The 54th Annual March Meet featured outstanding weather and fantastic racing in all the categories contested. With 300-plus race cars entered at the event, the fans had plenty to cheer for.
Qualifying was tough and no category was easy to get in. Richard Townsend of Oakdale brought his brand new 1969 bodied Nitro Funny car to the famed Famoso drag strip just north of Bakersfield. The funny car category featured a 5.87 second bump just to get into the show.
Townsend and his crew, including Carl Ryalls of Oakdale and Oakdale driver Josh Crawford, spent all day Thursday and part of Friday, at the track, finishing the final touches to the race car. This dropped them to just two qualifying attempts to make the field. On their first pass, during the second qualifying session on Friday, the car left a little sluggish.
Luckily, Crawford quickly realized that the car was not going to make a very good pass, so he lifted on the throttle. As he did, the “War Horse” Ford Mustang funny car, owned by Roger Garton from the Sacramento area, detonated the super charger on his engine. The explosion sent parts and pieces, including the entire body into Crawford’s lane. Crawford reacted quickly, releasing his parachutes and applying the brakes for all they were worth, slowing his car down. He also used all of his experience and skills to deftly avoid the flying debris, such that his Townsend-owned car suffered very little damage other than a dented left side exhaust header. This damage was quickly repaired by Ryalls, owner of the Carl’s Tin and Chassis shop of Oakdale.
When Saturday arrived, the team was in the fifth pair of cars on in the qualifying order. After watching several of the cars in the pairs before them turn in strong performances, they were confident. Unknown to the Oakdale team, though, there was a very small leak in the airline from the shift control air bottle. This air is necessary to allow the car to be shifted into high gear. Once the two cars staged and received the “green,” Crawford jumped out to a large lead and quickly pulled away. The car was on a fairly good pass, leaving with a strong 1.02 second 60 ft. time (the time required to travel the first 60 feet, which is utilized in determining tuning variables). As Crawford reached the point on the track to shift into high gear (about 800 feet from the starting line), he pressed the button to activate the air shifter. But, the air was gone and the car would not go into high gear. As the engine RPM reached around 9800, Crawford quickly realized that further attempts would be futile, so he elected to shut the car off early to prevent any engine damage due to over revving. This drastically slowed the car to a 6.39 second elapse time at only 170.62 mph, falling well short of the 5.87 second elapse time required to make the 16-car cut. With no qualifying attempts remaining, their weekend was done. But, it was not a total loss. The crew gained some valuable data on the car and know that most of the “new car bugs” have been taken care of. Townsend will return in a couple of weeks to complete his required licensing runs. He hopes to make it to Las Vegas, along with Crawford, who will be completing his competition license requirements in his own NHRA “Full Throttle” funny car.