race reports

The 60th Annual March Meet at Bakersfield, California

Racers Battle the Weather

Words by Brian Losness

Photos by Dave Kommel and Darr Hawthorne

Pete Whittenberg was the Nostalgia Top Fuel winner.


The 60th running of the Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet could have been labled a test of faith.


Mother Nature dominated the action on Friday and Saturday, playing havoc with qualifying and giving many of the racers only one chance at the racing surface. And for many that one chance was in less than optimal conditions, with cold, damp temps and a racing surface that wasn’t much warmer. However, the conditions were the same for everybody.


The Top Fuel cars only got to see the track one time in qualifying and that happened on Friday afternoon. This led to some cars that are normally hitters in the class either on the bottom of the field or not in at all.


Mendy Fry in Tom Shelar’s High Speed Motorsports front engine Top Fuel dragster was quickest of the only qualifying session at 5.73 and 219.51 mph. A surprising second qualifier was Brett Williamson at the wheel of Mike Fuller’s “Forever Young” fueler, who checked in at 5.93/247.47. Third was Pete Whittenberg in the “Circuit Breaker” at 6.30/167.14.


Rounding out the top half of the field was defending National Champion Jim Murphy at 6.40/166.72. Murphy has decided not to chase points this year due to the work load his company has undertaken after the massive fires that destroyed many of his customers homes and businesses in the Santa Rosa, CA, area.


The return of Neal & White after a short hiatus was rewarded with a fifth qualifying position, 6.69/213.20.


In sixth it was Brendan Murry. A nice surprise for the San Jose, CA, driver who clocked a 6.70/152.92.


In the seventh slot it was Doing Double Duty Dan Horan at the wheel of his late father’s dragster. His 7.03/135.00 secured a slot in the field.


On the bump it was the Boy in the Bubble (according to Donny Couch) The Champion Speed Shop dragster with Adam Sorokin at 7.51/215.27.


As one can see, the weather was not kind to many of the racers. On the outside looking in were cars that are normally well into the show: Dusty Green, Tim Cullinan, Rick McGee, and Phil Ruskowski.


Weather washed out the other two attempts which meant that those racing on Sunday would have their hands full with the lack of data and uncertain conditions.

Mendy Fry


Round one saw the top half of the field advance with much more respectable performances. Both Mendy Fry and Brett Williamson served notice that they had found performance in the iffy conditions. Fry’s 5.69/261.42 was low for the round followed by Williamson’s 5.79/212.19.


Whittenberg and Williamson would be the first pair out in the semifinals. Williamson was not his normal self on the starting line leaving second behind the “Circuit Breaker”, and just could never catch up. Whittenberg taking the win 5.83 219.04 over “Forever Young’s” game 5.94/219.04.


Then it was a rematch of last year’s finals with Fry and Murphy. Murphy moved first by nearly six hundredths of a second. However, that didn’t last long as the WWII started to spin the tires, allowing Fry to storm past and take the win, 5.60/250.97 to cover Murphy’s slowing 13.37/66.71.


With all the cars that needed to run and delays that were encountered, the finals were run well after dark. Temps were cold and the track crew fought hard to keep heat in the surface.


At the green both cars left together, but at sixty feet Whittenberg was up in smoke and was seemingly done for. Fry’s mount was again charging hard but about half track the car jumped sideways and started mowing cones down the centerline, giving the win to what would have to be a very surprised Pete Whittenberg. It was the one-year anniversary of Whittenberg getting his Top Fuel license. Not a bad present.


In funny car 25 cars were on the grounds to attempt to get into the main show. Some of those teams got two looks at the track in qualifying, but weather precluded getting a complete compliment of qualifying.


The usual suspects topped Funny Car qualifying with Bobby Cottrell leading the way followed by the new driver for the “California Hustler,” Jeff Arend.  Mark Sanders held down the third slot, followed by Steven Densham and then reigning National Champion Ryan Hodgson. Cory Lee and Matt Bynam rounded out the top eight.

Maybe “Burnin’ Money” would rather be a dragster? Unfortunately, Steve Easton did not make the Funny Car field.


Round one was filled with upsets, none bigger than Jeff Arend being caught napping on the starting line as Rian Konno used a .016 light to cover Arend’s .141 which was enough to take the win 5.84/241.89 over Arend’s 5.75/256.89.  Paul Romine in the “Man O’ War” took out Mark Sanders’ “Mr. Explosive” in an upset 5.81/232.63 to 6.53/156.92.


