Combustion Chamber – 2001 March Meet


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image The 42nd annual March Meet, held at Famoso Raceway  March 9-11 and presented by the Goodguys, was definitely a test of patience and nerves, as the race facility had experienced record amounts of rain prior to and during the event.  Patience was key, as the track crew spent more time on the track Friday and Saturday than the racers did, when water began to seep up through the cracks in track during the course of qualifying.  The qualifying sessions were abbreviated in a majority of the classes, thus forcing drivers to more than likely “leg it” through a bit further than they should have, in order to make their respective fields.   Nerves of steel, balls the size of church bells, call them what you will,  this is what many drivers displayed as they fought their way down the unforgiving surface.
When Sunday finally rolled around though, eliminations kicked off promptly at 8:00 A.M. and the Pros lit ’em off  at 10:00.   By 5:20 P.M. the final pair rolled through the top end lights, one at 5.993 and the other at 7.795.  What happened between 8 A.M. and 5:20 P.M. was nothing short of   jaw dropping action.  There were upsets galore, first time event winners, and probably a few drawers changed.  Like my very first visit to Famoso Raceway, I left wanting more and Sunday to never end.  The following will take you on a photo recap of the event, shot by myself and Mark Hovsepian.-Enjoy!  Dawn </>

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Albany, Oregon competitor DeWayne Sanders had luck on his side on his way to winning Nostalgia Eliminator I.  An off pace run in the first round became a victory when his opponent ran under the 7.60 index.   Round two gave him the second petal on his four leaf clover, as both competitors ran under but Sanders by less.  The third round conflict (sequence above) was a  double luck affair.  His 23-T roadster was charging hard, out of the narrow Bakersfield groove, making a move for the center stripe.  Fortunately for Sanders, Brad Thompson had already red lighted in the other lane and he was able to keep the shiny side up.  The final was a good, clean race.  Sanders used a decent .443 light and a 7.61, to aptly handle Scott Christlieb’s 7.65. Sequence by Mark Hovsepian
Chad Demler qualified his ’41 “Stars & Stripes” Willys in the fourth spot of  C/Gas with a 9.74.    Demler had his flag lowered in the opening round, as he lost on a double breakout to Richard Noble, 9.592 to a 9.587. image
image Lee Jennings introduced his new car in great form by going all the way to the final in Top Fuel, only to be beaten by the low e.t. and high mph of the meet.  His son was handed the keys to his prior ride, but just missed the program at #17 with a 6.47.  Remember the days when Garlits had multi-car teams at Bakersfield ?
Eventual B/Gas winner, Brad Chafee, got his second gift of the day when current world champion Kevin Riley bulbed in the semi final round.  Chafee’s red Camaro would have  been victorious even if Riley had a perfect light as the purple Plymouth was 2 thousandths quicker in the double-breakout dash, on a B/Gas index of 8.60.  Chafee’s 8.606 (0.497) package  in the final was more than (runner-up) Ed Cooper could handle. image
image Jack Harris conquered the March Meet.  He ran the only 5 second run of the weekend in the final, while Lee Jennings broiled the hides at the hit of the throttle.  Harris had every round covered and was never in jeopardy.  It will be very interesting to see what the other teams have in mind to stop Harris’ momentum this year.  The “Sheriff” ain’t the only “gun” in town.
Gary Reinero may want to change  the paint scheme on his ’48 Austin after his showing at the March Meet, as the temperamental beast wanted to take a bite out of the guardrail on several occassions.  Reinero, like most of the Pro Supercharged field, had a hell of time getting down the Famoso surface, but it wasn’t until his semi final match-up against Steve Wood, that the Austin completely lost its mind.  At the hit of the throttle, the Austin made an abrupt move to the right towards the guardrail… image
Reinero lifted momentarily, corrected his direction and stuck his foot back into it.  The Austin darted to the right again…Reinero, who sees Wood struggling to get down his lane as well, gets back into it…both drivers were on and off the throttle, with Reinero nearly tagging the guardrail at the top end, and then over-correcting and sashaying over and behind Wood through the lights!  Needless to say, the crowd went wild and Wood advanced to the final.
image Rick McGee was one of the fortunate ones to qualify for the tough Top Fuel field.  McGee, who qualified 14th with a 6.379/216.55, upset Gerry Steiner in the opening round with a holeshot aided 6.300/227.79, before losing to Howard Haight in the second round.
