It was back in 1959 when a local car club named “The Smokers” hosted the inaugural United States Fuel and Gas Championships at Famoso Dragstrip north of Bakersfield, which eventually became known as the March Meet. Famoso Dragstrip, once served as an auxiliary airfield during World War II, later then became a home for the growing Nostalgia Drag Racing scene in 1994.
This year’s edition was a historic milestone, marking the 65th annual edition of the March Meet sponsored by Good Vibrations Motorsports. The event drew over 400 teams to the track in the McFarland area to kick off the 2023 NHRA Heritage Series season.
While testing and qualifying could be held under cold temperatures but yet mostly sunny skies, rain throughout the day on Sunday forced race officials to push most of the class’s elimination rounds to Monday.
The team around defending event winner and reigning Nostalgia Funny Car champion Bobby Cottrell showed some unusual weakness when he burned an engine during the test session on Thursday. But the team stepped up to old strength and dominance by qualifying at the top of the ladder with a strong 5.661 at 256 mph. He then continued by defeating Chris Davis in the first round of eliminations with a 5.685 at 254 mph on Saturday evening. Just when he pulled into the lanes to take on Drew Austin on Sunday morning the rain started, which stopped the action before it even had begun. On Monday, Mother Nature allowed the eliminations to continue under blue skies. It turned out to be worth the wait as Cottrell defeated Austin in a close race with a 5.69 at 256 mph to Austin’s 5.70 at 256 mph on a holeshot. Cottrell then advanced into the finals by beating Tony Jurado’s 5.78 at 256 with his 5.82 at 249 mph run with yet another huge holeshot.
On the other side of the ladder, it was Canadian Tim Boychuck who mowed through the field. He put the winlight on against Jim Maroney in the first and Ryan Horan in the second round. In the semifinals, he beat a tire-smoking Brad Thompson to advance into the final against Cottrell. During the warmup for his final round the team discovered a leak. With the help of some of Tony Jurado’s crew guys, the team got it fixed and made it to the starting line in time. After they fired the car and lowered the body the engine shut off. So it was a single for Cottrell, which he took on easy coasting to a 6.094 at 179 mph with an early shutoff for the win. Although that’s probably not the way he wanted to win, it marks a historic moment for Cottrell since he tied the legendary “Big Daddy” Don Garlits in winning his fifth March Meet title.
The Fuel Altered final pitted Mark Whynaught driving the “Nitro Mamba” AA/FA against Johnny West in his “Plan A” Altered. Whynaught, seeking redemption after his dramatic loss in last year’s final, cut down the tree to beat West on a holeshot with a 6.120 at 223 mph to West’s quicker 6.109 at 247 mph run.
Eily Stafford finally got her well-deserved first March Meet win after beating Keith Wilson in the Nitro Pro Comp finals. She ran a 6.120 at 223 mph to beat Wilson, who broke out with a 5.753 at 261 mph.
After Saturday’s qualifying concluded, reigning Nostalgia Top Fuel Champion Tyler Hilton was sitting at the top spot with his 5.75 at 250 mph and Jim Murphy’s 5.94 run at 242 mph marked the bump spot of the 16 cars entered to qualify for an eight-car field. Due to the rain on Sunday the Front Engine Dragster teams and race officials agreed to pair drivers up in qualifying rounds at the California Hot Rod Reunion in October to run for the March Meet trophy. This will surely make for some additional drama to the season final of the 2023 NHRA heritage series.
Winners in other categories were:
Hot Rod Eliminator and D/Gas: Jesse Howe, Eddy Plaizier: C/Gas, Meghan Gorman: B/Gas, A/Gas: Chris Kurtis, Nostalgia Eliminator 3: Ron Anzalone, Nostalgia Eliminator 2: Scott Chamberlain, Nostalgia Eliminator 1: Steve Schoenfeld, 7.0 Pro: Jason Vanderpool, A/Fuel: Wayne Ramay.