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March 6-8, 2009-Famoso Raceway-Bakersfield, CA- The 51st running of the Bakersfield March Meet was an event for the record books.  The March Meet has become to the vintage drag racing scene what the Winternationals and Indy are to the NHRA speedsters.  It is the kick-off event of the season, as well as the biggest, and it's the one that everyone is gunning for.

Participant and spectator attendance shattered expectations given the dismal economic climate and pre-event weather forecasts.  Literally, Famoso Raceway was packed to the brim.  Fuel cars?  Over 45 entries attempted to qualify for their respective fields, 29 of which were Funny Cars!  This year's event saw the addition of the exciting 7.0 Pro Class, and a host of teams making the jump to quicker classes.

The weekend was action-packed from start to finish, and was a great way to cure the winter blues.

Enjoy the following photo highlights.  -Dawn & Mark

According to the hand-dandy book, "Every Winner in Every Class from Every March Meet," Mike Lawless is the first winner with a Volkswagen powered Volkswagen entry. (At least in the "vintage" era) That's our story and we're sticking to it. Lawless guided the 1965 Karmann Ghia through seven rounds of victory to claim his first March Meet title in Hot Rod Eliminator.
Eventual and 4-time March Meet runner-up Mike Leonard, far lane, used every bit of his career-best 6.60 chasing down John Peterson's 6.778 in the opening round of AA/Gas. Peterson, who cut a stellar .016 light against Leonard's beyond late .172, never trailed until after 1,200'.  MOV for Leonard was .0132!  Wow!
Nostalgia Eliminator features a number of tough competitors, and if you ask anyone we're sure that 'Dirty Dan' Schrokosch would rank near the top of that list.  Schrokosch, a former March Meet winner in NE2, advanced to a final round meeting against Jess Sturgeon, but lost an epic battle to the stripe as Sturgeon's perfect 7.600 bettered Dan's 7.603!  

D/Gas deja vu...A rematch of the 2005 D/Gas finale pitted 2003 Goodguys VRA Champ and Bakersfield resident Mike Williams against past champion Ed Carey.  Just like the 2005 final, Williams earned his third March Meet title by using a holeshot induced 10.653 over over Carey's index-busting 10.569.
2007 B/Gas winner Leonard Perry is still on a mission to repeat in The Patriot '70 Mustang, but lost a close battle to eventual winner Jerry Jahnsen in the semis, 8.719 to an 8.8.795.
Garry Wheeler looked destined to back up his 2008 A/Fuel win from the 
NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series Reunion at Bowling Green, KY, but was 
stopped in the final by the same person who took him out during his last 
Bakersfield outing, the 2008 California Hot Rod Reunion, and the 
eventual March Meet winner in A/Fuel, Dr. Kin Bates.

Nearly a dozen racers found themselves on the outside of the elite eight in the 9.60 Index class known as Nostalgia Eliminator III.  With such notables as Ron Anzalone, Dean Prochison, and multi-time champ Craig Wallace "taking Sunday off", the ladder revealed a number of newcomers to the class.  Not so new to the class or the winner's circle is 2008 NE3 Champ Lindsey Lister.  Lister made a  holeshot trouncing of Kelly Pruett in round one, and then ran a perfect to the 'thou' 9.60  against number one qualifier Ernie McAllister in round two.  Lister avenged her semi final round loss here in 2008 by defeating Mike Brock in the final.
Gary Reinero's times improved on every trip down the Famoso 1320. 
Reinero's first round opponent, Rich Roberts, used about 1500' in search 
of the stripe, but Mike Leonard found the short way around and stopped 
Reinero in the second round of AA/Gas.
Harry Hutsler qualified his nitro injected A/Fuel entry on the bump spot with a 7.34.  The Littleton, CO, native scored a huge round one upset win over low qualifier Bill Wayne, 7.12 to 7.18, before being dumped by eventual runner-up Garry Wheeler in round two, 6.82 to 6.96.

