Written By Brad Littlefield – Images By Ginger Snyder
Winners Circle Photo By Kim Fuller
Jason Rupert finally scored a win at Auto Club Famoso Raceway. Despite three consecutive NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series championships (2011-2013), three consecutive IHRA championships (2014-2016), and several event wins and performance milestones, Rupert had never conquered “the Patch” during his 11 previous attempts in March Meet or California Hot Rod Reunion appearances or during his previous Top Alcohol Funny Car career. That ended with a dominant victory at the 25th running of the event.
32 classic floppers vied for a position in the 16-car field. Despite warm conditions, the quickest 16-car field in Nostalgia Funny Car history took place and was anchored by James Day’s 5.875. The runners in the top-half of the field weren’t the only big stories during qualifying. Career-best performances by Bazz Young and Danny Gerber got them into the show, and Rick Rogers had a great outing with the Fighting Irish team going all the way to the semifinal round.
The collision course between respective 2016 IHRA and NHRA champions Rupert and Kris Krabill took place with the drivers making great runs to advance through each side of the ladder. Rupert started from the No. 1 position for which he earned the $500 United Funny Car Association bonus. Rupert ran 5.63 against Day in round one. He followed it with low e.t. of the event (5.57) and a 5.63 to best John Weaver and Rogers in consecutive matchups between drivers who utilize pedal-clutch setups.
Meanwhile, the newly-crowned Heritage Series champion wheeled Bucky Austin’s and Mike O’Brien’s Bardahl-sponsored ’78 Firebird to wins over Gerber, Cory Lee, and defending event champion Ryan Hodgson, who set top speed of the event at 261 mph during qualifying. The 5.62 that Krabill recorded in the semifinals was significant in that it earned him lane choice, taking Rupert out of the right lane that he had tuned from for his past mile of racing, and that it broke Rupert’s string of setting low e.t. for every qualifying session and eliminations round to that point.
The suspense built in the final round as an AA/Gas oildown and a brief rain delay kept the two championship-certified teams waiting in the staging lanes before they finally got to duel. Krabill got a slight advantage off the starting line, but something plagued his Firebird while Rupert stormed down the racetrack to the tune of 5.59 seconds at 250 mph in the Rupert & Littlefield “Rolling Thunder” ’69 Camaro. The win in Bakersfield was a long time coming for Rupert.
“I was getting choked up at the other end,” admitted Rupert. “We’ve been trying to win this race for a long time. For whatever reason, we’ve had a tough time racing here. We were in the final last year but blew up a bunch of parts. This time, everything was happy this weekend until we got to the final.”
The presence of Frank Rupert, Jason’s father, was significant to the team. The elder Rupert’s driving career ended with a Top Fuel crash at the 25th annual U.S. Nationals in which he lost a leg. He had been integral in his son’s driving career, though limited mobility has kept him from traveling to the East Coast events where the team has earned much of their spoils. In Bakersfield, Rupert was able to hand his father the silver Wally for winning the 25th annual California Hot Rod Reunion.
“This was pretty special,” said Rupert, who lives in Yorba Linda, Calif. “Between my dad, Richard Bays, and all the friends and family who are at this race, it makes it a pretty big celebration.”