Early last Saturday morning, Bobby Cottrell strolled to the starting line at Auto Club Famoso Raceway and snapped a picture looking down the track.
“Heaven on earth” he wrote when he posted it to his Facebook page.
After a winter devoid of racing, Cottrell was elated to be back at his happy place and at the controls of the potent Bucky Austin-owned Funny Car he’s had so much success driving over the past three years.
“I’ve been chomping at the bit,” said Cottrell, among around 60 drivers on hand to test in preparation for the Good Vibrations Motorsports March Meet which begins a four-day run on Thursday.
Cottrell, a two-time Hot Rod Heritage champion in his own 7.0 Pro dragster, took over the driving chores for Austin after the 2017 March Meet and has been nearly unbeatable since.
He has won two out of the three California Hot Rod Reunions held at Famoso annually in October (he lost in the semis in the other) and is two-for-two in March Meets. He also has emerged with the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series Funny Car championship the past two seasons.
“It’s probably the funnest thing you can ever drive,” Cottrell said of his experience in the car. “The Funny Car is pretty violent before half track. I’m enjoying it. I’m just having a good time.”
What makes it even more enjoyable for the automotive shop owner out of Whittier is that he gets his hands dirty between rounds.
“I love this part,” he said after taking the right cylinder head off the engine following a run. “That was the biggest thing when I got hired, I wanted to work on the car, just not drive it.”
But there is no resting on their laurels for this team as they keep looking for improved performance.
“You just keep trying to push the limits and squeeze as much horsepower as you can out of it and get it to the ground,” Cottrell said. “That’s what Bucky thrives on. He likes the science of it, the mechanics of it. I’m blessed to even be in my position. I’m just thankful to him.
“The biggest thing (leading to success) is our team, especially with Bucky being our leader. I think that’s his ability in life, being able to manage people and put them where they excel. Everybody on our team is very good at what they do. We just have a great team. I can’t say enough about them.”
While Cottrell has been the top dog the past two years, he notes it has not come without hard-fought battles.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “Every race we show up to is a fight. We haven’t got anything handed to us, which I prefer it that way. Everybody is stepping up.”
The Funny Cars (where around two dozen drivers will battle for a spot in the 16-car field) are one of four classes for supercharged nitromethane motors.
Adam Sorokin will be looking for his second straight March Meet win and third overall in front-motored Top Fuel (AA/FD) and NHRA Mellow Yellow Funny Car driver Ron Capps will be looking for a win in the AA/Fuel Altered class.
New this year is the Nitro Pro Comp class which will pit all the different classes against one another on a 5.90-second index, meaning those entered will try to run as close to 5.90 seconds in the quarter-mile without going quicker.
The track had a 5.90-second Funny Car class the past couple of years.
“On Thursday’s we do a practice round for all the nitro cars and we just run them as they line up, just pair them up and let them go,” said track General Manager Blake Bowser. “The fans loved seeing an Altered vs. a Funny Car or a front-motored car vs. a rear motor car so I thought why not expand that 5.90 class into basically a catch all.”
Bowser said the class gives those, especially in Funny Car, who may not be able to run the 5.60s and 5.50s to keep up with the heavy hitters, an opportunity to run and be competitive in their own bracket.
“A few years ago we only had two classes,” Bowser said. “Now we have about the same number of cars in four classes. It spreads the cars around and makes things more manageable. Plus, more guys are getting paid (instead of not qualifying).