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Combustion Chamber-2007 16th California Hot Rod Reunion

October 12-14, Famoso Raceway-Bakersfield, CA- The 16th running of the California Hot Rod Reunion was an event for the record books. For those who were first-timers at the CHRR, such as Grand Marshal Ed McCulloch, they were blown away by the magnitude of the event. Simply put, they had heard about it but had no idea what went on.
From its inception, the concept of the CHRR was to reunite racers who had long since retired from the sport, share stories, remember those who had passed, honor those who made an impact on the sport, and watch an old rail or two make a squirt down the track. Steve Gibbs, who fostered the idea to hold such an event following a gathering of friends and racers at a funeral, couldn’t possibly have imagined how broad the event’s appeal would grow after the inaugural event, much less draw international representation from media and racers alike. It’s become that big.

Amid the on-track action, performance highlights, and large gathering of drag racing legends, the single common theme throughout the 16th CHRR; remembering Wally Parks. Race cars, tow vehicles, and pit areas were dotted with Wally Parks memorial stickers, handmade signs, or shoe polish messages in a rear window. In each case, it was just their way of saying, “Thank you, Wally.” If not for Wally’s lifelong dedication to providing hot rodders a safe environment in which to compete, there wouldn’t have been a California Hot Rod Reunion.

In memory of Wally Parks

Steve Gibbs once said, “We were only going to do this once.” Well, we’re thankful you didn’t.
Enjoy the following photo highlights. Dawn & Mark

One of many competitors making the long tow to Famoso Raceway was Brian Darcy, who qualified his Newburgh, NY-based Jr. Fuel entry in the fourth spot with a 6.97. Darcy ran a personal-best 6.90/192.84 during his first round win over Jon Rowley before losing to eventual runner-up J.D. Zink in the semi-finals.
Joel Miner drove his 1964 Plymouth Belvedere to a second CHRR title in A/FX. Miner came out of the 10th qualifying spot and eliminated Doug Hampton, Jim Gonia, John Contreras, and Jeff Dudgeon, respectively.
The second round of Nostalgia Eliminator provided a stellar match-up between defending event winner Dan Schrokosch, near lane, and Don Taros. Taros cut a great .017 light to Schrokosch’s .031, but it was Schrokosch taking the win light with a 7.632 over Taros’ game 7.677.

Sean Renteria qualified just one thousandth from Chris Abbey’s low ET of 6.632, but his personal-best 212-plus MPH held for Top Speed in AA/Gas. The badass ’65 Valiant brought the “Bros” to a fifth CHRR title, their second with this car, to add to a trio of prior Reunion wins in A/Gas.

“We lived in a truck for a year and it smelled like a gymnasium. It was like being married. Sometimes we’d have to duke it out. But anytime we got to a race, we were considered a threat to win it.” -Reunion Honorees Carl Olson and Mike Kuhl
Jack Harris and Mark Malde make a mad dash to the finish line during Saturday’s final qualifying session. Harris qualified in the 10th spot with a 5.93, while Malde’s 6.13 fell two spots short of the 6.10 bump spot held by Rick Rogers.

A 6.12 at 234.98 MPH secured Dennis La Charite’s role in the “Sunday Funnies”, where the quickest eight would return and generate the finalists by advancing the two low ET winners. La Charite won the battle over a fire-balling Mike Savage, but lost the war as his 6.14 was the slowest amongst the four winners.

Australian drag racing legend Roly Leahy brought his immaculate FED, complete with candy apple paint and gold leaf lettering, over from Queensland, AU, to compete in Nostalgia Eliminator. Leahy qualified 24th with a 7.74 but lost in the first round by virtue of a 7.52 breakout against Jimmy Scott.
Rick White pasted Rick Williamson to the tree and advanced with a holeshot victory in round one, 6.016 to 5.941. White met Brad Thompson in round two, whom he also gated, but couldn’t make up the 5.768 to 5.968 disparity.

Fred Notzka, near lane, and John Rasmussen launch to nearly identical reaction times in the Jr. Fuel ‘B’ final. Rasmussen got the best of Notzka on the top end though with a winning 7.17 to 7.19. Rasmussen clocked a career-best 188.08 MPH shot during his semi-final round win over Bud Hammer.

Red Greth gave a rousing speech in front of Saturday’s SRO crowd while accepting his Honoree ‘Wally’ from announcer, Mike Lewis. Greth continued his tradition of a push-start and pass in the famed Speed Sport to kick off Sunday’s eliminations, supplemented by NHRA Chief Starter, Rick Stewart, performing a traditional flag-start.
Sean Dale notched a personal-best ET while qualifying third in Sunday’s eight car Funny Car fandango. Dale had opponent Jeff Utterback covered in their match until a blasted burst panel put the brakes on his Reunion celebration.

A/Gas winner Tommy Schiffilea qualified his gorgeous 1940 Willys in the second spot of the field with a 7.61. Schiffilea earned his first CHRR title by defeating John Cauchi, Jay Diedrich, and Ray Martin, respectively.
Blown A/Fuelers have been scarce from the winner’s circle at recent Reunions, but Darrell Waters strung together an impressive cluster of winning runs with three 6.40s, all within 6 thou of each other on his way to the A/Fuel title.

