Grooving in ‘The Grove’ at the California Hot Rod Reunion

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Hot rods in a row at the 27th annual reunion at Famous Raceway in Bakersfield, California | Jim McCraw photos

The 27th annual California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield is the last drag race of the season for the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage series, but the track has something that most others do not: a specially planted grove of trees more than a quarter-mile long dedicated to the memories of drag racing stars now departed.

In that grove of trees, every year, there is a real hot rod show, dozens of cool cars that were driven into the facility right off Famoso Road.  

No trailers, no rigs, no spit-and-polish squadrons. No stanchions to keep the crowds away. No mirrors under the cars like indoor shows. No placards to identify the cars.  At least, not very many.   

These guys and gals just drive them in, park them under the trees, and let the crowds enjoy the cars for what they are: real hot rods, customs, sleepers and a very few rat rods for spice.  

A couple of hundred feet away, there are cars going 260 mph in the quarter-mile in 5.5 seconds, but back here in The Grove, it’s quiet and mellow.  There’s all kinds of space between each of the cars to walk all the way around, and the owners are very likely seated behind the cars to answer your questions.

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We’ve been coming to this event off and on for a quarter of a century, and we are always impressed with the quality of the machinery on hand, everything from Deuce roadsters to pickups and panels, Forties kustoms to Street Hemis and bigblock Camaros.  

Way down at the end, there is an informal club of Model T enthusiasts who show up each year with each of their projects a bit further along than last year, tuning their pocketa-pocketa four-cylinder engines to a fine edge.

Without placards, we can’t even begin to tell you where the cars are from, let alone who owns them or how long they’ve been in the family, but we’ll do our best to describe the cars in detail as we discovered them in The Grove.

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Jim McCraw has been writing about cars, motorcycles, design, technology, car people and racing for 50 years, in such publications as Hot Rod Deluxe, Super Chevy, Muscle Mustangs, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Penthouse, Winding Road, The Mercedes-Benz Star, AutoWeek, The New York Times, and a number of European publications. He was executive editor of Motor Trend, editor of Hot Rod and Super Stock. He co-holds the record for the drive from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Key West, Florida, 96:22, and has run in major events such as the Mille Miglia Storica in Italy, Goodwood, the California Mille, the Colorado Grand, the New England 1000, Forza Mille, and four One Lap Of America competitions He owns a pristine Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan.

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