BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – The 20th NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion presented by Automobile Club of Southern California this past weekend (Oct. 21-23) will go down in the history books for its wonderful weather, large crowds, cool cars and amazing nostalgia drag racing. Auto Club Famoso Track operators Blake and John Bowser gathered the troops for what was quite possibly the largest Reunion ever. It's hard to believe there was only going to be one California Hot Rod Reunion.
"This has been our largest-attended Reunion ever. We are thrilled with the support of the sponsors, spectators and participants. The cooperation we
received from Auto Club Famoso Raceway is unprecedented, and we will keep these Reunions going for many years to come," said Reunion Director Tony Thacker, executive director of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.
Since its inception in 1992, the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion has offered hot rodders and racers the opportunity to reunite with old friends and reminisce about “the good old days.” The Reunion included competition on the racetrack, a car show, a chance for fans to meet the legends and stars of the sport, a Reunion reception and the highly popular “Cacklefest,” which this year involved nearly 65 of the early-days-style
front-engine dragsters being push-started, then all gathered together on the drag strip with engines running or “cackling.”
Twenty years later, the Reunions have become the “Mecca” for nostalgia drag racing and hot rods. Visitors from all over the world descended into Kern County to join in the Reunion festivities including New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Germany, and Sweden.
The Reunion’s bring some of the legends of the sport together with the fans who grew up cheering them on. This year, the Honorees included Grand Marshal Steve Gibbs whose vision created the Reunion, and
Honorees Harry Hibler, Wayne King, John Peters, Dwight Salisbury and the late George Santos, who unfortunately passed away just a couple weeks shy of the Reunion, his family participated in his memory. About a thousand people crammed into the Double Tree Hotel’s banquet hall, not an inch of wall space was visible, to partake in the Reunion’s Honoree Reception.
Grand Marshal Steve Gibbs was overwhelmed with joy when his entire family including his three daughters, six grandkids, wife Gloria and his feisty 88-year-old mother attended the reception to share in this special honor. "I'm blessed and lucky to get involved into something
I've really enjoyed," said Gibbs. "I get a little choked up to see so many friends and familly. This Reunion and special recognition is an exclamation mark in my whole career with NHRA, and I hope twenty years from now this Reunion and the sport keeps going strong."
Following a grand reception, the swarm of people went out to the hotel’s parking lot for a mini-Cacklefest show. It was a glorious wrap up for the first day of the Reunion.
Saturday's welcome ceremonies brought out some big names in the sport to come out to play including NHRA President Tom
Compton, Auto Club President Thomas K. McKernan, who proudly sponsors and participates in the Reunion every year, and NHRA drivers John Force, Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, Del Worsham and Ron Capps. It was a special treat for fans but for the NHRA pros, the Reunion is their time to enjoy some nostalgia drag racing and meet some of their heroes like Tom McEwen and Don Prudhomme.
Families also enjoyed Reunion festivities around Auto Club Famoso Raceway. Fans of all ages spent the day taking advantage of great weather, good food, shopping, cool cars and incredible racing.
Brett Harris of Kaysville, UT took home a back-to-back win in Nostalgia Top Fuel and John Hale of Dallas, TX won his first Reunion in Nostalgia Funny Car. Other winners included
four-time Reunion Champ Kin Bates (A/Fuel), three-time Reunion Champ Bob Lander (Junior Fuel), Ronnie Lennon (7.0 Pro), Dean Hall (A/Gas), Tim Brown (Nostalgia Eliminator I), and three-time Reunion Champ Joel Miner (AFX).
While racers took to the track, street rodders and hot rodders took to the swap meet and the vendor areas to snap up shirts, hats, parts and historical artifacts related to hot-rodding. In the Hot Rod Deluxe Memory Grove, located behind the grandstand, huge crowds shook hands with legendary racers and snapped photos of historical cars including the Justice Brother Car Care Product Spotlight Award Recipients the Chrisman Family. This is the first year Hot Rod and Hot Rod Deluxe magazine sponsored the area and they pulled together some historical and fun displays including the famous Jazzy Nelson dragster and Tommy Sparks’ pickup. The AMSOIL Street Rodder Tour also returned this year with another great group of beautiful street rods.
"We're happy to provide the chance for hot rodders to pass their passion on to the next generation," said Greg Sharp, Curator of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, which organizes the event. "By bringing fans together with their heroes, we bring the Museum to life for a new group of hot rodders."
For the tenth consecutive year, the Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest affiliate of the AAA, is the presenting sponsor of the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion. The Automobile Club of Southern California has been serving members since 1900. Today, the Auto Club’s members benefit by the organization’s emergency road service, financial
products, travel agency and trip planning services, highway and transportation safety programs, insurance products and services, automotive pricing, buying and financing programs, automotive testing and analysis and legislative advocacy. Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club’s web site at www.aaa-calif.com.
Well for those who missed it, there will be another one. Mark your calendars for the 21st NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion on Oct. 19-21, 2012, and you can be sure to have a great time! For more on the Hot Rod Reunion, visit the Museum website at http://museum.nhra.com.