening, much to the delight of the packed house.

Rich Howell didn't bag a 5 in his AA/FD during the event, but he did qualify in the 10th spot with a 6.14.  Howell repeated that effort in round one, but was outpaced by opponent Bill Dunlap who ran a spanking 5.848/246.57!
Mike Kirby handled driving duties in one of the two Sissell Automotive-backed altereds on hand during exhibition sessions over the weekend.

John Blanchard's long list of drivers grew by one, as he recruited talented Oklahoma-based shoe Troy Green for the Reunion.  Green's maiden lap netted a 6.76 in the peddle-clutch car, but a suspicious drop in oil pressure prior to the final qualifying session prevented the team from making another run.  Look for Green to jump back over to the MasterCam camp for the Goodguys Fuel & Gas Finals in a few weeks.
What do you call a guy with a FED, one rear slick, and the other rolling through the lights behind him?  That would be Nostalgia Eliminator competitor Don Taros.  Taros, who had qualified third for the program with an excellent 7.609,  looked to be the odds on favorite to claim the event title until this mishap struck him down in the semi finals.

Nostalgia Eliminator competitor Gil Valencia traded in his once popular '29 High Boy body style in favor of this newly-painted, flamed Fiat.  Perhaps he has hopes of match racing with the AA/FA gang, as Valencia stepped up to a personal best 7.22 after initial shake-down runs in qualifying.
Jim Murphy qualified his OSH-backed AA/FD in the fifth spot with 6.006.  Murphy stepped up during eliminations running a 5.91 over Jason Richey's 6.24 in round one, and then again with a 5.89 over Lee Jennings' 6.00 in round two.  Murphy back-doored his entry another 5.89 during his semi final joust with Bob Muravez, but Muravez stuck it to Murphy at the hit with a holeshot-aided 5.902!  WOW!

Rich Roberts (near lane) and Steve Wood squared off in round one of AA/GS.  Despite having a .05 advantage off the line, Roberts' 7.06 was no match for the winning 6.90 turned in by Wood. 
Yeah, it's got a hemi!  Kin Bates' (near lane) nitro-injected A/Fuel entry rocked during qualifying and eliminations, as it was glued in the 6.50 range.  Here, Bates is running away with a first round victory over Rick White.  Bates went on to the final, only to have to abort the run against winner Sean Bellemeur.

The Deitz and Ward "Dinosaur" Nostalgia Eliminator entry, driven by Robert Deitz this weekend, enjoyed much success since moving up from NE2 earlier this year.  Deitz qualified the Fiat entry into the ninth spot of the show with a 7.63, and went on to claim runner-up honors to Mike Smith in the final.
Jack Harris and the "Nitro Thunder" team became the first AA/FD team to win back-to-back CHRR titles.  That feat nearly came to an end in the semi final round, as Harris was defeated on a holeshot by eventual runner-up Bill Dunlap, 5.899 over a 5.887.  Harris was reinstated into the final on the break rule for Bob Muravez, thus sparking a re-match with Dunlap for the title.  Despite getting tree'd again in the final, Harris kicked it up a notch to a 5.878 over Dunlap's game 5.926.  As excited as the team was for winning, an emotionally-charged Harris stated, "This one's for Ernie Hashim."

Bob Godfrey experienced a great weekend in his and Wes Close's "Flamed Fortune" funny car, while participating in exhibition session throughout the weekend.
"Hey, Kol?  What were you day-dreaming about?"  The Jr. Fuel "B" final paired number one and two qualifiers Kol Johnson and Don Enriquez, and it was Enriquez (near lane) who slapped a three-tenths of a second holeshot on Johnson.  That, coupled with a great 7.39, was enough to cover Johnson's 7.41 for the title.  "Can you hear me now?  Good."

Not to be out done by, or is even close to, yet,  John Blanchard, John Eirich has hired on another driver to shoe the "Ground Zero" AA/FD.  Pete 'Fritz' Kaiser has stepped in very well thus far, having run a best of 6.14 during Saturday's evening qualifying session.  While Kaiser was defeated in round one by Bob Muravez, 5.94 to a 6.64, one would have to figure that the margin would have been much closer considering the five-hundredths holeshot Kaiser had and the fact that the throttle stop was not removed.  Neuman!

