The US nostalgia drag racing season kicked off with the Good Vibrations March meet in Bakersfield, California
EACH March, the crowded bleachers at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, California mark the unofficial start of the racing season for America’s west coast. Now in its 59th running, the Good Vibrations March Meet attracts hundreds of vintage and nostalgia speed freaks – both racers and fans – and this year’s event saw overflowing staging lanes and bustling pits.
The competition is split up into classes ranging from Hot Rod, for machines over 30 years old running around the 11sec mark, all the way up to Nostalgia Top Fuel and Nostalgia Funny Car, both gunning for quickest ETs in the mid-fives.
Cars are pre-’73 in almost all classes, and this allows for a great diversity in the racing field. Nose-high gassers face up against ground-hugging coupes; open-wheeled dragsters battle it out with floppy-bodied muscle cars; and the competition is always tight. Throw in some wheelstanding entertainment, a few tins of beer, and you’ve got yourself a great weekend!
After a few days of testing and qualifying, Saturday marked the start of the bracketed elimination racing. With ideal track and weather conditions, the strip was quicker than expected and a lot of racers began to break out of their indexes. Nearly half the D/ and C/Gas brackets ran too quick, but those that remained battled fiercely until the end. Crowds cheered for Ed Carey’s ’71 Camaro and Chris Rea’s ’64 Chevy II as they entered the winner's circle, with less than 0.03sec deciding the winners in both classes.
Sunday was rained out, and although it was postponed to Monday the competition remained hard and fast. A full field in A/Gas was one of the more entertaining battles of the event, packed with as many wheelstands as close finishes. Mike Mossi in his bright blue ’69 Chevy took home the gong over Steve Galileo in a ’63 Corvette, who unfortunately ran a hair under the 7.60 index.
The old AA/Fuel Altered class had only reappeared at Famoso in 2014 after the ‘Awful Awfuls’ went through a revival, but with their flashy names and paintwork, nitro-breathing mills and often-flamboyant drivers, their appearance is always a high point at the March Meet. After qualifying last in the eight-car field, Bryan Hall drove the pants off The Tramp to take out the win with a stonking 6.06@214mph.
As the sun began to set and the beer taps began to dry up, the nitro-fed Nostalgia Top Fuel and Funny Car classes boomed into chest-shaking, eye-watering life. Mendy Fry was a comeback kid in the Top Fuel competition, qualifying last but powering through to victory in her High Speed Motorsports dragster and setting the lowest ET with a 5.597@246mph. Ryan Hodgson in the Pacemaker ’69 Camaro escaped elimination in the semis by 0.006sec to take home the Funny Car trophy in the final against Kris Krabil in the Dayton Superior ’69 Camaro.
Jam-packed brackets in some of the quickest nostalgia classes in the country and heated competition across the spectrum definitely set the tone for this year’s racing on the west coast. If it’s any indication of the health of the nostalgia scene, next year’s 60th anniversary March Meet will be insane. Get out there.
One of the coolest things about nostalgia drag racing at events like the March Meet is the chance to see amazing artwork fly past you down the strip. Bright colours, crazy paint effects and flashy lettering have been intertwined with motorsport since its earliest days, but really boomed in the 60s and 70s when airbrushing and custom graphics were in full swing.
At March Meet the cars sported everything from scrawled chalk letters, recalling pre-war stock cars, to full-body modern vinyl wraps. The sweet spot in the middle is the kind of hand-lettered signage most commonly found on gassers and Fuel Altereds. While sponsor and manufacturer stickers still adorn many of these cars, the first thing you notice – and what defines each ride – is the beautifully lettered car names.
The Rat Trap altered, driven by Ron Hope, may have undergone countless changes since its early days in the 1960s, but the hand-lettering, pinstripe touches, gold leaf work and bold orange and blue graphics cement it perfectly in its era. As soon as you see the car in the staging lanes, you know you’re soon in for a spectacle.
It’s the same with many other survivor and period cars at nostalgia meets, and the popularity of hand-painted signage shows a desire to recreate a time long gone. The recent revival in traditional techniques and styling will hopefully keep this beautiful art alive.
1. Dave Walker drove his '30 Ford coupe out from Yermo, CA to put down a respectable 12.16@106mph thanks to the 350ci small-block Chev
2. Paul Soliz's High And Mighty certainly lives up to its name wherever it goes. The '50 Plymouth coupe is powered by a 502-cuber - certainly enough power to get it sky-high
3. George Thomas may have jumped the light and broken out all in the same run, but at least his wheels-up W-block-powered '56 Chevy 150 wagon looked awesome doing it
4. It's not every day you see a giant truck like Sady Cass's 1973 Chevy K10 with a set of slicks on the rear, but it sure stood out from the pack in the Hot Rod class. It's powered by a 454-cube Bowtie donk, and Sady managed a best of 12.131@106mph
5. This quick-looking '66 Bug sounded mighty impressive thanks to its monstrous 2332cc Dak-Dak flat-four. It was piloted by Steve Poderzay, who rattled off a best of 11.736@114mph
6. This vibrant blue '48 Anglia belongs to Don Fournier, who was running consistently all weekend until he narrowly broke out in the later stages of D/Gas competition
7. Rex Alvera brought his killer gasser Gas Chamber out from Winters, CA. The '55 Bel Air is powered by a 400ci Chevy and ran a best of 12.652@102mph
8. Don Morris's Tequila Sunrise battles it out with Mike Gillespie's '27 Ford in Nostalgia Eliminator. It's based off a '23 Ford body and powered by a 394-cube Chevy. After getting the better start, Don finished a mere 0.001sec behind Mike in this race
9. Nevada man Troy Moyle has campaigned a few drag coupes over the decades, including the 7-11 '34 Ford he brought to Bakersfield. It's powered by a super-angry Chevy 355
10. 'General' Jerry Lee is the last remaining wheelstand showman from the 60s, and has worked tirelessly to keep the spirit alive. For March Meet, General drove his son Hoss's Model T pick-up, instead of his own still-surviving T wheelstander
11. The original Vicky that the Vulcans of Long Beach raced in the 60s is long gone, but Bill Workman has built this faithful re-creation using a tudor body and help from some of the original Vulcans members. The original car ran 11.75 with a blown 331 Hemi, but Bill's Vicky is powered by a much stouter 392ci Chev and rattling off mid-nines
12. The Teacher's Pet Nostalgia Funny Car was raced by Steven Densham at Famoso. The '69 Camaro is powered by a nitro-sucking 520-cube Hemi, though Steve didn't get too far into the elimination bracket after the nose scarily lifted into the air shortly after getting moving. Steven expertly pedalled it back down to earth and avoided any damage
13. Arizona-based Scott Bisel's Chevy LUV truck stood out from the pack of open-wheel hot rods and floppy-bodies Camaros. Read more on Scott and his LUV truck here.
14. Bakersfield local David Mallory was at March Meet to shake down his 1969 Camaro. Read more on David and his Camaro here.