Spacer

 

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.

 

Spacer

 

MY WAKE UP CALL

 

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.

Thursday brought 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.

Things started 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.

Feathers were 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.

On Saturday, 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.

After firing 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 to happen.

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.

What happened 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, who’d not been visible until that moment, began playing taps on his bugle.

I lost it. I could hardly breathe and I definitely couldn’t 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 she’d 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 mother’s loving arms, clearly overcome with grief.

I watched for another few moments, then decided that I wouldn’t be able to keep myself together if I didn’t move on. Along with most of the other’s who’d witnessed the ceremony, I turned and slowly started back to our pit area. I couldn’t help but notice that nearly everyone who’d 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.

Ultimately, I 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.

Immediately following 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 won’t 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 what’s 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.

 

Spacer

 

Funny Car Qualifying, Session 1

Top Fuel Qualifying, Session 1

Funny Car Qualifying, Session 2

Top Fuel Qualifying, Session 2

Funny Car Qualifying, Session 3

Top Fuel Session 3 & Funny Car Round 1

Top Fuel Round 1 & Funny Car Round 2

Top Fuel & Funny Car Semis

All Finals & Winners Circle

Fuel Alterdeds & Other Cars

CHRR as seen by a fan

 

Spacer

 

Members Site Map    ||    Visitors Site Map

Site Copyright, 1998-2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Return to Top