March of the Nitro Soldiers

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The Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet | ClassicCars.com Journal
Ty Ishibashi's D-Gas 1967 Chevrolet Camaro lifts its front end as it leaves the line | Howard Koby photos

The Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet, which is the season opener for the five-race NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series, kicked off it’s 60th edition early this month at the legendary Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Southern California and ,without a doubt, produced the one of the biggest turnouts ever with 500 cars in the pits ready for drag racing action.

Blake Bowser, the track’s vice president and general manager, reported the the event has become the track’s biggest of the year, drawing more than 30,000 spectators.

The March Meet is considered the center of the nostalgic drag racing universe and nitromethane is the fuel that fires the exciting event.

The Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet | ClassicCars.com Journal
Fuel Altered cars battle in the night

Back in 1959 the meet started as the U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships sanctioned by the “Smokers Car Club” and, as always, the loud, nitro-powered and fire-belching Top Fuel and Funny Cars continued to be the big draw for the latest four-day reunion run.

The March Meet has always been know as a racer’s race and a spectator’s dream event where many important firsts were accomplished, such as “Big Daddy” Don Garlits nabbing top speed at 185.56 mph in 1960.

Dark skies and the threat of rain plagued the March Meet this year, but only Saturday turned out to be a total washout. Track crews tried to dry the track surface three times that day, only to have a downpour wet the strip yet again.

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The revised plan was to run as much as possible on Sunday, which turned out to be a dry perfect sunny day with mild temps, just what big tire slicks love. Racing started earlier than usual Sunday.
Bright and early Sunday morning, hot rodders began lining up along the access road to the pit entrance while classic cars took positions along “Famoso Grove” for the annual car show. Vendors and food stands readied for a brilliant day of business.

The Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet | ClassicCars.com Journal
Rocket-powered car did exhibition run

Group 2 Eliminations opened the day, even before the official opening ceremonies, and then the Nitro Eliminations brought out the heavy hitters to swallow up the quarter-mile track. After 7 p.m., and even on a cold racing surface, Bobby Cottrell (champion at the California Hot Rod Reunion) and Ryan Hodgson made the final passes. Cottrell clicked off 5.72-second run at 241 mph, putting away Hodgson’s 5.95 at 240.

Cattrell walked away with the trophy and said, “It’s a blast, you can see the refection of the header flames at night. It’s a dream come true.”

In the Top Fuel finals, it was Pete Wittenberg against Mendy Fry, last year’s champion and No. 1 qualifier with a 5.696 at 261.42mph. At the launch,
Wittenberg smoked the tires but saw Fry drifting over the line mid-track and hit some timing cones as she swayed across the centerline and was automatically disqualified. Wittenberg coasted to a victory (his first March Meet win) at 14.224 at 60 mph.

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“How sweet it is!” he responded.

For more information, visit the track website.

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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.

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