Mother Nature sings a song in Kern County, California, during March when the beautiful peach blossoms signal the start of NHRA’s Hot Rod Heritage series and the 59th annual Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet at Auto Club Famoso Raceway just 10 miles north of Bakersfield.
The March Meet has become a four-day speed fest of nostalgic drag racing that fans call “the jewel of nostalgic racing.”
The action-packed nitro-burning event attracts drag racers and spectators from around the world and included a hot rod car show along “Famoso Grove,” a huge automotive swap meet and a vendors’ midway that’s paralleled by a food row where you can slop down a barbeque beef sandwich and wash it down with a cool “Ben & Jerry’s” ice cream.
Originally known in 1959 as the U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships, “The Smokers of Bakersfield” hosted the first event that was contested on March 1 (thus the March Meet nicknam). Planned as an “East-versus-West showdown, a young Floridian named Don Garlits (not yet known as “Big Daddy”) was invited to run his Swamp Rat I dragster against Art Chrisman’s Hustler slingshot. Chrisman triumphed and took Top Eliminator Honors and sent Garlits home, though he ultimately won the March Meet an unprecedented five times in the following years.
Held from March 2-5, 2017, the March Meet is the premier nostalgia drag race in the country and, as Blake Bowser, vice president and general manager of the Kern County Racing Association, said, “The event is the largest single sporting event in Bakersfield that helped put the city on the map.”
Iconic greats like Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, Shirley Muldowney and John Force have all run the March Meet, which has grown to a 27 Funny Car field with 10 fire-breathing Top Fuel dragsters in addition to hundreds of entrants in various classes.
The final eliminations Sunday were postponed due to showers and falling temperatures and moved Monday, when free admission was given to everyone who attended the final rounds.
In the final Funny Car action, Kris Krabill’s racer burst into flames about 1,000 feet down the track, opening the way for Ryan Hodgson to grab the March Meet victory with a 5.609 ET at 259.91 mph. In Top Fuel, Mendy Fry, in her High Speed Motorsports dragster ,put away Jim Murphy, who broke the fuel pump on the burnout. Fry,clicked off a stout 5.598 et at 236.88 mph to nab the Top Fuel title.
March Meet is not to be missed. Visit the raceway website for more for more information.
Photos by Howard Koby