Mel Bryson returned to AA/GS competition following his horrendous top-end crash at Sonoma last year.  Bryson drove his '34 Willys to a best of 7.283, but that was short of the 7.07 bump spot.

Scott Parks qualified in the third spot of the Jr. Fuel "A" field with a 7.127, before stepping up to a 7.081 during his round one defeat of Kelly Craig.  Parks earned a meeting with Dean Carter in round two, but was forced to shut off following the burnout as a result of a water leak.  

Bruce McDowell took a shot at the Nostalgia Eliminator field in his flamed Fiat-bodied digger, but his 7.93 was way off the stout 7.67 bump spot.

Tony Nancy kicked off Saturday evening's Cacklefest with a static start and idle on the starting line, while the rest of the participants were push-started up the return road and idled around and lined-up down the track.  What a treat!

Brent Harris towed his '33 Willys down from Edmonton, Alberta, to compete within the A/Gas show.  Harris qualified for the tough program on his last shot with a great 7.66, but was hosed in round one by eventual winner Sean Renteria.  Renteria's holeshot-aided 7.673 sent Harris' quicker 7.62 back to the Great White North.  Brett, how do you say Canada? Answer; C, eh? N, eh? D, eh?  (Boo-hiss)

Mike Boyd celebrated his 46th birthday on Sunday, and what a way to party but behind the wheel of the "Winged Express".  Mike rattled off a fine 7.41 to the adoration of many fans. 

Todd Movius qualified his Jr. Fueler in the eighth spot of the "A" field with a 7.40.  Movius upset JD Zink in round one with a 7.436 over Zink's quicker 7.371.  No question who got spanked on the tree there.  Movius advanced to a round two meeting with Wayne Ramay, but his lightning-quick starting line prowess could not hold off the much quicker Ramay, as Ramay used a 7.12 to dispose of Movius' 7.44.

Dan Horan and Nathan Bugg paired their respective funny cars up during the course of the weekend, providing excellent side-by-side entertainment for the fans.  Here, "Lil' Nate" hikes the front-end to a high six-second run while Horan marched to a funny car career best 6.42.

Bill Dunlap prepares to battle Jack Harris in the Top Fuel final as the sun fades in the background.  Dunlap won the contest on the starting line, but it was not enough to hold off the very tough "Nitro Thunder" team of Jack Harris.  Dunlap's 5.92 was too little against the hard charging 5.87 turned in by Harris.

Ron Hope, driver of the famed "Rat Trap", and Randy Bradford prepare for an exhibition pass during a pause in Sunday's eliminations.  

In what has become the very coolest of traditions at the CHRR,  "Cacklefest" commenced following the last Top Fuel qualifying session.  This is mid-way through the nearly thirty cars that were push-started up the return road and idled onto the track. From left to right, the Chris Karamesines, Beebe & Mulligan, Magicar, and Howard's Cam Rattler rides sit idling in concerto.  A most beautiful noise, indeed.

Here's a sequence of events that just can't get more heart-breaking, as Rick McGee (near lane) and Bill Dunlap met in round two action of Top Fuel.  McGee had two-hundredths in the bank off the line, but by mid-track Dunlap had made up the difference.  As they pass the 1,000' mark Dunlap drops a cylinder, likewise for McGee.  Then the blower belt liberates itself from Dunlap's entry before the first MPH light; as that happens McGee clicks it early.  Dunlap takes the win light with a 5.96 over McGee's 6.01!  Wow!  (Sequence by Mark Hovsepian)

The team that gets the long distance award for attending the CHRR would be the New England-based King & Marshall currently owned by Sy Sidebotham. (standing)  The team joined the "Cacklefest" brigade for the second year in a row and was determined to be the last car running.  Little did they know that Art Chrisman would reach that goal, as his car featured a radiator.  So actually, the King & Marshall car had to settle for being the second to the last running.  Great show all the same!

M & H Photography -All text, photos, graphics, artwork and other contributed material within the Combustion Chamber  are copyrighted and may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without express written consent.