The NHRA Heritage Series made its final stop at Famoso Dragstrip on October 13-15 for the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals formerly known as the California Hot Rod Reunion. While the Funny Car championship already had been decided at the last event in Tulsa and went once more to the seemingly unbeatable Bobby Cottrell, the Top Fuel championship was still open to contention. With Tyler Hilton sitting in No. 1 and Jim Murphy No. 2 in points, they both had a legit chance of grabbing the 2023 crown.
But that had to wait for Sunday. Before that, some unfinished business had yet to be taken care of. Since the Top Fuel eliminations rounds couldn’t be contested at this year’s March Meet due to a rain delay on Sunday, the qualifying rounds of the Nostalgia Nationals also counted as elimination runs. As qualifying progressed, Jim Murphy beat reigning champ Tyler Hilton in the first round and Tyler Hester in a rerun of the second round, which was necessary due to a temporary timing system malfunction, on his route to the final against Pete Wittenberg. Murphy was off the line first and never looked back, beating Wittenberg in a real close race, 5.773 at 252 mph to Wittenberg’s 5.807 at 249 mph. This milestone win made Murphy a five-time March Meet winner. He’s now tied with none other than “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.
As far as the Nostalgia Nationals Top Fuel qualifying goes, Pete Kaiser went a stout 5.631 at 259 mph to grab the top spot just in front of Hilton, who posted a 5.657 at 238 mph to the boards, and Wittenberg with his best of 5.716 at 251 mph sitting third.
On race day, Wittenberg went 5.718 at 252 mph to beat Bret Williamson’s slower 5.947 at 202 mph in the first round and reigning world champ Hilton in the second round in a close race on a holeshot, 5.702 at 252 mph to Hilton’s slightly quicker 5.697 at 251 mph to end up in the finals, where he met Frank McBee Jr. On the opposite side of the ladder, McBee scored an upset win against Murphy in the first round, 5.836 at 260 mph to Murphy’s 6.051 at 184 mph. He went on to beat Hester in the second round, 5.935 at 238 mph to an aborted 12.480 at 56 mph, on his way in to the finals against Wittenberg. Wittenberg was a tick slower on the tree but faster on the track – he beat McBee with a 5.717 at 252 mph to McBee’s 6.237 at 193 mph to take home the event trophy and the 2023 championship crown for a second consecutive time.
Twenty Nostalgia Funny Cars showed up to enter the 16-car field. After qualifying concluded, Jerry Espeseth was sitting on top with his best run of 5.595 at 259 mph, trailed by Billy Morris 5.601 at 257 mph, and Bobby Cottrell 5.629 at 258 mph. Cottrell took the win against Drew Austin in the first round and beat Tim Boychuk in the second to advance to the semifinals against Derrick Moreira. Cottrell got off the line first and never looked back, beating Moreira with a 5.652 at 258 mph run to Moreira’s 5.965 at 231 mph run.
On the other side of the ladder, Brad Thompson ran consistent 5.70s to beat Cory Lee in the first and Jim Maroney in the second round on his way to the semifinals, where he met James Day, the No. 4 qualifier. Day ran a strong 5.765 at 259 mph, but came up short to Thompson’s slightly quicker 5.747 at 248 mph run.
In the final round, Thompson had the edge on Cottrell at the starting line, but spun the tires. Cottrell in the other lane made another flawless run, 5.660 at 260 mph, to claim yet another win as well as the championship trophy, which makes him a six-time NHRA Heritage Series champion.
Five Fuel Altereds entered the event, trying to get into the four-car field. After qualifying concluded, Mark Whynaught inherited the top spot with his best run of 6.049 at 241 mph. On Race day, he advanced straight into the finals against Dylan Winefsky on a bye run. After a long burnout he wasn’t able to get the car into reverse to stage it, which allowed Winefsky to just coast down the track, to earn his first-ever event win.
Bret Williamson was on double duty that weekend, competing in Top Fuel as well as in Pro Mod. While he went out in the first round of Top Fuel against the eventual event winner Pete
Wittenberg, he had more luck in his Pro Mod Corvette. He not only went 5.709 at 255 mph to grab the No. 1 spot, but he also beat Andy Kouerinis in the Pro Mod final with a 5.917 at 253 mph to Kouerinis’ slower 6.038 at 245 mph.
Winners in other categories were:
AFX: Steve Whitemore
AA/Super: Mike O’Connor
Hot Rod: Don Momi
D/Gas: Steve Barta
C/Gas: Gary Lynch
B/Gas: Mike Rabener
A/Gas: Cliff Boyles
Nostalgia Eliminator 3: Neil Schindler
Nostalgia Eliminator 2: Troy Moyle
Nostalgia Eliminator 1: Daniel Engle
7.0 Pro: Kevin Rapozo
A/Fuel: Wayne Ramay
Pro Mod: Bret Williamson
Junior Fuel: Brad Woodard
With the 2023 NHRA Heritage Series concluded, we are already looking forward to a thrilling 2024 season, which will kick off again with the March Meet held at Famoso Dragstrip.