Mike Halstead at the wheel of Lee Jennings’ “Code Red” took out Cory Lee, 5.89/253.28 to 7.88/118.06. The last upset in round one saw Shawn Bowen in Michael Bartone’s Camaro take out Matt Bynam in a squeaker 5.68/251.06 over 5.71/259.61.


The biggest break in round one was given to Jason Rupert. His opponent was Dan Horan, now in his Funny Car. Horan had an oil line leaking and was forced to shut off. At the green Rupert dumped the clutch on his Camaro and moved about five feet before blowing the tires off the car. Horan was not a happy camper after seeing that.

Bobby Cottrell


Round two was a bit more on the normal side as the cream rose to the top. Cottrell, Hodgson and Densham all won, and all served notice that they were serious. Especially Cottrell his 5.58/256.98 lap that was low ET of the event.


The fourth car in the semi’s, Rian Konno, caught a break when Mike Halstead could not make the call. Konno was getting tuning assistance from Roland Leong for the weekend.


In the semifinals Hodgson and Konno were the first on the pad. At the green it was Hodgson out first but just barely. Konno put up a very spirited fight, but there was just too much Bob Pappernick horsepower and Hodgson took the win 5.70/256.46 to 5.82/209.20.


The other pair of Cottrell and Densham was over before it started. As Densham went -.147 red and never was able to give Cottrell a fight. Cottrell would have been tough to beat as he ran another 5.60 at 251.53 mph.


As with the top fuel cars, the floppers ran well after dark. However, that didn’t faze Cottrell. Uncle Bucky Austin has found something in the tune-up of that car and again he went out and laid down a number. His 5.72/241.41 covered a 5.95/240.17 run by Hodgson.


There were 14 Fuel Altereds that showed up for the eight-car 6.00-index field. They only got one look at the track for qualifying, which was on Friday night and it was cold and damp.

Todd Miller added some extra excitement.


Many of the teams struggled with the conditions, but some were up to the challenge and those guys from Oregon (where it almost never rains) Dan Hix and Todd Miller used whatever voodoo they have hidden to show up everybody.  Miller in the ’37 Topolino recorded a 6.19/209.88 to take the second spot. But Dan Hix made everybody’s jaw drop as he ran the index 6.00 at 204.94 mph.

Brian Hope


Brian Hope and Keith Wilson rounded out the top half of the field. Hope went 6.33 and Wilson went 6.71. Shane Harter, Eric Gates, Robert Winefski, and Mark Whynaught rounded out the eight-car field. Harter, however, could not make the call for round one so Tom Padilla was slotted in.


Round one was interesting to say the least. Hix almost got ousted by Whynaught, who used a starting line advantage and nearly stole a win 6.11 to 6.20.

Miller was upset by Winefski 6.41 to 6.62.


Gates was gifted a round one win as Hope could not get on the right side of the 6.00 second index. His 5.98 would give Gates’ 8.33 the win. To close out round one, alternate Tom Padilla broke on the burnout and Wilson smoked the tires to the win with a 12.88.

Dan Hix


With Wilson and Winefski both suffering terminal damage, the semifinals became the finals pitting Hix and Gates. Hix was not going to be denied his third March Meet win, taking out a tire-smoking Gates 6.30 to 8.91.


Four cars made up the Classic Funny Car field (5.90 index) and Dean Oberg took the win in the “Holy Toledo” Jeep in a single.


Other Final Rounds

Nostalgia Rear Motor Top Fuel: Mike Halstead, 8.290, 223.95 def. Billy McDevitt, 18.171, 42.60 


Jr. Fuel: John Marottek, 6.871, 190.86 def. Matt Baldonado, 7.061, 185.36

A Fuel: Kin Bates, 5.849, 233.88 def. Rick Ewens, 6.072, 200.84

7.0 Pro: Ronnie Lennon, 7.128, 168.39 def. Tony Trimp (red light)

NE1: Dan Schrokosch, 7.619, 178.19 def. Ed Silbermann, 7.621, 164.51

NE2: Sam Tucker, .019 RT, 8.621, 146.88 def. Todd Fernandez (.043 RT), 8.603, 153.44

NE3: Ed DeStaute, 9.575, 139.69 def. Jim Miller (red light)

A GAS: Frank Merenda, .007 RT, 7.550, 174.93 def. Eric Bush, .015 RT, 7.535, 179.40

B Gas: Neal Westbrook, 8.568, 161.57 def. Tim Mulvihill (red light)

C Gas: PJ Giacolone, .024 RT, 9.666, 132.37 def. Larry Hesseman Jr., .095 RT 9.600, 136.72  



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