Of all the comments
I received (all negative) this one really summed it up for me
as to the effect this fiasco had on hard core, cash paying fans.
Many, as this individual, travel great distances to come to an
event that was so predictable they can't wait to get there. I
know this man and it was for not his first CHRR. It focus on
Cacklefest but it was also the tone of the whole weekend.
MY WAKE UP
It was early
Saturday evening, October 22nd, just after sunset. The location
was the pit area of Auto Club Raceway Famoso near Bakersfield,
California. The event was the Silver Anniversary, 25th Annual
NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion. But I must digress in order
to properly set the scene.
From the time
the participants and their vehicles arrived at the track starting
on Wednesday morning of the event week, it was obvious that this
would not be a normal reunion event. The individual who had been
primarily responsible for the planning and conduct of these kinds
of events since their inception had washed his hands
of this particular reunion as a result of disagreements with
NHRA executives a couple weeks earlier regarding perceived unreasonable
restrictions being imposed on the scheduled activities. This
left a void of leadership that created huge difficulties for
the dedicated NHRA Motorsports Museum and Auto Club Raceway Famoso
staffs from the very outset.
The pit area
gates were opened late on the Wednesday arrival day, leaving
many participants waiting in long lines for many hours before
finally being granted access to the facility. Then the parking
of race, exhibition and support vehicles was extremely disorganized
and haphazard. Already several of the vintage race car participants
had chosen to simply turn around and head home even before the
event had begun.
even more unpleasant surprises when the Cacklefest participants
(those with restored and recreated historical race cars) were
handed a printed notice informing them that they would not be
allowed to start their cars in the pit area at any time during
the event. Anytime? Really? Yes, really.
to look a little better on Friday when the cackle cars
were allowed to static start their engines in the pit area during
a designated two hour period of time. No word, at that time,
regarding what the program would be for Saturday and beyond.
ruffled again on Friday evening when it was discovered that the
planned cackle of a chosen few newly restored race
cars at the headquarter hotel in Bakersfield, which had been
a tradition for many years, had been unceremoniously scrubbed
leaving lots of participants and attendees decidedly pissed off.
things started to look a little better when it was announced
that cackle cars would be allowed to static start in their pit
areas anytime except during the Nostalgia Top Fuel, Funny Car
and Pro Mod qualifying sessions. This would at least allow the
designated push start cackle cars the opportunity to warm their
engines prior to the Saturday night Cacklefest, which had become
a major element of these reunions since its introduction back
in the year 2000.
From my personal
perspective, all I really wanted to do is get through the day
on Saturday, participate in the Cacklefest, and get on my way
home. I was so disappointed in the way the event was playing
out that I really didn't even want to be there anymore.
up and putting some heat in the engine of our vintage dragster
late Saturday afternoon, out team was just waiting for the call
to the staging lanes for the Cacklefest parade and push start
fire up. The sun had just set over the horizon, and it was starting
to get dark. I decided to walk to my car in the VIP parking lot
to ditch my sunglasses and smart phone so they wouldn't get lost
or damaged during the Cacklefest.
When I got to my car, I couldn't help but notice a white van
with government license plates parked directly in front of me.
While I was busy texting a few of my friends before returning
to our pit area, I observed several formally uniformed servicemen
milling around the van, and I just assumed that they were there
for the pre-race ceremonies, which is quite routine for these
kinds of events.
When I'd concluded
my texting, I started to walk back to the Kuhl & Olson camp
in the pits. Directly adjacent to the VIP parking lot is a long
row of shops that the track owners had constructed several years
earlier, and rent out to race teams and car clubs for their use.
I noticed that a rather large crowd had gathered around one of
the shops so, being the decidedly inquisitive person that I am,
I decided to see what was going on.
What I discovered was a semi-circle of people, numbering in the
range of fifty or sixty, surrounding three people; a young Hispanic
lady that looked to be in her early twenties, and older woman
who appeared to be her mother, and a man who may have been her
father. They were silently standing shoulder to shoulder in front
of one of the shops, and appeared to be waiting for something
About that time,
two of the servicemen marched into the center of the semi-circle
carrying an American flag, carefully folded in accordance with
military tradition into a triangle. I still hadn't figured out
exactly what was happening, but I had a pretty good idea and
I wasn't about to leave until I found out for sure. Oh, how glad
I am that I stuck around.
By now it was
quite dark, and the area was illuminated only by the shop lights
and a few distant lights in the pit area. The entire scene started
to take on a surreal feeling. Race cars were running on the track.
Not just any race cars, but very noisy Nostalgia Funny Cars.
Nobody seemed to notice.
next will stay with me for the rest of my life. The servicemen,
who appeared to be members of the U.S. Air Force, proceeded to
unfold the flag according to strict military procedure. Very
slowly, very deliberately and very formally. By now I was more
and more sure of what was happening, and I suppressed the strong
temptation to turn around and walk away.
Next, the servicemen
re-folded the flag, again very slowly and deliberately with military
precision. Once the flag had been completely re-folded, one of
the servicemen took it and turned, standing at attention, to
the young lady. He then slowly and very deliberately marched
forward, stopped, handed the flag to the young lady and saluted.
Then another of the servicemen, whod not been visible until
that moment, began playing taps on his bugle.
I lost it. I
could hardly breathe and I definitely couldnt swallow.
I now knew, for sure, exactly what was happening. The young lady
was being presented the flag in honor of her young husband who
had made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. She had
obviously chosen this very time and place for the ceremony to
take place, as she undoubtedly knew that shed be surrounded
by her friends and family at a place where the couple had most
likely socialized and enjoyed their racing hobby together.
The young lady
bravely stood at attention and showed no emotion until the playing
of taps had concluded, the presenting servicemen had turned and
marched out of the semi-circle and back toward their van. At
that moment the young lady fell into hysterical sobs and was
wrapped into her mothers loving arms, clearly overcome
I watched for
another few moments, then decided that I wouldnt be able
to keep myself together if I didnt move on. Along with
most of the others whod witnessed the ceremony, I
turned and slowly started back to our pit area. I couldnt
help but notice that nearly everyone whod been in attendance
was in tears, some very discreetly, and others weeping deeply.
I decided that it would be best to take a short walk around the
corner of the shop complex into the dark of the night to shed
a few tears myself.
regained control over my emotions and returned to join my partner
and crew in preparation for the Cacklefest. I scolded myself
for having been so upset about issues that, in retrospect, were
not really of any great importance in the grand scheme of things.
It put everything in perspective for me, and I decided to enjoy
being able to sit in the cockpit of our ancient race car, get
it push started and burn some nitromethane in remembrance of
the glory days of drag racing.
the Cacklefest, I worked my way back to my car and headed home
over the Grapevine. I had several hours of driving time during
which I had ample opportunity to reflect on the events of the
prior few days. Every time I started to think about what the
2016 California Hot Rod Reunion will ultimately mean to me, it
wont be all of the hassles, poor management decisions,
disappointments and disrespect shown to the cackle car participants.
No, there are just two things that will forever remind me of
this particular event; the military memorial ceremony and the
joy of the Cacklefest.
I suppose that
every once in a while, we all need to be reminded of whats
really important in life, starting with life itself. I was given
a huge wake up call at Famoso Raceway starting on
October 22nd, and it will stay with me forever. My heart will
always go out to the young widow.