Phil Featherston, a former NHRA Comp Eliminator winner in the Kroona & Sandberg CC/A Opel GT, still enjoys racing his home built, Bob Panella powered Thunderbolt in the Street Machine class.  Featherston lasted until the semi final round, where he was disqualified for backing up after his burnout…a ritual I watched him do all weekend, but at this point, it must bothered the Starter…hmmm. image
image Dale and Kat Suhr’s “Orange Crate” entry, driven by Roger “Radar” Lechtenberg, qualified in the fourth spot of the Top Fuel field with a nice 6.195/214.95.  The Iowa based team lost in the first round to Denver Schutz, when the blower belt committed suicide midway through the run.  This team is so overdue for a win, Cole Coonce may have to perform a C-Section on the Donovan.
The Junior Fuel class  is loaded with legendary names.  Scott Parks’ lineage sets him in the thick of things, being the son of Franks Parks, of Neal&Parks chassis fame.  Scott struggled a bit in qualifying and would have crushed his first round opponent, had he cut a better light.  Keep an eye on this kid. image
image Steve Castelli launches his “Hot Rod Willys” to a great 7.67, good for the number two spot of the A/Gas field.    Castelli would meet Butch Ranson in the opening round and basically forget what the term ‘lift’ means.   Castelli cut a .565 light to Ranson’s .809 and marched down the track to the tune of  7.572, smokin’  Ranson’s 8.551.  All for not, given the fact that the A/Gas index is a 7.60!
Former Jr. Fuel stalwart and now the current A/Fuel star, Jim Paul, had a great weekend at the March Meet.  Number 1 qualifier,   low e.t. every round, and a final round victory over nemesis, Sean Bellemeur.   Jim’s cars are always great looking and quick, and this Chevy powered Uyehara piece is no exception. image
image Kent “Thrash” Terry hikes the front end up during his final qualifying attempt, when fuel starts spewing upward outta the tank, like “Old Faithful” in Yellowstone Park.  Unfortunately for Terry his run wasn’t as reliable, as his 7.003/227.50 was only good for the fifth alternate spot of Top Fuel.
Steve Wood, who qualified 2nd in the Pro Supercharged class, launches his way to a solo first round win with an easy 8.30.   Wood had his work cut out for him the rest of the day though, as he won a pedal-fest against semi final round opponent, Gary Reinero, and proceeded to overcome a major holeshot (.853 to .526) in the final round against Howard Anderson, to claim his first March Meet title. image
image The busiest man in drag racing has got to be Tim Gibson (co-developer of the Gibson-Miller Injector).  In between gigs with Bill Miller’s NHRA Top Fuel car and serving as aerodynamics consultant for John Force Racing, Gibson  spends
his free time in the seat of Frank “Root Beer” Hedge’s Nostalgia Top Fueler.   The Mastercam team continues to struggle with minor gremlins, and they are way overdue.  A first round defeat at the hands of Mike McLennan, gave Gibson an
early chance to roam the huge manufacturers midway at the Goodguys event.
Bill “Grasshopper” Genco enjoyed a fantastic March Meet weekend competing in the A/Fuel category.  Genco qualified in the number two spot with a great 6.95, posted a personal best 6.84  first round win against Kin Bates, before losing to eventual runner-up, Sean Bellemeur, in the semi final round. image
image “Mark and I were getting ready to head back to the pits, when I noticed this Willys pull through the waterbox.  I hung around long enough to get a shot of the launch.  To my pleasant surprise, it pulled this number for me.  Unfortunately for this guy though, he lost this semi final round battle.” -Dawn
Bob Muravez, a.k.a. Floyd Lippencott, Jr., celebrated his 63rd birthday on Saturday of the March Meet by qualifying John & Judy Halstead’s car with a 6.27.  The party ended Sunday, in round 1, when the resurgent Howard Haight blew out Muravez’s candles with a stunning 6.04. image
image Gary Fauble found himself on the “outside,  looking in” following the last qualifying session of A/Gas.   Fauble, who was first alternate, gained a spot in Sunday’s eliminations when number eight qualifier, Louie Carnine, was unable to make the call.  Fauble made good use of his day, as he took  his ’37 Olds to the semi final round, where he was defeated by eventual runner-up, Butch Ranson.
