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Let’s recap the car’s condition and our status at this point.  We’d not showed our best at Pomona, we still didn’t have a full pass on the Thomas “blueprinted” 375hp 396, I was on deadline for the concluding story in our series of editorial mis-haps and Bakersfield was only weeks away.  So…why not go there and finally have some “fun, without any encumbrances based on all the politics of the time?  Plus, I’d asked Bill Simpson if he’d like to provide us one of his stellar drag parachutes for a long-lens, sucked-up, head-on shot of the car (in the lights) with the ‘chute out.  He not only obliged but came up with a red “cross-form” model with a huge “HOT ROD” across one of the panels. 

When the car went through tech at Bakersfield, the NHRA inspector was my pal Cloy Fitzgerald.  It turns out Cloy had also teched the car at Pomona with a wave of his hand and, “If you guys say it’s a legal 396 that’s good enough for me.”  He did the same at Bakersfield, once again as an SS/C car.  Then Evans made a qualifying pass, the first full run we’ve had on the car since before the Thomas “fresh” 396.  The rod failure prevented us from ever knowing the potential of that piece.  Now we had what was billed as an NHRA legal SS/C 396.  If memory serves, Bill’s best time at Pomona had been something like an 11.90.  Maybe that’s off a bit but, for purposes here, it’s not important. 

Evans made his pass. The car was loose off the line. He easy-shifted to prevent another spider gear experience and the car went 11.84!   I asked Fitzgerald to pump the engine.  It checked out at 494 inches.  I don’t know who was more surprised, Cloy or me.  We re-classified the car in A/MP and began trying to collect our wits.  Thomas, in his effort to help make Chevrolet looks as good as possible, had scored again.  But our principle reason for being at Bakersfield was the ‘chute shot.

Our first problem was locating an attachment point on the car.  Those familiar with the tail-end of early Camaros know there’s a short section of body just below and covered by the rear license plate.  We taped the loop to that section.  Evans made his second pass with HRM ace photographer (the late) Eric Rickman positioned at the finish-line.  Don triggered the ‘chute, it billowed out to display the HOT ROD logo…and then promptly separated itself from the car, having ripped through the little piece of body metal.  Digger racers we weren’t.

Now, the collective opinion was to silver-tape the connector loop to the axle housing, on either end of the differential.  So we did that…on the passenger side.  Again, with Rickman and his trusty Hasselblad and 500mm lens again standing on the track and just past the time clocks, Evans made another pass and pulled the chute.  Picture the surprise Don and Rick experienced when, at 100+ mph, the Red Car suddenly snapped to a 45-degree angle when the ‘chute blossomed.  Rickman exited at speed, and Don did a sprint-car maneuver to get the car straight.  Still no photo.

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