Motorsports

Sunday, Oct 21 2012 10:54 PM

Hot Rod Reunion: Williamson, racing since age 16, gets first win at 55

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Richard Williamson takes off from the starting line in a race against Tony Bartone during the semifinals of the Top Fuel category of the California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in 2012. Williamson went on to win this category.

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    By Californian file photo

    Richard Williamson warms up his tires before the semifinals of the Top Fuel category of the California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in October 2012. Williamson went on to win this category.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Anthony Ingram, 7, tightens a bolt on the engine of Rat Trap Racing's fuel altered car on the final day of the California Hot Rod reunion. Anthony has been blind since he was an infant and the best way for him to enjoy the event is to touch the vehicles. After his family met the owners of Rat Trap Racing at the Reunion last year, they formed a friendship and the owners invited Anthony and his family to join them at the Hot Rod Reunion again this weekend.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Ronald Lenarth waits with driver Chris Adamson before the opening ceremony of the final day of the California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in 2012. The car Adamson is driving once belonged to Lenarth's now deceased father, Ed.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Dennis Hespeler rides in the back of a car through the vendor area of the California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway during the last day of the event on Sunday.

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    By Californian file photo

    Mike Lewis warms up his tires before the semifinals of the Funny Car category of the California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in October 2012. Lewis went on to win this category.

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¬BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer mgriffith@bakersfield.com

Rick Williamson and Adam Sorokin shared the Top Fuel spotlight Sunday in the 21st annual NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion at Auto Club Famoso Raceway.

Sorokin secured the Hot Rod Heritage Series championship with his quickest run ever -- 5.697 seconds -- in his small-block Chevy powered dragster in the quarterfinals, and Williamson came away with the race victory over Sorokin a few hours later.

Sorokin had beaten Williamson in the last two series races -- at Boise and Sacramento.

This time Sorokin appeared headed to victory, leading by two-tenths of a second at half track, when his engine erupted in a ball of flames. Williams zipped past, his engine expiring as well, as the two combined to sacrifice a lot of parts and cover the track with oil. Neither driver was injured.

Williams got the win with a 5.80-second elapsed time at 235.23 mph while Sorokin coasted through the lights in 6.02 at 167.

"I've been racing dragsters and Funny Cars since I was 16 and this I my first win, and I'm 55," said an elated Williamson. "I don't care who was in the final, but it felt really good to win one for once."

The Funny Car final wasn't nearly as dramatic, but it was far cleaner.

Mike Lewis, who helped put together the inaugural CHRR when he worked for the NHRA, emerged victorious as he beat Steven Densham.

Lewis led from the start, running 5.784 at 244.38 to Densham's 6.577 at 150.37.

Williamson opened the day with a engine-eating 5.716 run in the quarterfinals and reached the finals with an off-the pace 7.022 as his opponent, Tony Bartone, handed him the win after leaving the starting line early.

Then came the dramatic final, where both drivers had their hands full as they crossed the finish line.

"I was oiled down. All I (heard) was poof (Sorokin's explosion) and then I was blinded (from his own oil)," Williamson said to Sorokin.

"I blew up and the last thing I saw was your tire and I went into total survival mode," Sorokin said.

Sorokin said he was pretty sure he had lost, but Williamson said he had no idea who won.

"I had no clue," he said. "I was sitting down there (in the shut off area) and usually (the team) has the train horn going and I was sitting there thinking, 'Man, I don't hear any train horn.' Then I heard one and I was hoping it was a good horn."

Sorokin had a free ride into the finals, clicking off early and coasting through at 6.48 seconds, as Paul Romine could not make the call.

Romine ran 5.694 in his quarterfinal win over Jim Murphy but blew the engine and damaged the "Crop Duster" dragster when he brushed off the retaining wall past the finish line. Romine was looking to make it two straight wins at Famoso for car owner Frank Ousley, who won the March Meet with Jimmy Young at the wheel.

Other than the ending, it was a pretty good day for Sorokin.

His win in the quarterfinal over Rick White came on a hole shot. White ran 5.690 but Sorokin was .076 quicker off the line and that made him a champ.

"It feels great," Sorokin said after clinching the championship with his win over White. "I gotta tell you, for this car to run a 60, a small-block Chevy that's the creation of Tony Bernadini and Bob McLennan ... I am so happy that his combination got a championship I can't even tell you. I'm just ecstatic for the team."

Sorokin won the title for the Champion Speed Sport team driving a hemi-powered car in 2010, then took 2011 off to focus on getting the Chevy-powered dragster up to speed.

"There's so many different levels of why it's really cool for our team to (win the championship)," Sorokin said. "I mean it's Bobby's canopy design, it's the small-block Chevy, not doing it the way that everybody else is doing it and being able to win with it is huge for us."

The event win was huge for Lewis, who now serves as senior vice president of Don Schumacher Racing, which fields four Funny Cars and three Top Fuel dragsters in the NHRA Full Throttle Racing series.

"To win here, at the shrine of racing is so special, to be here with my wife, Vicky ... this is proof that God makes all things possible," said Lewis, 63.

Lewis ran 5.77 in a quarterfinal win over Ronnie Young, then beat No. 1 qualifier Chad Head in the semifinals with a 6.79 as both drivers had their problems. Head smoked the tires at the hit of the throttle and Lewis had the wheels come up and had to get in and out of the throttle.

"I kept waiting for that red car to come blowing past me but he never did," said Lewis, who just started driving the Texas-based Henry Gutierrez-owned car in June.

"We've only raced it a couple of times and the whole Texas Jungle team is just perfect," he said.

Lewis, who said he was unhappy with his starting line reaction times in his first two rounds Saturday, was also nearly perfect when he needed to be.

"I somehow was just ready at the right time and cut (a .030) light which is by far my best Funny Car reaction time," he said. "Everything just fell into place."

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