BAKERSFIELD, CALIF. —It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, at least for me.
A 3,000-mile road trip crammed in a car with my brother and my nephew on a journey through rugged mountain ranges and over trackless deserts to go watch the kind of cars race that thrilled us nearly a half century ago.
It was the 20th annual California Hot Rod Reunion, a gathering of drag racing legends and their fans, of front-engined dragsters, fuel altereds, gassers and funny cars at the Auto Club Famoso Raceway. It took three full days to absorb all the sights and sounds before we three flatlanders headed home, a little deafer than when we left, but with our cameras' memory cards bulging with images.
Steve Gibbs and Bernie Partridge, both longtime National Hot Rod Association staffers, conceived of the CHRR in 1991 after attending the funeral of Joe Pisano, a legendary racer. They decided it would be good to get together with other old- timers at an event a little less somber than another racer's funeral.
Gibbs was the grand marshall and one of the honorees recognized with an award at this year's reunion.
The reunion has grown every year since the inaugural event. We met a pair of nostalgia funny car racers from Holland and another CHRR attendee who flies to California from London and rents a muscle car to tool around in every year.
One of the reunion's highlights has been the "Cacklefest," which this year featured nearly 50 nitromethane-burning drag cars being push-started by vintage trucks and station wagons and then idling down the return road and out onto the racing surface, engines barking a staccato symphony, header flames leaping into the evening sky.
It really takes a geezer back to the "good old days" when drag racing was more a passion than a big business.
There was more than just drag racing to entertain us. There were great hot rods and custom cars from the West Coast in a low-key car show, an amazing vendors midway full of every kind of car-related stuff you could imagine and a hefty swap meet for the stuff you couldn't imagine.
The trip itself was a blast, with an ill-fated attempt to visit a major new Colorado collector car museum, a motel room with a live mule tethered outside, a stop at an "alien jerky" shop and a bunch of crows that seemed to follow us halfway across the country.
My brother, Stan, made the trip by himself last year and apparently plans to make it a yearly pilgrimage. His son, Matthew, provided much-needed comic relief, including working up a super hero costume for himself, which is best left to the imagination.
For me, as I said, this was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, one of those bucket list undertakings. With thanks to others who provided some of the pictures, here's a photo sampling of what the Reunion has to offer old-time gearheads who need one more good whiff of nitro to clear their heads.