The weekend of March 28-30, 2014, witnessed the return of quarter-mile drag racing to the Los Angeles area with the re-opening of Auto Club Dragway at Fontana. About three years ago, the track entered into a legal battle with a local resident who complained about the noise generated at the dragstrip, regardless of the fact that it was bordered by an active train track on one side and a steel mill on the other. After years of legal wrangling and to quiet the lawyers down, track officials built a large sound wall on the north side of the track that extended down to about the 1,000-foot mark. The construction project was finally completed at the beginning of the year, allowing the track to return to its former glory and host the 2014 NMCA West event series.
Obviously, the NMCA West has a decidedly drag racing bent, with a handful of classes that allow pretty much anything with four wheels to race (see the sidebar for class breakdowns). But the hot-rodding world does not operate on drag racing alone, so the events are populated by a small car show, huge vendor midway, and, at this race, an autocross course set up and managed by Hotchkis Sport Suspension. The autocross was immensely popular, as it always is in Southern California, but all eyes were on the rebirth of the dragstrip, which racers had been patiently waiting for these past three years. Sweetening the racers' pots was the chance to win a legitimate NHRA "Wally" trophy, thanks to the NMCA's relationship to NHRA's Unleashed program.
The only hiccup we noticed in the drag racing program, beyond the usual oil-downs and necessary class run order changes those delays brought on, was that the top class, Pro Mod, was limited to running only to the 1,000-foot mark, just like the NHRA nitro cars. When we asked Race Director Rollie Miller why they did that, he explained, "At this track, the shutdown area is 47 feet shorter than Pomona, and it also has a hump in it about 300 feet into the shutdown area that unloads the car, and you can't really see the sandtrap until you top that hump so it comes up on the cars very quickly and it's hard to stop the car even with the 'chutes out. So we elected to go to 1,000 feet in Pro Mod since they're going 250 mph." It confused the fans and the announcers both, but we saw at least two much slower class cars end up in the sand during the event, so it was probably a good idea.
That sound wall was put to the test when the Garrett Turbo Pro Mods came to the line. This is the NMCA's top class, with e.t.'s in the 5-second zone and speeds sometimes eclipsing 250 mph. Fontana saw an eight-car Pro Mod field, populated with both regulars and new combinations. Of the returning veterans, Scott Oksas was there with his wicked '70 Camaro packing 485 inches of Hemi-headed goodness, John Scialpi's blown Hemi '57 Chevy, and Joe Lepone Jr.'s Brand P Duster. Robert Costa and his '63 Corvette took out Scialpi's Tri-Five and then Rick Snavely's Mustang (which crashed and slapped the wall pretty good on the run), but Costa lost to veteran John Mihovetz's '09 Mustang in the final, when the Ford blistered Fontana's asphalt with a 5.17 at 217 mph (1,000 feet, remember).
Next down the ladder of classes is Mickey Thompson True 10.5, which only had four cars, two of which were Fords. Though Johnny Coleman and Bert Heck gave them a race in their Camaros, the Mustangs both went to the final round, when Mark Luten's '10 GT500 beat Dana Cook's '05. Dana was one of those racers that ended up in the sand trap on Saturday when she couldn't get her car slowed down in time.
ProCharger Street Outlaw saw class regulars the Young Brothers, Jeff and Kevin, bring their third-gen Camaros down from Idaho Falls, Idaho, once again, and Kevin was the one to go all the way and take home the Wally. He went up against the beautiful, flamed, wheel-standing '57 Chevy of Armen Maghdessian, who Tree'd the Camaro but couldn't hang with his 7.45 at 193 mph pass, the quickest and fastest pass of eliminations.
Lucas Oil N/A 10.5 had seven cars qualified for Sunday's eliminations, and all were General Motors cars except for one pesky Mustang. Tony Aneian eliminated the Ford threat in the second round, then took his '68 Camaro to the final to face "Gypsy Mike" Valentino's same-year Camaro. Aneian must have been having a small stroke after he staged, because he gave it away on the starting line with a horrible 1.069-second reaction time while The Gypsy ran off to the win with an 8.31 at 167. It was a very anticlimactic final, that's for sure. ARP Outlaw 8.5, which requires racers to put their four-digit horsepower through narrow 8.5-inch wide tires, also had seven cars in eliminations, and George Raygoza took his '68 Nova to the final only to be taken out by Dan Hale in a Mustang.
Those were the results of the heads-up classes, but there are plenty of index classes in the NMCA West that feature traditional bracket racing as well as Open Comp and True Street classes. One of the most fun classes to watch is Hedman Hedders Nostalgia Street Car, home to some really interesting pre-1983 rides. How interesting? The class had 32 cars and was won by Paul Geis in his 11-flat '52 Chevy pickup. The other index class winners were: Mike Nordahl, Currie Enterprises Open Comp; Bob Harris, Pro Comp; Dave Gotts, Edelbrock Super Quick; Jeff Paulin, Calvert Racing Quick Street; and Bryan Corey, Tremec True Street (overall winner). The bracket cars had a two-race series at Fontana, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. On Saturday, Kevin McClelland (son of famed NHRA announcer Dave McClelland) won Super Pro in his roadster, Marvin Roles won Pro, and Jack Swanson won Sportsman. Sunday's winners were Robert Strong, Paul Aglio, and Dustin Braun, respectively.
The common sentiment all weekend was relief, as quarter-mile drag racing finally returned to Southern California—where it all started. Where once there were five or six tracks in the Los Angeles area, the only few that remained before Fontana reopened were Irwindale, which is eighth-mile and narrow, and Famoso in Bakersfield, which is over two hours to the north on the other side of a mountain range. You can't count Pomona, since the dragstrip is not open except for the two NHRA national events and the NMCA West's May race, but you can once again count Fontana. Let's hope the noise-Nazis are permanently appeased and they leave us alone to have fun, 1,320 feet at a time like God and Wally Parks intended.
