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PHOTOS: Tyler Hester and Cory Lee Secure First Wins; Lyle Greenberg Also Triumphs at 66th March Meet

Leap Day and March 1-3 marked the date for the Super Bowl of Nostalgia Drag Racing, which annually brings racers, fans, and enthusiasts from near and far together at the famous location nicknamed “the Patch,” also known as Famoso Dragstrip just north of Bakersfield, Calif. The historic venue once more kicked off the NHRA Heritage Season. Despite persistent rain showers interrupting the action on Friday and particularly  Saturday, the Famoso track crew worked tirelessly to keep the action going and were eager to finish the race on Sunday, which they achieved superbly.  

Qualifying  

Thirteen Nostalgia Top Fuel teams battled to secure spots in the eight-car field during the two rain-affected qualifying days. Reigning champ Tyler Hilton started off strong just like he ended last season and raced straight to the No. 1 spot posting an impressive 5.625 at 257 MPH on the scoreboards, creating a  0.10-second gap between him and the rest of the field. Behind him, Pete Kaiser, racing his own car, managed a best of 5.735 at 255 MPH, and Adam Sorokin, with his 5.745 at 241 MPH pass, rounded out the top three of the eight-car field. 

In Nostalgia Funny Car, Shane Westerfield in “The Problem Child“ ran 5.613 at 258 MPH to secure the top spot in front of Geoff Monise, 5.620 at 259 MPH in “The Quarter Pounder” and reigning champion Bobby Cottrell 5.635 at 256 MPH in the “Bardahl“ Funny Car. 

Out of the ten participating Fuel Altered teams, Australian driver Mathew Leonard went on top with 6.031 at 228 MPH in his “Nitro Rat“ Fuel Altered. Mark Whynaught’s 6.186 at 202 MPH earned him the second spot in front of Lyle Greenberg, who ran a best of 6.317 at 161 MPH in his “Cone Hunter“ Fuel Altered during qualifying, to secure the third spot of the eight car field. 

Race Day  

Weather conditions on Sunday looked fabulous and promised sunshine throughout the whole day. After the familiar tunes of the national anthem had faded out, the first two nitro engines roared to life, and Tyler Hilton took on No. 8 qualifier Tyler Hester in the first round of Nostalgia Top Fuel. Hester took an upset win over a tire-spinning Tyler Hilton clocking 5.908 at 194 MPH to Hilton’s coasting 9.208 at 82 MPH. Hester went on to beat Pete Wittenberg in the semifinals. In a thrillingly close race, Hester ran 5.725 at 261 MPH to beat Wittenberg’s 5.728 at 250 MPH by a razor-thin margin.

On the opposite side of the ladder, Pete Kaiser ran 5.777 at 241 MPH against Shawn Bowen’s slower 5.802 at 226 MPH, but Bowen’s quicker reaction time won him the round. Bowen went on to beat Brett Williamson in the semis 5.978 at 249 MPH to 6.077 at 245 MPH to end up in the finals against Tyler Hester. Shawn Bowen got off the line first but drove out of the groove, drifted towards the center line and had to get out of it. Tyler Hester drove around him, beating Bowen’s 7.649 at 122 MPH with a 5.776 at 258 MPH to secure his first Nostalgia Top Fuel March Meet title, which had the “Overtime Special“ gang going wild at the starting line. 

In the first round of Nostalgia Funny Car, Shane Westerfield was defeated by Cameron Ferre, 5.813 at 249 MPH, to Ferre’s quicker 5.618 at 244 MPH. Ferre went on to beat local racer Kamaka Pocock on a holeshot by a narrow margin of only seven-thousandths of a second in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, he was slated to run against Cory Lee. Ferre experienced tire shake and had to lift – Cory Lee advanced to the finals with a 5.714 at 259 MPH. On the other side of the ladder Jeff Arend beat Jerry Espeseth in the first and reigning champ Bobby Cottrell in the second round after Cottrell’s chutes came out halfway through the run.

In the semis, Arend met Jon Capps. Unfortunately, engine troubles forced Capps to shut the engine off after his burnout, handing the win to Jeff Arend. In the finals, Arend was quicker on the tree but slightly slower on the track. Cory Lee beat Arend with another strong run, 5.658 at 260 MPH to 5.829 at 236 MPH, to celebrate his first-ever win in drag racing competition. 

Lyle Greenberg’s “Cone Hunter“ Fuel Altered didn’t go for the cones, but Johnny West did in the first round. As a result that gifted the round win to Greenberg. Greenberg met Ron Capps, who was driving the Burkholder Bros. Fuel Altered in the semifinals. Both drivers had to pedal but Greenberg took the win 6.328 at 200 MPH against Capps’ 7.246 at 133 MPH.

On the other side of the ladder, it was Keith Wilson in “The Witch Doctor“ Fuel Altered who beat Brian Hope with “Pure Hell” in the first and No. 1 qualifier Mathew Leonard in the second round on his way to the finals against Lyle Greenberg. When the lights flashed green for the all-deciding final round, Lyle Green spun the tires immediately after the hit, and it looked like Keith Wilson had already won, but he ran a 5.777 at 225 MPH, which was too quick for the 6.00 index and handed the win to a very happy Lyle Greenberg.  

Other winners in their respective categories were: 

Brad Woodard in Junior Fuel, Wayne Ramey won A/Fuel, and the 7.0 Pro final will be contested at Redding in May between Tony Trimp and Jason Vanderpool. Steve Schoenfeld won Nostalgia Eliminator I, Eddie Lucas picked up the win in Nostalgia Eliminator II, and Ed De Staute Nostalgia Eliminator III. The A/Gas title went to Keizer Small, B/ Gas to Bill Anderson, while Michael Corradi took the C/Gas crown and Doug Fournier won in D/Gas. The winner in the Hot Rod class was Joy Tucker. 

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The next stop of the eight-race NHRA Heritage Tour 2024 will be the Ignitor Nitro Opener at Firebird Raceway in Boise, Idaho, on May 17-19.

This story was originally published on March 14, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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