MARCH MEET ACTION
Just as nitro-starved victims of the fuel ban flocked to Famoso for their winter fix starting in 1959, thousands arrive each March to get dosed with more nitromethane than any other modern meet delivers. Six of 16 March Meet eliminator categories run on “pop” and, with one exception, superchargers. Every run lasts 1,320 feet.
Despite the continuing decline of AA/FD entries (nine here) and a relative abundance of fuel floppers and fuel altereds, the March Meet remains a “dragster race”—at least in the minds of folks old enough to remember 100plus Top Fuelers fighting for 64 spots. A half-century after the low-dollar Surfers won it and soon retired, anyone meeting Tom Jobe invariably asks how he and late partners Bob Skinner and Mike Sorokin pulled that off in 1966. If Mike’s son, Adam Sorokin, shows up 50 years from now at Milt’s Coffee Shop, some customer will surely inquire about the crazy circumstances contributing to his unlikely 2019 victory.
Sorokin’s upset of worldchamp Mendy Fry concluded a final round that produced fellow winners Bobby Cottrell in Aa/funny Car (defeating impressive rookie Jerry Espeseth); James Day in Fuel Altered (d. Dan Hix); Mike Halstead, Rear-engine T/F (d. Billy Mcdevitt); Dan Hix, Classic F/C (d. Rodney Flournoy); Kin Bates, A/FD (d. Wayne Ramay); Don Enriquez, Jr. Fuel (d. Alan Hull); Steve Faller, 7.0 Pro (d. George Vanderpool); Jason Barta, Nostalgia I (d. Lloyd Harder); Terry Linblad, N/E II (d. George Chatterton); Ron Anzalone, N/E III (d. Don Morris); Jim Teague, A/gas (d. Frank Merenda); Steve Pullin, B/G (d. Nick Kendrick); David Stage, C/G (d. PJ Glacalone); Bill Norton, D/G (d. Bob Gonzalves); and Stacy Roberts in the DYO Hot Rod bracket (d. Dan Rowley).
Undefeated in NHRA’S Hot Rod Heritage points series for a full year since runner-upping at the 2018 March Meet, Fry’s title defense got off to a rocky start belied by results sheets listing two world-record runs, overall low e.t. (5.49), top speed (265.43), and another second-place finish. Earlier, during qualifying, a freak failure of the drive coupler had the predictable effect on a Donovan Hemi that reportedly zinged past 12,000 rpm. One engine and run later, the coupler’s culprit revealed itself when a cracked rearend mount separated from the chassis at speed, taking out the brakes. Her ’chutes alone couldn’t keep Mendy from bouncing into the rain-hardened sand trap. Owner Tom Shelar and his veteran crew thrashed ’til 3 a.m. Sunday to clean out the mud and install a fresh axlehousing that friend Bruce Dyda fetched from his L.A. chassis shop twoplus hours south then drove straight back to deliver.
Entering eliminations against friendly archrival Jim Murphy, Fry had yet to make a full pass. She promptly uncorked a winning 5.518, the quickest in slingshot history, at 265.43, the top speed overall (just edging Dan Horan’s 265.22-mph Funny Car). Fry broke through the 5.40 barrier in the semis, but left so uncharacteristically
Back in 2012, a small dragoriented event held on the East Coast called The Race Of Gentlemen (TROG) shook the hot rod scene. Although it gathered only 15 hot rods and 15 motorcycles, it still captured the imagination of gearheads the world over. It was organized on the beach and featured aesthetics reminiscent of faded pictures glued in a 1950s photo album.
Over the years, other TROGS have come and gone, including one in 2016 that tread the sand of Pismo Beach, California (unfortunately plagued by stormy weather). Promoter Mel Stultz and his crew traveled back home afterwards, thinking another race was unlikely to take place on the West Coast. Yet, surprisingly, officials from the scenic city of Santa Barbara contacted Stultz in 2018 and asked him to have an event in town! They made it clear racing on the sand would not be an option, but how about using a street along the beach?