Although having run a 6.51 during qualifying, Brendan Murry spent some anxious moments sorting out his new motor combination in Top Fuel.  The Arias Century block is, as Brendan puts it, “a dream to work on.”  Good thing, from the looks of this oil bath. image
) Rich Roberts traded in his popular ’63 “Ramp Rat” Corvette for this gorgeous ’34 Willys.  Roberts debut produced a number four qualifying effort in the Pro Supercharged category, with a 7.455.   Roberts weekend would end in the first round though, as Gary Reinero used a 7.73 to take out the off pace 8.52 turned in by Roberts.
Butch Blair launches his way to a 6.227/231.36, good for the seventh spot of the Top Fuel program, as well as top speed for qualifying.  Blair’s March Meet highlight film would end there, as he was upset in the opening round by eventual runner-up, Lee Jennings.  Jennings combined a .576/6.226 to take advantage of Blair’s very close .587/6.238. image
image Mendy Fry is back, and the Junior Fuel category will never be the same.  With competitors like Don Enriquez, Mike Chrisman, Todd Movius and event winner, Bill Wayne, it is a very tough class.  Mendy was able to go 3 rounds before she was stopped by the master, Enriquez.   Considering the 6 year absence from the driver’s seat, Mendy was great on the tree.
If owner Ron Johnson can summon up some 7.30 power – look out !!
1999 A/Gas March Meet Champ, Jim Pace, qualified his ’48 Anglia in the 7th spot with an 8.26.  Pace met reigning Goodguys Champ Mark Mahood in the opening round, but his 7.90 was not enough to overcome Mahood’s winning 7.61. image
image Popular NorCal racer, Gerry Steiner, had a mixed review at the March Meet. A brilliant 6.20 put him in the top half of the 16 car field.  His first round 6.18 at 237.15 against Rick McGee should have been good enough to advance him, but Gerry was caught napping as McGee won with his best run of the weekend, a 6.30.
Howard Anderson qualified his ’38 Chevy in the fifth spot of Pro Supercharged, with a 7.48.  Anderson stepped up in the opening round to a 7.12 to upset number one qualifier, Steve Woods.  Anderson advanced to the final round via a semi final round triumph over Mel Bryson, 7.05 to Bryson’s 7.84, but would have to settle for runner-up honors to Steve Wood, when his entry experienced mechanical problems and had to abort the run. image
image Number one qualifier, Bill Dunlap, got his dance card punched early when Dale Pulde trailered him in the first round.  Like many of the other Nostalgia Top Fuel teams, the Mike Fuller entry was sportin’ some new tech pieces.
Mike McLennan had Lee Jennings covered on the tree in their semi-final matchup, but just didn’t have the power to chase down Jennings at the top end.  Consistently churning out 6.30’s all weekend long in changing weather conditions, our hats off to Dave Smith’s crew. )
image Martin Stewart’s flawless GTO ran a 7.87 during A/Gas qualifying, good for the fifth spot.  Stewart strapped a .454 holeshot on first round opponent, Sean Renteria, only to have the blower belt break midway through the run, handing Renteria the win.   Stewart’s long smoky burnouts and engine lope where very popular with the crowd.   I’d like to see side by side burnouts with this car and Jim Pace’s Anglia.     – Oh baby !
Sporting  new pipe and other changes, the Howard Haight driven Circuit Breaker had its best outing in recent memory.  Nearly clinching the pole with a fine 6.17 and then running a personal (NTF) best of 6.04 in round one, Howard was stopped by eventual champion, Jack Harris in the semis. The darkhorse favorite had a huge cheering section and looked to have the ability to go all the way. Decent lights and great e.t.s have moved this team from “player” to “hitter” status. image
image TCI president Ed Moss kept the hopes of Ford fans alive, by qualifying his swoopy ’37 coupe in the third spot of Pro Supercharged with a 7.305/182.62.   Unfortunately for those fans, and Moss, this beauty was unable to make the first round call against Mel Bryson.
Dale Pulde had a pleasure filled weekend, considering it was his first time behind the wheel of a front motored dragster since 1968. He was able to glide into the show with a 6.25 blast and then he murdered Bill Dunlap in round one with a 6.16.  Dale’s fun was halted by tire slippage in the next round and an “ever improving” Mike McLennan was victorious. The veteran Funny Car driver/tuner/crew chief/hired gun has plans to compete at the majority of this year’s nostalgia events. image
© 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. 

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