Near a San Diego dirt track back in 1931, there was a bar called the RPM Club that sponsored several racers, including Charles McMahon. Those racers formed a car club appropriately named The RPM’ers, which remained active until a few years after the track went belly up around 1935. Amazingly, the club started back up a few years ago with McMahon’s blessing. This year, on October 28th in Santa Margarita, CA, current members Justin Baas, Mason Dyer and Russ Hare hosted the inaugural RPM Nationals.
The trio had been considering the event for several years but couldn’t find the right venue until they discovered Santa Margarita Ranch halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The 14,000-acre property is a working cattle ranch and vineyard, and hidden in the middle of it all is an old paved runway. It’s a hot rodder’s paradise and the perfect location to host a vintage drag race.
The rules for the RPM Nationals were simple; entries had to be 1936 and earlier and be powered by a flathead or a 4-cylinder engine. All hot rods had to be period correct and be representative of the hot rod stylings from the 1950s or earlier. You see, the RPM Nationals was an event intended to pay homage to drag racing’s early days.
And it did just that. At the drop of a flag, racers dropped the clutch, grabbed some gears and raced an eighth-mile to see who had the fastest home built hot rod around.
Vintage hot rods, historical cars, ‘30s coupes, old sprint cars, jalopies and even a couple of belly-tankers came to race. Nearly 100 entries were divided into four designated classes based on their body styles and engines:
(1) 4-cylinder street car (standard flathead bangers that are street driven and registered with non-modified bodies)
(2) 4-cylinder full race (bangers with an overhead conversion, blowers, nitro or other power adder or a modified body)
(3) V8 street car (street driven/registered and powered by a Ford flathead)
(4) V8 full race (street cars with power adders such as blowers or overhead conversions and purpose-built race cars, sprint cars or center-steer entries)
The competitors ranged in age from 18 to 70, but there were a few wiley old veterans who had raced back in the day. Former Top Fuel driver Paul Gommi raced his ’32 Ford roadster to the win in the V8 full-race category. But he wasn’t the only old drag racer reliving his youth. Dean Murray of the famed Waters & Murray fuel roadster was at the wheel of the recreated So-Cal Speed Shop roadster, a car that he raced at Pomona in 1953.
But there was more to the RPM Nationals that just drag racing. There was also a car show for pre-1960s traditional hot rods, a swap meet, a few vintage motorcycles, cold beer and plenty of bench racing. The whole event had a great vibe. Although it was only for one day, the RPM Nationals transported us back to a simpler time when racing wasn’t about money or fame, it was about racing for pride: pride in the cars they had built and pride in just being a hot rodder.
Does looking through this gallery make you want to build an old-school hot rod?