C/Gas racer Jessie Wooton made the switch to a '65 Chevy Malibu over the winter, after having campaigned his popular '72 Dart for more than 25 years.  No first-time-out blues for this veteran racer, as he nabbed his first March Meet title nailing killer reaction times while running nearly on the class' 9.60 index.
Bob Lander has sent notice that he is a serious challenger in Junior Fuel. Lander secured the number two spot in qualifying and ran Low ET and Top Speed of the weekend (thus far) in a catch-up victory over Don Enriquez with a 7.086 in the semis. Bud Hammer outran that by a whisker in the final, while Lander spun the tires at the hit and slowed to an off-pace 8.255.
What a difference a year makes.  A stellar field of funny cars made the 2008 field look weak by comparison.   Dennis LaCharite, who qualified in the 2008 show with 6.02, ended up fifth in the 2009 consolation field with a 6.10.  LaCharite defeated Mendy Fry in the opening round with a much improved 5.95 over Fry's 6.03, but lost to eventual winner Mike Halstead in the semis, 6.09 to 6.50.

Nostalgia Eliminator II -Dan See drilled the NE2 competition in his gorgeous 'Road Runner' '23 Ford T, coming out of the sixth spot of the tough 8.60 class.  See defeated Steven Olmscheid, Jeff Crider, Daniel Bascom and Jay Huckleberry, respectively, en route to collecting his second March Meet win.
Adam Sorokin had the pleasure of piloting Bob McLennan's 'experimental' Champion Speed Shop entry, complete with the infamous SBC power plant.  Sorokin qualified 8th with a 6.06 at 232, but lost in the opening round to Shannon Stuart.
Ed Carey made his sixth trip to a March Meet final round in his '71 Camaro, but wound up with a runner-up finish and an even tally, 3-3.  Carey's day nearly came to an end in the semis when his car drifted way out of shape and he lifted thinking something broke.  Carey coasted across the finish line with a 33.849 e.t. (W), as his opponent Kevin Pope broke out with a 10.38!  Unreal!

B/Gas-Jerry Jahnsen captured the B/Gas crown in his ultra clean '67 Nova, taking out a number of class hitters along the way.  Jahnsen, who qualified 6th in the 16-car field, knocked out Mike James, Kevin Riley, Leonard Perry, and Jim Teague, respectively, en route to his first March Meet title.
Brad Thompson's return to competition wasn't an easy one.  After months 
of treatment and therapy, he was "released" and given the OK to drive 
mere weeks prior to the March Meet.  A blown rear-end while testing 
culminated in wall-scuffing crash.  Thompson must have had second 
thoughts of a March Meet comeback when he got "oiled-in" from someone 
else's oil and fire during qualifying.

Following a first round victory over Rick McGee, Thompson experienced a wild ride through the shut-down area, as the

car bounced several feet off the ground and from side-to-side.  Not wanting to risk personal safety of himself and others, the decision was made to sit out the rest of the event.  
Jeff Utterback piloted Danny Pisano's '74 Vega funny car to an uncharacteristic 6.875 during qualifying.  During between rounds maintenance and under the watchful eye of Amos Satterlee, the team discovered pushrod issues and decided to bow out of the last qualifying session to remedy the issue between events.  Stay tuned for the release of the Pisano and Matsubara Mattel diecast this spring.

A "repeat" 43 years in the making. The Sturgeon family has drag racing roots clear back to the days of San Fernando, Lions, and early Smoker's meets. Sturgeon's last most successful outing was at this event, as the fabled 1966 Fuel & Gas Championships #1 Fuel Eliminator, a title outshined by Mike Sorokin's superb surfin' at said event. Jess was wired to the Nostalgia Eliminator win from the onset, and used some great reaction times, skilled driving, and a perfect 7.600 elapsed time in the final against the hottest shoe in the class, Dan Schrokosch.
In a cloud of clutch dust, Denver Schutz, near lane, strapped a .021 light against Troy Green's .087 during the second round of Top Fuel.  Schutz never trailed and advanced to the semis with a winning 6.00 to Green's fading 6.289.
Chris Bates rolled out of the 16th spot of the 7.0 Pro class in the Purgatory Racing '23 T altered to upset low qualifier Mike Salinas in the opening round.  Bates' psychic .007 reaction time and 7.80 made quick work of Salinas' .154/7.98 package.

