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Drag Racing Stories
Nov 10, 2011

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2011 California Hot Rod Reunion Trip

By Rapid Randy Baker

Frank and Deb Ousley asked me to go along to the CHHR and help with the Top Fuel Dragster. I had a great time helping them a few weeks earlier at Martin, Michigan, in a test session, so it was an easy decision to make. It has also been a while since I was able to drive to CA and see the landscape so I was looking forward to drive as well as the racing. Joe Hendricks, another NTF car owner, and his crew guy Dan also were making the trip. Nitro Neil also flew in to hang out. He is as cool a guy as everybody says.

The guys left a few hours ahead of Deb, as she needed to track down the UPS driver and get the hero cards that hadn't been delivered yet. She arrived at my place around 3PM. It was decided we would drive straight through to Vegas. After a couple of arguments with the dashboard GPS lady, we caught up to Frank and the guys in East Colorado. From that point on, it was just a matter of following the big white truck and trailer. Deb made the mistake of getting out her camera while I was driving. I made her take a million photos of all the stuff along the way. She even got a photo of the “Worlds Tallest Thermometer” in where else… Baker, Ca.

We went North around to Salt Lake and then down into Vegas. It was right at a 24-hour drive. They washed the rig while we got everyone checked in. I was rooming with Jimmy Young. I think they just wanted to keep the drivers hanging together. It was also in the plans to keep Shane and me, the funny car guys, separated so we couldn't work over the Pipe Rack guys too badly. We stayed at Sam's Town as they had secure parking for the rig. After we all cleaned up, we went downtown to the strip. It was Jimmy's first time, and we had a blast “helping him” gather up a set of Vegas Advertising cards.

Around midnight or so we headed back to the motel for some sleep. It was kinda overdue since most of us hadn't slept since Sunday night and it was now Tuesday night. We agreed to meet around 10-11AM then head to Bakersfield. Around 6:15AM, Frank called Jimmy's cell.

“Hey, we are ready to leave, come on down when you can.”

Holy crap, things changed. Jimmy and I got ready and went down for breakfast. Yep, they were all there bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to head to the track. Had I known then what I learned on the drive back home, I wouldn't have gotten any sleep. Jimmy is the ultimate prankster. Nobody is safe, and he is always thinking up the next gotcha.

It was an easy drive on over to Bakersfield. We checked into the motel there and headed out to the track to park the rig. The weather was perfect. Parking, tech card, and the crew passes paperwork went smooth. No matter how many times you go to Bakersfield, there is just something about the place that is so cool. It gives off its own vibe from all the history that has happened there. The track is top notch, the air is killer, and the stars of the sport come out just to be a part of the action.

Since it was only Wednesday, we had a couple of days to be able to see a bunch of friends and fellow racers. We were short on rides to and from the track so my buddy Hollywood Kris Krabill offered to help out. He and Super Dave were worth the trip out there just to hear them bag on each other. They could do a stand up comedy gig anytime. Since there was an In & Out Burger right across from the motel, that was Wednesday's dinner of choice.

I am not even going to try to list everybody I got to see and talk to. Eddie was there. John Hale and his gang were pitted close by as was Gary Turner and the Peddler crew. Jon Wurtz and Dennis with the Back in Black GTO were right ahead of us. They had Mike Patterson cooking for them all weekend. Of course I managed to go visit Jon when the food was ready a couple of times. It was tough to do, as Deb kept us fed in our pits with a big spread everyday as well. It seemed like every place you went you saw a friend you needed/wanted to talk to. I did finally get to meet Bob Meyer; that was cool. Having Mikee and Paul, Jerry Newman, and Barry there it was like being at a local race.

Thursday we got the pit set up and organized. Looked over the cars and had time to chat with the guys. John Keigley and Mark Leigh from the War Eagle team took us to Chuey's for the deal there. One of the girls I went to school with showed up there along with her husband. We had a great time, camped at Keigley's corner. There appeared to be something wrong with my glass, as it was empty all the time. Lucky for me I knew a guy who knew the bar help, and was able to remedy the problem each time it happened. The place was packed all night long with racers and fans.

Friday it was time to get to it. Shane and I had to swear off any further funny car talk in the pits. We were dragster guys for the weekend. It appears that system worked as the Crop Duster set low ET of the 1st session with a nice 5.77.

