DUNLAP DASHES DENVER’S CURTAIN CALL AT CALI REUNION

Bill Dunlap chases down Denver Schutz and claims his 3rd CHRR Top Fuel Title.

Bill Dunlap chases down Denver Schutz and claims his 3rd CHRR Top Fuel Title.

24th Annual California Hot Rod Reunion, Auto Club Famoso Raceway, Bakersfield, CA, October 25, 2015—In a final round of competition that was as poignant as it was dramatic, 74-year-old “High Speed Motorsports’” driver Bill Dunlap seized victory from the maw of veteran nitro-racer Denver Schutz and claimed his 3rd California Hot Rod Reunion Top Fuel Title.

Dunlap posted a strong ¼-mile elapsed time of 5.69 seconds coupled with a commanding top-end speed of 255 mph to Schutz’s 5.83 at 252 mph, but the margin of victory was narrower than those number suggest as Denver “put out the top bulb” and deep-staged his “RE3” machine before dropping a stiff holeshot on Dunlap, forcing the quicker High Speed dragster to drive around his adversary.

“He rolled in deep at the last minute,” Dunlap explained. “I just decided if he was going to do those things, I was going to stage last — I wasn’t going to stage first. I was waiting for it.”

What happened on the pass?

“He may have left on me, but I didn’t ever see him. I heard him for awhile and the noise kind of went away. The car was singing to me so I took it the stripe. I got out at the end and nobody down there knew who won.”

It was that close. Factoring in reaction times, Dunlap beat Schutz by four-hundredths of a second. Dunlap said the win here eased the sting of not winning the 2015 NHRA Heritage Series Point Title “a lot.”

For Fresno-based Schutz, that was the second consecutive heat where spectators marveled at his unorthodox start followed by a nail-biter of a finish. In the semi-finals, Denver unnerved 2015 Points Champion, #1 Qualifier and odds-on favorite Tony Bartone with a similar mud-in-your eye startling line stratagem, deep staging and then expertly dropping a holeshot. This startled Bartone, who belatedly gave pursuit in a see-sawing battle. Schutz held off Bartone with a 5.90 at 241 mph to Tony’s quicker-but-losing 5.82 at 202 mph.

“You only do it when you have to,” Schutz said afterwards, about the deep-stage. “It kind of a c.s. way to race but we are professionals and sometimes you do what you have to.”

“He threw me off and I was dead late,” Bartone confirmed. “That’s the story.”

Bartone added that a broken fuel line coupled with three dead holes four seconds into his run contributed to his loss.

Schutz’s performance during his last two rounds was a near-perfect finale to what turned out to be his career curtain call. Moments after scoring his hard-earned runner-up finish at the 24th CHRR, 70-year-old Denver Schutz announced his retirement from the sport. Among other achievements, Denver was the 1998 CHRR Top Fuel Champion.

“Quitting is hard,” Schutz explained. Suffice it to say, he went out in fine fashion. He took it deep. -30-

Just after the CHRR Top Fuel final, Denver Schutz announced his retirement.

Just after the CHRR Top Fuel final, Denver Schutz announced his retirement.

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FAMOSO FUELERS FIT TO FOIL FOUR-PEAT AT CALI REUNION

Saturday Night Nitro event at the Auto Club Raceway Famoso. (photo by Ted Soqui c/o thelastdragstrip.com)

Rick McGee at the Auto Club Raceway Famoso. (photo by Ted Soqui c/o thelastdragstrip.com)

24th Annual California Hot Rod Reunion, Auto Club Famoso Raceway, Bakersfield, CA, October 22, 2015—Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield. It is the vintage Top Fuel competitor’s “Brickyard” — its Super Bowl, World Series, Daytona and Indy 500 all rolled into one. And for the nitro-burning racers in NHRA’s Heritage Series, their annual marquee event happens here twice. The season opens at Famoso Raceway with the exalted March Meet and wraps up here this weekend with the prestigious California Hot Rod Reunion. After 24 years of bookending in Bakersfield, it has become a tradition.

Going back to the 2014 March Meet, New York-based Nostalgia Top Fuel phenom Tony Bartone has swept the last three events in Bakersfield. Can he perform an unprecedented Famoso Four-peat? Bill Dunlap, Denver Schutz, Rick McGee, Jim Murphy, Rick White, Rick Williamson and Adam Sorokin — all California residents — are the dirty half-dozen former California Hot Rod Reunion winners competing this weekend who say: “Forget about it, Tony.”

Dunlap, driver of the High Speed Motorsports entry and winner of the Inaugural CHRR (as well as the 1997 iteration), is the only driver to have defeated Bartone in two years, and is coming off back-to-back Saturday Night Nitro Mastercam Shootout victories here at Famoso. About his driver’s chances to win a 3rd CHRR title, his crew chief, Tom Shelar, put it this way: “With the weather conditions being forecast, we should run consistent 5.60s. That should be enough to win, but it might take a 5.50 with Bartone on the grounds.”

Adam Sorokin, hot shoe for the Champion Speed Shop entry, is the 2013 CHRR winner and the last driver other than Bartone to take Bakersfield. Sorokin also wants to play the spoiler and give the New Yorker a Bronx cheer.

“I’d like to come out of the trailer fairly aggressive,” Adam asserted. “The car is capable of running .60s, and I think that kind of performance can get us to the later rounds.” Then he added: “Bartone will be the guy to watch, but anything can — and does — happen. We wouldn’t show up if we didn’t think we could win the thing.”

According to wdifl.com’s “Top Fuel Tricky Tipster,” Schutz, McGee, Murphy, Williamson and White all have a better than 5-to-1 shot to thwart a four-peat.

It is also worth noting that at recent “Saturday Night Nitro” events, Murphy’s Roland Leong-tuned “WW2” machine has been clocking the kinds of numbers Sorokin and Shelar deem necessary to take the Reunion, and the “Neal & White Racing” dragster runner-upped at both of those events while posting bodacious top-end speeds.

Tony Bartone is here to show all the former winners from California that this scene has come a long way from, say, 1992. Bill Dunlap is here to say it’s not that different at all.

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Nitro Qualifying for the 24th CHRR begins this Friday at 11 AM, with a second session at 3. Top Fuel Qualifying resumes Saturday at noon followed by eliminations at 3 pm. Top Fuel Eliminations continue Sunday at 11.30 AM.