SatTF0514th Annual Holley National Hot Rod Reunion, June 16-18, 2016, Beech Bend Raceway, Bowling Green, Ky.With the 2016 Heritage Series Top Fuel points race wide open, over a dozen supercharged and nitro-powered competitors from across the United States are gathering their steeds in Bowling Green in anticipation of claiming this week’s 8-car AA/Fuel Dragster Eliminator at the 14th Annual Holley National Hot Rod Reunion.

Among those mounting up will be Stockton, California’s Rick Williamson, driver of the “Team Craig” dragster and current Heritage Series points leader as well as the recent March Meet victor. Following the Craig gang’s entry out of California on I-40 East is a nattering menagerie of their enemies, including Adam Sorokin with the Chevy-powered Champion Speed Shop fueler — March Meet runner-up and #2 in the points — and veteran nitro-man Jim Murphy with his fearsome “WW2railjob.

Murphy, who is making the scene with his Roland Leong-tuned digger, won here in 2013 on a holeshot, but has struggled to find a consistent combination after that decisive weekend. At the Bakersfield March Meet, he appeared to return to form before an unfortunate top-end collision during eliminations rattled his concentration and compromised his effort. Similarly, New York-based Tony Bartone, the 2014 Holley NHRR winner and two-time defending Heritage Series Points Champion, has also seen his once-dominant form contract recently.

Both Bartone and Murphy would love to repeat here, as a means of making the statement that their team has entirely too much knowledge, talent and gumption not to dominate. Moreover, a Top Fuel win by Bartone would serve as an emphatic punctuation mark to the deserved pomp and circumstance awarded to his crew chief, the legendary Steve Boggs who, in concert with his late brother Ron, will be anointed as an Honoree here this weekend.

There are other scores to settle here: Rick White, driver of the hard-charging “Neal & White” machine out of San Diego, wants to undo the damage from a first-round loss at the March Meet, which transpired, ironically, after Rick set Low ET at that prestigious event with a ferocious ¼-mile clocking of 5.54 seconds.

Additionally, Salem, Wisconsin’s Jim Young hopes to advance to the top of the points chart here and will light up the Kentucky concrete with his Chrysler-powered “Young Guns.” Fleshing out the field are Californian Brendan Murry, Paul Schultz’s “Spirit of Tulsa,” Tyler Hilton’s big-block Chevy-powered “Great Expectations III” from Virginia (by way of Ohio), Illinois-based Tim Cullinan, “Diamond” Dave Miller’s dragster from Atoka, Tennessee, Racine Wisconsin’s Jason Greenwood, Troy Ray’s new “Wildside II” digger out of Knoxville, Julius Hughes’ “Atlanta Speed Shop” special and 2011 NHRR Top Fuel winner Lincoln Hassell out of North Carolina.

California. New York. Wisconsin. Virginia. Ohio. Oklahoma. Illinois. Tennessee. Georgia. North Carolina. With such diversity and power, Top Fuel Eliminator at the 14th Holley National Hot Rod Reunion is anybody’s race — and merely qualifying for this fierce field could be a partial victory. Odds are, whoever wins this nitro-powered shootout will drive away as the Heritage Series Top Fuel Points Leader. -30-

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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.


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.


“High Speed Motorsports” wins the Mastercam Top Fuel Shootout. (photo by Ted Soqui)

“Good Vibrations’ Saturday Night Nitro,” Auto Club Famoso Raceway, September 19, 2015—For the second time this summer, front-engine Top Fuel virtuoso Bill Dunlap zoomed ahead of Rick White and captured the Title in the winner-take-all Mastercam Top Fuel Shootout in Bakersfield.

By virtue of his .044 second reaction time in his “High Speed Motorsports” machine, Dunlap launched ahead of the always-powerful “Neal & White Racing” dragster and was not to be caught.

“I didn’t see him until I pulled the parachutes and he blasted by me,” Dunlap said. “So I knew it had to be close.”

Dunlap won the event on skill and desire; indeed, his 5.75-second quarter-mile elapsed time with a top-end speed of 240 mph was inferior to the 5.73 that engine maestro Chuck Neal provided for his driver. Despite Dunlap’s holeshot, White never gave up, as evidenced by Rick’s speed of 247 mph.

