Event Coverage: NMCA Finale at Famoso

The inaugural NMCA West series is in the books with the season finale at the legendary Famoso Raceway for the Nitto Tire NMCA West World Street Finals. Nestled in the fruit groves north of Bakersfield, California, Famoso has hosted some of the best, most notorious drag races in history, from the Fuel And Gas Championships of 1959 where the world became aware of Don “Big Daddy” Garlits to the current March Meet and NHRA’s Hot Rod Reunion.

Joe Lepone Jr. took home the Wally in Garrett Pro Street, beating Mike Bowman’s 250mph Chevelle in the final.

To say the place has history is an understatement. It now boasts some legit street-legal heads-up history, as two of the new NMCA West series races were held there in 2012, with more to come in the future.

As a recap to more past history, the NMCA was created in the late ‘80s, essentially as a musclecar “club” with places to race, and developed into the premier place for brutally fast street cars to run heads-up, something that hadn’t existed on a national scale before.

In the early 2000s the NMCA fell under the leadership of the established NMRA’s (National Mustang Racing Association) ProMedia parent company and has continued to excel.

Knowing the desire among west coast racers for a professional heads-up series with national exposure, the NMCA put its money on black and created the NMCA West series, with four events. But this first year had more than its share of challenges before the season even began. AAA Raceway in Fontana, CA had (and still has) legal issues over the winter that took it off the schedule, and two NMCA West races were scheduled there. 

Mike Bowman put the Pro Street class finally in the fives with two 5-second passes, but lost to Lepone in the final round.

That meant the NMCA had to work overtime to put their inaugural season back together, something that would cripple those with less experience and contacts. As event director Trey Capps put it, “With all the adversity we had to face with changing dates, and changing locations, and changing and changing and changing, and the changing economy…everything changed. That was a lot of adversity.”

Sylmar, CA’s Al Jimenez not only qualified at the top of the Mickey Thompson True Ten Five class with his ’72 Camaro, he also won the final round over Ryan Jones.

NMCA’s Charlie Harmon concurred, saying, “When 50 percent of your events are knocked off the chart with losing Fontana, it made for some very challenging circumstances.

The Phoenix event, we had speculation about the track being open.We elected to go but we didn’t put a full swing of the bat into it; we didn’t put a full marketing effort into it because we did that at Fontana and it cost us a lot of money. The season opened at Famoso, then went to the even more legendary Pomona, home of the NHRA season opener and closer, then to Phoenix’s Speedworld, then back to Famoso for the final of the four-event series.

NMCA Final Round

Going into the final race, the points chases in some classes were tight, especially the top dog, Garrett Pro Street, where John Scialpi had a mere 35-point lead over veteran west coast racer Mike Bowman.

The championship hinged on every round and the hope of a record-setting performance. Then there was Greg Seth-Hunter in third, only 15 points behind Bowman and east coast racer and NHRA legend Joe Lepone Jr. 175 points behind him.

Ryan Jones’s ’65 Chevy II was just a tenth behind Jimenez’s Camaro in qualifying, but a red bulb in the final sent him home a runner-up.

Left, the brothers Young own ProCharger 275 DR, with Jeff’s orange and black ’86 Camaro and Kevin’s blue ’86 Camaro taking the top two spots in qualifying, and both went to the final round where Jeff beat his bro. Right, McLeod/AMP 10.5 only had two cars, the bright orange ’68 Camaro of Tony Aneian and the yellow Probe of Don Bevers. Aneian qualified on top and also won the final.

Bowman led the field in qualifying, then met Lepone in the final after going four rounds. Bowman had run two 5-second passes in qualifying, one at an amazing 254 mph, the first ETs 5.97 and 5.95, the car’s quickest runs in its long history, and the highest speed ever in the NMCA West. However, both cars slowed in the final, with Bowman getting the light (.054 to a .074) but losing the hook and losing to Lepone’s 6.16 at 221 mph. As an advertisement for the diversity in the class, Lepone’s win and receipt of the NHRA Wally trophy represented the fourth different winner of the four-race season.

True Ten-Five

Don Bevers’s ’92 Probe.

