RPM Nationals Flathead Drags

As the sun rose above the foothills, the wind blew through the tall grass on the more than 200 year old Santa Margarita Ranch. The blackbirds morning ritual of song was instantly interrupted by the rumble of vintage iron coming to life. A gathering of like-minded people and amazing machines was about to occur. 

The 3rd annual RPM Nationals Flathead Drags were held on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch grounds on August 26, 2019. What are the RPM Nationals you ask?  Well, it is a gathering of vintage hotrods with Ford power plants, souped up and modified for speed, in the spirit of the founding fathers of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. No small block Chevrolets here! The cars are each selected to fit the criteria of 6 classes based on engine and styling.This is not your typical car show.

 Utilizing the ranches PRIVATE aircraft landing strip, grudges are addressed and challenges are accepted. Yes, there is an area of traditionally styled cars on display, but the cars competing are real race cars and modified street cars. These are not…. RAT RODS! (gasp) I hate that term as people see rust and want to say it. These are 90 year old cars, some built recently, using period correct parts, as much as possible, and not haphazardly put together. Another amazing thing about this event is the presence of some historically significant cars brought out of museums or private collections to be seen in their element and run for exhibition.  

​Our family started its journey to the RPM Nationals by building a 1929 Model A Roadster pickup of sorts. As a member of the Charter Oaks Model A club in Visalia we encourage the restoration of the Model A Ford in its original state. While my 18 year old son Jay and I fully support that, this truck was never intended to be original. As we modified a once hacked up 1 ton Model AA Ford farm truck to a sleek zippy roadster pickup. As the build progressed I jokingly painted a large #5 on the door, little did I know it would stick. The once standard Model A - 4 cylinder engine now was a modified Model A - 40’s style hotrod. It now had a “B” camshaft, high compression head and single downdraft carburetor.

Nothing too drastic but definitely an upgrade. In October, under the encouragement of Jason Pall of BearMetalKustoms in Morro Bay we attended and participated in the F.A.S.T. time trials, also held at the Santa Margarita Ranch. It was open to all pre-1935 Ford 4 cylinder cars and trucks. Only racing the clock, we were able to dial in the modifications and test our truck. This was my son and I’s first time participating in this type of event. Jason Pall and his wife Rochelle both took us under their wings. They explained and answered any questions we had, and totally made us feel welcome. It was a really fun experience and something we both wanted to do again. So, when the entry submissions for RPM National came open, we applied. To our excitement we, and another member of our Charter Oaks club, Tim McMaster, were two of only 100 cars accepted.

This was an honor to be taken seriously, so we started the whirlwind of improvements to our existing car design to make us competitive. After the time trials, we had discovered some areas we felt could be modified further to increase our performance. It went down to the wire, but with the help of a fellow club members and others, we went from no engine 3 days before the race, to a complete car. Having changed the engine to one with a counterbalanced crank, insert bearings and a “B” cam, we upped the compression with a Thomas Head and went from a single 97 to duel 81 carburetors, also changing the standard non-syncro Model A transmission, to the much more efficient, 1939 Ford gearbox.  
A lot  of changes and a lot of adjustments still needed to be worked out prior to race day. Somehow we managed to complete most of them but ran out of time.  Struggling to get our vintage Stromberg 81’s to function properly we loaded ol’ #5 in the trailer and headed to Santa Margarita hoping to get it worked out when we arrived. 

​What we discovered was just downright overwhelming, and one of the best overall experiences I have ever had as a vintage car enthusiast. We arrived at about 8 pm to the ranch the night before, and as racers, we were allowed to camp overnight in the pit area. As soon as we arrived we unloaded the car and got back to work. Amazingly, like moths to a flame, fellow racers and enthusiasts began to gather around our truck to fix the issues. We worked hard troubleshooting, joking and enjoying the comradery of each others passion. At midnight, it was unanimously decided, that if we wanted to race, then we had to go back to the single carburetor. The decision was made, and within 30 minutes we were up and rolling. 

​Which brings us to that sunrise I described in the beginning. As the sun rose and the cars began to fire up I felt as though my son and I were doing it!  Experiencing what it must have been like. Experiencing everything that morning as if we were in time warp. The pit began to bustle with activity, cars warming up, spectators arriving. Drivers and crews putting the final touches on their cars. This event was open and unfiltered. Spectators were not denied access to cars or drivers. The event was very well organized and people  were expected to police themselves, which they did. In today's world, that's very surprising, and honestly, a little refreshing. As it got closer to race time, my son started up number 5 and proceeded to the safety inspection area.  

Safety inspection was a rigorous process where each car was gone over by  knowledgeable mechanics to insure that all safety requirements had been completed prior to the race. As soon as we passed “TECH” as they call it, we were lined up in the staging area. As I walked through the center between the Flathead 32’s , Modified T’s, and souped up A’s, I soaked it all in. I watched the drivers cleaning their goggles, adjusting their helmets, shaking their buddies hand, kissing their girl and in some cases guy (as several female drivers were among the racers) … all preparing to do battle. This is not an intense, HIGHLY competitive event, but seemed to be as much about the experience, as it was about going fast. It was about enjoying the car and having fun. Winning was a bonus and more about bragging rights. This is drag racing in its rawest form, two cars to the line and when the flag girl drops... you’re on! Spectators lining the starting line, behind barriers, but right up in the action. Cars, two by two, began warm ups, until it was time for eliminations. As they paired off and raced... winner would proceed and loser would head to the pits. I found it amusing that each driver was being introduced by their Instagram Handle which was a mix of modern with the old. I quickly began to realize that many of these fellow racers had also been inspiring us through their photos on instagram. Soaking in every moment, they continued to race until there was one winner for each of the six classes.  Each winning driver was awarded an amazing bronze RPM Nationals winner trophy created by Joe Buffardi, as well as, speed parts donated by Tony Baron, Max Herman of H&H Flatheads, and Offenhauser, who all sponsored the event.

​The overall greatest thing I got out of this event was the connection with fellow enthusiasts that loved sharing their passion and creating the experience of a lifetime. What a pleasure and honor to have my son and our car selected, to be one of the ambassadors in this recreational pastime of a begotten era. Thank you Justin Bass, Russ Hare and Jason and Rochelle Pall of BearMetalKustoms. Also thank you to all the other countless volunteers and sponsors that make this event possible. 

If you have an interest, or a car that might fit this event, I encourage you to attend and participate if possible. The next date for RPM Nationals has been set for September 26, 2020 so, start prepping now and we’ll see you at the races!

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