There aren't many events where almost everyone asks each other for autographs and to have pictures taken. But then again, there aren't many events like the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, where old friends gather for a warm weekend of reminiscing and fun, all wrapped around the golden age of drag racing and hot rodding.
The Reunion, now in its 13th year, offers racers, mechanics, fans and everyone whose been involved with the sport on any level during its 50-plus history, a chance to relive their magic moments with thousands of others at Famoso Raceway, just north of Bakersfield.
While there's nostalgic drag racing and hot rods aplenty at the track, day 1 of the 3-day Reunion, which is presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California and produced by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, is geared toward the evening's Honoree Reception and party.
Held at the DoubleTree Hotel, hundreds gather to inside for the awards program then scurry outside as oldtime dragsters are ‘fired-up’ in the driveway to the and the real party begins. Or as master of ceremonies Dave McClelland put it, ‘The parking lot will reek of nitro’.
The evening's festivities belonged to Grand Marshal Paula Murphy and Honorees ‘Wild’ Bill Alexander, The Frantic Four team of Norman Weekly, Ron Rivero, Dennis Holding and Jim Fox, Tom Medley, Joe Mondello and ‘Famous’ Amos Satterlee, all who played a significant part in the early days of hot rodding. Also honored were the Dust Devils car club who received the Justice Bros. T.V. Tommy Ivo Reunion Spotlight Award; Creighton Hunter, winner of the Golden Age Recipient award; and a much-surprised Art Chrisman who was given the Preservation Award.
‘It's so wonderful to have these hot-rod heroes with us for our 'lucky 13th' California Hot Rod Reunion,’ said Greg Sharp, CHRR event director and curator of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum Curator, producers of the Reunion. ‘Each of them has demonstrated tremendous passion for the sport over several decades of their lives, and their contributions to the heritage of hot rodding have proven to be immeasurable.’
Paula Murphy: Holds so many ‘firsts’ and ‘fastests’ that it's hard to know where to begin to chronicle her accomplishments. She was the first woman licensed drive a fuel funny car, the first woman to drive a race car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, she set land speed records at Bonneville and was the first woman to drive a rocket dragster. She's driven almost every type of racing vehicle known including a 10,000 horsepower jet car and the legendary supercharged Novi, sports cars, stock cars, funny cars and grand prix cars in Monaco. Murphy might even be responsible for Shirley Muldowney's ‘graduation’ to Funny Cars. The two had dinner and Murphy suggested that Muldowney move up to Funny Car so that they could have match races and attract more attention for their sponsors. Muldowney got a ride in Connie Kalitta's car and the rest is history. Her career in racing was capped by a promotional trip driving around the world in 1976 with champ car racer Johnny Parsons Sr. The two completed the journey and ended up calling it ‘Around the World in 80 Delays’ because of the many problems they had.
Bill Alexander: Driver of the legendary ‘Ernie's Camera Shudder Bug’, a Pontiac-powered front-engine Top Fuel dragster with an extremely short wheelbase, ‘Wild Bill’ Alexander crashed the original Shudder Bug in 1964 at the San Fernando dragstrip, but salvaged the engine and races with it in a car rebuilt by his son, Rod. In 1962, Alexander beat the Greer-Black-Prudhomme fueler at Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach, Calif. In 1964, driving for Jim Brisette, he was one of the first to exceed 200 mph with a 202.24 at San Fernando. He had the second best E.T. of 1964 with a 7.50. In 1965, he was the runner-up to Prudhomme at the Winternationals. He was low qualifier at the Bakersfield March Meet in 1967 with a 7.19 E.T. He drove at least ten different dragsters during his career. Alexander was one of the first members of the Nitronic Research AA/FD 5 Second Club, awarded to those whose times are in the 5-second range in front-engine dragsters.
The 'Frantic Four' Team: With a driver nicknamed ‘Stormin' Norman’ and a bright-red front-engine Top Fuel dragster, the only thing to wonder about is why they called it the 'Frantic Four.' But ‘Stormin' Norman' Weekly, Ron Rivero, Dennis Holding and Jim Fox will each have a story to tell at the Reunion. The genesis of some teams may be lost to history, but the Frantic Four can date their existence from Jan 21, 1963, when the four Southern Californians got together. The name was derived from the team's amazing performance levels from a small-displacement Chrysler engine. They set track records from all along the West Coast in 1963. They had top speed at the 1964 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and beat legends such as Don ‘Big Daddy’ Garlits, Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme and Chris ‘The Greek’ Karamesines. In 1966, they were among the fastest in drag racing with a speed of 221.66 mph.