The robust staccato, mighty potency and sensual fixation of nitromethane belching from the zoomies of a short-wheelbase Fuel Altered can change a person’s life. Once the unrivaled aroma enters your nervous system, you can be eternally absorbed by its powers. The powers of desire, devotion, and determination will take over your consciousness, and for a special few, guide you on a once-in-a-lifetime journey into drag racing’s most menacing category: AA/Fuel Altered. This tale reveals just how infectious Fuel Altered drag racing can be, as the three-generation-strong Hall Brothers Racing Team and driver Bryan Hall have given it their all to be one of the few to reach this elite and illustrious platform.
It all started in in 1958 when “Grandpa Ray” Hall first made a trip down the dragstrip in the family station wagon at Vaca Valley Raceway in Vacaville, California. Like so many others in that era, the hook was set instantly and Ray started building engines and progressed to a 1939 Mercury Coupe before completing the first “Hall Brothers” race car, a 1923 T-bucket. With a four-speed shifted between your legs and the motor from the Mercury, in 1967 Ray won the Guardrail Award at El Dorado Speedway (now Sacramento Raceway) for his numerous close calls with the retaining wall. Ray was actually the third person to make a pass down El Dorado Speedway on opening day, and the family has been competing regularly at the facility to this day. This car was also campaigned at other local tracks, including Kingdon Dragway, Vernalis Raceway, Marysville Raceway, Oroville, Vina, and Fremont.
In 1978, Ray—along with son Mark and wife Gloria—opened the doors of Hall Brothers Performance, a family run hot rod shop in Carmichael, California, where they sold speed parts and built engines for both drag and sprint racing, developing skills that would be passed down through the generations. Ray and his four sons kept the shop open until 1988 and enjoyed years of hot rodding, building multiple cars, and spending memorable weekends at the track with the ever-growing family. Bryan’s father, Mark, one of four brothers, was born in 1956 and caught the drag-racing bug from Ray, who kept the kids either active in the garage or at the strip as much as he could. Ray passed away in 2009.
Bryan Hall became the third generation of racers, born in 1980 to Mark and Rena Hall. Bryan had no choice but seek interest in hot rods and drag racing, given his father and grandfather’s interest, and there were certainly no complaints from Bryan. At age 11, he had made his first pass down a dragstrip in a junior dragster at Sacramento Raceway and from there we begin to develop the story that eventually becomes “The Tramp” AA/Fuel Altered.
Rewinding to 1994, Mark built the family’s first blown application, a 1923 T-altered sporting a blown 427 engine. At age 14, Bryan was a fully committed crew member for his dad and was able to experience the initial booming return of nostalgia drag racing firsthand, as his father competed in the Goodguys series and March Meet events annually in California. Meanwhile, father and son spent off weekends building a junior dragster for Bryan by hand completely on their own in the family garage. This was an important era for Bryan, who began to develop his skills in fabrication and mechanics. He turned 16 at almost the same time the junior dragster was about ready to race. Of course, by this age, Bryan wanted to race a “big-boy” car instead of the junior, so they sold their junior dragster, and with every penny he could scrape up, Bryan bought a 1963 Chevy Nova. That Nova made its first trip to school the next day, and by that next evening, Bryan made his first pass in a traditional-style car down the dragstrip in Sacramento at the Wednesday-night drags.
Over the next decade, father and son built and raced a handful of cars, including a blown 1956 Ford Vicky that became a big piece of this story. There was one particular car in the area that Bryan had developed an obsession for in his teenage years, at that time owned by Frank Medieros and campaigned as an altered at local events. Mark and Bryan had made several attempts to purchase the car that was last ran by Medieros at the March Meet in 1996, but had no luck in getting him to let it go.
In the meantime, Bryan built the Vicky and raced it while Mark continued racing his blown altered in Nostalgia Eliminator 1 competition until one day in 2009. Thirteen years after the car made its last pass, Medieros agreed to sell the car to the Halls for $18,000. Bryan immediately listed his Vicky for sale and was offered $18,000 for it from a racer in Australia. Six months later, Bryan was the new owner of a blown altered, the very car he had such a crush on for so many years.
This car had significant history on the West Coast and turned out to be the very first Funny Car chassis ever built by famed chassis builder Don Long. The original owner, Pete Everett, campaigned the car as the “Pete’s Little Demon” nitro Funny Car driven by Leroy Hales. Bob Pickett assumed driving duties for three years before the car was sold to Tom Blankenship. Bonny Philson wheeled the entry branded “Salt & Pepper” as an alcohol Funny Car for Blankenship. The driving duties were then turned over to Dennis Allen as “Tom’s Toy” before it was eventually sold to Frank Pitts and driven by Don Dicero as “Defiance.” Pitts passed away in 1986, and it was at that point Frank Medieros took ownership, the last person to own the car before the Hall family.
