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Words and photos by Richard Kratz
March Meet at Auto Club Famoso Raceway north of Bakersfield, California is a big deal. How big? By our and others’ estimate over 20,000 spectators, a midway of vendor booths that literally stretches from the staging lanes to the finish stripe, and more race cars than you can count—although if you did count it would be around 600. There were some 30 heritage nitro funny cars and 20 more entries in top fuel. Jet cars ran on Friday and Saturday night and there was a car show behind the grandstands.
Something about March Meet is magical, spring is here (at least in central California), the boredom of no-racing winter is banished by the return of earthshaking nitro cars and dueling sportsman racers. Some say it’s all about the cars, some say it’s all about the people. We say it’s all about all of it. Famoso has a terrific track with new leveled concrete for the whole ¼ mile. Newly repaved staging lanes and extended pit area are almost enough to make you forget about the dirt and dust that the wind can bring in. In 2011 that wind and a storm interfered with the fun and delayed the racing but not this year. This year the weather was sunny, dry and warm but not too warm, and not a drop of rain in sight.
There were Mopars in the car show, Mopars gulping nitro on the track, and Mopars hanging the front wheels through the 60 foot in the sportsman ranks. We ran into plenty of Mopar fans including a great-grandmother with a fondness for Dusters wearing a “Mopar or No Car” baseball cap. Walking the lanes you could see Don Schumacher Racing’s Ron Capps with his nostalgia nitro funny car, and Glen Huszar lending a hand on the crew. 1996 National Top Alcohol Funny Car champion Tony Bartone swapping a flopper for a front engined rail in Top Fuel. Wandering the pits Grand Marshalls Larry Dixon Sr. and Larry Dixon Jr. seemed to be everywhere. Yep, this is March Meet.
If you missed it this year, trust us, put it on your calendar for next year. This is one Rite of Spring you don’t want to miss.
Tell Your Grand Kids, I Was There
Words by Lyle Larson
With drag strips disappearing like speed shops and phone booths, a beacon of hope shines birghtly in Kern County, California. Blake Bowser and his dedicated crew have given racers and fans a healthy safe haven in the form of the Auto Club Famoso Raceway. With a history that dates back to the 1950's and a future that embraces the new, young drag racing generations, March Meet at Famoso is a drag racer's field of dreams.
The vendors can get your adrenaline going as much as the racing. Walking around is a happy man with a just-bought treasure—a steering column—over his shoulder like a minuteman’s musket. Venison jerky and old fashioned root beer floats will take you back to the days before non-fat half caf lattes and bunless hamburgers. March Meet captures all of the thrill, joy, sounds, smells and courage of the best heart of drag racing in one place.
If you haven't attended a March Meet, and you consider yourself a drag racer or fan, then you have to make it to the next one. If nothing else so that one day you can tell you grand kids, "I may have missed Lions, Irwindale and Orange County, however, March Meet, Bakersfield, I was there!"
Lyle Larson made his first pass down a drag strip in 1961 and he hasn’t stopped yet. Lyle has held NHRA licenses in Pro Stock and all classes up to and including Top Alcohol Dragster. He’s traveled the 1/4 mile in 6.22 Seconds at over 220 MPH. As a crew chief, he teamed with Billy Williams when they won the Grace Cup and World Championship in Top Alcohol in 1979 and for Jeb Allen when they won Top Fuel at the 1980 Gator Nationals. You can find him at this month’s Mopars at the Strip racing Kevin Shields wicked V10 Drag Pak Challenger and pitted next to the MoparMax booth on the midway.