"I thought we were pretty close when we put that combination together," said Rupert, who pedaled through tire shake in the first round and gave up the win light to Clause LaVoie but set top speed at 250 mph in the process. "That thing actually surprised me. It was almost too easy; I've been racing for a long time, and I've never had it that easy before."
The younger Rupert recalled, "Racing was something I always wanted to do, from the time I was a little kid sitting in the back of my dad's truck watching him. I knew I wanted to be that guy. At the end of high school, Richard Bays and Gary Densham asked me if I wanted to help work on their car, and I was like, 'That would be the most exciting thing in the world.' Those guys, along with my dad, are the ones who really got me addicted to this."
Good friend Ed Vanderwoude, who worked on Frank's cars in the early days, came through with a Pulde chassis and Rupert assembled a motor, and by the mid-1990s, Jason Rupert was officially an alcohol Funny Car driver. The team ran a limited schedule with the support of Forrest and Charlotte Lucas and their Lucas Oil brand, and formed a friendship with young Morgan Lucas, who went on the road with the Rupert team and worked on the car. Eventually, Lucas became an accomplished Top Alcohol Dragster racer himself and now competes in the Full Throttle Series in a Top Fuel dragster.
"We've never really had a ton of money, but we have used our brains and knowledge, and I've been able to build some of the things for the racecar myself to keep the cost down. I mount the bodies and build the wheelie bars and things like that, and I actually enjoy doing it. It just takes time, and that's the hardest part."
He admits that the maintenance and repair on a racecar is never ending, but Rupert spends whatever time he can with his wife, Jennifer, and son Nickolas. He also owns and operates Rupert's Welding and Fabrication in Anaheim, Calif., and through the years, the family has spent a fair amount of quality time playing at the river or in the desert, activities commonly shared with other folks who race out of NHRA's Pacific Division. Accomplished Funny Car driver and respected supercharger manufacturer Mert Littlefield and his family - wife Lee, daughter Kasey, and son Brad - were among the Division 7 cohorts who have bonded on and off the track. Mert Littlefield passed away on September 20, 2010 at the age of 66.
"[There was a time when] I felt a little lost, and Mert said he was having some problems on his car and asked me if I thought it would be a good idea to team up, use my chassis and body and his crew, engine, and drive train. Man, I jumped at that deal, big time. He got me addicted to racing all over again."
Rupert spent much of this year building the Nostalgia Funny Car before he debuted it in August, and prior to that, his most recent trip down the racetrack was behind the wheel of a Top Alcohol Funny Car at the 50th anniversary Winternationals. A non-stellar 2009 season in the class was preceded by an abbreviated 2008 schedule due to a crash at the divisional event at Woodburn Dragstrip, where Rupert ran into trouble in his final round match with Brian Hough when he hazed the tires and backpedaled. The car took a hard right, caught air, and slammed into the wall, launching pieces of the body in the air and erupting into a ball of flames. Rupert was not seriously injured, and the crew later discovered a cracked heim joint that may have been one of the contributing factors in the incident.
"I don't think I've experienced the high point of my career yet," said Rupert. "I think we've been very successful on the budget that we've had to work with, though. I just love driving, and I love the challenge of making the car go down the track. It's not really that easy, although a lot of people said we made it look easy in Bakersfield.
Rupert has had help from Gary Densham in getting to nostalgia events; Densham's son, Steven, also made his debut in a N/FC this season. Rupert is grateful for the support he has received from so many folks both in the past and present, including his wife, Jennifer; father, Frank; mother, Brenda; brother, Matt; Dave Schwartz; Matt Bynum; Chuck and Del Worsham; Richard Bays; Ed Vanderwoude; Devery Howard; Billy Payne; Mert, Lee, Kasey, and Brad Littlefield; Andy Wilfong, Lee Kronquist, and everyone at Littlefield Superchargers; Forrest and Charlotte Lucas, Tom Bogner, and everyone at Lucas Oil; and Terry and Noel Manton.
"I still have the dream of someday driving a big car, and I'm not saying I wouldn't run alcohol again, but at this point in my life, the nostalgia deal is really up my alley," said Rupert, who hopes to run up to 10 events next season. "This is a lot more laid back. I feel like I don't spend enough time with my little boy and my wife, and I need to teach my kid how to ride a bike without training wheels, how to throw and catch a baseball - and hopefully he won't get this addiction to racing that I have. Unless I win the lottery or somehow come up with a huge sponsorship deal, I think I'm ready to just enjoy this right now."
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