With New Name, Auto Club Famoso Raceway Celebrates Rich History
8/15/2005
Famosa, CA
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 Auto Club Famoso Raceway in 1964 - National Dragster
 Aerial photo of Auto Club Famoso Raceway in 1964.  All photos courtesy National Dragster.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - When California Highway 99 was the main north-south route in the state and the interstate highway system was merely a gleam in the eye of the man who was not yet President Eisenhower, a local car club placed its focus on a parcel of land in McFarland, north of Bakersfield as a great location for drag racing.

 Now called the Auto Club Famoso Raceway, the home of the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by the Automobile Automobile Club of Southern California has grown over the ensuing years without ever losing its place as a field of dreams for drag racers.

Auto Club Famoso Raceway has deep historical significance as one of the

 The Tower at Auto Club Famoso Raceway - 1964 - National Dragster
 The tower at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in 1964.
earliest tracks to host major events,” said Greg Sharp, Curator of the non-profit Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, which produces and benefits from the Reunion.

 “The Famoso site itself is so steeped in drag racing history and legend that it is almost a tangible presence during any visit,” says Vic Cooke of nitrogeezers.com. 

Initially formed as the Bakersfield Coupe and Roadster Club, the organizers of racing at Famoso changed their name to The Smokers in 1948, putting their primary focus on drag racing.  Their first event was held at Famoso in March, 1951, setting the stage for the well known March Meet that continues today at Famoso every spring.

 Dragsters roar in 1965 - National Dragster
 Dragsters burn out at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in 1965.
The Smokers began building up Famoso quietly until 1958 when, skeptical of the reported times and speeds set in the east by Don Garlits, they invited “Big Daddy” to compete with them.  In March, 1959, he did just that.  The result was the first U.S. fuel and gas championships, 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’ presence spread the fame of Famoso far and wide. 

In 1992, the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, thought at the time to be a

 Crowds watch at the 2003 Reunion - National Dragster
 Crowds enjoy the action during the 2003 NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California.
single event, brought together older cars, drivers and fans to celebrate an earlier era. 

“When we were looking for a place for our Reunion, there was no question that we would come home to Bakersfield,” said Steve Gibbs, Parks Museum board member and then Museum director.  “The event has grown over the years and trees have been planted in what’s now Famoso Grove to honor the memory of drag racers of the past.”

The Grove provides a setting for the street rod display that’s an integral part of the annual Reunion, the major autumn event at the track.

In 1994, the March Meet at Famoso was resurrected as a race for nostalgic front-engined cars, with entries limited to pre-1972-style racers. 

“In the world of front motor dragsters only one other event rivals the March Meet,” says Jim Davis of wediditforlove.com, “and that event is The California Hot Rod Reunion.”

Meanwhile, the track’s local events continued unabated, with a full schedule helping to fulfill its original mission of keeping the kids from illegal street racing. 

Although California 99 has long since been supplanted by Interstate 5, it continues to provide great access to the track and the city of Bakersfield.

Recent upgrades to the media/officials tower are hidden from public view.  In 2004, the track debuted new and taller safety walls.

With the new Auto Club sponsorship, upgrades will continue without affecting the historical significance of one of the oldest venues in drag racing.

Since its inception in 1992, the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion has offered hot rodders and racers the opportunity to reunite with old friends and reminisce about “the good old days.”  The Reunion includes competition on the racetrack, a car show, a chance for fans to meet the legends and stars of the sport, a barbeque and the highly popular “Cacklefest,” which involves early-days-style front-engine dragsters being push-started, then all gathered together on the drag strip starting line with engines running or ‘cackling.”

The Reunion represents a unique confluence of hot rodding and drag racing, bringing to life the story of high performance motorsports and preserving and extending the history. 

Auto Club members will receive a $2 discount on daily admission when they present their membership card at the Auto Club Famoso Raceway ticket window and a $5 discount on a full-event credential.

Tickets for the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, are available by calling 800/884-6472.  A full event credential is $55 for adults and only $10 for those under 16.  Full event credentials include a “goody bag” that features the highly collectible Reunion Annual and a dash plaque.  AAA members receive a $5 discount on a full event credential or $2 off on Saturday or Sunday daily tickets when they show their membership card.  Camping passes are available with credential purchase at $50 and swap meet spaces are just $40 for a 20’ x 20’ space.  Daily tickets may be purchased at the gate of Auto Club Famoso Raceway, north of Bakersfield on Highway 99.  For additional Reunion information, call 909/622-8562 or visit http://museum.nhra.com. 

For the eleventh consecutive year, the Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest affiliate of the AAA, is the presenting sponsor of the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion. The Automobile Club of Southern California has been serving members since 1900. Today, the Auto Club’s members benefit by the organization’s emergency road service, financial products, travel agency and trip planning services, highway and transportation safety programs, insurance products and services, automotive pricing, buying and financing programs, automotive testing and analysis and legislative advocacy. Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club’s web site at www.aaa-calif.com. 

Proceeds of the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, will benefit the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. Named for the founder of the National Hot Rod Association, the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California houses the very roots of hot rodding. Scores of famous vehicles spanning American motorsports history are on display, including winning cars representing 50 years of drag racing, dry lakes and salt-flat racers, oval track challengers and exhibits describing their colorful backgrounds.

One of the best entertainment values in Southern California, the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Time, with extended hours during NHRA national events. Current NHRA members are admitted free. Admission for non-members is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors 60 and older, $3 for juniors six through 15, and free for children under the age of five. The Museum is also available for private parties, meetings, corporate events, weddings and special group tours. The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is located at Fairplex Gate 1, 1101 W. McKinley Ave. in Pomona. For further information on special exhibits, museum events or directions, call 909/622-2133 or visit http://museum.nhra.com .

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