We serviced the car. Since we had some extra experienced crew guys I gave up my right side head duties and adopted the job of getting the fresh racks ready for action. Frank puts a new rack in every run so it can all be inspected, and fuel system changes made based on the parts we pull out after the run. This pass it tightened up a couple of ring lands. I changed out those pistons and inspected the rest of them. Then that rack would be ready for service later in the weekend.

On a Flathead style hemi {392} the pistons have 2-valve reliefs in them. On a late model {426} the pistons usually only have a relief on the Intake side. So on the early Hemi, you have to inspect the bottom of the piston to see which way it goes on the rod. Tough stuff for just a driver guy. HA!

Friday night at the DoubleTree deal was as cool a happening as you hear it is. We had a good time, and got to see and talk to a bunch of heroes. We still managed to get a decent night’s sleep.

It felt pretty good to be at the top of the heap after the first session. That was nothing… after the 2nd session everybody flexed their muscles. The ET's were dropping like rocks. When it was our turn I think the earth stopped turning for 5-seconds. Well 5.59 seconds to be exact! We set low ET again, and ran in the 5.50's on top of it. I believe there have only been 3-NTF cars to run in the .50's ever to this point. The corrected air wasn't all that stellar, but the water grains were down in the 60's. It was far from mineshaft conditions. The track temp was right at 110-degrees.

I have to tell you, it was pretty amazing how many people shook our hands and congratulated us on the run. It put that silly little grin on Ol' Rapid's mug thinking about it on the way back to the pit area. The Nitro game is such a tough deal, and to be standing on top of the heap with the best nitro cars in the land on the grounds is a cool feeling. Frank has a handle on it, and Jimmy is an excellent driver. With the crew doing their thing, it made a guy proud to be a part of it all.

Back in the pits, I handed off the new rack, lubed and ready. I fixed up the 5.59 rack. It took a new piston in #2, and a few others only had ring lands tightened up. Pretty impressive. Everything checked and it was time for 1st round.

One of the cars pulled out, so we had a by run. Jimmy did a nice burnout, staged and ran it to about the 330 cone. We did the service and were ready for 2nd round on Sunday. Saturday afternoon Jeff Gaynor and Mark brought the new altered body over and dropped it off. The body looks great, and provided a lot of good fun conversation the rest of the weekend.

Saturday night at the track was enough to make the Brainerd Zoo look tame. Everywhere you went there was a party going on, and people just hanging and having a great time. Shane and I hung out, and then rode back to the motel with Dave Farrin. Leon was the last man standing, well riding his bike anyway, as far as I could tell.

Sunday morning we have to race the Mr. Boston car with a bunch of my friends over there. Pete Jensen is the crew chief, Skip is the owner, Howard H. is the driver, and Mark H, Cevilli, and Leon on the crew. Of course being racers there was no smack talk going on, yeah right. We won the round when Howard got into some oil and took out the center cones.

Once again we serviced the car and went to the line against the big red car of Jack Harris. He has been the series champ the last few years, and today was no exception. Our car put out a couple cylinders at the step, and it was all over with. It picked them back up, but we got beat to the stripe. Even dropping cylinders early, it still ran 211 mph to the 1/8th mile and 5.90 in the 1320. I think Jack ran a low 5.80.

That ended the fantastic racing weekend, but the way things had gone the team had a blast and was very happy with how things went. Frank and Deb took us all out to a nice steak dinner to celebrate. Joe was the first to hit the restroom. He came back and said, “Come on everyone; you have to see this.”

So like 10-guys and Deb all head into the men’s room. On the wall was the Bakersfield Chronicle newspaper with a cool shot of Jimmy doing a burnout along with a story of the race. The restaurant gave Jimmy the newspaper to keep.

Monday morning Frank handed over the credit card, and said take good care of the rig on the way home. He and Debbie were going back to Vegas for the World Finals of Bull Riding. We decided to take the Southern route on the way home as it was snowing in the mountains on the way out and only about 28-degrees. When you fuel up at the big truck pump at the truck stops, you have to pre-pay for the diesel. When asked for a truck number I always told them it was: “MR 5.59.”

I want to thank Mike English and Donnie Couch for having me hang out in the tower when the funny cars were running. It was fun to do, and they did a good job of carrying me. I kept hearing there were 40 funny cars there trying for the 16-car field. Incredible deal, and the field was stout.

If you get the chance to head to Bakersfield, don't miss out. You will never regret the experience. The Bowser's have a first rate place, and the events are over the top.

I hope you enjoyed my 'what I did the other week' story…




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