race reports

Hot Rod Heritage at Salt Lake City, Utah

The Summer Sendoff


Words and photos by Brian Losness

Rocky Mountain Raceway has held this event for many years and it is the second to the last event for the NHRA Heritage Series Funny Car points battle. This year the points battle will be as tight as six cousins in a twin bed. Making the event even more dramatic was the hot dry conditions, and a slightly tricky racetrack.


When asked what his next move was going to be in qualifying, veteran crew chief Ron Swearingen was honest when he said, “Right now, I don’t have the foggiest.”


Jason Rupert said (paraphrasing), I love this place, but it sure doesn’t love me.




Eleven cars made the trip to Salt Lake, for the eight-car field. One of those teams was the “Fighting Irish” team owned by Charlie O’Neill. The team got to Salt Lake and was ready to make the show, but, unfortunately, O’Neill was back home in California having his own kind of “fun”. A sudden medical issue warranted emergency surgery and O’Neill was down for the count.

His team, who had made it to the track, had a plan. “We have enough oil and stuff with us for one hit. So we will make that hit and see what happens.” The team did just that, byt fate was not with the Irish, as the car (like many) shook and smoked the tires. “We will load her up and head for home, and see how Charlie is doing,” stated driver Rick “O’Rogers”. Rogers also went on to say that Salt Lake and the California Hot Rod Reunion would be run for a team member who has a very aggressive cancer, and who wanted to do these two races with the team, but his issues with the cancer precluded him from making the trip to Salt Lake.


There were two qualifying sessions slated for Friday afternoon/evening with the final session on Saturday at noon. Eliminations would then begin in earnest at 6 p.m.


Bobby Cottrell seemed to rebound after his DNQ at Boise, having gone three for four at the previous Heritage and UNFC races. Cottrell was on the on the pole for all of qualifying. Crew chief Bucky Austin, having raced at RMR for years, having a pseudo handle on the track.


A couple of huge surprises came from Q1. In the No. 2 slot after Q1 was Steve Easton in Bob Godfrey’s “Burnin’ Money” Cuda. The very personable Aussie is working hard to get to more and more events, and determined to make his mark in nostalgia racing.


On the bump spot after Q1 was Ryan Hodgson, in his dad’s “Pacemaker” Camaro at 6.59/218.34.

On the outside looking in was another surprise: Michael Peck at the wheel of Don Nelson’s “California Hustler”. Peck ended up tenth at 8.18/105.59.


For the night session on Friday the ambient temperature was tolerable and the track temp came down to a more manageable level. This showed in the qualifying times. Cottrell was still the leader of the pack, vastly improving to a 6.03/236.15. Jumping into the number two slot was Jason Rupert at 6.05/242.26. Rupert’s two weeks between Boise and Salt Lake City were less than relaxing.

Jason Rupert


Rupert had been protested just prior to the Boise finals by another competitor about a hi/low valve that was used in the fuel system on his car that, according to tuner Brad Littlefield, kept the engine from “blubbering” on the burnout. The valve was controlled by air and this is the crux of the argument. As it is stated in the rules: ”The use of electric, pneumatic, or any other automatic way of switching or sequencing of fuel system is prohibited. Fuel system must operate on its own pressure as far as adding or subtracting fuel volume. Manual high-speed fuel system allowed.”


To many a crew chief and others in the sport, there is a great deal of wiggle room in this rule.


Rather than take the hauler to Salt Lake and leave it after the Nightfires had been called due to rain, Rupert ordered the truck to head back to the team’s shop in Corona, and asked NHRA officials to come to the shop and examine the car upon its arrival. This was facilitated and the NHRA ruled the device to be legal.


Hodgson stepped up to the No. 3 position, with a 6.15/240.77 lap.

Round Two

Going into round two would give the teams different conditions as the sun had set and the temps decreased. The first pair out would be Peck and Hodgson. While Hodgson had lane choice by three hundredths, Peck’s deep staging might have cost him lane choice as deep staging usually can cost a driver three- to six-hundredths in elapsed time.


However, we will never know because at the hit Peck’s car made a violent right-hand turn, which just missed the tree and mowed down the sixty-foot cone. Peck did a good job of getting the car under control and keeping from hitting both Hodgson and the guard wall. The word from the track was it appeared to be a fuel leak, which came at the hit of the throttle. Hodgson went on to record a 6.10/237.46 time.


The other semi was Cottrell and Bowen. The two left together but there was just too much Bucky Austin tune up and Cottrell covered Bowen’s 6.29/204.87.


