RPM Nationals is a Top Shelf Event
On an air strip in the middle of California, history was recreated, and new memories were thrown into high-gear. In the mid 1930’s there was a car club called the RPM’ers who held drag races in San Diego, but when they lost access to their drag strip the club fell apart. Fast forward, 90 or so years and hot rodders Justin Baas and Russ Hare are recreating history in Santa Margarita Park. With the permission of the original RPM’ers, they have recreated the RPM Nationals Car Club and Drag Races. Now in its second year, RPM Nationals has become a modern-day beacon of traditional hot rodding culture on the West Coast.
“American ingenuity in the 20th century was responsible for creating some of the most unique manmade creations of human existence,” said owner and racer, Bobby Green of the Old Crow Speed Shop. “We should never take this for granted. Instead we should celebrate it and share these accomplishments with newer generations. Events like this do just that.”
Compared to last year, the number of cars racing was about the same, but the quality of cars and the racing itself were up. It felt like there was twice as many spectators in attendance this time around. Racers came from all over California and Oregon; one car and racer even made the voyage all the way from Germany.
But this year, just like last year, the flathead races and racers were infinitely more approachable than modern-day racing. First and foremost—the little sputters of flatheads and four-bangers doesn’t shake you to your core like a nitro burning funny car on a drag strip hundreds of yards away from you. At RPM Nationals you can get close, you can see the driver’s faces, and they can hear you cheer them on.
A few standouts worth noting include the Eddie Dye 1929 Ford roadster. This sexy little roadster was on the short list for a 2018 AMBR award earlier in the year, so to see the historic roadster ripping it up on the blacktop with its world-class paint job and flawless chrome was, needless to say, very impressive. Equally cool, was Marc Nelson’s garage-built belly tanker. There was something there for everyone—but I have to say, seeing a 36 chopped Ford taildragger by Carrillo Customs banging through the gears was one my favorites to watch.
First time vintage flathead racer Steve Gonzalez from Southern California was out on the track racing a 1930 Ford roadster with an 8ba motor that was hopped up with a Schneider Cam and Cyclone Heads. “It was an amazing feeling to finally race what I’d been building since January,” he said. “I was happy to simply make it to the finish line. It was more than a race for me, it was truly a life moment to have my daughter cheering for me from the sideline.” Steve’s young daughter and her grandparents were watching from the hay bales further on down the 1/8 mile track.
(I met Steve when he was pushing his model A by himself—so I threw my substantial weight behind it, to get him closer the starting-line. Steve was so excited to race and all I was doing that day was wishing I was racing. For the rest of the day, I caught most of his races on video for him. I learned in the process of writing this blog, a few weeks after the race, that his wife had passed away from cancer. Steve would have been fine that day without me—he didn’t need or ask for my help. Being a part of Steve’s experience gave meaning to the day for me—I was truly sorry to learn about his loss but I am thankful we were able to work together that day to create a few new fun memories.)
In other races that day, the female racers went largely undefeated. This is something that was highly unlikely to have happened in the 30’s, but the female racers were dominant at RPM Nationals 2018. Several of the winners in 2018 had won previously in 2017, but not without upgrades to remain competitive in their classes. Winners of the day took home prizes like vintage hubcaps, race intakes, drop axels and big smiles.
I think everyone won that day – well maybe not the Hoppin’ Mad Bunny. Inside joke: no bunnies were harmed in the racing at Santa Margarita Park.
To learn more about the RPM Nationals Event and Car Club you can follow them on Instagram @rpmnationals or go to their website www.rpmnationals.com