Stultz loved the idea, and so was born the TROG Santa Barbara Drags. He came to town with the support (and members) of his club, the Oilers, which had been established in Carlsbad, California, in 1947 and was revived a few years ago. The Oilers, with help from local enthusiasts, transformed Cabrillo Boulevard in front of Santa Barbara’s Hilton Beachfront Resort into an eighth-mile dragstrip, where 30 motorcycles and 70 pre-1935 cars entered grudge matches, with no trophy spoiling the fun. As a bonus, an exhibit called Customs by the Sea welcomed a selection of fantastic pre-1959 traditional custom cars.
Want to see more TROG action this year? The city of Wildwood, New Jersey, will hold another can’t-miss sandslinging event on October 4-6.—STEPHAN SZANTAI
FABBED-ULOUS: One new build always seems to steal the casual pitside shows that accompany Famoso’s two big races (the other being NHRA’S California Hot Rod Reunion, upcoming October 25-27). Jason Brown didn’t let wet roadways derail a longplanned maiden voyage for an Ls-powered, Tremec-shifted ’28 Ford under construction for four long years. Only the metal above the belt line originated in Detroit; the rusty rest was replaced with sheet steel shaped by Bakersfield’s TL’S Rods. The one-stop shop also trimmed 9 inches of ugly air from all window openings, created a cowl-firewall assembly, and applied the paint. That oh-so-low roof makes Mclean’s rear wheels look even taller than their 20 inches. Note how the headers and radius rod follow the arc of TL’S fabricated frame, which tapers down from 4x2 tubing at the 9-inch Ford rearend. Brandon Gross of TL’S Rods slid behind the wheel for HOT ROD Deluxe to demonstrate the low-down, set-back seating position that comfortably accommodates his six-foot customer.
SCENE AT THE 2019 MARCH MEET BAPTISM: Fuel altered rookie Ron Capps was properly baptized into the world of Awful-awfuls while qualifying a brand-new chassis (wearing a Fiat body bought from Mike Sullivan). Owners John and Roxie Hertzig initially suspected somebuddy’s prank when the big show’s 2016 Funny Car champ called to ask whether he might fill the open seat— and bring along his father and brother to help wrench on both Hertzig altereds. Capps fell to perennial March Meet winner Dan Hix in Round One but made the favorite work hard by leaving first and nearly forcing a sub-6.00-index breakout by Hix, who survived with a just-safe 6.021, on the brakes (208 mph). Famed freelancer Paul Sadler, whose lenses have favored AA/FAS since their early-1970s heyday, got the shot
DAY WON: A huge upset saw Ron Capps’s teammate, James Day, wrestle the Hertzigs’ traditional, short-wheelbase, wingless American Bantam to a rare defeat of Dan Hix’s dominant “transformer” (i.e., a slow NHRA Funny Car rebodied as a roadster and planted by two big wings fore and aft). The difference was a holeshot (6.22-6.16) that prevented Hix, whose Mustang topped the 5.90-indexed, six-car Classic Funny field, from scoring possibly the first fuel “double” at a major nostalgia meet. FABBED-ULOUS
LOW-DOWN HIGHROLLER: Here’s the Rick Dore build that launched the second season of his Rusted Development series. Marc Mccaslin’s two-year search for an unmolested ’36 paid off in a complete, two-owner coupe suffering nothing worse than two small dents and the blown head gasket that sentenced it to decades of covered storage outdoors. Surprisingly stock below the windows, the car even retains both original bumpers, swapped end for end. A crate 350 Chevy and TH350 keep the show rolling. Mccaslin (wearing the dark jacket, rear) drew smiles by cruising into and out of the Famoso Grove at approximately this ride height. The fourthgeneration Bakersfield farmer relies on adjustable, poly bumpstops in all four corners to safely maintain as little as 1 ⁄ inch of clearance 4 “on a road that’s real smooth; no bumps!”
DIFFERENT TWIST: Here’s another way to extract exhaust from a tight overhead conversion. Philipp Meyer didn’t drive his Chevy-powered coupe all the way from his home in Germany, but he’s covered much of this country in the Model A built by Mackey’s Hot Rods. Local tube bender Sean Mcdougall formed the sexy stainless system.
CONTRAST: At once one of the darkest yet most colorful early pickups on the planet, the blacked-out ’41 Ford belongs to Mike Brown, brother of the chopped Model A’s owner. TL’S Rods added a Chevy LS and Mustang II suspension while subtracting 8 inches of bed length. Shop owner Brandon Gross personally painted both brothers’ hot rods.
