The biggest race of the year was plagued by rain, but all-in-all it 2018 was a pretty good year for Auto Club Famoso Raceway.
The March Meet suffered through a wet Friday and Saturday but managed to get a full day of racing in for nitro cars on Sunday and finished up with the rest of the classes on a Monday.
“I think we made the most of it,” said track vice president Blake Bowser. "We took a step up with our livestream and we got some national exposure with MAVTV coming out. They did a couple of episodes. It was a good show.”
It was a long Saturday, which finished under the lights on a cold track.
The Funny Cars managed to find a good deal of traction with Bobby Cottrell running 5.72 at 241 mph to beat Ryan Hodgson’s 5.95 at 240.
It was a different story for the Top Fuel cars, where smaller tires and less downforce came into play.
Mendy Fry looked like she was sailing to victory as Pete Wittenberg smoked his tires at the hit. But Fry edged out of the groove and crossed the centerline at half track, an automatic disqualification, and Wittenberg coasted to the win.
Seven months later, the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion was blessed by superb weather as Jason Rupert got the Funny Car win and Fry capped a championship season with the Top Fuel victory.
In between there was plenty of action, on and off the strip.
The track had two major improvement projects, both fan friendly.
The old wooden planks on all the bleachers were removed and replaced with aluminum. Most of the bleachers were done before the March Meet and the rest were finished after.
“It was a major overhaul, no more splinters,” Bowser said with a chuckle. “That was about a half-a-million dollar upgrade. We Frankenstined it together with parts from Las Vegas, Michigan and Daytona where seating was removed.”
The other big improvement was to the RV parking area on the east side of the track. The pavement was deteriorated and said it was “ground up, regraded, packed and oil sealed. It’s hard as a rock and flat and level now,” Bowser said.
As for sportsman racing, the track held its usual eight Summit Series events with Bakersfield’s Manny Taylor emerging as the Motorcycle champ. The four classes combined generally drew around 100 to 120 racers per event.
The American Nostalgia Racing Association held four events at the track and topped more than 300 competitors a couple of times. Josh Wagner of Bakersfield won the E/Gas title and Tehachapi’s Greg Nylander was the Hot Rod champion.
Bowser said the Saturday Night Street Tuner events, designed for street-legal cars, worked well as the track was stricter this year in keeping purpose-built drag cars away.
“We made an attempt to keep it street-legal only,” Bowser said. “The purpose-built drag cars have races they can run. I think the street-legal racers appreciated that. They had the opportunity to get in more runs.”
Bowser said the 2019 schedule is done and is pretty much the same (as in the number and type of events) as this year with one exception.
“We’re taking a summer break next year from mid-June to mid-August,” he said. “It’s just too darn hot.”