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The latest update as of October 25, 2021

California Hot Rod Reunion logo

Drew Austin WINS Nostalgia Funny Car at the California Hot Rod Reunion

Drew Austin - 'Pro Max' - NFC --- Drew Austin - 'Pro Max' - NFC

Two views of Drew Austin in the "Pro Max" car. On the left, it's him launching hard in the first qualifying session on Friday, and on the right, he slows after his final qualifying pass on Saturday. Read on to see how his weekend went.

Eliminations concluded late yesterday afternoon at the 29th annual California Hot Rod Reunion. There was a first-time winner - in his debut event in Nostalgia Funny Car - as Drew Austin made the leap from A/Fuel Dragster to a nitro funny car look easy. Of course, when your grandfather (Walt Austin) started burning nitro more than 60 years ago, and your father, (Pat Austin) won 75 NHRA national events (including five in Top Fuel), then you've got a serious database of knowledge, both on the mechanical, and driving side of things.

Young Austin spent this season getting used to the car and working with his braintrust to develop a combination for their unique-to-nitro-racing, Ford hemi engine. They started off the weekend with an solid out of the trailer 5.952 - 240.29 pass, and it just got better from there. He finished qulifying in the #11 spot with an improved 5.772 - 241.89 in the second qualifer, before running a slightly slower, but faster 5.825 - 245.05 pass in the final session to show the consistency that's such an integral part of success in drag racing.

It only got better from there as he ran an excellent 5.720 - 253.61 in an opening round win over a tire-smoking Geoff Monise. That 253.61 mph speed marked his first pass over 250 mph. At noon Sunday in the second round of eliminations, he was paired up against Billy Morris in the "Problem Child" car and wasn't expected to get past the veteran racer who had qualified with a 5.635 and ran an even better 5.615 in the first round. Leaving first by eight hundredths (.041 to .122 reactions), Austin blitzed the timers with an awesome low e.t. and top speed of the meet - and obviously career bests - 5.548 - 260.11 to leave Morris far behind at the finish line.

Going into the semi-final race against Dan Horan, and holding lane choice by a full tenth of a second, Austin kept up the momentum with a great light (.041) to Horan's tardy .171 effort, and made the holeshot stand up for the win. His 5.639 - 256.55 took the winlight by more than a car length as Horan trailed, despite a better 5.582 e.t. Horan also reset the top speed mark with the fastest pass in the history of the class with an earth shaking 267.11 mph clocking. Despite the enthusiasm shown by the announcers, I'm not 100% certain that the speed was legitimate. It's for smarter minds than mine (yes, that's a very, very, very long list!) to work that one out.

As the sun dipped to the horizon, the final pair of Funny Cars pulled into the water box to put a cap on the event, and Austin kept it going with another great light (.053 to his opponent's .106) to put an instant gap on challenger Jerry Espeseth (in the former Jason Rupert car), and the winlight shone in Austin's lane again, as his 5.636 - 256.60, coupled with his starting line advantage was more than enough to make Espeseth's very good 5.663 - 255.63 only good enough for runnerup.

What an incredible weekend for young Mr. Austin, his father, his grandfather, and all the members of the "Pro Max" team. All the testing and tuning that went into a dream debut was certainly more than worthwhile in the end. However, it's a long time until the 2022 Good Vibrations March Meet on March 3-6, 2022. 139 days in fact, before the Austin clan gets to some burn some more nitro. It will seem an eternity after what they did yesterday at Famoso Dragstrip.

As I finished this story, it occurred to me that Drew's father Pat almost repeated that Cinderella story at the 1991 NHRA U.S. Nationals in his Top Fuel debut. He fell just short - agonizingly short - when he backfired the blower on the burnout in the final round against Kenny Bernstein. He had lane choice, and a clear performance advantage over the "Budweiser King" but it all came undone just a few seconds short of one of the greatest fuel racing debuts in history. Thankfully, Drew's first time out in Nostalgia Funny Car had such a better ending.

POSTSCRIPT: For an even better story, written by a much better writer (Phil Burgess), check out his article from May 12, 2017, where he detailed the events leading up to, and after, Pat Austin's (almost) double victory in his first national event competing in Top Fuel. Here's the link to Pat Austin and "The Double". Hope you enjoy it!

FRIDAY Qualifying

Joel Miner - 'Miner Threat' - A/FX --- Dan Horan - 'Infinity Plumbing' - NFC

(LEFT) Lifting the wheels waaay up was Joel Miner in his '65 Dodge "Miner Threat" as he made a qualifying pass in A/FX. His best of the weekend was a 10.339 - 128.24 that placed him #19 in the 28-car A/FX field.