RECORD WRECKER: Mendy Fry experienced a whole season’s worth of drama in the season opener, highlighted by the quickest and secondquickest slingshot e.t.’s ever. She’d been in record territory before, as a teenager driving two cars built together with her father, the late Ron Fry. Their full-fendered roadster was the world’s fastest street-legal car. The teenager’s unprecedented 6.15 in 1988 tentatively claimed NHRA’S Top Alcohol Dragster national record until the car slowed to 6.27 on her next, last chance for the mandatory backup. This time, the veteran, who describes herself as “the son that my dad never had,” made sure it stuck with backto-black blasts of 5.518 and 5.490.
PATINA-PERFECT: Lewis Milmich ( top), who spends weekdays restoring early Cadillacs and C10 pickups for customers, got talked into helping build a shop truck by his son Lee, who also recruited father-in-law Bill Lynch. Over eight months their family affair progressed from a disassembled ’56 stocker to what you see here. They left the body and paint as found, except for fabricating the firewall, adding an aftermarket rear-window kit to the standard cab, minitubbing the inside of the bed, and installing a donor truck’s running boards and bed sides, painted and aged to match the surroundings. A coat of satin clear preserves the patina. A 460 plucked from an F-250 benefits from a Comp cam and Holley Sniper injection. Detroit Steel supplied the 20x9 and 20x11 rims.
LEGENDARY LOSS: Reminders of engine builder and Pro 7.0 racer Cub Barnett appeared on Juggers club mate Boyd Schafer’s ’40 Olds gasser and one of several pitside benches recognizing California Hot Rod Reunion honorees. He raced in Southern California and operated the dyno at Scotty’s Muffler Service prior to moving north to work for Ted Gotelli in 1961. He later partnered with Andy Brizio in Champion Speed Shop and operated his own engine shop until the end. Cub, the younger brother of pioneer racer Bud Barnett, suffered a heart attack while undergoing cancer treatments the week of the March Meet, just shy of his 85th birthday.
late (0.219 r.t.) that she needed most of the 5.490 and a top-end charge of 259.71 to overcome Bret Williamson’s event-best (0.051) r.t. and 5.85 e.t. Fry’s lousy light was traced to worn throttle parts that got replaced just in time to warm the Hemi for what, on paper, figured to be a mismatch with a wounded Chevy car fully 3.5 tenths and 50 mph slower on the day. Instead, an overlooked screw in that hastily assembled throttle linkage backed itself out somewhere between Fry’s burnout and staging; at the hit, nothing happened. For her second straight year, the favorite watched from the left lane while a longshot opponent drove away to nostalgia racing’s biggest prize. As winner Adam Sorokin understated afterward, it was lucky for him “that they don’t run ’em on paper.”
SCENE AT THE 2019 MARCH MEET (CONT’D)
EARLY EDUCATION: Ask Bobby Mclennan why he continues shoving pressurized nitromethane through a limited engine design abandoned by Top Fuel racers before the original slingshot era ended and he’ll answer, “Because the Chevy was my dad’s deal.” Father and son both appear in a previously unpublished Petersen Publishing image that HRM editor Wally Parks composed during a 1962 summer meet at Pomona. The late Jim Mclennan (left), whose injected and blown slingshots were frequently featured in manufacturers’ late-1950s and early-1960s “hero” ads as the world’s quickest Chevys, is seen talking with longtime NHRA tech director Bill “Farmer” Dismuke. Mclennan never won the March Meet, but his youngest crewman (who has already learned that nitro is for racin’ while gas is good for washin’ parts), his son Bobby, grew up to build the billet small-blocks that made Adam Sorokin the Top Fuel Eliminator of 2010 and 2019.
CANDIED COUPLE: Saturday’s surprises included back-toback-to-back-to-back-toback exhibition runs by five wheelstanders, ranging from the ancient stagecoach of Ed and Wendy Jones (pictured) to Mike Kunz’s spunky and fast PT Cruiser. The wheelie rivals staged an impromptu, side-by-side header burndown on Sunday. The coach took the main stage immediately after the Mopar’s last pass and was circling at midtrack when Nitro Mike came down the return road and stopped, directly opposite, to unleash an extended firestorm that the Outlaw returned across the guard wall. As usual, the candy man later strolled the fence line and had screaming fans eating out of his hand. As far as kids are concerned, nobody keeps up with the Joneses. The Idaho couple’s 17-year, two-vehicle deal with family-owned Jelly Belly is among drag racing’s longest-running sponsorships.
