By Hot Rod Jimmy
In watching the events as they unfolded at the 2016 NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, I was treated to, what I saw as, the progression of history in the Nostalgia Funny Car ranks. I was allowed to see how the ranks of all funny cars came from a start for real in the late 60’s…circa 1968, if that sounds right.
The men that built these cars, way back then, were a sound, hard living group. They progressed with the sport and every single bit of it was theirs. Did they share openly what they learned? Absolutely not. They used it to win races.
Nitromethane is a fuel that is upside down and backwards in how it works in a fuel car. The big show guys tweak their settings with computers which gives full stats on what the car does each and every pass. The nostalgia guys? They have to do it all by hand through the tradition of the earliest funny cars and the like. Fact of the matter is, the more you know about the old ways of nitro, the more it is going to help you in how the cars run today.
Tuning these cars is more than just a science–it is a science filled with tradition of this kind of racing. You have to have the engine right and the cam timing right. There are three different ways to run the firing order on a Hemi; you have to know where you want it at, and then go for it. Your “TUNE” can end up taking you years to get at, and years to get it right. There are so many adjustments, it is big time mind boggling. And on top of it all, the track and what the air is doing must be considered as well.
With Littlefield and Rupert, their most recent version of their hot rod, the Rolling thunder car, is an honor seeking version of the Late Mert Littlefield’s 1976 Vega US Air Force “Rolling Thunder.” They applied the rolling thunder wrap to the previous Red Mert Littlefield tribute car. The Red car was a wrap as well. They set to work before the season, peeling the red wrap off, then applied the car with the Rolling Thunder Wrap. I was informed the old red wrap weighed nine and a half pounds.
The Rupert and Littlefield crowd showed up at the 2016 NHRA Winternationals at the start of the season and made a pass to the glory of the 50th Year of funny car racing. Jason Laid it out to the 1320 foot mark with a 5.76 second ET after clicking the car at the thousand foot mark. It was an echo of what was going to happen in 2016 at the IHRA level of funny car championships.
With Littlefield and Rupert, it is about racing to them. They now have three NHRA championships, and another three IHRA championships. They ran some big numbers across the land. In Martin, Michigan, they brought it down to the final round to win the championship. Only the greatest teams can do that kind of thing. Coming back from being behind is the hardest way to win. They did it with ease.
They did it with a great team, great people, and fantastic sponsors. They did it themselves. They did it with a great linage of Nitro car racing history.
Frank Rupert said it so clearly, “We showed them how to do this, they showed us how to win.” It is true without a doubt. In Brad Littlefield and Jason Rupert, you have two guys that grew up in this sport and did so listening. They most likely did all the things kids did when they went to the track. They were there and learned, their young brains soaking in what it was like to run a nitro car; with brains like sponges. They saw all the normal things going on, and on the contrary, saw what wizardry their fathers did to make a bad car run well. Their playgrounds were Lions, OCIR, Irwindale, Pomona, and Formosa Raceways. Fact of the matter is, these places were their schools for advanced learning of the nitro car curve. They saw the things that did not work; they saw the things that did work. Their teachers: Frank Rupert, Richard Bays, and Mert Littlefield.
While the Bays and Rupert Littlefield crowd, back then, were thin on winning, they were big time wicked on running hard, and often. Their combination was long sought and found the second time around. Winning in the ranks of Nitromethane was what made them to the core.
When they switched into Nostalgia Nitro they left the ranks of alcohol racing behind. NFC was the class for them. It was a dream class, to be sure. It takes a lot of coin to run Big Show Nitro cars. You have three families that have all the tools to run nitro from back in the day. They popped an old school ‘69 Camaro body on the car, then went to work.
While someone might think that running NFC would be the easier of the nitro classes, that just is not true. There are rule changes that make NFC the harder of the two to tune for. The big one is right in the middle of everything. It is being limited to a fuel pump that is specified to flow 21 gallons per minute at 4000 RPMs. Big show cars, and even the nostalgia cars back in the day, found a lot of their horsepower in the pump. Being limited to the 21 GPM pump is something nobody had to deal with before NFC existed. So, with NFC racing, there is a new wiggle that sets right on top of everything…The Pump.