Mickey Thompson True Ten-Five, for cars on a real 10.5-inch slick or a 315-max drag radial, had only four cars this late in the season, but the performances were astounding. Yet another west coast vet Al Jimenz was the top qualifier with a 7.11 at 204 mph (remember, that’s on a real 315 slick) and went through Johnny Coleman’s ’69 Camaro to beat Ryan Jones’s ’65 Chevy II in the final on a redlight. Perhaps the most-watched class, other than Pro Street, was the ProCharger 275DR, DR standing for the smaller-than-10.5, 275 Drag Radial. There were only four cars in the class and at the finals, with the Young brothers (Jeff and Kevin) at the top two spots in qualifying. Jeff and his orange and black third-gen Camaro did a huge, track-long wheelie on Saturday but put it together for a 7.37 at 91 mph and took out his bro’s blue third-gen with both a holeshot and a quicker pass. McLeod/AMP 10.5 runs on a 10.5-inch slick and the gorgeous ’68 Camaro of Tony Aneian of North Hollywood, CA had only had to face Tucson, AZ’s Don Bevers’ yellow ’92 Ford Probe as the only cars in the class. Aneian beat him with an 8.23 to a losing 8.40 for the win.

ARP Outlaw 8.5

ARP Outlaw 8.5 is a nod to the southeast and PSCA racers, in that it’s the only class within the NMCA to run eighth-mile, since that’s what the racers are used to. There were a mere four cars there, with Eric Gustafson of Vernon, CA, leading qualifying with a 5.24 at 140 mph (remember, that’s in the eighth) and beating the traction-limited ’85 Mustang of Cedric Washington in the final round.

Eric Gustafson won in ARP Outlaw 10.5 with his pretty ’69 Camaro.

Left, one of the big perks in running with the NMCA West is the chance to win one of these, which a lot of racers chase after their whole lives. Center, this ’53 Ford Ranch Wagon was built by Jason Lee of Palmdale, CA, years ago as a very cool street car, and now is a fairly dedicated race car that’s still fully streetable. Dustin won the B&M Open Comp class with low-11s. Right, Tremec True Street had a decent turnout of cars, one of which is HOT ROD Drag Week veteran Brian Rock and his GTO.

Open Comp

Open Comp was won by Mike Nordahl’s ’64 Nova with a killer .029 light to Jordan Jahnke’s oh-so-close -.015 redlight for the win, while Granatelli Motorsports Mustang Muscle saw Jerome Citrolo of Simi Valley, CA in a final-round single to win the Wally.

The Tremec True Street gang pulling back into Famoso after the 30-ish-mile drive through farm country.

And those were the heads-up classes in a nutshell. There were also a ton of bracket cars, as there are at every NMCA race and pretty much any NHRA or similar drag race. What is the most important thing to take out of this weekend, and this season? Though it was certainly full of challenges and adversity, the west coast racers, at least the top racers came out to support the series while many more are sitting at home, working on their cars and waiting to see how this inaugural season goes before they commit to investing in the series. After all, running a full season of drag racing, even if it’s in your own backyard, can be expensive and take a lot of time and effort.

Summing Up The Race Weekend

NMCA’s Charlie Harmon summed it up as follows: “All in all, I’m very pleased. I think it’s been a great first year and we’ve established ourselves. These racers out here on the west coast are awesome and they appreciate us coming out.

We’re able to bring the Nitto diamond tree ring and the NHRA unleashed Wallys, ya know? And it really means a lot to these folks. They’ve been very appreciative and they’ve let us know that they’re appreciative. But we obviously couldn’t do it without Flowmaster. Fortunately, we have a three year deal with Flowmaster.”

There were some first-time racers to the NMCA at the final event. This is Mike Henry and his wife with his ’81 Camaro, who came with his pal Jermaine Broddie, both from San Francisco. They qualified 10th and 9th, respectively but didn’t advance to the final round.

Flowmaster, true to its heritage in heads-up street-legal drag racing, is the title sponsor of the NMCA West series while Nitto Tire is the title sponsor of this specific event, and both companies had a big presence in Bako. For all of you reading this who are on the fence and wondering what the future holds, especially with Fontana still dealing with its issues, we asked Harmon that specific question. His comment was, “NMCA West will be back next year with four more races. With the Bowser family [the track owners], we’ll definitely be back here, and I’m 90 percent sure we’ll be at Pomona again. They’ve already offered us dates.” As for the 2013 schedule, that’ll have to wait a month or more. Harmon said, “I’ll have to get back after SEMA and start working on that.”