LONELY ON TOP (END): Adam Sorokin never saw his final-round opponent but wasn’t taking any chances, keeping the hammer down even after his blower gave up the fight. A slowing 5.84 at just 212 mph clinched a second March Meet title for the son of 1966 champ Mike Sorokin. Paul Sadler’s photo illustrates why top-end shooters challenge each other to capture the 377inch minimouse motor with a belt still intact at 1,320 feet.
SCENE AT THE 2019 MARCH MEET (CONT’D)
SCENE AT THE TROG SANTA BARBARA DRAGS 2019 FIRST IN LINE: Jimmy White, the owner of Circle City Hot Rods in Orange, California, hasn’t driven his well-known ’31 Model A much in recent years, but he decided to get it ready for the event. This old hot rod, found in Riverside, California, runs a nasty 334ci Hemi equipped with a 6x2 Weiand manifold. It had the honor of making the first pass of the day with Gil Muro’s Willys, the cover car for our latest Gasserthemed issue (“Willys Fever,” May 2019; bit.ly/2hm8q2f).
WILLYS WINDOW: Hot Rod Ranch’s Gil Muro provided this unique perspective of Santa Barbara’s staging lanes through the tinted Plexiglas of his survivor Willys Gasser.
EX-STOCKER: Roseville, California’s Jim Luke bought ’29 Model A that’s stock right down to the mechanical brakes. It had been restored decades ago. Over a year he morphed it into this jalopy, keeping the original rails but installing ’40s hot rod specifics: juice brakes, a ’39 Ford gearbox, a 21-stud flathead, Sharp heads, a Thickstun intake manifold, an Isky cam . . .
BAD TO THE BONES: Rolling Bones member Dick Deluna drives and races his ’34 Ford five-window (which has been chopped 6 inches) all over the nation. Check out the unusual grille from a Canadian Cockshutt tractor. Behind it resides a ’49 8BA flathead now displacing 284 ci. It received Stromberg carbs, Navarro heads, an Offenhauser two-carb manifold, and a Vertex magneto. BAD TO THE BONES
HEAVY CHOP: Back from making a pass, this is Tom Mcintyre’s ’32 three-window Ford from the Rolling Bones crew. It performed well, courtesy of a ’54 Dodge Ram Hemi bolted to a five-speed ’box for long-distance journeys. The coupe additionally uses a Halibrand quick-change and an aluminum bellypan.
ANOTHER BIRD: We showed you Lynn Bird’s blue ’32 Ford three-window coupe back in March 2019 (“Distinctive Deuce”; bit.ly/2ovtcxc). Always the tinkerer, his latest endeavor is this great-looking ’25 Model T. It is motivated by a ’49 Mercury flathead that’s assembled with Offenhauser heads and an Edmunds intake. The body sits on heavily modified ’34 Chevy framerails. Bird won most of his races.
PRETTY PENNY: Alex Carlos struggled a bit to see the flagman behind the wheel of his chopped Penny Hemi Model T. Spectators loved the car’s track antics, watching as it flew down the eighth-mile thanks to a 354ci Hemi fed by a Weiand intake manifold and six carbs. A four-speed Borgwarner transmission gets the power to the ground.
SUSHI AND LOUIS: Team Throttle Racing from Japan entered the field with this (near lane) narrowed modified driven by TROG regular Atsushi “Sushi” Yasui. Next to it sits Louis Stands’ 1927 Ford roadster equipped with a 327ci powerplant from a ’63 Corvette.
RAGING ORANGE: One of the fastest cars running the eighthmile, the historic Orange Crate (now owned by Steve Gilligan) wowed the crowd with its good looks and performance. Brothers Bob and Terry Tindle bought the ’32 Ford Tudor already chopped in 1959 and went on to transform it into a fast strip contender. It features a tilt body along with a Hilborninjected 417ci Olds motor with a Potvin blower.
