A quite extraordinary weekend.
The 2017 California Hot Rod Reunion, being what many consider to be the premier nostalgia race meeting of the US calendar, was to be a fitting end to the ‘Havoc’ US Tour regardless of results. The actual result was something of a fairytale for us.
We arrived at the event as part of a thirteen-strong field of the best classic fuel altereds on the planet, to be competing in a ‘Chicago-style’ shoot-out where the fastest two cars would run off against each other in a final after three qualifying sessions, Rules: Anything quicker than a 6.00 et would be discounted – anything else goes…. We knew that if PB’s for the assembled cars were ranked in order, we would sit 6th or 7th behind some pretty experienced and heavyweight talent, but this is drag racing and more particularly fuel altered drag racing where nothing can be predicted with any certainty.
Qualifying session 1. Bryan Hall – owner and driver of The Tramp altered, proven 5-second runner and winner of the March Meet asked us for a race and we were very happy to oblige. We had made a few changes to the car and were quietly hopeful of improving our own PB of 6.29 by up to 1/10th. With the planned Friday session lost to rain, the slot was bumped to midday on Saturday. We rolled into the left lane and Bryan in the right. Burnouts complete and into stage. Cars left together and our normal slow 100′ enabled me to see Bryan in my peripheral vision. By half track, I was surprised to notice that I accelerated past him pretty comfortably. A ticket of 6.135 @ 232mph was a welcome surprise! At the end of the session, we were 2nd behind Dave Hough’s Nanook which had run 6.125.
Qualifying session 2. Last run of the year against Rat Trap Racing Team mate and great friend Ron Hope in the Rat Trap. Ron and I have had great fun all year. The Havoc team are under no illusions as to the magnitude of the input Ron, Brian, Rebecca and the whole Hope family have had to our whole venture and it is genuinely with pride that we call them friends and part of our racing family. Ron had one of his typically entertaining wheel-standing runs and we were lucky enough to back up our first qualifier with a 6.15 @ 230mph. Nobody else improved significantly so we sat in 2nd place overnight,
Qualifying session 3: Last qualifier and we get to race Shawn Callen in the ex-Jackson Bros ‘High Heaven’ altered. ‘Havoc’ consistently drops cylinders at the ‘hit’ and then picks them up once the engine is under increased load. We haven’t really had the opportunity to address the issue but thought we would try this time by adjusting the fuel system. The ‘fix’ seemed to work but resulted in the car standing harder than usual on the wheelie bars and firing it towards the centerline. A couple of pedals and I gave up on the run in the knowledge that several fast cars were yet to run and potentially take our 2nd position. We ran 6.99.
Team mate, Rat Trap ‘team manager’ and great friend Brian Hope in Rich Guasco’s Pure Hell was the first ‘threat’. Brian came through, having run the quickest classic fuel altered pass in history at 5.92, shut off just after 1000′ with possibly the biggest smile I had ever seen. Did he care that the run didn’t count towards the Chicago qualifying? Not remotely! Other ‘hitters’ Bryan Hall and Jason Richey failed to overhaul our 6.13 so we were into the final against Nanook.
Final: Wheelie bars adjusted and we are put in the right lane by the Houghs. On tour, we are 1-1 with Nanook. We had a great race in Bowling Green where both cars ran 6.44 but we took the win light, then Nanook took revenge in Martin, Michigan when he ran 6.11 and we were nowhere to be seen, A third race would be a fitting decider for the year.
Anticipating a staging battle similar to that in Martin, I was prepared to sit in pre-stage for as long as was necessary. Vince had other ideas and went into stage quickly and deeply. The tree ran and both cars left together, Havoc having the edge with a .11 to a .13 light. I saw Vince in my peripheral vision for an age but, like in Bowling Green, Havoc ran the back-half hard and i could see the gap closing. Was the track long enough? By the stripe, it was too close to call. Vince, Nanook’s driver didn’t know either.
The crew arrived and realisation dawned. Another PB and our 6.117 beat Nanook’s 6.136. We had won the 2017 California Hot Rod Reunion. An extraordinary way to complete the year.
And an amazing meeting for the whole Rat Trap Racing Team with Ron and Rat Trap competing in the 3rd/4th run-off and Brian in Pure Hell having that extraordinary 5-second pass.
To be fair, it was one of those weekends that is difficult to explain. They seem to come around very rarely but, when they do, a feeling of confidence seems to surround everything you do. With the huge exception of the tragic incident which took the life of a friend and fellow racer, the ‘Havoc’ team weekend could scarcely have been bettered. The support from the travelling British fans was remarkable to not only us, but also seemingly to our fellow US domestic racers. Honestly guys, you cannot even start to understand the difference it made to us hearing the chants of ‘Havoc!’, ‘Havoc!’ before each pass (listen to the footage on the YouTube clips that I will post on the Havoc AA/FA Fuel Altered account). Whether it intimidated the opposition is also a possibility. The organisers told me that they had never had so many people with a car in the Winners Circle.
There were even a few tears shed from unexpected eyes….! The additional support and congratulations from social media was also just remarkable! Quite a community!
On behalf of myself, Rob and Scott, I would like to thank each and every person who has supported us through what has been an extraordinary year. They won’t forget us in a hurry, that’s for sure!!
Thanks from the team also goes to the tour partners: Beech Underwriting Agencies, Rat Trap Racing, the NFAA, USAutomotive, Motorstate Distributing, Lucas Oils, ARP Fasteners, Goodyear Tyres, VP Racing Fuels, Thacker & Friends and the Sherratt family