Bryan took ownership in late 2009 with the car totally torn apart, but all the pieces were there to rebuild a turnkey race car. Updated safety equipment, chassis upgrades, and many small improvements were made by Bryan in his garage at home in Rio Linda, California, before making his Nostalgia Eliminator 1 debut in 2010. The next five years were spent campaigning the car alongside Mark each year at the March Meet and other select events at Bakersfield and Sacramento.
One memory shared in that time span was in the final round of the 2014 Governor’s Cup in Sacramento when father and son met each other in the final round. Bryan had a hurt motor and he knew it, but wasn’t about to skip this round against Mark. On the burnout, the motor split in half when the crankshaft decided it was time to give up. An extreme high for the family became an extreme low as lifetime budget racer Bryan now had a totally destroyed engine.
At this point, a do-or-die decision had to be made. It just so happened that, at the same time, Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield had just revived the AA/Fuel Altered class that allowed nitro-burning Fuel Altereds to compete on a 6.0 index in the quarter-mile at the March Meet, a dream come true for any Fuel Altered lover, including Bryan. That summer, Bryan and wife Kelley attended the Saturday Night Nitro event as guests of legendary Fuel Altered racers Mike and Jeremy Sullivan. It was on this night the final decision was made: It was time to do whatever it took, which turned out to be a lot, to burn nitro in a Fuel Altered at the March Meet.
The eBay fire sale was on at the Hall home as Bryan started letting go of everything he owned that he absolutely did not need. Any leftover alcohol parts were sold atop several motorcycles and firearms, anything to put money in the nitro piggybank. If it wasn’t alive or bolted down, it was for sale. By the fall of 2014, Bryan had established a few friendships with both Fuel Altered and Nostalgia Top Fuel teams in the hunt for parts, and at the 2014 California Hot Rod Reunion, made his first big parts purchase from Top Fuel racers Jim Murphy and Rick McGee. The piggybank took a hit and hopes for a 2015 March Meet Fuel Altered debut quickly faded, but Bryan was not to be sidelined and actually campaigned the car in Nostalgia Eliminator 1 with the parts he was able to scrounge up during the conversion to a nitro motor.
On July 4 weekend of 2015, Hall attended the Fox Hunt at Sacramento Raceway, where he was hoping to upgrade his license. This marked the first time the Hall Brothers team “tipped the can” and added nitromethane to the fuel mixture at 10 percent. A small percentage, but that’s all it takes for this wicked potion to invade your veins. From that point, it was nitro or nothing. In true Garlits style, Bryan told his family he would not shave his beard until he ran a 6-second pass at more than 200 mph in a nitro-burning Fuel Altered.
With help from a close friend, Winslow Headrick, and father-in-law Jim Novotny, along with product sponsorship from Scat Crankshafts, American Rebel Wheels, Rods-R-Us, and Nitro Link, the dream was quickly becoming a reality over the winter of 2015. Yet, one important detail was yet to be determined, a name for this unholy ride. Kelley immediately came up with “The Tramp,” which applies nicely because this car had seen its fair share of drivers take rides in it over the years.
A fire-breathing and totally unforgiving 404ci, cast-aluminum block sat between the framerails of this 118-inch-wheelbase chassis. A well-used GM 6:71 supercharger atop a Crower eight-port injector and Alan Johnson billet-aluminum cylinder heads made the power to burn the mixture pumped from a 20.2-gpm Enderle fuel pump at 6.5:1 compression. A direct-drive transmission coupled with 10.5-inch glide clutch transfers power to the 3.90 gear ratio rear end under M&H 13×33 slicks. Overall, the combination was based on a mid-1990s Nostalgia Top Fuel–style tune-up, and with assistance from many fellow nitro competitors, Bryan felt he had a confident baseline to start with.
Hours were spent hand-fabricating brackets and trinkets in his garage, learning hands on about a clutch and all the additional new aspects of racing with nitro that Bryan had no previous experience with. Complete with their conversion of once a blown alcohol machine to a true bona fide nitro Fuel Altered, Bryan and the team backed the car out of the garage and set it on jackstands ready for the first fire up in the driveway. The lawn hadn’t been mowed since July, there were no more motorcycles or spare parts sitting around, and Bryan had become a hermit—spending every available waking hour in the garage, but that hermit was about to burn nitro.