HOT ROD LADY: Diana Branch owns both a colorful ’29 Ford roadster and this ’32 Tudor, running a Studebaker V8 bored to 299 ci, a Chevy five-speed transmission, and a Chevy ’57 rearend. The sedan’s good looks should be attributed to the 4 ⁄ inch chop and 5-inch channel. The Glacier Blue Chrysler metallic paint does not hurt either.
LOCAL RACERS: The Hanssen family are the caretakers of these two racers built by Willis Baldwin of Santa Barbara. On the left is the ’49 Baldwin Special, and on the right, the bare aluminum C/mod ’51 Baldwin Special used from 1954 until 1957 in SCCA competition. The ’49 Special runs a ’46 Merc flathead with a full-race Clay Smith cam, Edelbrock heads, and triple Strombergs; the ’51 Special is also powered by a Merc flathead, this one fitted with Ardun heads.
COLORADO RODS: The Lucky Tramps Car Club out of Colorado presented a couple of fine rides driven by an equally fine couple. Brooke Dolan drove the Deuce coupe with S.CO.T. supercharged flathead power and Navarro heads, while husband Daniel competed with a ’34 five-window Ford with a flathead V8, too.
LITTLE ZIP: A recent Craigslist find, this 1927 T owned by Reno, Nevada, resident Rory Forbes appeared to have been a California circle track racer as far back as 1949. On the dash resides a plaque stating, “Participant NHRA National Drags-1959 Detroit, Mich.” The roadster hasn’t changed much in the last 60 years, still featuring its Joe Bailon paint and Tommy the Greek striping.
SPIRIT OF ’47: We introduced you to Paul Gommi in HRD’S Sept. 2018 issue (“The Way We Were”; bit.ly/2ck9yjk). The competitive racer brought his supercharged ’32 Ford roadster, which was built in 1947 and ran 129 mph at El Mirage shortly after. All eyes were on Gommi, who won his class at the 2018 RPM Nationals, but issues with the flathead’s block didn’t allow him to perform as well as expected.
FUN T TIME: Tegan Hammond had a ton of fun racing the Hammond family’s ’27 Ford roadster. The powerplant of choice is a rare 1927 HAL double-overhead-cam fourcylinder. By the next decade, few utilized that engine, as it had been surpassed by Ford’s flathead V8.
LAKE REFUGEE: Racing against Daniel Shircliff’s orange A is “Hudson Joe” Buffardi’s ’29 Ford roadster, prepared with an uncommon ’49 337ci Lincoln flathead. It is fed by dual Merc sidedraft carbs on an Edmunds intake and runs a Potvin cam and Mallory dual-point ignition. It seems that the car raced at El Mirage in the 1950s through the mid 1960s. When Buffardi bought it in 2004 it was “just a body.” He fabricated the hood, nose, and grille. Notice the neat aircraft-inspired exhaust system.
AS THE FLAG DROPS: Tom Franzi of Germany is ready to hammer the throttle of his Model A, which was built in the mid- to late-1950s. He bought it about a week before the race. Seemingly painted metalflake in the 1960s, the 6-inch-channeled roadster with sectioned ’32 grille received a ’56 324ci Olds Rocket V8 at some point.
WAYNE’S WORLD: This nice lineup of healthy motors is led by a not-so-common Wayne head-equipped 235ci Chevy six motivating Cedric Meeks’ ’34 Ford coupe. Cedric is the son of Russ Meeks, who won the Grand National Roadster Show’s AMBR award in 1972 with his well-known tilt-body, rear-engined Model A roadster.
WELCOME BACK: It was good to see Gene Winfield in Santa Barbara, looking none the worse for wear after his European ordeal last year. He was attending a car show in Finland in September when he broke his hip in a bad fall. During recovery, he came down with pneumonia; that and other health complications made it impossible for him to fly commercially back to the States. A Gofundme page set up to get him home reached its goal in just a few days, and he was back in the U.S. by late October.
GRANDPA’S HEADERS: The exhaust on the banger engine in Jenny Boostrom’s ’23 Model T roadster was fabricated by Jesse Belond, grandson of famed exhaust maker Sandy Belond, using a vintage photo they found as reference. So far it’s the only one, but Jesse hopes to make more, “trying to keep Grandpa’s name out there.” Arch Gratz built the motor with a rare Thomas intake and head, and two Stromberg 81 carbs. Clayton’s Hot Rods in Santa Cruz, California, put the car together, which Jesse bought for Jenny as a Christmas present.