(RIGHT) After the sportsman cars finished their session, it was time for the first round of qualifying for Nostalgia Funny Car. One of the first cars out of the lanes was Dan Horan in his "Infinity Plumbing" entry and he pounded out a huge 5.614 - 256.70 to stake his claim for the #1 spot. Barely visible in the near lane is the flamed nose of Tony Jurado's car as he nearly matched Horan's e.t. with a 5.674 at a booming 259.56 mph.

Cory Lee - 'The Pedaler' - NFC --- Chris Davis - 'Old School Nitro - NFC

(LEFT) Getting a little sideways on the burnout was Cory Lee in Gary Turner's "Pedaler" '79 Challenger. He put down a strong opening lap of 5.684 - 257.97 to slot into the #7 spot at the end of the session.

(RIGHT) Coming down from Spokane, WA with his "Old School Nitro" '77 Arrow, was Chris Davis and he laid down a good 5.957 - 241.20 to start his weekend.

Bobby Cottrell - 'Bardahl Special' - NFC --- Geoff Monise - 'Quarter Pounder' - NFC

(LEFT) The already crowned 2021 NHRA Heritage Series champion, Bobby Cottrell in the very familiar Austin & O'Brien Bardahl Special, put down low e.t. of the round with a very quick 5.603 - 251.11 to let everyone know he was ready to go for his fifth event win in a row.

(RIGHT) Shocking everyone in the pits, and possibly even himself, Geoff Monise cranked out a career best 5.681 - 236.05 despite a slightly early shutoff. Leaving with the wheels up, the car covered the first 330' in less than 2.5 seconds to lead the field in that incremental. The crew was ecstatis to see the numbers on scoreboard as after five decades of running funny cars, the Van Gundy, Clark & Monise team finally broke into the 5.60's. That pass also put them in the top half of the field in the #6 spot.

Justin Taylor - 'Evil, Wicked, Mean & Nasty' - NFC --- Kris Krabill - 'Screamer' - NFC

(LEFT) Second generation driver Justin Taylor pushed the Mustang-bodied "Evil, Wicked, Mean & Nasty" car to a very good opening pass of 5.796 - 235.02 that eventually was only good enough for the #7 position (after the first session) in what was quickly shaping up as a very tough field.

(RIGHT) Looking like he was pedalling before the 60' mark, Kris 'Hollywood' Krabill launched the "Screamer" to a low 6-second pass that ended in a large fireball. It got worse after the finish line, as the oil-fed inferno forced Krabill to make an exit while the car was still in motion, leading to a trip to the hospital. The car was badly damaged, and to add insult to injury, the e.t. was DQ' due to the ensuing oildown. Thankfully, Krabill was back at the track on Saturday in good spirits, despite an early end to the event for the team.

Billy Morris - 'Problem Child' - NFC --- Drew Austin - 'Pro Max' - NFC

(LEFT) Smoking the tires hard on the burnout, Billy Morris drove Eddie Knox's "Problem Child" Camaro to an early shutoff 7.663 at only 118.82 mph to end the first round of qualifying in the #13 position.

(RIGHT) Making his first competition pass in Nostalgia Funny Car, Drew Austin made the jump from A/Fuel to the nitro flopper world look easy with a very good 5.952 - 240.29 that put him in the #10 spot after Q-1. Those numbers would end up being his slowest of the weekend as you'll see later in our California Hot Rod Reunion coverage.

Matt Melendez - 'Cacklin' Critter' - NFC --- Jeff Gregory - 'Madness' - NFC

(LEFT) The heavily modified '70 Challenger body that adorns the "Cacklin' Critter" worked well for Matt Melendez as he cranked out a good 5.850 - 225.26 despite the early shutoff, placing him eighth in the field.

(RIGHT) The black '78 Camaro "Madness" of Jeff Gregory didn't get very far under power, shutting off very early to a 8.343 - 99.60 to end up near the bottom of the field.

Jerry Espeseth - 'Rolling Thunder 2.0' - NFC --- Don Knoblouch - 'Atomic Punk' - NFC

(LEFT) Last year's runnerup in the points battle, Jerry Espeseth hadn't been seen since the Heritage season opener at Boise's 'Ignitor' event, but didn't show any rust from the inactivity, pounding out a 5.729 - 253.37 to place him #4 in the field in the "Rolling Thunder 2.0" entry.

(RIGHT) Closing out the round was Washington state's Don Knoblouch"Atomic Punk" Camaro, and his first pass of the weekend was a so-so 7.058 - 192.12, that showed there was still some work to do on the tuneup.