A highlight of this weekend’s surfeit of nostalgia and racing is the Friday evening gathering of straight-line honorees. The night, emceed by Bob Frey, NHRA’s longtime master of the microphone, was a joyous evening of story-telling, laughter and a few tears. It was followed by a raucous cacklefest that transformed the Bakersfield, CA Doubletree Inn into its own celebration of noise and nitro.
This writer intended to attend only a day of racing and the Friday evening celebration, as one of my favorite people was honored: photojournalist Dave Wallace Jr. He was joined by event grand marshal Kelly Brown, former crew chief Bob Brandt, Jerry Darien, Jim Murphy and fellow journalist (and a man I’ve long admired) Rick Voegelin.
Bob Brandt was crew chief for Don “Snake” Prudhomme for 17 record-breaking seasons that included four championships; he also tuned such notables as Gary Ormsby, Cruz Pedregon and Tony Schumacher. Jerry Darien is an A/Fuel Dragster wizard and still tunes Alcohol Dragsters (he has groomed Force sisters Ashley, Brittany and Courtney) and it is notable that eight racers who have driven for Darien’s teams have won in excess of 100 national events.
Jim Murphy is a Top Fuel legend who got his start in a Dodge red Hemi-powered 1934 Ford coupe in the 1960s. He’s competed as an owner in both Funny Car and Top Fuel. Murphy continues to excel in nostalgia dragsters, having won four March Meet titles.
As Frey noted in his introduction, Rick Voegelin has a Master’s degree from prestigious Stanford University and studied Latin for four years. From this he became editor of Car Craft magazine, then later went on to PR duties with Oldsmobile’s drag racing program, worked with IMSA and recently retired after helming Corvette Racing’s PR program and its Le Mans entries. Voegelin still has the 1967 Car Craft Super Mod Camaro he helped put together.
Dave Wallace Jr’s Lifetime Achievement award follows his father’s similar achievement in 2005. They might be the sole father/son duo to be recognized in the field of drag racing photojournalism. Wallace Jr achieved his first drag racing byline at age 11, was the editor of Drag News, feature editor at Hot Rod magazine, founding editor of Petersen’s Drag Racing magazine and recently served as editor of Hot Rod Deluxe, specializing in nostalgia drag racing.
The Friday and mid-Saturday on-track action (this writer left after an elongated initial Nostalgia Dragster/Funny Car practice that went until nearly 3PM – from noon Saturday) was punctuated by stoppages, but by the time Sunday’s final eliminations were complete, the winners were named.
Mendy Fry earned the Top Fuel Wally in her High Speed Motorsports rail by taking out Rick McGee in the final round. She was top qualifier for the weekend, took low ET for the event in her semi-final at 5.550 sec. Her finals ET was darn close at 5.61-sec. in the quarter mile.
“To win [both] the 2018 NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series championship and the California Hot Rod Reunion – I’d call that a good day at the races,” Fry said. “My team gave me the car to beat and I didn’t screw it up. So this win is theirs – I’m just glad they picked me.”
Jason Rupert took home the Wally in Funny Car with a 5.63 pass at 259.51 in his 1969 Littlefield-Rupert Camaro, beating Rian Konno’s 5.855 pass at 241.84 in the final round. “The car ran so good last night (in the first round of eliminations Saturday night) I was hoping this would happen,” Rupert noted. “I go to every race with the intention of winning but everyone else does too. We had a lot of weird stuff happen in the pits but my guys persevered; they do a great job.”