A/Gas- Brad Chafee earned his second March Meet win in his blown BBC powered '67 Nova.  Chafee, who qualified 4th in the 16-car field, disposed of Dave Matson, Mike Ford and Mike Doushgounian, respectively, before taking out number one qualifier Ray Martin in the final with a 7.799 to an 8.104.
Figure the odds.  A 32-car Nostalgia Eliminator field and you end up running your brother in the first round.  That's what happened to the Taros brothers.  Don, near lane, and Dale get it on in a side-by-side squeaker with Dale getting the winning end of the draw, 7.716 to 7.723.  MOV was just six thousandths!
Ed Dougan drove Charlie O'Neill's 'Fighting Irish' tribute '74 Camaro funny car to a career-best 5.89 during Saturday's first qualifying session.  Dougan was upset in the opening round of eliminations by virtue of Lee Paul Jennings' holeshot-aided 5.992 over Dougan's quicker 5.933. 

The new and exciting 7.0 Pro Eliminator provided some intense racing with nearly two dozen entries all qualifying against a 7.00 second index for a 16 car ladder. Mike Smith qualified comfortably in the seventh position and defeated Jerry Beach, class honcho Mike Cross, Bob Murphy, and Ken Rappaport in the all-dragster, all-San Diego final.
Dale Pulde, who is still getting a handle on this car's tune-up, qualified his War Eagle Trans Am in the sixth spot of the consolation field with a 6.14.  Pulde met Steve Romanazzi in the opening round but his off-pace 6.32 was no match for Romanazzi's 6.08.
It's a new year and another new ride for Bakersfield resident and all around fun guy Randy Winkle.  Winkle debuted yet another toy in Nostalgia Eliminator III, and qualified in the eighth spot with a 9.697.  Despite carding an .017 light in the first round, Winkle came up short at the finish line with a 9.855 to eventual runner-up Mike Brock's 9.741.

A small but competitive Junior Fuel contingent saw Bud Hammer improve on his runner-up finish last year with a March Meet win. Hammer crushed JD Zink in round one, was given the competition single in round two, and ran low ET of the event with a victorious 7.082 over Bob Lander, which gave Hammer his third March Meet win.  Interestingly, Hammer has won his titles in odd years...2005, 2007, and now 2009.
Jim Murphy debuted his new team-built (Dave Thornhill design) WWII dragster to very promising results.  Murphy posted a fine 5.767 during Saturday's second qualifying session, and nearly duplicated that in his first round win over Rick Williamson.  Murphy's weekend came to an end in the semis when eventual runner-up Rick White unloaded a 5.719 to Murphy's early shut-off 8.02.
The latest pilot to grab the reigns of the Plueger & Gyger Mustang, Garrett Bateman, unleashed a career best 5.820 that sent Kris Krabill pedaling in the opening round of Funny Car. Bateman then squelched the red-hot Mark "Mr Explosive" Sanders before falling to "the other Plueger car" of Bucky Austin, in the side-by-side Funny Car clash of the titans, Austin winning with a 5.723 at 246.77 to the "rookie's" 5.853 at 245.36 MPH.

The action in the blown earthmover category known as AA/Gas was all about Sean Renteria and Mike Leonard. Renteria scored the number one qualifying spot as well as Top Speed (212.01) on his way to the event title, while Leonard grabbed Low ET (6.609) and runner-up.
Joker's WILD!  After carding a great 6.02 first round win over Bob Godfrey in the consolation field, former drag boat racer Jack Wright kept his '70 Challenger afloat to a solo second round win and into the final.  Wright lost to Mike Halstead, 6.03 to 6.49.
Ken Rappaport, near lane, jumps to an .061 reaction time over Kelly Harvey during the second round of 7.0 Pro.  Rappaport advanced to the final round but his 7.16 didn't hold up to Mike Smith's 7.10. 

