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2013 March Meet

Nitro Marauders Motor on and Famoso Fuelers Fight back

By Cole Coonce, Photography by Ted Soqui, Cole Coonce

Yes, commitment. Of the three dozen nitro Funny Cars attempting to qualify for a 16-car eliminator, nearly one third had hauled their trailers and entourages to Famoso from the Midwest or the Pacific Northwest. The most noteworthy Canadian entry was the TLD Firebird of Tim Boychuk, who returned from Edmonton, Alberta, after an ego-crushing circumstance the year before. Boychuk won the 2012 March Meet, only to be disqualified two weeks later, due to a fuel-pump violation. The event win was subsequently awarded to the original runner-up, Chad Head. This year, Boychuk came back, aiming for both Head and vindication.

Similarly, out-of-state invaders battered the California Top Fuel contingent. In fact, the bombardment began as soon as the back gate opened. During a time trial held the day before qualifying commenced, New York–based racer Tony "T-Bone" Bartone guided his front-engine Top Fueler to an unprecedented performance, traversing the fresh-faced Famoso quarter-mile in 5.561 seconds. This shot across the bow was even more intimidating because of T-Bone's top-end speed, or rather the lack of. With some of these modern slingshots routinely reaching terminal speeds around 260 mph, what was startling about Bartone's 5.56 was the diminutive top end of only 220 mph, which tells anyone paying attention that he was off the throttle at or near the 1,000-foot timing cones and coasted for the last couple of hundred feet. More data supporting this supposition was found in his half-track numbers, as he crossed the eighth-mile cones at a blistering 217 mph. In other words, in the last half of his run, he only accelerated 3 mph more and still set an unofficial benchmark for the AA/Fuelers.

Unfortunately for Bartone, he peaked before the event even began. After struggling to find traction during qualifying, Bartone was slotted near the bottom of the elimination ladder and was eliminated in the first round.

In Bartone's stead, 34-year-old Salem, Wisconsin, dragster-driver Jim Young filled the void in jaw-dropping performances. The defending event champ, Young qualified quickest with an elapsed time of 5.68 seconds in his Crop Duster, then dispatching California racers Adam Sorokin and Jim Murphy in eliminations with a string of mid-5.60 clockings, punctuated by a Top Speed record of 266 mph.

"Two in a row is the goal," is what the laconic Young told this scribe, moments before the sun went down on Sunday and the final rounds were run.

Young's opponent for the March Meet Top Fuel title would be the No. 2 qualifier, Denver Schutz, a 67-year-old silver fox from up the road in Fresno. Earlier, Denver had dropped Bartone like a bad habit, before powering his Raisin Express 3 around Rick Williamson and Rick White.

Some of those round wins could be attributed to experience, and there isn't much that Denver hasn't driven in a long career.

"I have been coming here since 1961," he told us, explaining what a victory in Bakersfield would mean to him. "I've been driving here for I don't know how many years. My goal is to win the March Meet. Anybody who is going to go to a drag race where I live, they don't say ‘I am going to a drag race.' They say, ‘I'm going to the March Meet.' That's the key. I want to take that back home with me."

Schutz comes off as tough as Tom Selleck's tooth enamel, but with real possibility of finally winning this race, he became pensive.

"My résumé is full," he concluded. "I've done about everything I want to do. Other than win the March Meet."

Meanwhile, among the Funny Cars, Boychuk spent his afternoon disposing of SoCal hitters like the California Hustler and Jason Rupert, before he squared off in the semi-finals against Head. In that heat, Head rolled the beams and red-lighted when his clutch pedal broke. Boychuk took the gimme in stride.

By Cole Coonce
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Patrick Gyotoku
Patrick Gyotoku

I miss that Keith track racing you to be right next to farm test out the engine on the rail but its more awesome at the track

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