• PICS: DREW HARDIN, BOB MCCLURG, KLEET NOR­RIS, PAUL SADLER & DAVE WAL­LACE

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Roddin’ Scene - —DAVE WAL­LACE

KING CACKLE: Satur­day night’s in­com­pa­ra­ble push­start Cack­le­fest is un­de­ni­ably the main event for many fans, par­tic­u­larly for­eign­ers. Pho­tog­ra­pher Kleet Nor­ris’s pan shot of the orig­i­nal Magicar might be mis­taken for a 1965 solo pass at Li­ons or Ir­win­dale. For­mer driver Jeep Hamp­shire gen­er­ously loaned his old seat, fire suit, and hel­met to grate­ful crew­man John Strom, who trav­els cross-coun­try to as­sist owner-re­storer Bill Pitts, the Fa­ther of Cackle Cars. Drag racing’s last great spec­ta­tor bar­gain is NHRA’S Cal­i­for­nia Hot Rod Re­union. You get a long week­end for about the cost of one day at the big show. Your hard-earned $65 (ad­vance) or $75 buys a beau­ti­ful year­book, ac­cess to one of Don Gar­l­its’ fa­vorite swap meets, con­tin­u­ous pit cack­ling, a vin­tage-photo con­test, and a daily chang­ing assem­blage of street-driven cars and trucks that ri­vals most out­door shows. You don’t get dinged for park­ing or as­signed seat­ing. The beer is cheaper, too. Ar­rive early to park close and “re­serve” any seat that suits your fancy. Fri­day night’s hon­oree cel­e­bra­tion and af­ter­party cackle at a Bak­ers­field ho­tel are free.

More­over, the lion’s share of pro­ceeds re­port­edly sup­ports a most-wor­thy cause: op­er­a­tion of the NHRA Wally Parks Mo­tors­ports Mu­seum, whose small staff con­ceived and de­vel­oped, over a quar­ter-cen­tury, a re­union for­mula that successful­ly bal­anced all of the racing and re­unit­ing. Per­haps co­in­ci­den­tal to the heated de­par­ture of vet­eran NHRA com­pe­ti­tion di­rec­tor Steve Gibbs at the start of the tu­mul­tuous 2016 edi­tion, that frag­ile bal­ance is bro­ken. Weary at­ten­dees are con­se­quently ques­tion­ing whether their fa­vorite mo­tors­ports event is too much of a good thing; that is, the event has too much to cram into three days with­out drag­ging late into chilly Oc­to­ber nights.

No such com­plaints were heard about the qual­ity of com­pe­ti­tion in this fourth, fi­nal 2018 event. (Tulsa’s prior, sched­uled se­ries race was can­celed due to a stormy fore­cast.) Sun­day’s small­ish crowd cheered Mendy Fry to her third Top Fuel win (de­feat­ing Rick Mcgee); Ja­son Ru­pert ruled Funny Car

Elim­i­na­tor (d. Rian Konno); Brian Hope, Fuel Al­tered (d. Rod­ney Flournoy); Drew Austin, A/fuel (d. Wayne Ra­may); John Marot­tek, Jr. Fuel (d. Don En­riquez); Steve Faller, 7.0 Pro (d. Brad Den­ney); Scott White, AA/GAS (d. Gary Reinero); Roger Holder, Pro Mod (d. Ed Thorn­ton); Bernie Plourd, Nos­tal­gia I (d. Jim Seivers); Robert John­son, N2 (d. Ja­clyn Jones); Lind­sey Lis­ter, N3 (d. Wes An­der­son); Brian Rogers, A/gas (d. Frank Merenda); Val Miller, B/G (d. Kevin Ri­ley); Bill Becker, C/G (d. Mark Capps); Bill Nor­ton, D/G (d. Larry Cook); Jack Goodrich, A/FX (d. Ken More­land); and Alex Ge­orge, Hot Rod (d. Mark Dyck).

De­spite spring­like weather each day, more seats than usual went un­oc­cu­pied for the sec­ond year since the trou­bled 25th-an­niver­sary edi­tion erupted into the big­gest cri­sis in the near-four-decade ex­is­tence of se­ri­ous retro racing (see Mar. 2017 Deluxe; bit.ly/2srvn7n). Satur­day night’s 30 push starters were about half of the turnout in peak years. To NHRA’S credit, ad­mis­sion prices were not jacked up to com­pen­sate for losses in ad­mis­sion and cackle-car rev­enue. In­stead, five lower sports­man cat­e­gories pre­vi­ously omit­ted from CHRR gen­er­ated ap­prox­i­mately 140 ad­di­tional en­tries at $125 per driver, $65 for crew, $50 for ex­tra pit space, $100 for first RV, $150 per ad­di­tional RV ( ka-ching!). In­ex­pli­ca­bly, Thurs­day was not added to ac­com­mo­date the pre­dictable over­flow (as done by March Meet pro­mot­ers years ago, solv­ing the same prob­lem). Con­sid­er­ing that ex­tra en­try moolah, one more day of track work­ers’ pay and ex­penses seems like a small price to pay to keep cus­tomers happy and warm and com­ing back.

Nev­er­the­less, NHRA seems in­tent on re­peat­ing that mis­take, along with an older one. A painful les­son learned in early re­unions was that Novem­ber is of­ten too windy or rainy for racing or watch­ing, yet the three-day 2019 edi­tion has been pushed a week closer to that risky month (Oc­to­ber 25-27). Even if NHRA gets the memo and starts run­ning on Thurs­days, don’t leave home with­out your win­ter coat and plenty of pa­tience.

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