Eye Candy: California Hot Rod Reunion

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'Pure Hell' fuel altered

Photos by Howard Koby

At the inaugural California Hot Rod Reunion, event founder Steve Gibbs announced, “We are only going to do this once.”

Gibbs wasn’t quite correct. The recent Hot Rod Reunion was the 23rd time the early days of drag racing reappeared.

Now a member of the Wally Parks Motorsports Museum that produces the Reunion, Gibbs noted that, “Some 23 years ago, drag racing fans weren’t nostalgic, and now the are. It’s great.”

Wally Parks was the founder of the National Hot Rod Association, which turned unorganized racing born on Southern California’s dry lakes, military runways and, well, yes, on the streets, into a major and organized sport.

The Reunion, now presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California and staged at the legendary Famoso Raceway in McFarland, California (near Bakersfield), offers hot-rodders and racers the chance to reunite with old friends and to reminisce about the good old days while enjoying a weekend full of nitro-fueled competition featuring historic racing machines.

Also included is a huge swap meet offering anything from a rear clip for a ’57 Chevy to a set of used pistons for a Dodge Charger.

“Famoso Grove,” a tree lined pathway behind the grandstands, is the site of a car show displaying everything from a group of colorful ’32 Ford roadster to Willys hot rods and low-rider customs.

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The Reunion is a three-day festival of loud nitro-filled smoky burnouts on the quarter-mile drag strip and serves as an opportunity for fans to meet the legends of drag racing. A free honoree reception at the Doubletree Hotel in Bakersfield introduced Grand Marshal Mike Dunn along with honorees Bob Brooks, the Cortopassi Brothers and Butler, Hugh Tucker, Dennis Varni, Sid Waterman and the showman himself, “TV” Tommy Ivo.

In the finals, Tony Bartone’s Top Fuel dragster ran a 5.864-seconds sprint at 212.36 miles per hour to beat Rick White, who gave the race away when he jumped the start and brought out the red light.

In the Funny Car finals, Dan Horan, in his striking ’65 Mustang, ran 5.724 at 254.38 to put away John Hale in his ’69 Camaro (5.791 at 247.29).

If you love nitro fumes in the morning bringing tears to your eyes, the ear-rattling music of a 2000-hp blown Hemi engine, and bright nitro-flames lighting the night sky at the Cackle Fest, then the California Hot Rod Reunion is for you.

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Howard graduated with honors from the Art Center College of Design in California. He has been a photographer and automotive journalist for 35 years out of his Los Angeles studio. He has been published in Hot Rod, AutoWeek, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Jaguar Journal, Forza, Vintage Motorsport, Classic Motorsports, Robb Report, Motor Trend Classic, Hemmings Muscle Machines, and 50 Years of Road & Track (MBI Publishing). He has served on the Advisory Committee of the Transportation Design Department at Art Center College of Design. He is the author of the books Top Fuel Dragsters of the 1970s and Pro Stock Dragsters of the 1970s, both available on amazon.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. How cool that must have been to see front engined Dragsters and Altered making passes! I grew up watching those cars plus legendary Gassers like Big John Mazmanian and Stone, Woods and Cook.
    Many a Saturday and Sunday were spent at Niagara Drag Strip, Town of Niagara, NY.

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