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By Mike Bumbeck
Photos by James Drew and Mike Bumbeck

The NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion is not so much a drag race as it is a museum in motion. For 15 consecutive years the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum has thrown a big party at historic Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, and with each passing year a few more folks are invited. The rolling museum on display at Famoso every fall represents the collective history of American drag racing - not standing static under some dimmed interior lights, but rocketing and thundering as intended in this annual celebration of speed and human achievement. Best of all there were more than a few Mopars there to join in the party.

The key attraction of the Reunion is the connection between the past and the fan wanting to celebrate that history today. Drag racing action roars from morning to night. A swap meet holds treasure for those searching. A walk along the grove behind the stands reveals seemingly endless vehicular eye candy. The pits are accessible to those willing to witness what horrors nitromethane can dish out to Donovan Hemis. The midway brings together the fan with parts required to drive, restore or restificate their rod, custom, or street machine or a t-shirt from another time. The connection between the vintage drag racing fan and the event itself is crystal clear despite the haze of tire smoke and nitro fumes.

While gawking at the action on and off the track is something not missed the legends of drag racing are there to be met. Chris “The Greek” Karamesines was there with his restored Chizler. “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and his famous Swamp Rat 8 also rolled out for the Cacklefest. “TV Tommy” Ivo made an exhibition run down the track and the legendary Roland Leong brought it all together as Grand Marshal of the event.

Even the Ed "The Camfather" Iskenderian was there checking out all the action. To prevent confusion the Camfather wrote "ISKY, himself" in Sharpie on his pith helmet.

Leong was honored to serve as Grand Marshal and excited about the Reunion's unique ability to celebrate the history of drag racing.

"It’s awesome,” Leong said. “It ranks right up there to being inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. I’ve probably been to about six reunions, including last year. I think it’s just great that someone is doing something to preserve the past and recognize the people that helped get drag racing where it is today.”

For more information on upcoming NHRA Reunions along with events and happenings at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum visit http://museum.nhra.com/

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