This was the first time the car had a full load of nitromethane, and after a few small setbacks, the team felt confident in taking the car to the dragstrip for the first time. With stellar period-correct lettering and pinstriping completed in fine fashion by friend Eric Foust and a killer paint job from Jeremy at Rods-R-Us, The Tramp made its first burnout as a Fuel Altered the Sunday before the March Meet at Sacramento Raceway. This burnout did not come without its own challenges, as Saturday during the warm-up, an oil pump drive sheared, which sent Bryan to the local machine shop that evening in hopes of rescuing his test session. With the oil pump functioning properly, it was finally time. His stomach was in knots and that uneasy feeling of knowing what nitromethane can do to precious and expensive race-car parts, Bryan stabbed the throttle and went 300 feet before smoking the tires. Most people would be disappointed in such a run, but for the Halls, this was an incredible accomplishment. With no parts damage and no time to spare, they loaded up and just three days later found themselves pulling in the front gate at Famoso Raceway ready to find their pit space for the 2015 March Meet.
It was Friday night, under the lights, with a capacity crowd and more than a dozen nitro Fuel Altereds in the staging lanes, including Bryan Hall getting ready to make his first competition pass in this first qualifying session. Intimidation, excitement, with a mixture of uncertainty and accomplishment filled the air as the team pushed the car into the water box ready to embark into uncharted territory. The call went out, it was go time.
Instead of how it had been for so many years, with Mark and Bryan running to the fence to watch Fuel Altereds run down the track, it was them who the fans were running to the fence to watch. Mark was in charge of lining up the car in the groove, Kelley was in charge of backing him up and removing the throttle stop, Bryan’s boss, Don Caldwell, was running the starter, friend Brian Reinaldo was pulling the magneto wires, and stepmother Lisa had a camera in hand—the dream was just seconds away from coming true.
In true Fuel Altered fashion, Bryan let it rip with a huge eighth-mile burnout alongside Kyle Hough in the “Nanook,” one of the most famed Fuel Altereds in drag-racing history. Backing up from the burnout, Bryan first experienced seeing the nitro flames belching from the pipes at idle, meanwhile focused on Kelley’s instructions from Mark to get lined up perfectly in the groove. All was good as the car pulled into the beams, and in just seconds, the pass the Hall family will never forget was about to begin.
Bryan’s car left well and his initial plans for a half-track run went immediately out the window as it felt good in the seat and he kept the pedal down until about 1,000 feet, crossing the finish line with a 6.81 at 207 mph. This marked his first 6-second pass and first pass over 200 mph! Starting-line emotions from the crew were mixed with fright and relief; in the other lane, Hough in the Nanook got overly crossed up and shot across the track into Bryan’s lane just a few feet behind him, narrowly avoiding what would have been a season-ending and potentially catastrophic two-car incident.
On the turnoff, Bryan shed his multiple layers of safety protection as the tow truck filled with his family and friends could be heard from the starting line blaring the horn and screaming to the fans as they went down to pick up the car. It was as if they had won the U.S. Nationals. Bryan describes this as the very moment in which all his dreams in drag racing had come true.
That unforgettable 6.81 held up to qualify for the feature show on Sunday to put a big dab of icing on the cake for the Hall family. In that first round, Bryan was defeated by the eventual event winner, Roger Lechtenberg, but there were no sad faces back in the pits as a remarkable lifetime achievement had been reached for Bryan and family on this March Meet weekend in Bakersfield.
Atop all the excitement from The Tramp, we must also recognize Mark, who was competing with his Blown Altered in 7.0 Pro competition and advanced to the fourth round of competition. Bryan could be found screaming at the top of his lungs as he cheered his father on round after round in what mostly certainly became the family’s most memorable weekend at the dragstrip. Mark’s brother, Cliff, is also an active drag racer and participated at the 2016 March Meet. The Halls would like to thank NHRA Top Fuel crew chief John Stewart, who actually graduated from El Camino high school with Mark Hall, as well as Anthony Dicero for their tuning assistance in Bakersfield.
Looking ahead, Hall and company plan to develop a low-6-second tune-up that won’t destroy precious parts. True budget racers, the Halls do not have the financial means to replace parts between rounds, much less between races. A steady hand, patience, and perseverance will hopefully get the team where they are able to run strong but keep the parts attrition to a minimum. Some match racing and the ultimate goal of winning the March Meet are what the team now hopes the future will bring.
It has been an amazing journey for the Hall family. Drag racing can make or break you in just a few seconds, but can also keep the bonds of friendship and family together in a way only it knows how.