Having attended many of the Auto Club of California-sponsored Bakersfield barnburners, we can best describe the '06 meet as a three-day "old school" cake with "new school" icing. Yes, there were many nearly original Chevy-powered front-engine dragsters, roadsters and altered, along with dozens of vintage Chevy street machines. Many of them, no doubt, had original air in the tires. Others were exact clones or replicas with selective updates such as engine equipment, safety belts, tires and cooling systems.
The fun of the AAA's NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion is the excitement of not knowing what you'll see. We were there specifically to shake the Chevrolet tree. We'd say at least half of the vehicles were vintage Chevrolets or were Chevrolet V-8 powered.
But check this out: As we drove through Gate 1 and into the pit area, we couldn't believe our eyes. There were multi-rows of home-away-from-home RV trailers and self-contained motorhomes. Many were top-of-the-line diesel pushers with triple slide-outs. The pit area itself held an impressive number of transport trucks and car haulers. Open trailers and pickup truck tow vehicles were a distinct minority. It was good to see "New School" racer comfort mixed with "Old School" race machines. Hey, you only live once but if you work it right, once is enough.
Never before have we seen so many model car and collectible dealers. Yes, we bought a few collectible Chevys models we never thought we'd ever find. There was brand new, "vintage" automotive clothing ranging from official NHRA wearing apparel to event souvenirs and more.
Rat rod participants and apparel dealers were truly out in full force. Many were from Scotland, England, Ireland and Scandinavia. They are a tight knit, happy group, who celebrate and live the car culture that first was created 60 years ago. The engine of choice in many of the rat rods machines was the small-block Chevrolet V-8-usually outfitted with old timey tri-power induction, vintage aluminum valve covers and see-thru fuel lines.
They were everywhere! We saw front-engine dragsters sitting side by side in the staging lanes-six in all. Four had Chevy V8s and two Chrysler hemis. This event was also the coming out party for Carolyn and Roger Sortino's multi-year project 1963 427 Mystery Motor Hayden Proffitt Biscayne tribute car.
Ready to be produced, the Z-33 1963 Chevy was cancelled when GM pulled out of racing in early 1963. The legendary Hayden Proffitt was one of Chevrolet's top drag racers in 1962-1963. He came in for the reunion from his native Texas. As you could well imagine, many 409 racers and fans from all over the USA came to Bakersfield just to see Proffitt and witness the Sortino Z-33 Biscayne. A complete story will be in Super Chevy next month, including a photo of the world's largest Chevy pit crew, so stay tuned.
Oh yes, the Mystery Motor 427 Biscayne recorded a super time of 11.00 seconds at 117 mph with Ken "The Kid" Walsh at the controls. Walsh owns and drives the Mr. 409 '63 Impala racecar out of Virginia. It runs 9.90s at 135 mph while lifting the left front wheel high into the air off the line for 100 feet, much to the delight of all.
The first lady of drag racing, Linda Vaughn, ventured to see all of her NHRA friends and witness the incredible action. Miss Hurst Golden Shifter also came to visit her old friend, Proffitt. Few remember back in the '60s that before and after many major championship drag races, Hurst asked their first lady and Proffitt to visit local Armed Forces hospitals and bring a little cheer to soldiers on the mend during the Vietnam conflict. Few remember that Vaughn also went on a Bob Hope Southeast Asia tour. Both were immediately invited to the NHRA tower where announcer Mike English did a masterful job of interviewing Hayden then letting Linda do what she loves to do-talk about the glorious past as well as all the many times she has been to AAA Famosa Raceway.
The Racing Itself
The grandstands were jammed. The multi staging lanes were completely full of racecars. There were multiple announcers in the tower announcing the action and reading entrant data on a computer monitor, thus verbalizing precise data on each entrant as each one made a run. For sure it is the "thrill of a lifetime" for all who were there. We'll let our photos tell the rest of the story.