As has been explained to me about the surface at Bakersfield, this old and very storied track is the center of real hard core nitro racing. The surface there will hold down the best of the big show cars. With NFC cars, they do not have the power to just break tires loose and get wheel speed. They get real freaky in setting things up to get said wheel speed. They find ways to do it, though. They use the wheelie bars and tire pressure. They are forced to make a choice; what works right into everything there is? Big time crew chiefs walk away from NFC cars because it is all a touch here and a tweak there to get it right. They can’t use computers to set anything up. They have do it the old fashion way. If they change one thing, 10 other settings change. Old School is limited and that frustrates Big time crew chiefs.
This is where Littlefield and Rupert excel into the stratosphere! They build everything themselves. They do all the operations themselves. When you walk into their pits before a race, you see Jason Rupert setting on the headers and adjusting his own valves. And most of the time, he has a smile on his face.
The end of this last year they accomplished what they had tried and failed to do for many years; they won at Bakersfield. When they did that, they carried with them all those who came before them. All people who had been at their side. They had a great and far reaching season. When they had to do it, get out there and ring the bell, they did.
They had an up and down season to be sure. If you ask Brad, he will tell you they messed up in places and got behind in the count. When they did run bad, they picked it up at the next race.
Since 2011, they have been the total standard in Nostalgia funny car racing. They always find a way. And most importantly, there is no give up, anywhere, on this team.
They find that winning edge and then expand on it. They do it old school and use the history available to them. They are ‘at one’ with the ways of nitromethane. Some of the things they do were invented by this Racing family friends and crew. I compare it to seeing Kenny Stabler split some defensive backs for a shot into the end zone. A fantastic combo of new and old with a lot of old time nitro magic in the mix. If they run so hard, it is because they stand on the shoulders of legends. They are fast reaching the levels set by legends like Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. An argument could be made that they have exceeded it.
Meet the Team:
The driver and the spirit of the whole darn thing. He builds the car, runs the car, and is the spirit that drives the car. He is a very great and consistent driver. There are a lot of people who know this. I saw John Force stop and shake Jason’s hand in the staging lanes. John knows greatness when he sees it.
Frank and Brenda Rupert
Frank and Brenda are Jason’s parents. They are always there for the team. Frank is a great influence on the team, and his son. He does not get to come to the races that often, but when he does, he offers his advice…and of course runs around the pits in his golf cart. Being the fan of drag racing that I am, I was so honored to see him at CHRR. We talked for a very long time…without a doubt, he is the real thing.
A co-owner of the car. He provides support to everyone at, or on, the Littlefield-Rupert team.
Brad is a great part of the spirt of the car. He is also the rrew chief. One of my favorite things to see is when the car comes to the line; Brad lines Jason up, pulls the pin on the injector butterflies, looks inside at Jason, then pounds the hood of the car three times. It gives you the feeling that the car is heading for the stratosphere.
Al does the heads to perfection. Doing heads is something the team, any team, needs done well. Six Championships is ringing the bell good, without a doubt; not just good, but great.
Eddie is one of four people involved that is a throwback to the old Bays and Rupert team of the ‘70s. He does everything he can do to help with the running of the car. He, with Jason, does a lot of work on the car when it’s home. He uniquely knows the way of Nitro cars. He is a large part of the soul of this team.
Craig and Fred McKee
They take care of the top and Racks. They are also throwbacks to The Bays and Rupert cars in the ‘70s.
Helped the Team in Florida last year. He might not be back in 2017, but he helped out big time in 2016.
Tom takes care of the top end. He is a second-generation team member. His dad also works on the team.
Jennifer is the wonderful wife of Jason Rupert. She is the woman behind the man. She is great in all her support of Jason and the team.
Nickolas is the rising son of nitro. He is the son of Jennifer and Jason.
This man is the ‘Bays’ in Bays and Rupert’s “Black Plague” car from back in the day. He, along with Frank Rupert, started all of this racing.
Lee is a fantastic lady. She embodies the spirit of the whole family. She provides the breath for all of this…no really, she is the lady that runs Littlefield Superchargers. The chess piece that sets in the middle of everything is from Littlefield’s legendary supercharger shop. Setting under the Injectors of the Rolling Thunder car is the newest of their nostalgia blowers. It’s called the MB22. It is an outstanding piece of work. This is the blower that spun its 70-75 Aluminum rotors fast enough to take the Rolling Thunder to space with numbers at 5.51 and 269 mph. It may not look like a Phantom Jet, but it embodies the spirit of one.
Handles Hospitality and crew relations. Like everyone else here, she does one heck of a job.
Paul is the Transport driver. He does a great job keeping it between the guard rails, the hammer down and the red lights outta sight.