Cole Coonce’s March Meet Journal


By the time the clutch dust had cleared and the live-Internet streamers had taken down their scaffolding, I counted over 55 blown-on-nitro race cars at the 2014 March Meet. By sunset Sunday, 29 AA/Funny Cars, 16 AA/Fuelers and a dozen AA/Fuel Altereds had taken time slips at Auto Club Famoso Raceway’s signature event that drag-scribe Dave Wallace referred to as “the last great independent event.”

Wallace said that nearly a decade ago in this very publication and it’s still accurate. Bakersfield defies the humbling attendance trends that blot the bottom line of professional motorsports sanctions seemingly everywhere else across America.

Fifty-six years after the inaugural 1959 race, the March Meet isn’t just healthy. It’s thriving.  Even 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force marveled at the 20,000 spectators crammed into the dragstrip north of Bakersfield, Calif.

"This place is unbelievable," Force exclaimed from the Famoso tower. "I couldn't find a parking space.” He then added, “This is bigger than a (NHRA) national event.”

Knowing where his bread is buttered, Force didn’t spell out why this event is so successful at a time when the professional race series he competes in can’t draw flies.

To borrow from James Carville, “It’s the quarter-mile nitro, stupid.”

NHRA shortened its race course in 2008, and Force and his compatriots have maintained that 1,000-foot drag racing is the de facto distance for drag racing nowadays, and there is no going back. Maybe. But go to one of the races in Force’s series and you’ll have no problem finding a place to park.