Kin Bates was on fire during A/Fuel eliminations, running a string of 6.30 ranged e.t.s in defeating brother-in-law Claude LaVoie, Shawn Corbari, and Gary Wheeler, respectively.  Bates, who continues to support the U.S. Air Force, is dedicating this win to those currently serving in Iraq.
Top Fuel driver Rick White had every opponent more than covered in every round of eliminations and looked to be holding his own for the first half of the 
Top Fuel final against Brett Harris. In what became the quickest and fastest side-by-side race ever, White ran a personal-best but losing 5.684 to Harris' 5.674!  Amazing!
Mark Sanders got everyone's attention with a 5.91 second qualifying effort that earned 19-year-old son and tuner, Jake, the "Jack Williams Award." The ".88" shown here came in round one as a career-best number as well as holeshot
win over the wily veteran Terry Capp.

Mike Halstead enjoyed a premier outing in Mark Stuckey's Daytona flopper. A (then) personal best 6.014 at 240.06 MPH was good for the number one spot in the consolation Funny Car Eliminator. While disposing of Craig Michael in the first round, Halstead carded his first "5" with a 5.990 at 240.25 MPH.  
The Badass Racecar of the Event Award goes to Matt Mahoney of Puyallup, WA for his blown Comp dragster slugging it out in the newly added 7.0 Pro category.  Running out of the BAR stable and on a healthy dose of pop, Mahoney had no problem negotiating the often tricky track as he ran well below the 7.0 class index with a best of 6.821.
"Code Red" is now Code Red, White & Blue as the Patriots over at Team Jennings have replaced the 'Cuda with the "American Revolution" '79 Camaro. Lee Paul dumped Ed Dougan in round one, and out-treed & out-MPH-ed Bucky Austin while uncorking a career best 5.876 in a semi-final-round losing effort against the eventual winner.

"Quattro, Veni, Vidi, Vici."  Four visits to Bakersfield in the seat of a Nitro Funny Car have netted Bucky Austin four victories, now at a pair each for the March Meet and California Hot Rod Reunion. Much like his T/F counterpart, Austin struggled slightly, early in qualifying, but grabbed the number one spot in the last session and conquered all in the category, come Sunday. Austin marched through eliminations with the quick number in every round, and a class-record 5.723 at 246.77 MPH while crushing (Plueger stable mate) Garrett Bateman in the final. 
Veteran fuel driver Terry Capp wheeled the Bubble Up funny car to the number three spot of the first all 5-second field with a 5.866 at 248.13 MPH, which held for top speed of the event.  Capp's weekend came to an abrupt end in the opening round, when opponent Mark Sanders caught Capp taking a siesta at the line and used a 5.88 win light over Capp's quicker 5.85.
Top Fuel driver Rick McGee drives through a bit of tire shake during the second qualifying session to the tune of a 5.91, which held for the 6th spot of the field.  McGee met Brad Thompson in round one but lost a close race, 5.99 to 6.02. 

Brett Harris carted numerous awards home to Utah, while collecting a third straight March Meet Top Fuel victory for team "Nitro Thunder." Top Speed of the meet, as well as Low ET honors were highlighted by the esteemed 6th Annual Ernie Hashim Memorial award, presented by John Hashim. This was Brett's second March Meet victory, his first coming in 2007, while Jack has claimed trophies in 2001, 2002, as well as last year's prestigious "50th." Brett scored low ET in every round on Sunday, and took the "quicker half" of the quickest side-by-side pass in Top Fuel, pounding Rick White's 5.684 at 259.36 with a 5.674 at a booming 263.77 MPH in the dramatic final.

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