Wally Parks Nostalgia Nationals 2023

— Historical California 1/4-mile dragstrip
— Highlights of the classic Mopar® drag cars that were running
— HEMI® engine-powered, Max Wedge plus small block action

The famed Famoso Drag Strip located in Bakersfield, California, is considered sacred ground in drag racing history!

It all started way back in the early 1950s when a racer named Ernie Hashim, from Bakersfield, California, and the club he was in, “Smokers,” got into the drag strip business. Their name Smokers originated from the smoke that came off their back wheels, and they were a group of car nuts and hot rodders that loved speed.

These guys were organized and had car club jackets with their names on them; and with some help from people in the right places, the club was able to secure an abandoned strip of asphalt and put on a drag race in September 1951. The place was flooded with spectators so much so that the California Highway Patrol was called in to control traffic!

Located in Kern County, soon the Smokers events became well known all across the country, thanks to the drag papers like Drag News and from Hot Rod Magazine coverage. By 1959, the club decided to pay money, $2,000.00, to some guy back in Florida to come out west and run up against the best California dragsters … a guy named Don Garlits.

It was the First Annual United States Fuel and Gas Championships and it took place the first Sunday of March 1959. “Famoso Drag Strip”, as it was called, was becoming famous indeed! All done through word of mouth, the facility was jam-packed with people, so much so that they were arriving on foot through the surrounding fields and cutting through fences to get into the place to see the drag cars. Garlits didn’t win, however. His carbureted Chrysler HEMI engine was strong but the other HEMI engine-powered vehicles that day outran him because they had superchargers. It turned out to be a huge stepping stone to his future drag racing career nonetheless.


It had been some 61 years prior when then 20-year-old Don Prudhomme had won the Bakersfield March Meet. His dragster was powered by a Chrysler HEMI engine built by Dave Zeuschel and it basically launched his driving career! He was again in Bakersfield all these years later as the Event Grand Marshal of the Wally Parks Nostalgia Nationals. This was a famous opportunity to share drag racing history and with the free reception gathering open to the public at a local hotel, complete with food and refreshments, it was a fantastic experience to be there! There was even a question-and-answer session with “The Snake” himself, hearing great stories and details of his career. The place was packed and track announcer Mike English worked the crowd.

“You talk about a guy from San Fernando Valley that, well I think, most people back then didn’t think I’d amount to much,” he’s said about that 1962 Bakersfield U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships victory. “And to win a big race like that, it was in the local paper, the Green Sheet, ‘Don Prudhomme of Van Nuys wins the Smoker’s Race in Bakersfield.’ I mean, wow!”

All these years later, the Famoso track is still up and running, and it continues to put on the March Meet each year. While it’s not a modernized facility with a big tower, or with a permanent snack shop or really anything that rivals the big NHRA tracks on the circuit, it is a magical strip of asphalt. This old-school Bakersfield drag strip offers a wonderful “nostalgic” flavor and a fun throwback to yesteryear. The place is now dedicated to Nostalgia events and we decided to check out the recent Wally Parks Nostalgia Nationals and enjoy the colorful Mopar scenery!    


Early HEMI engine power propels the “Nanook” AA/Fuel Altered, major-league power with a supercharger and nitro, the Vince Generalao-driven ride is the Hough family car. The Fuel Altered class has always been crowd-pleasers as oftentimes they don’t go straight, and can move all over the track because of their short wheelbase! 


Gary Turner’s “Pedaler” ’79 Dodge Challenger with Cory Lee at the controls, nitromethane-fueled HEMI engine power! Plenty of Nostalgia Funny Cars racing, while the others may have different bodies from other makes, the typically standard engine is a Gen II HEMI of aftermarket manufacture. 


When’s the last time you saw a 1959 Belvedere 2-door sedan at the drags? Sid Brander’s vintage Mopar vehicle is beyond rare and features a 500-cid wedge with electronic Hilborn fuel injection for power!


