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Fri, 14 Jul 2017, 13:04 PM

Homegrown Top Fuel Dragsters Part II
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2017 Steve Reyes

Northern California had a vast array of fine home grown top fuel racers and these guys would battle it out at Fremont, Half Moon Bay, Lodi, and Sacramento weekend after weekend to see who was top dog in the top fuel dragster class. Cars from Southern California, Fresno, Bakersfield, and other far Northern California cities would all venture to the weekend hot spot to take on the Bay Area bunch of fuelers. The Bay Area guys were no pushovers and when racers from other states and from the Los Angeles area came, they found out the NorCal guys were not going to run and hide. The local top fuel racers were far from being "pros." Most had regular jobs and really did it for the love of the sport. When I got to know this group of racers it came through to me that they just loved the sport and racing every weekend. This second set in this series focuses on more of the unique cars that you would find at the track in Northern California.

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Another low budget operation was San Jose's Rudy Babino and his Velvet Hammer AA/FD.
Rudy's racer was an outdated former show car but Rudy did try to race against the bay area's best.
Alas, the Hammer wasn't a force in the NorCal top fuel class and soon disappeared from the racing circuit.

In 1965 and 1966, Jerry Vargas was the pilot of the short wheel based 392 Hemi powered The Varmit AA/FD.
Vargas was very exciting to watch drive The Varmit on one of its wheels up tire-smoking adventures down
the quarter-mile. Vargas left The Varmit and slipped into Dennis Hollingsworth's Dennis the Menace AA/FD.

Yes, it was a homebuilt car, every last inch of it including the chassis was crafted by its owner/driver Mike Coleman.
Here in 1965, Mike put a hole-shot on the L.A. based Magic car. Coleman was the true example of a no money guy
that wanted to race in top fuel. He had the skills so he did it all. He didn't race a long time but he can say, "I did it my way!"

Some say old race cars never die; well, San Francisco resident Jessie Perkins and short term partner Ray Matelli
purchased Tony Waters roadster/dragster and in 1965, raced in top fuel. Then in 1966, Matelli and the ex-Waters
race car were gone and Perkins raced his AA/FD The Runt with "Hippie" Rich Bruckman. Perkins soon began to race a
string of Cow Palace Shell top fuel cars with Bruckman, Dan Madigan, Sammy Hale, and Bob Hightower at the controls.

First appearing on the NorCal scene in 1966, The Whiz Kids AA/FD was driven by jet fighter pilot Walt Bumgarner
and owned by Bumgarner, Trefethen, and Pearson. This Jim Davis chassis, 392 powered AA/FD wasn't around long
but ran with the best in NorCal. Bumgarner left the team to fly fighter jets in Vietnam and Tommy Fults replaced
him in the cockpit.

When the Whiz Kids team disbanded, Tommy Fults ran his own AA/FD. Fults divided his driving time
between AA/FD class and hydro planes. Sadly, his life ended while at the controls of a hydro plane.
Too bad, he was a great guy.

This is a guy who had one of the sweetest rides in the Bay area. Don Petrich was an up and coming star
in 1965 at the controls of Rich Guasco's Pure Hell AA/FA. He had set records with Pure Hell and the future
looked bright. However, Petrich wanted to drive a top fuel car so he vacated Guasco's Bantam and built
himself a AA/FD. Meanwhile, Dale Emery was offered the Pure Hell ride. Poor Petrich never could get the
handle on top fuel. Soon after parking his AA/FD, he died from a massive heart attack.

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