Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Raceway Bakersfield California


Auto Club Famoso:

Half a century ago, Bakersfield was a sleepy oil town best known as the last stop before climbing the “Grapevine” road to Los Angeles. Things changed rapidly when local country singer Buck Owens rose to fame in the late 1950s. At the same time, drag racers from around the country began pouring into Famoso for quarter-mile runs. The March Meet originally called the U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships, was spearheaded by the Smokers, a local race club. The Smokers, who began racing at Famoso in 1951, became skeptical of reported times and speeds set in the east by “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. So they invited him to Bakersfield to compete. In March 1959 he did just that. The result was the March Meet, often called the “Woodstock of drag racing.” Although Garlits lost in the first round and Art Chrisman became Top Eliminator, Garlits went on to become the most celebrated drag racer in history and #1 on the NHRA’s Top 50 list. Garlits’ appearance at Famoso spread the fame of the track, March Meet and Bakersfield far and wide.

 The March Meet and Famoso Raceway created an entire generation of both racers and racing fans and marked Bakersfield as a Mecca for the sport. The Mears family began to race at Famoso, as did Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, Cruz and Tony Pedregon and many, many others. NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick launched his racing career in Bakersfield.


In its hay day, the March Meet was the race on the NHRA schedule, where legendary racers such as Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, “TV Tommy” Ivo, Shirley Muldowney and Connie Kalitta clashed. Many of today’s stars like John Force and Ron Capps competed in the March Meet. Force – this year’s Grand Marshal – won the March Meet in 1984.

 Today the March Meet is racing’s top nostalgia event and is the first stop on the NHRA’s Hot Rod Heritage Series. It’s still, in Blake Bowser’s words, “…the largest single event in Bakersfield. It helped put Bakersfield on the map. Bakersfield is Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and the March Meet.”

 John and Blake Bowser, the father and son tag team who run the Kern County Racing Association, are also the operators of historic Auto Club Famoso Raceway and producers of one of the most famous drag race events of all-time, the March Meet.

 John Bowser: I moved to Bakersfield from Camden, N.J., in 1952, just a few months before the big 7.5 earthquake which wiped out most of the town. My mother owned a grocery store which was destroyed by the quake. That was a nice ‘welcome to California’ thing for us. When we got here, I thought the West was made up of cowboys and Indians.

 I got into drag racing when I was going to Bakersfield High School in 1958-59. Bakersfield was a big motorhead city back then and still is. We used to go to Southern California to see drag racing at Irwindale, Lions and San Fernando. They were ‘lunch money’ trips – we’d save up our lunch money from the school, pool it together and go racing. I first went to Famoso in 1959. There was some drag racing at Gardner Field and Taft before Famoso was built, but Famoso changed everything. Back in the fifties, Bakersfield was like American Graffiti—lots of cars and kids hanging out. Racing was fun: you’d drive your race car to the event, race it and drive it home.

Today the March Meet is racing’s top nostalgia event and is the first stop on the NHRA’s Hot Rod Heritage Series. It’s still, in Blake Bowser’s words, “…the largest single event in Bakersfield. It helped put Bakersfield on the map. Bakersfield is Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and the March Meet.”

"Special note out to NitoAmerica, with the cooperation of the teams and tracks you get to experience great HD camera views of all angels with choice sound! To say the least,  NitroAmerica brings the race in your face!"    

Auto Club Famoso

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