Did the series do well? Financially, no, at best it broke even. At worst, and probably closer to reality, it cost ProMedia some fairly serious money. But that’s what it takes to establish a series anywhere, be it in drag racing, road racing, football, soccer, what have you.

We asked Harmon, who’s the President of ProMedia, that very specific question, and he responded, “We did well this year but I don’t base our success on the number of zeros in the bank. I base it on what we’re able to accomplish out here, and this is obviously an investment. There are sponsors out here that believe in us, and they’re here and on the midway, and we needed to put people in here, and that’s hard to do when you have a change of venue and a change of date and all the challenges we had this year. It’s one of those things where it’s hard enough to get a home run taking a full crack at the bat but we’ve only got a half swing at this thing, but we were able to get the people in here to see great drag racing, develop some new fans, support our sponsors….Nitto Tire over there, they’re out of bags, so we exceeded their expectations. It’s gonna be a good year next year, moving forward.”

5.0 Mustang and Super Fords staffer, and longtime fan of heads-up drag racing, KJ Jones broke his regular race car so he borrowed his neighbor’s brand new ’13 Mustang GT to run in Granatelli Motorsports Mustang Madness. He went out in the first round but had a good time.

The 2012 season champions and all of the Top Ten will get their jackets sometime-to-be-announced in January at Vic’s Garage, the Edelbrock Toy Barn in Torrance, CA. The champs from each class will receive their coveted Nitto Tire Diamond Tree championship rings and forever glory. At press time, the points in each class are still being computed and your author totally sucks at math, so we don’t know who those champs are quite yet, but the main question is, was the first season of the NMCA West a success?

Another perk to the NMCA class champions is the presentation of one of these, the Nitto Diamond Tree ring.

Harmon, Capps, and Fastest Street Car editorial director Scott Sparrow gives us an unqualified “yes,” but they kind of have to. After all, that’s their promotional job. But honestly, we agree with them. Racers, especially those in Southern California, need and want a place to race.

As tracks in Los Angeles County continue to close due to either property values or those worthless bottom-feeders who buy houses next to tracks then complain about the noise, drag racers are left without a home and a place they can run for a championship.

When it’s presented to you, with all the perks of national attention from the media, an elaborate awards ceremony, contingency money, and the sponsorship advantages that come with all that, it’s gravy on your biscuit.

Capps summed it up thusly. “If guys don’t have a place to race they’ll pick up a new hobby, like scuba diving or fly fishing or something boring. The main advantage here is the national exposure, the national championship of the Nitto Diamond Tree series. We’ve got a lot to offer by way of our contingency program with the major sponsors that are involved. The national recognition you get when you run with the NMCA West is, I think, a little more advantageous to the racer and you get Wallys at every event!”

Yes, those are the highly coveted NHRA “Wally” trophies, made possible through ProMedia’s relationship with NHRA and its running of NHRA’s flailing Unleashed series, which ProMedia turned around and kept NHRA from losing a ton of money.

The future holds a bumpy road for sure, but we’re putting our money on black and betting on it being a success.

The NMCA Final Results

McCloud/AMP 10.5

1. Tony Anenian, ’68 Camaro

2. Don Bevers, ’92 Camaro

ProCharger 275 DR

1. Jeff Young, ’85 Camaro

2. Kevin Young, ’86 Camaro

3. Mike Orban, ’68 Camaro

4. Artis Houston, ’71 Nova

Mickey Thompson TT5

1. Al Jimenez, ’72 Camaro

2. Ryan “Toaster” Jones, ’65 Chevy II

3. Johnny Coleman, ’69 Camaro

4. Jeff Kyle, ’00 Mustang

Garrett Pro Street

1. Mike Bowman, ’68 Chevelle

2. Joe Lepone Jr., ’70 Duster

3. Scott Oskas, ’10 Mustang

4. Greg Seth-Hunter, ’07 Mustang

About the author

Rob Kinnan

Rob Kinnan requires very little introduction. Many would recognize Rob from his days as the Editor of Hot Rod Magazine. He is a dyed-in-the-wool hot rodder and muscle car enthusiast, a road racing aficionado behind the wheel of his Factory Five roadster, and a hardcore NASCAR fan.
Read My Articles

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