By Bill Groak
Vic Edelbrock Jr., was speechless ....... almost!
Standing in front of a highly vocal group of more than 350 of his friends, family, employees, and industry associates at the podium in The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum’s Hall of Champions, a visibly emotional Vic Jr., looked upward and said, ‘My dad is watching this.”
Very fitting because both Vic Jr., and father, the late Vic Sr., along with the entire Edelbrock company legacy, were being honored by the Parks Museum with a gala tribute on December 2.
The event, which also served as a Museum fundraiser, brought out the heavyweights in the performance industry, including NHRA Founder Wally Parks, racing legend Parnelli Jones, the NHRA’s Peter Clifford and Dick Wells, SO-CAL Speed Shop founder Alex Xydias, car collector Bruce Meyer and engine builder Ed Pink.
All this was part of the Museum’s current exhibit, ‘Edelbrock: A Performance Legacy,’ which runs through February 14, 2005, and features a number of historical Edelbrock vehicles, including the 1932 Vic Sr., Ford Roadster, the #27 Kurtis Kraft Midget and other never-been-seen before company and family artifacts.
Camee, Nancy, Corky, Christi, & Vic!
As the guests began arriving, Vic Jr., and his family arrived in style: they were picked up at nearby Brackett Field in the NHRA Safety Safari wagon, an exact replica of the famous 1954 Dodge wagon that took the original crew across the country 50 years ago promoting safe drag racing.
Arriving in the NHRA Safety Safari wagon set the tone for the evening. Not only was one American icon being driven by another American icon, it showed the long history between the 66 year-old Edelbrock Corporation and the NHRA, as well as highlighting the roots of drag racing, hot rodding, and the entire performance aftermarket.
Awash in ‘Edelbrock Red,’ the Museum began to fill as a ‘Fun Team’ bus with Edelbrock employees pulled up. Vic Jr., was already warmly greeting old friends and being congratulated. The party was just getting started.
An hour or so of reception festivities transition into story time as the crowd gathered to hear the evening’s speakers. First up was Greg Sharp, curator of the Parks Museum and a walking/talking hot rod encyclopedia. ‘This event means a lot to me on a personal level,’ Sharp began. ‘I remember reading car magazines when I was 12. Edelbrock was in every one of them.’ Joking around, Sharp told everyone how difficult it was to convince Vic Jr., to let his and his father’s toys (i.e., cars, racing memorabilia, etc.) come to the Museum for an exhibit. ‘We had a panel discussion here,’ Sharp explained, ‘and Vic said he liked the place... but I won’t let the Midget out of my sight!’ Thankfully Parnelli Jones and Wally convinced him it was OK.’
Sharp also read from an article he had written about Vic Jr., 16 years ago for an award presentation. ‘Speculation in the industry in 1962 after Vic Sr., passed away was what would happen to Edelbrock?’ I’ll tell you what happened: Edelbrock got really, really big because of Junior.’
Sharp’s opening speech and personal stories began to weave a thread that would carry throughout the evening: Calling the young Vic ‘junior’ and how he took his dad’s strong company and turned it into an industry juggernaut.
It seems at every special event in the performance industry, Dave McClelland is there to handle the emcee duties. And McClelland was there for the Edelbrock celebration, once again casting his smooth, verbal magic. ‘Everyone here understands the impact Vic Sr., and Vic Jr., and the Edelbrock Corporation has had on this industry,’ he told the audience. ‘It was, still is and always will be at the forefront.’
Hyping the crowd on some of the evening’s door prizes, McClelland picked up a snazzy leather Edelbrock company jacket. ‘Great Edelbrock jacket to giveaway... Nancy (Edelbrock) will probably win it!’
Sam Jackson, executive director of the Parks Museum, likes to refer to the Museum as ‘living history.’
As Wally Parks carefully walked to the stage as the next speaker, the crowd got a sense of how historic this evening really was. ‘My knees are 91 years old but the rest of me is 35,’ Parks said smiling broadly.
Parks has been the face and the soul of the NHRA since he founded it more than 50 years ago. As with Edelbrock, he’s one of the true originals in the history of hot rodding and drag racing. ‘There were a lot of similarities between Vic Sr., and me,’ he said. ‘We both came here from rural parts of Kansas. I met Vic Sr., on the dry lakes in the ‘30’s -- liked him right off the bat. We both became members of the Roadrunner.’
Parks eyed Vic Jr., who was at the table in front of the podium. ‘Vic Jr., was a gangly kid,’ he said. ‘Vic Sr., told me to keep an eye on him. He would come in from getting beat up playing football then start sweeping and cleaning the shop.’
Thanking Vic Jr., for letting the Museum ‘borrow’ his family’s treasures, Parks said, ‘This is our finest exhibit at the Museum, bar none.
When Parks left the stage, Vic Jr., was the first to greet him and hug him. It was probably one of 10,000 hugs Vic Jr., dished out during this special evening.
The next speaker offered a different take on the Edelbrock legacy: Vic’s daughter Camee, or as McClelland referred to her, the ‘third generation.’ ‘My dad taught me what his dad taught him, ‘ Camee said: ‘work hard, play hard.’
Camee should know: she’s the VP of advertising while her sister Christi is the company’s VP of purchasing. ‘It’s an honor to be here and hear the tributes to my dad and grandfather from so many industry pioneers Looking at all the Edelbrock employees in the audience, Camee suggested ‘We should do this more often -- take the Fun Team bus and just go somewhere - quarterly.’