HARLEY ALLEY: The event wasn’t only about cars, as 30 vintage bikes made a ton of passes all day long. Incidentally, HarleyDavidson was a major sponsor of the Santa Barbara Drags.
STUDE STUDY: Traveling with his wife Diana, Tom Branch joined the mayhem with his real steel ’32 Ford showcasing a 304ci ’63 Studebaker V8, hopped up with four Stromberg carbs. Fabian Valdez at Vintage Hammer Garage helped build the roadster, which is fitted with ’50 Pontiac taillights, 15x4 and 15x8.5 American Racing mags, and Inglewood slicks in the back.
WHEELER’S WHEELS: David Wheeler is a regular racer, having competed at the TROG Pismo race and the 2018 RPM Nationals (see our Mar. 2019 issue; bit.ly/2v30yql). He made a handful of passes with his stout Model T.
BRONZE FLAME: Lars Mapstead is just the third owner of the Bronze Flame, a real-deal survivor of 1950s hot rodding that still wears its original lacquer flamed paint job over a steel (not aluminum) track nose fabricated by Sam Barris. Original owner Ed Donato raced the car at the lakes and the Santa Ana drags before putting it in storage for some five decades. The car is no museum piece, as Mapstead has run it at the RPM Nationals and the TROG beach race in New Jersey.
THE BRITISH ARE COMING: These 1960s-styled Deuces are owned by two U.K. expatriates. In the near lane is Nostalgia Ranch’s Jay Dean with his 331ci Cad V8 five-window coupe, chopped 3 ⁄ inches. In the far lane is 1 2 Dice Magazine’s Dean Micetich with his threewindow, which was painted in 1964. It relies on a ’55 Cad motor and ’57 Olds rearend. Dean dropped the driveshaft during this run, but got it fixed to participate again later!
BARNES’ FIND: A ’32 Ford coupe with the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands National Park in the background—what’s not to like? The chopped Deuce belonging to John Barnes had been drag raced around 1951-1954. Lack of hood allowed spectators to admire the supercharged flathead V8 with Fenton heads.
THE 1,000-MILE TRIP: Yep, Daniel Shircliff traveled in his daily driven Model A from Phoenix for the weekend, adding a thousand miles to the odometer. His Craigslist find was apparently built around 1961-1962 and last driven in the 1970s.
REFINED ’50S: It was great to see two of the most elegant chopped customs built in recent years. Scott Roberts’ 1954 Mercury (foreground) cruises thanks to a 292ci Y-block. It features a bunch of traditional alterations: shaved door handles, frenched headlights, rounded corners on the hood and doors, and more. It kept company with Kelly and Mark Skipper’s ’51 Ford with ’53 Chevy teeth.
ANTIQUE VIBE: Blessed by beautiful weather, the staging lanes remained packed all day long. With 70 cars registered, each participant had the opportunity to make several runs. Palm trees as far as the eye can see contributed to the fantastic vibe of this inaugural get-together which, we hope, will return to the West Coast in 2020.
BUICK BEAUTY: Steve Pierce selected what some might consider an unlikely candidate for a custom project, a ’40 Buick coupe. Among the most noticeable modifications: a top chopped 4 inches in front and 51⁄ in back, ’39 Ford headlights, and ’41 Cad bumpers. The color is reminiscent of Ford’s famous Washington Blue.
BY THE SEA: TROG Santa Barbara wasn’t only about hot rods. The Hilton’s rotunda hosted the terrific Customs by the Sea exhibit. It actually called for additional vehicles to be displayed on site, but regulations forced promoters to park a bunch of cars on the other side of the wall, facing the ocean. The two ’36 Fords belong to Alan Windard (Throttlers CC, Salt Lake City) and Jon Fisher (Burbank Choppers CC).
GRAPEVINE REDUX: Back in the day, spray gun extraordinaire Larry Watson prowled the boulevards of Kustomland in a ’50 Chevy that was first painted black and silver. He later resprayed the car in lavender, which is when it acquired the name Grapevine. John Denich owns this clone built with accuracy in mind, from the ’55 Olds headlight rings and side trim to the ’53 Chevy grille and ’54 Merc taillights.