Jr. Fuel ace Scott Parks added another Hot Rod Reunion trophy to his collection, as he dominated the ‘A’ field with with a string of low 6.90 and high 6.80 runs culminating with a personal-best 6.881 in the final over number two qualifier, J.D. Zink. Parks bettered his MPH mark to 193.67 during his second round win over John Haire.
Rob Patten, who was the defending A/Gas Champion, was one of a record 31 entries competing for the 2007 trophy. Patten qualified third with a 7.63, but fell short of a second win when he fouled in the second round against Mike Doushgounian.

Longtime Jr. Fuel ‘A’ competitor Mike Chrisman finally broke through for his first 6-second pass with 6.993/192.34 effort during the Friday qualifying session. Unfortunately, Chrisman’s weekend came to an abrupt end as engine damage (broken roller lifter) prevented a return to competition.
Randy Walls escaped with relatively minor injuries during this frightening incident that saw his Super Nova Funny Car burn to the ground during his only run of the event.

Pete Kaiser, near lane, got out on Jim Murphy during this semi-final match, but clicked it early when he felt the engine going away. Murphy took the win light but was hurt beyond repair to return, so Kaiser was reinstated for the final.

One of two exhibition entries from the UK was Bob Glassup’s Xtreme Racing Topolino altered. Glassup is a regular competitor of the Nostalgia Fuel Altered Association, and has run a best of 7.04/188 at Santa Pod Raceway earlier this season. Glassup thrilled fans with long, smoky burnouts and wild passes, while running a best of 7.256/186. during Saturday’s qualifying. The Xtreme Team was thrilled with their outing, and were quick to thank the many racers and officials who offered help throughout the weekend. The crew was hard to miss, as each member wore matching British flag shirts, and proudly carried the American flag in front of applauding fans after each run. For an entertaining and full team report of their weekend, read Matthew Glassup’s daily reports at
Eric Christianson, who earned a runner-up finish in A/FX at the 2006 CHRR, failed to qualify his high-flyin’ 1965 Ranchero, running a best of 10.84 during qualifying. The class attracted a record 28 entries for the 16-car field.

Ronnie Lennon, who runs this ’32 Bantam-bodied entry in the 7.0 Pro Circuit (in lieu of the Crosley body for aerodynamic purposes), earned his first CHRR title by taking out a stout field of competition. Lennon’s consistency on the tree and track took out the likes of Mike Splett, Bob Murphy, Dale Taros, Dan Schrokosch, and Jim Leso, respectively. It will be interesting to see if the Crosley body finds its way back on the chassis, as Ronnie stated, “I can see everything that’s going on around me now.”

“I grew up just 50 miles from here in Visalia. In 1958 I was just 16 years old and attended my first drag race at Famoso Raceway. In 1965 I drove the Northwind and we beat Pete Robinson for the top spot of the Drag News Top 10 Eliminator list. That was the true start of my career, and who knew then that this would become my life.” -Grand Marshal, Ed “The Ace” McCulloch
After a first round trouncing of Howard Haight with a low-for-the-round 5.761, Adam Sorokin fell victim to traction gremlins and let Pete Kaiser slip past in round two.

Rich Roberts’ delight of scoring a personal-best pass during his first round win over Scott White ended at the hands of the eventual winner, when Roberts lost his semifinal match by way of a Sean Renteria holeshot.

One of several international teams entered in the Exhibition class was the UK-based Honky Tonkin’ 1957 Chevy, driven by Jerry Denning and Lee Pike. Led by a crew that is the epitome of nostalgia drag racing, this multi-time Gasser class winning beast wrings out roughly 950 hp from the blown 461 c.i. BBC. This wicked Chevy has run a best of 8.99 at 150 MPH over in the UK, but the team came over with a new and untested combination. Following a series of exhibition passes that featured routine smoky burnouts, wheels-up launches, and not-so-straight runs, the team was rewarded with a best-of-the-weekend 9.17/140 (with Jerry Denning at the wheel) on its final pass Sunday afternoon. One would have been hard pressed to have found a team having more fun.
Mike Boyd completed two exhibition passes in the ever-popular Winged Express during the weekend, posting a best of 7.17 on Sunday which marks the best the altered has run since its return early this season.

Jeff Utterback notched a win over Sean Dale but fell just one hundredth short of making the Funny Car finale.

Nothing funny about Bucky Austin’s Steve Plueger-tuned Northwest Hitter Arrow, as Austin strung together a series of 5.90 ETs to take on all comers in the Chicago-style set. Austin clocked low et and top speed of the event with a 5.91/242.98 against Terry Capp in the final. The crew and fans went wild!
A resurgent Denver Schutz ran a consistent string of 5.80s with a minimum of parts carnage before dropping a real close race to Jim Murphy in round two.

Howard Haight drove Butch Blair’s Fugowie to the fuggin’ moon during the second Top Fuel qualifying session.
Terry Capp, who won the 1980 Top Fuel title at Indy, motored into the Funny Car final from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in the popular Hodgson & Jenner Bubble Up Firebird, earning a runner-up finish behind Bucky Austin.

T.O.O.C. -Top Fuel winner Brad Thompson earned his second CHRR trophy while thoroughly crushing the field in the process. Thompson kicked off his weekend with an off-the-trailer 5.74 for the number one spot, and went on to cover each opponent in eliminations by no less than two tenths. Thompson nailed low ET of the event with a 5.70 solo pass in the semis, and secured top speed with a 261.62 shot in the final against Fritz Kaiser.