"Bare Bones" History of the March Meet
By: Jim Davis

 

In evolutionary terms what we call Drag Racing today is really a hybrid resulting from a cross between two other forms of racing, dry lakes racing and illegal street racing. In the years immediately following WW II a relatively small group of racers from Bakersfield started a car club know as the Bakersfield Coupe and Roadster Club so that they could be sanctioned by the Southern California Timing Association and race competitively on the dry lakes of Southern California. However, the lure of Drag Racing was growing, not only in Southern California and Bakersfield, but across the entire country. So, in 1948 the Bakersfield Coupe and Roadster Club, changed their name to The Smokers and Drag Racing became their primary focus. Drag Racing had it's formal beginning in Bakersfield in 1951 when The Smokers held their first drag race on an abandoned airstrip owned by the Kern County Land Company. That event, more successful than they ever imagined, laid the foundation for what was to become one of the truly legendary events in all of Drag Racing, the March Meet.

With illegal street racing becoming an increasing problem nationwide, The Smokers were able to secure a permanent arrangement with the Kern County Director of Airports to lease the current site of Famoso Raceway. At one time that site had been an auxiliary airfield used during WW II. Between 1954 and 1958 The Smokers had fairly good success, both monetarily and in gaining a reputation. Then came the breakthrough!

By 1958 an East Coast racer, Don Garlits, had built quite a reputation for himself. West Coast racers were skeptical about his reported ET's and speeds, and were more that ready to take on this Easterner and find out if he was for real. In 1959 The Smokers offered to pay Garlits to come and race the California boys. That was the birth of the first United States Fuel and Gas Championships. Although the meet received very little publicity, except for word of mouth, it drew thousands of spectators and hundreds of competitors. Although Garlits did not win that race (Art Chrisman in the Hustler did) he went on to win two others that same month and returned to Florida letting the California boys understand that he was for real.

The Smokers ran the U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships until 1965, when they disbanded and sold their name Smokers, Inc. to an eastern promoter named Gil Kohn. In 1969 Kohn moved the U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships to Long Island New York and the event in Bakersfield became officially know at the March Meet. From 1967 until 1988 the March Meet was run under the direction of various individuals including Ernie Hashim, Milton Weller, Jack Williams and Marvin Miller.

In 1994 The Goodguys Rod and Custom Association started the Vintage racing Association and reinstated the March Meet. In 2007 the Bowser family in conjunction with the NHRA Motorsports Museum took control of the event and look forward to many more anniversaries. The March Meet is the premier racing event in all of Nostalgia Drag Racing. The annual three-day event still draws thousands of fans from all over the U.S. and hundreds of racers with pre 1972 style race cars. By being there you become a part of Drag Racing History! In the world of front motor dragsters only one other event rivals the March Meet, and that event is The California Hot Rod Reunion.

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