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It has been almost 10 years since the last Dragfest was held at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, California. This past April saw the return of this event to the historic dragstrip. Dragfest was created by Randy Winkle, who owns Famoso Speed Shop, which specializes in restoring and creating vintage gassers, dragsters, Funny Cars, and many different types of drag cars that all have a vintage look but can compete with the modern nostalgia drag cars of today. With the rise in popularity of events such as the Meltdown Drags, Eagle Field, and the Southeast Gassers racing association, which all cater to the vintage and historic side of drag racing, Randy felt it was time to bring back Dragfest.
Dragfest is open to all pre1972 drag cars and show cars; however, the event’s main focus is on the 1960s and older gassers, dragsters, and hot rods. For the return event, Randy decided to run the racing in a grudge format, so racers could choose who they race against and make as many passes as they want. There were also several nitro-burning dragsters, altereds, and Funny Cars making passes throughout the weekend.
For the spectators, Dragfest offered a car show in the famous Famoso Grove, which runs along the full length of the quarter-mile. There were also several vendors and a small swap meet for spectators to buy speed parts and drag racing merchandise. In the evening after the racing was over, racers and spectators were treated to a concert and a “drive-in” movie in the staging lanes. They showed old drag racing footage and documentaries, and racers were encouraged to drive their drag cars up to the lanes to watch the movie.
Planning is already under way for next year’s Dragfest, with hopes of adding more classes and eliminations to the event’s schedule so racers will be able to compete against each other for a purse and a trophy. There are also plans to add more activities for the spectators. Randy’s plan is that Dragfest will continue to grow, and become the next major vintage drag racing event on the West Coast. For more info, log on to famosospeedshop.com/ dragfest.
Monied fans of old-school iron showed their wallets at Dana Mecum’s Spring Classic auto auction in Indianapolis May 15-20. Among several collections that crossed the block was the Jim Street Estate collection, which featured the contents of multiple buildings. A majority of the lots were boat-related, including more than 300 marine engines. There were several cars, too, including two icons of hot rodding and custom car history: the Golden Sahara II showpiece and the original Kookie Kar T-bucket, both offered with no reserve. Mecum showcased both, despite what some would consider almost ruinous changes and poor preservation. The entire Street Estate was sold at no reserve as well, an amazing assortment of waterborne horsepower that topped hundreds of thousands of dollars before it was over.
The history of the Golden Sahara II is almost as bizarre as its appearance. Rebuilt from a damaged Lincoln Capri by George Barris in the mid 1950s, the original rendition was sold by Barris to fellow custom-car builder Jim Street, whose legal name was James Skonzakes. It grew in stature, much like the cars of the legendary GM Motorama, after Street bankrolled a $75,000 freshening of the project, resulting in something akin to a space program experimental. Multiple innovations like in-dash television, fully remote opening doors, and luminescent wheels and tires made GS II a crowd-gathering star. Once completed, Barris himself headlined it at many events, but Street took the car off-tour in the late 1960s, and it was never seen again.
The Kookie Kar, a HOT ROD and Car Craft cover star best known for its role in 77 Sunset Strip, was even more radically changed. The Norm Grabowski creation begun in 1952 is one of the most iconic cars in the history of hot rodding. After Street bought it from Grabowski in 1959 for $3,000, it was repainted by Larry Watson, and retrofitted in appearance similar to the twin-engine gas dragsters popularized during the NHRA’S infamous nitro ban. While the car retained its single engine, it was given a pair of superchargers, monster-height chrome headers, dual rear slicks, and Isca-style interior fur. Like the Golden Sahara II, it also disappeared suddenly, and some in the hobby wondered if it even still existed. Street had simply tucked the roadster away in a place where the primary residents were cats. Yes, cats.
Before a packed house on Saturday, May 19, the Sahara II was pushed to the stage, with ancient duct tape on its surfaces, its fish-scale-infused
paint faded to multiple hues, but still fairly complete, including its custom remote controls. The naysayers were silenced as the cadence of the auction grew in excitement until $385,000 later, including the buyer’s premium, the Golden Sahara II was with its first new owner since the 1950s. The Kookie Kar was pushed forward immediately following that, and the money got even larger, $484,000, despite its obvious changes and worn appearance, thanks to the cats.
It was an amazing moment in hot rod history, and we expect to see them again before another 50 years pass.
“Are you kidding? What a great watch at a ridiculous price. Thank you Stauer!” Ñ Gitto, Hicksville NY
• PICS: KLEET NORRIS FUNNIES FUNNIES: Steve Moths made the long trek from the Midwest to Famoso raceway with his nitro-burning A/FX Mopars. Each of the cars runs a nitroinjected Hemi engine and is built in the style of early 1960s funny cars. Throughout the weekend, Steve and Brent Henry match-raced each other and performed big, smoky, 400-plus-foot burnouts prior to their runs.
LIFT OFFLIFT OFF: It takes a lot of power to get the front wheels off the ground in a big car like David Franklin’s 1961 Ford Starliner. The Starliner is powered by a big-block 429 Ford and runs in the low 10s in the A/FX class.
TRADITIONAL TRADITIONAL: Steve and Brent also wore traditional 1960s-era helmets, fire masks, and goggles for their runs down the quarter-mile.
GONEGONE:The American Nostalgia West A/FX class was out in full force at Dragfest. They are a group of drag racers that race A/FX and early Super Stockstyle drag cars and compete within their organization for points at various races. Todd Hoffman’s 426 Max-wedgepowered Plymouth with 1960s-era-correct livery is a strong competitor in the class.
JEEPJEEP: There were several nitro funny cars attending Dragfest. The wildest one was the Holy Toledo Jeep-bodied funny car, with Dean Oberg piloting it.
DEAL DEAL: A small swap meet during Dragfest weekend offered primarily parts and other automotive-related items. One of the better deals was this early altered that had been updated to current NHRA safety specs. It wouldn’t need much to get it back running again.
SCENE AT THE 2018 MECUM INDY AUCTION SAHARA HISTORYSAHARA HISTORY: Mecum set up an immense multimedia display for the Golden Sahara II, with vintage photos, period music, video clips, and the car’s historical background.
EX-LINCOLN: George Barris used the wreck of his driver Lincoln Capri to create the original Golden Sahara. Owner Jim Skonzakes commissioned another shop to make changes, and the Golden Sahara II (seen here in the mid 1950s) was born. EX-LINCOLN
INTACT INTACT: Though the exterior and paint showed wear and some damage, all of the details from the car’s glory days seemed remarkably intact.NO RESERVE: When the hammer fell, the legendary Kookie Kar was announced “SOLD!” for $484,000. While modified from its origins, this car is the original T-bucket.TWINS: By far the most radical change to the Kookie Kar was the adaptation of a replica dualsupercharger design atop the original engine, reminiscent of the gas dragster setups of the early 1960s.
ALWAYS WITH THE COMBALWAYS WITH THE COMB: Young actor Edd Byrnes played the role of Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III, seen here in the car. The T was sold to Street before filming was completed on the second season.