Saturday, Oct 20 2012 10:38 PM

NHRA Hot Rod Reunion: Rupert wins title despite missing 16-car field

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Mendy Fry, of Los Angeles, concentrates on this qualifying run, Saturday, at Famoso Raceway in the top fuel category.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Just when you think you've seen everything. A pink cadillac gives a nostalgic dragster a push down the track in the infield, during the Hot Rod Reunion, Saturday, at Famoso Raceway.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Paul Romine, of Indiana, does a burnout before his qualifying run, Saturday, at Famoso Raceway during the California Hot Rod Reunion.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bill Dunlap, of Capitola, takes a run downt the track at Saturday's Famoso Raceway annual event.

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BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer

In one quick spin of the tires, Jason Rupert of Yorba Linda became the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series champion early Saturday afternoon at Auto Club Famoso Raceway.

An hour later, the champion, who had yet to be crowned, didn't even make it into the 16-car field for the 21st annual California Hot Rod Reunion.

That demonstrates just how tough the competition was as 33 drivers battled the track for a chance to race in eliminations.

Rupert was last in a long line of Funny Cars drivers awaiting their second-and-final qualifying run when John Hale, the only driver with a chance to overtake Rupert in points, pulled into the starting beams. Hale hit the throttle and had his hands full with an ill-handling car and had to shut off, ending his bid to make the field.

That set off a quiet celebration for Rupert and his crew, who received congratulations from many of those still waiting to qualify.

"Oh my gosh, unbelievable," Rupert said at that time. "I can't believe that it happened that way. I thought we were going to fight to the end. Hale and those guys have such a good crew and he's a good driver. It's just unbelievable. I don’t even have any words to say anything right now.”

For Rupert, the Hot Rod Heritage championship was his second in a row.

“We’re a pretty low budget team, a group of friends who get together and have a really good time,” he said. “It just feels great. I'm just so happy. More happy for the crew than me.”

But by the time Rupert pulled up to the starting line, the 5.963 time he ran Friday was no longer good enough to even get into the race as he was now 17th and needed a quicker run. His hopes of making the race were done before he was halfway down the track as he had to get out of the throttle and slowed to a 6.87.

Before the first round of Funny Car competition got under way as dusk approached, Rupert and his No. 1 car were pulled down the road in front of the grandstands — not for a parade lap, but because he was the No. 1 alternate and all 16 qualifiers showed up.

Chad Head emerged as the top qualifier at 5.760 and it took a 5.954 to make the show.

Head then upped the ante by running 5.731 in his first-round win over James Day.

The first round produced two upsets — No. 15 qualifier Rick Rogers advanced on a single run when No. 2 qualifier Jeff Arend shut off after his burnout and No. 12 qualifier Rian Konna advanced
Ronnie Young, the No. 9 qualifier, also dipped into the 5.70s, running 5.760 in beating a tire-smoking Del Worsham.

In Top Fuel, No. 1 qualifier Rick Williamson (5.750) kept his championship hopes alive as his way off the pace 7.00 was good enough to get past Dan Horan Jr.'s, 7.87.

Championship points leader Adam Sorokin also advanced to the second round, running a 5.867 on a single after Terry Cox broke.

Sorokin can lock up the series title with a Round 2 win today. For Williamson to earn the championship he must win the event and have Sorokin lose in Round 2.

Sorokin faces Rick White in Round 2. White set quick time of the meet in the first roudn with a thundering 5.67 at 256.50 mph. Williamson has a bye in Round 2.

Tony Bartone has top speed of the meet thus far, running 264.39 mph on a 5.861 run in his win over Bill Dunlap.

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