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Austin takes Hot Rod Reunion by storm to win Funny Car event

Notice was served Sunday during the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Dragstrip: There’s a new player in the Nostalgia Funny Car ranks.

Third generation driver Drew Austin took the class by storm, powering through the field in his first race to win the event.

A third-generation driver, Austin qualified an unassuming 11th in a 16-car field before hitting his stride. He opened Sunday with a jaw-dropping 5.548-second blast down the quarter mile (the fifth best in history) to best Billy Morris in the quarterfinals.

“Morris was running 62s, what are you going to do,” Austin said of his quick run. “You’re not going into a gunfight with a knife. We threw a shot at them and it stuck.”

Austin used a starting line advantage to beat Dan Horan in the semis with a 5.639 and brought the trophy home with a 5.636-second blast at 256.60 mph to beat Jerry Espeseth (5.663/255.56) in one of the best races of the day.

“We knew we had a good car,” Austin said. “We ran it a few times and dynoed it. We knew it was good. You can make as much power as you want but getting down the track is the trick.

“My dad (Pat) definitely figured that out today. Luck was on our side today and it was a lot of fun.”

Horan posted the fastest NFC run ever in the semifinals, going 267.11 mph, but that hard charge was not able to make up a huge starting line advantage for Austin. Austin was more than a tenth of a second quicker off the starting line and led all the way for the win, despite a slower 5.639 to Horan’s 5.582. Austin’s margin of victory was .069 seconds.

Espeseth had an easy semifinal win on a single as No. 1 qualifier Bobby Cottrell shut off after his burnout, the victim of a cracked fuel tank which was leaking fluid.

Bakersfield’s Kamaka Pocock, who won the Legends of Nitro Rookie of the Year honors, lost in the closest race of the first round on Saturday. Pocock got a slight edge off the starting line but Matt Melendez’s 5.729 got the better of Pocock’s 5.765.

While Horan was unable to get the Funny Car win, he did drive to victory in Top Fuel class, which he said afterward would be his final time in the dragster.

“It’s bittersweet,” Horan said of his win over Adam Sorokin. “Next year I’m handing that car over to my son (Ryan). Driving two of these things is just a little bit cumbersome.

“What can you say, a 267 mile an hour Funny Car and the Digger Dan tribute car has been in every final round this year. Five for five. Three wins, two runner-ups. When you win the March Meet and the California Hot Rod Reunion and a place like Tulsa my dad used to go to for the PDA races, it’s all special.”

Sorokin got the jump on Horan on the start but Horan quickly powered past, running 5.716 at 256.60 to Sorokin’s 5.981 at 222.66.

Horan reached the final with a come-from behind win over Tyler Hilton. Hilton led to 1,000 feet before his motor went away in a cloud of smoke and Horan sailed by, stopping the lights at 5.691 seconds at 247.97 mph to Hilton’s 5.924 at 214 mph.

Sorokin reached the final due to his quicker starting-line reaction in a semifinal matchup against Brett Williamson.

Sorokin was .025 quicker off the starting line which translated to his slower 5.964 edging out Williamson’s 5.925.

But Williamson had quite a consolation prize as he won the Tom Shelar Memorial Shootout on Saturday evening, which featured the two drivers with the best combined average run from the first two qualifying runs in a final qualifying session.

Custom Floaters put up $2,500 and a bunch of donations swelled the cash prize to $11,500. Williamson ran 5.795 to earn the big payday over Frank McBee’s 8.20 run.

“I can’t even believe it,” Williamson said. “We went up there like it was a normal qualifying thing but the added pressure of trying to make more money. I didn’t want to red light or do anything else dumb.”

Randy Bradford won on Fuel Altered, Ed Marx won in Pro-Mod and Mike Molea was the AA/Gas winner. Ed Silbermann of Lake Isabella was the winner in Nostalgia Eliminator I and Larry Wayne of Tehachapi won in Hot Rod.

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