Earlier, in the “all-run” first round of eliminations which determined the two quickest cars that would meet in the Shootout final, Dunlap laid down a Low ET 5.63 at 251 mph to drive around Jim Murphy, who cranked out a 5.69 at 238 mph in his Roland Leong-tuned “WW2” rail. Next, Rick White posted a 5.76 at a thundering 256 mph — numbers which stood for Top Speed of the Meet — to upend Champion Speed Shop’s 6.06. And finally, after Bret Williamson suffered from a trashed clutch earlier that afternoon in the “Forever Young” entry and missed showtime, Rick McGee singled to a 6.09 in his “Overtime Special.”

Because of their respective times of 5.63 and 5.69, the final round of the Mastercam Top Fuel Shootout was to be a rematch between Dunlap and Murphy.

Unfortunately, WW2 had endured crankshaft issues all day and couldn’t make the call. White was the alternate and gave Bill Dunlap nearly all he could handle, but fell short of upending High Speed, who have won half of the events they have entered this year.

The AA/Fuel Dragsters wrap up their season next month at the California Hot Rod Reunion, also at Famoso. If the numbers and the action from the Shootout are any barometers, it should be some rather fierce competition.


Jim Murphy and Roland Leong discuss strategy.

Jim Murphy and Roland Leong discuss strategy.

44th Nightfire Nationals, Firebird Raceway, Boise, ID, August 12, 2015—With High Speed Motorsports having recently ended the Bartone Brothers unprecedented 22-round win streak in NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel competition, the rest of the class has smelled blood in the water and have begun sharking. To that end, at this weekend’s Pepsi Nightfire Nationals in Boise veteran nitro racer Jim Murphy and his “WW2” dragster are set to pounce on a full field of front-engined fuelers.

“I think that (High Speed driver) Bill Dunlap winning Bowling Green gave everyone in the Nostalgia Top Fuel class a glimmer of hope,” Murphy explained. “It has been apparent that Tony Bartone has completely dominated our class for the last year and a half. High Speed and the Champion Speed Shop have been getting closer and closer and I believe we can now be part of that group.”

Earlier this summer at Bakersfield’s “Saturday Night Nitro,” an after-hours test with a new crew chief validated Murphy’s claim about rejoining the Top Fuel elite. That event saw the debut of the collaboration between Murphy and an infamous tuner he raced with during the ‘70s Funny Car wars, Roland Leong a/k/a “the Hawaiian.” After midnight, the WW2 fueler laid down the quickest run of the event, a spectacular 5.67-second 1/4-mile elapsed time at a mere 237 mph, with Murphy shutting off at 1000-feet.

That stunning run set the stage for Boise: When asked about if there was anything to prove this week, the “Hawaiian” was as cagey and contrite. “The goal is just to get more runs and data and learn what I think this car wants,” Leong said. “I tell everyone I work for, I only know how to do it one run at a time and it takes a lot of laps to figure things out.”

If Murphy and Leong want to go rounds—whether in pursuit of “data” or the actual Nightfire Top Fuel title, they will have to fight through a full quota of competitors. Besides Bartone and Dunlap, among those entered in the Boise’s 8-car eliminator are sophomore hot-shoe Dusty Green, March Meet runner-up Adam Sorokin in the Champion Speed Shop small-block Chevrolet fueler, fan-favorite Brendan Murry, Rick Williamson in the “Team Craig” rail, and Ron August, Jr. in the “Forever Young” slingshot. All of these teams are hoping to upend the defending series and event champion Bartone, despite any pleas to the contrary.

“Right now we’re not trying to upend anyone,” Roland said, downplaying his notorious take-no-prisoners competitive ethos. “Hopefully the day will come when they will be trying to upend us.”

“We are still in the experimental stage with the tune-up,” Murphy said, echoing Roland’s sentiments. “But we now know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel—and it’s not a train coming back at us.”


44th Annual Pepsi Nightfire Nationals “Idaho’s Premiere Racing Event”

August 13-16

Fri., August 14: Nitro Qualifying: 7:45 pm. Concludes: 10 pm

Sat., August 15: Nitro Qualifying: 2 pm, 7:45 pm. Concludes: 10:30 pm

Sun., August 16: Nitro Eliminations: 2 pm. Concludes: 9 pm

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