Final Rounds at a GlanceGarrett Turbo Pro Mod
Winner: John Mihovetz
Runner-Up: Robert Costa
Top Qualifier: John Mihovetz 5.187 @ 217.32 (1,000ft)
Mickey Thompson Tires True 10.5
Winner: Mark Luton
Runner-Up: Dana Cook
Top Qualifier: Mark Luton 6.75 @ 219.79
ProCharger Street Outlaw
Winner: Kevin Young
Runner-Up: Armen Maghdessian
Top Qualifier: Kevin Young 7.58 @ 193.74
ARP Outlaw 8.5
Winner: Dan Hale
Runner-Up: George Raygoza
Top Qualifier: George Raygoza 5.16 @ 142.61
Lucas Oil N/A 10.5
Winner: Mike Valentino
Runner-Up: Tony Aneian
Top Qualifier: Tony Aneian 8.122 @168.37
Granatelli Motor Sports Mustang Madness
Winner: Justen Spencer
Runner-Up: Ana Marciano
Top Qualifier: Brent Calvert
Hedman Hedders Nostalgia Street Car
Winner: Paul Geis
Runner-Up: Merle Williams
Top Qualifier: Dan Ficher
NMCA WEST Pro Comp
Winner: Bob Harris
Runner-Up: Paul Wiechmann
Top Qualifier: Doug Crumlich
Currie Enterprises Open Comp
Winner: Mike Nordahl
Runner-Up: Ryan Chesleigh
Top Qualifier: Mike Nordahl
Edelbrock Super Quick
Winner: Dave Gotts
Runner-Up: Ed Krzywicki
Top Qualifier: Larry Hass
Calvert Racing Quick Street
Winner: Jeff Paulin
Runner-Up: Courtney Glover
Top Qualifier: Mike Nordahl
Tremec True Street Overall Winner
Bryan Corey 10.029 Average
Runner-up: Dan Geis 10.051 Average
Fontana Bracket Series (Saturday)
Super PRO Bracket
Winner: Kevin McClelland
Runner-Up: Robert Strong
FSC Pro Bracket
Winner: Marvin Roles
Runner-Up: Chuck McCarty
Winner: Jack Swanson
Runner-Up: Dustin Braun
Fontana Bracket Series (Sunday)
Super PRO Bracket
Winner: Robert Strong
FSC Pro Bracket
Winner: Paul Aglio
Winner: Dustin Braun
Class BreakdownIf you're new to the NMCA West series, here's a list of the classes available, as defined by Race Director Rollie Miller.
Pro Mod: This is our heads-up class consisting of turbo cars, blown Roots cars, supercharged, nitrous, and naturally aspirated cars. It's the premier class of our West series running the 5.70 and 5.80 range at 250 to 255 mph. This used to be called Pro Street.
True 10.5: These cars are similar to Pro Mod but cannot run Roots blowers, and run on a smaller 10.5-inch-wide tire. They run low-6s in the 200 mph range.
Street Outlaw:This is a radial tire combination with a single power-adder, either turbo, blower, or nitrous. It's a newer class on the West Coast and it's really taking off on the East Coast. It used to be called 275 drag radial, but we call it Street Outlaw now.
N/A 10.5: Naturally aspirated cars on a 10.5-inch tire that runs on both the East and West Coasts but the rules aren't exactly the same, particularly the minimum weights. The two classes came up differently so the rules packages are slightly different.
Outlaw 8.5: This is a single power-adder class. Many of the combinations are similar to True 10.5 but on an 8.5-inch tire. Because it's that much power on a small tire, we only run it eighth-mile.
Nostalgia Street Car: This is an index class for pre-1983 vehicles. It's very similar to Nostalgia Super Stock but allows 1983 cars instead of limiting it to 1975 and earlier.
Super Quick: This is for roadsters and dragsters, similar to what runs in NHRA Super Comp and Super Gas. Electronics (like throttle stops and delay boxes) are allowed, and there are also trucks, altereds, and a little bit of everything in it. The only things not allowed are motorcycles.
Quick Street: A dial-in class limited to door cars.
Pro Comp: This is a 7.90, 8.90, and 9.90 index class, running Super Gas, Comp, or Super Street-type cars. We used to allow a 10.90 in the class but I did away with it this year to eliminate problems with a staggered Christmas Tree. It's an exciting class this year—we drew 22 cars at this event where last year we only drew 7. Eliminating the 10.90 allows those guys to run without a staggered Tree and they're having a lot more fun with it. I look for that class to grow to maybe 30 or 40 cars later this year.
Open Comp: This is exactly what the name says, open competition that allows every vehicle except dragsters and bikes. It runs on a 0.500 Pro Tree and with a handicapped start. Open Comp is probably our biggest class beside Super Quick and Quick Street.
True Street: Contested on Saturday only, True Street requires street-licensed, registered, and insured vehicles that must complete a 30-mile drive, usually on public roads (though they used the road course at Fontana), and then run three back-to-back passes. There is an overall winner for the quickest average, and prizes for the closest averages to 9.0, 10.0, 11.0, and so on.
Brackets: Super Pro, Pro, and Sportsman are electronics, non-electronics, and Sportsman bracket classes. For these three classes, we're running our own series at Fontana with six race series over three weekends. We do not compete the brackets at the Pomona event since there's just not enough time with the car count and curfew restraints. The Las Vegas race will have its own bracket classes as part of its bracket race.