Running out of the Bob Mazzolini Racing stable, this 1964 Sport Fury hardtop is named “Furious” and runs in the A/FX category. Ken Etter built the 426 Max Wedge engine, and the car features opened up rear wheel openings, updated larger hood scoop.

Todd Hoffman’s ’64 Plymouth Savoy 2-door post “Sayonara” A/FX doing a strong burnout, then a wheels-up launch! This is a true nostalgia car that has the very accurate “old school” look in every detail! It’s a regular on the American Nostalgia West AFX/NSS Drag Racing circuit. www.americannostalgiawest.com

Dan Davis’ immaculate 1964 Plymouth Savoy, an original Max Wedge car, now displacing 517-cid and built as an A/FX class, high-torque, reliable racer! Runs 10.50s all day long.


Marv Reiser’s ’65 Dodge post car runs a 530-cid big block fitted with Indy cylinder heads, this car is a strong performer and he runs it out of the San Diego Mopar Club. www.moparclubsandiego.net


Bob Munoa’s immaculate tunnel-ram equipped Gen II HEMI engine has all the goodies: Keith Black aluminum block, Stage V aluminum heads, 12.5:1 compression and a pair of tricked out carburetors from Dominic Thumper. Fitted inside a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere I 2-door Sedan, it’s a radical race HEMI engine built for maximum output!

Except for the hood scoop, this 1966 Plymouth Satellite has a sort of “innocent” look about it, but with high 10s, it’s no slouch in the Hot Rod class!

1969 GTX Plymouth with 400+6 hood; however, this 10.75-second B-body has a 426 HEMI engine between the frame rails!

Walt Clevett’s 9.60 ’72 In-Violet Billboard ‘Cuda, a serious purpose-built C/Gas drag car!


’67 Dart 2-door sedan out of the McIver Motorsports stable, it’s a 10.73-second car that hooks hard and runs the number. Larry Ofria did the porting from the legendary Valley Head Service, Northridge, California.

In 1967, if one walked into a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership and wanted the very least expensive model, they would have bought a Valiant 100 2-door sedan – stripped-down compact that had no frills! However, unlike this “Black Betty” drag car, they didn’t run 10.00 flat and/or pull wheelies at the launch!

Clean and simple A/FX ’69 Dart hardtop, strong burnout and 9.75 seconds down the 1320!

A solid low 10-second car, the Dave Sprague 1972 Dodge Dart, this “Do it Now” is a tribute to his late brother, Bob Sprague, and it’s powered by a stroked big block and pumps out 567 horsepower with a 727 TorqueFlite®.

A 9.24 marked on the window, this Corporate Blue small-block Duster is a well-sorted A-body and power comes from a W8 LA engine. The W8 cylinders incorporate 15 degrees of valve angle and were high-flow units first designed for the NASCAR truck series.

440 in this 1973 “Papa Smurf Duster” A/FX with “Mopar or No Car” license plate frame, that’s the spirit!

It’s a 440-cid big block in a ’72 Plymouth Duster, called “The Beav” for chopping down the Christmas Tree! Some old-school gold leaf lettering, a true time capsule.


The folks at Famoso provide numerous events each season and if you ever get the chance to attend one of them, they offer a fun and relaxed look at the past, all the while the racers themselves are serious about winning … and of course with a focus of putting on a good show for the fans! The track itself was originally an abandoned Army Air Corps training base and with the March Meet, it helped establish the NHRA’s legitimacy. It’s hosted the NHRA Museum’s California Hot Rod Reunions all the years since 1992, and now that event has had a name change to the Wally Parks Nostalgia Nationals. With the 60 acres of pit space and the action itself on the drag strip, tons of opportunity multiple times each year to see quarter-mile drag racing in all its glory, it’s a whole lot of old school fun to be a part of! Check out their 2024 racing season here: www.famosodragstrip.com

Check out this vintage video of the iconic Gen II HEMI engine-powered “Winged Express” pleasing the crowd at Famoso:

Author: James Maxwell