Final Round


The final would pit Cottrell and Hodgson, the two new-generation ‘69 Camaro’s, two teams with great crews and crew chiefs, and two young and hungry drivers. However, it would be over before it started as Cottrell was -.077 red at the starting line, handing the win to Hodgson.


However, Hodgson didn’t realize he had won. “I saw color and then I heard him leave and I was ‘Ryan you stupid @#$$^$^*&, my god you’re late,’ and then I went by him and then I saw the scoreboard lights, then I knew I had the win.”

Hodgson gave his crew and crew chief Bob Papernick the lion’s share of the credit. “We were splitting hairs all day long. We sat down as a team and had big conversations about the moves we were making. I can’t say enough about this team and the people who help us get this car up and down the road.”


With Rupert’s first-round loss and Hodgson’s win, this puts Hodgson in the points lead. With the final of Boise to be made up at Bakersfield, and the Reunion event to be made, either Hodgson or Rupert could score a hat trick and take the title.


Another big winner for this event was that of Boise, Idaho’s Christopher Northrup, who took home $10,000 in the Super Pro big money race. Congrats to him. 

Jumping into third was Shawn Bowen in Michael Bartone’s 1969 Camaro. This is only the second outing for the team and there was a great deal of talk about this team. It is evident that there is great chemistry in the team, they have resources and vast amounts of experience to be players in the funny car class. There is also a very healthy dose of East Coast attitude, which is very entertaining. This team could and should be in the thick of it next year running for a championship.


On the bump was Bill Windham at 6.58/204.35. Windham and the team, who are the other team outside of Rupert to use a pedal clutch, have been fighting issues of the car smoking the tires at the hit.


Still on the outside looking in was local hero Scott Stanger and Michael Peck. Both cars needed to make significant improvement during the noon session on Saturday to get into the tight eight-car show.

However, if qualifying bonus points were given for appearance, Stanger’s run Friday evening would have gotten a 10.0 from all judges including the Russian. His “Bad Manners” Cuda is the most period-correct car in the class, and his run on Friday evening had excellent header flames from start to finish and got the hometown folks up on their feet. He just needs a bit more steam from the motor to make it go as well as it looks.




Saturday dawned bright and sunny, great for taking a swim or a day on the lake, however, not maybe what racers wanted to see. There were a few big puffy clouds loitering in the area, and one could sense that some teams were seeking divine intervention in getting those clouds to block the sun, even for just a few minutes to keep the track temperature down.


Stanger and Peck were looking to bump their ways into the show. Windham was on the bump, thus Peck and Windham were the first two cars on the pad for Q3. At the green it was Windham who moved first, however, the car started to shake and then smoke the tires and Windham knew the effort was in vain and threw in the towel. Peck, on the other hand, was faring slightly better. Crew chief Ron Swearingen got the car off the starting line with a 1.03 sixty foot the car shook but not too bad, which Peck did a good job managing, and was able to bump his way into the field at No. 7 with a 6.27/223.76.


Stanger was up next and give it a huge effort in trying to make the show in front of the hometown crowd. He appeared to be autographing the left lane with a couple of giant “S’s” black tracking all the way to the finish line, but there just too much lost time and he would not make the show. However, he was spectacular in the effort.


Tim Boychuk in the “Happy Hour” Camaro stepped up in the final session posting a 6.171/233.58 effort to secure the No. 5 slot, just a thousandth of a second behind Bowen who was in at 6.170/233.03. Hodgson also picked up two hundredths at 6.13/230.17.


Round One


The first pair out in round one was Rupert and Peck. There was some discussion within the Rupert camp about which lane to run in as they had lane choice. Rupert took the left lane. Peck went in deep and at the green was out first. At about two hundred feet out Rupert made up the difference but started to shake the tires. He gave it a quick pedal job but that was all Peck needed and he took the win, 6.18/231.36 over Rupert’s 6.54/233.16.

Next up it was Hodgson and Easton. Hodgson had also taken the left, and after watching Rupert made the choice to change lanes and take the right -- a good call by crew chief Bob Papernick. At the green it was like “you go, no you go” as neither driver had even terrible lights, they were worse. A .221 to .226 with Hodgson getting the advantage. However, the lane swap proved to be a good thing as Hodgson’s 6.15/241.15 covered Easton’s 6.46/222.00 effort.

This brought up Cottrell and Rob Markworth at the controls of the “War Horse” Mustang. This one was Cottrell wire to wire as his 6.19/228.36 covered Markworth’s game 6.38/202.38.

The final pair in round one was Boychuk (far lane) and Bowen in the two traditional 1969 Camaro’s. Bowen was out first and Boychuk could not run him down, with Bowen taking the 6.13/241.54 win over the Canadian’s 6.31/223.82.




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