President, Auto Club Famoso Raceway and producer of the March Meet
John Bowser has very strong ties to Auto Club Famoso Raceway that go far beyond being president of the legendary track. He first went to the track in 1959, beginning a lifelong association. John’s first date with his wife of 47 years, Linda, was at Famoso. His brother Bobby worked for and was very close to the late Jack Williams, who ran Famoso from 1995 until his passing in 2006. John’s son Blake helps run the track – he’s the vice president/GM – and works side by side with him on the Kern County Racing Association. The two are producers one of the most famous drag race events of all time, the March Meet, Mar. 6-8, 2009. John also has two daughters, Debbie and Stephanie.
For John, 66, Bakersfield, Famoso, the March Meet and drag racing all play prominent roles in his life. In 1952, John moved to Bakersfield with his family from Camden, N.J., just a few months before the big 7.5 earthquake which wiped out most of the town. “My mother owned a grocery store which was destroyed by the quake. That was a nice ‘welcome to California’ thing for us. When we got here, I thought the West was made up of cowboys and Indians.”
Drag racing entered John’s life when he was going to Bakersfield High School in 1958-59. “All through high school I always helped race track promoters, including Famoso. I sold programs, worked the front gate—I was always there. We kept the gates open 24 hours a day at Famoso. That’s how I learned the business. I worked with the racers, the fans and the promoters. I learned all their needs.”
Racing at Famoso also meant the fabled March Meet, which helped put Bakersfield on the map. “Everything changed in 1959 after the first March Meet. The whole image of drag racing changed. There were so many people at Famoso for it. There were people and cars for days.”
John, who also served in the Navy and worked in the electrical industry, got more involved with Famoso thanks to Jack Williams, the NHRA’s first world champion and Famoso track operator. “We worked closely with Jack for years at Famoso, right up to his untimely death. Jack wanted us to get more involved with the track. We were always a phone call away from him. Jack willed us the lease to Famoso. He trusted us to run his operation. That was huge.”
John knows the historical significance of the March Meet and Auto Club Famoso. “We have a five-year plan for Famoso. We already redid the track, concrete wall, etc. We want Auto Club Famoso to be fan friendly and handle bigger crowds for better events. We want Auto Club Famoso to be a big track with a small track feel. We can’t lose sight of our heritage.”
Vice President/GM, Auto Club Famoso Raceway and producer of the March Meet
Blake Bowser readily admits: “I’m a drag racing fan first. I was raised as a fan.”
Truer words were never spoken because Blake, the vice president and general manager of Auto Club Famoso was literally raised at the track. Thanks to his dad, John (the president of Famoso), Blake’s first exposure to racing was when he was two years old. “I was at Lions Drag Strip hanging out at a souvenir stand. I remember helping out at Famoso at age seven by selling programs. I went from picking up trash at the track to being a track operator. Call it on-the-job training. Racing jobs are the only jobs I’ve ever had. They are not like real jobs—I have way too much fun.”
Bowser, 41, and his dad are the tag team who also run the Kern County Racing Association, as well produce one of the most famous drag race events of all-time, the March Meet, Mar. 6-8, 2009. For Blake, Famoso, the March Meet and drag racing have played a major part of his life.
Blake is Bakersfield born and bred. He went to South High School, then graduated from Bakersfield Community College. He received a BS in Business and a BA in Liberal Studies from Cal State University Bakersfield and put that knowledge to work at Famoso.
“Working at Famoso was an evolution for my dad and me. We found more and more ways to get involved. We cater to both the racer and fans. Without either one, we’re out of business. We understand what they want and need. We want to make both parties happy.”
So far he’s been a success. Famoso was named winner of “2008 Best Track” award by the Nostalgia Funny Car Association. “It was an honor to win the award,” said Blake. “That’s our motivation. We want to do a lot more for fans and racers at the track. We want to make it bigger and better, but not lose its nostalgic feel. We will continue to improve it.”
Auto Club Famoso’s most famous event is the March Meet. Blake calls it “the single largest event in Bakersfield. It helped put Bakersfield on the map. Bakersfield is Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and the March Meet. This year we will be celebrating 51 years of racing at Famoso.”
Blake is on the board of the Bakersfield Convention & Visitor’s Bureau. He also worked at a handicapped children’s camp for 12 years, first as a counselor, then the camp director. He’s been on the board of the Society for Disabled Children for 18 years.Blake and his wife Annika have two girls: Ande and Bryn.
Auto Club Famoso Raceway
33559 Famoso Rd.
McFarland CA. 93250
Office - (661) 399-2210
Info Line - (661) 399-5351