Back in 1991, after attending the funeral of veteran Bonneville and drag racer Joe Pisano, NHRA Vice Presidents Steve Gibbs and Bernie Partridge decided that drag racers, friends and fans from years past should have a reason to get together under more pleasant circumstances.
Thus, the concept of the Hot Rod Reunion was born. It was decided that the historic Auto Club Famoso Raceway (Bakersfield), where so much early drag racing history was made, was the ideal location for such an event. After a year of planning by an all-volunteer crew, the first California Hot Rod Reunion was held November 14-15, 1992.
Since those early days, this whole nostalgia movement has grown like topsy and not unlike the early days of drag racing. Indicative of this growth is the turnout for the Cacklefest at this year’s California Hot Rod Reunion presented by Automobile Club of Southern California. As we went to press, Gibbs and Event Director Greg Sharp were pouring over entries totaling more than 75 cars. “What’ll we do with them all?” was the question on everybody’s lips as we contemplated 10 new dragsters on the roster.
The debuting cars included “Watchdog” Tommy Allen’s AA/FD, the recreation of Roland Leong’s Hawaiian (the real car is trapped in the Bicaretti Museum in Turin, Italy); the Waterman and Hampshire AA/FD; the Arfons Allison V-12-powered Green Monster restored at Art Chrisman’s shop; the Brissette and Sutherland AA/FD, the Lyndwood Welding Spl. AA/D (shown); the Shelby Prudhomme Super Snake AA/FD; the Stone Age Man AA/FD (this one sat in the Ventura Community College for 37 years); and the Kaiser Bros. AA/FD.
Recently, to check out what was going on, I visited Steve Davis’ shop in Huntington Beach, Calif. It was like going back in time. There were five front-engined dragsters in Steve’s shop belonging to people as diverse at Mike Kuhl of Kuhl and Olson fame to Chip Foose of TV’s “Overhaulin’.” Others included Ed Pink’s Old Master, which is now owned by Pete Eastwood. It was such a buzz to be there and see the enthusiasm for drag racing, as I like to remember it.
To bring our tale full circle, a new Joe Pisano Funny Car, which was built and driven as a tribute to Joe’s memory by Cruz Pedregon, will be running at the Reunion in a 16-car field. You can be sure it will be one heck of a show. For further information about events at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, visit our website at http://museum.nhra.com (http://museum NULL.nhra NULL.com/) or call 909.622.2133.