Before exiting the stage, Camee jokingly ‘informed’ all in attendance, ‘When you see that roadster in the exhibit, that’s mine!’ Christi Edelbrock began clearing her throat quite loudly at that notion. ‘OK, ‘ Camee conceded. ‘It’s our car.’
Like father, like daughter, no doubt.
As the evening went on, the Edelbrock stories became more free-flow, personal, historic, touching, and funny. None more so than from Alex Xydias, founder of the famous SO-CAL Speed Shop and more importantly, one of Vic Sr.’s best friends.
‘My knees are 82!’ laughed Xydias as he played on his good pal Wally Parks’ announcement. Admitting at the get-go that he would probably tear up, a very emotional Xydias spoke from the heart with dignity and wit.
As he began, he reiterated that ‘Tonight, whenever I say Vic, I mean Vic Sr., You’re Junior,’ he said pointing to the son.
‘Vic Edelbrock was my hero before the war,’ Xydias said. ‘SO-CAL Speed Shop and Edelbrock are linked together. I try to separate SO-CAL and Edelbrock... but I can’t. Vic was always part of it. I started the speed shop because of Vic. I could see the industry was going to grow and I wanted to be part of it. It was a good business to be in.’
Xydias spun so many fascinating tales, the audience was utterly transfixed. The history of the performance aftermarket and early dry lakes racing was brought to life by Xydias’ memories, some humorous, some bittersweet.
He told a story about the beginning of SO-CAL speed Shop in Burbank, California and how he used Edelbrock to make it successful. ‘Vic was my warehouse! Customers would come in the shop and I would have them look around while I would drive across the hill to Highland Ave to buy a head from Vic and come back and sell it. When you moved to Jefferson, you really screwed me up!’
Xydias delighted the crowd as he shared some stories on the legendary SO-CAL Streamliner and Belly Tanker Lakester. ‘Vic Sr., not only gave us the engine for the Streamliner, he threw in Bobby Meeks, ‘ he told the crowd. ‘The old record at Bonneville was 160. We did 193 and the next year 210. The Streamliner was the first car ‘Pete’ Petersen ever sponsored. Of course, his sponsorship check ran out by the time we got to Blythe.’
As for the Belly Tanker, Xydias said, ‘In 1952 we took it to Bonneville with Bobby Meeks and Junior. It was first in each class.’
Junior, er, Vic then called out from his table, ‘Tell everyone what was in the engine.’ Not missing a beat, Xydias said, ‘40 percent nitro.’ Then he looked at vic Jr., ‘You’re such a blabbermouth. That was my big secret. For years we’ve been telling people it was how we grinded the cams.’
The crowd roared. Now, speaking directly to Vic Jr., Xydias admitted that he did have a problem with Edelbrock.... over college football. ‘We always have a problem this time of year,’ he said referring to the annual rivalry between UCLA (Xydias’ alma mater) and USC (Edelbrock’s). ‘This is all just in fun,’ he said, adding a beat later, ‘no it isn’t. I hate the fake sympathy from USC. ‘Oh, we didn’t mean to beat you by 50.’ (Editor’s note: Edelbrock is snickering, Xydias is groaning: USC beat UCLA, 29-24, 2-days after the Edelbrock tribute.)
Joking aside, Xydias touched on the sudenness of his good friend’s passing - ‘he was the first of our group to go and he was so young... it was shocking’ - and praised Vic Jr., for carrying on the proud tradition so well. Looking directly at Vic, Xydias spoke with tears in his eyes: ‘You did a great job, kid!’
‘This is an absolute joy to sit here and listen to the stories you’ve read about by the people who did them,’ McClelland said after Xydias finished. ‘To me, this is the highlight of the evening.’
Ed Pink, the famed racer and engine developer who had close ties with both Sr. and Jr., reached back and shared some memories with the audience. ‘Back in 1948, when I was 17, Vic Sr., Bobby Meeks and Don Towle took me under their wing,’ he said. ‘Vic Sr., said there’s a kid who needs some help.’
Pink spoke of Vic Sr.’s, generosity to help a fledgling young racer. ‘I used to find a barrel of nitro on my doorstep on Monday morning,’ he said. ‘No note, but I knew it was from Vic. When I think of these memories, sometimes I get a tear, sometimes I get a chuckle. I’m proud to know the family and be involved.’
When Pink left the podium, it was time for the man of the night, Vic Edelbrock Jr., to speak. ‘My knees are 68, and my heart is still pumping nitro,’ he told the cheering crowd. ‘I’m very fortunate. This is a very rewarding honor here tonight... one I will never forget... Thank you so much.’
Vic Jr., pointed to both Wally Parks and Alex Xydias and thanked them again. Then he told a story about working at Bonneville as a teen with Alex. ‘I was 15 and was growing. I needed food. You guys didn’t feed me enough. You did give me vodka and Squirt... and I’ve never touched Squirt since!’
Like his father, Vic Jr., gave praise to all around him, starting with his parents. ‘I was the only son my parents had because I caused so much trouble,’ he joked. ‘What a father I had. He had a knack for knowing engines.’
Speaking about taking over the family business when he was just 26, Vic Jr., said, ‘My father was very conservative. When he died, the company had $250,000 in the bank and was debt free. Now I could have taken the money to Las Vegas... ‘
‘Over my dead body,’ Nancy Edelbrock shouted out as the crowd laughed.
‘That’s Nancy, my wife, my best friend and my best partner for 45 years,’ Vic Jr., said.
‘Id like to thank all the people from my company. I succeeded because of good people. It’s a team at Edelbrock. I’m lucky to be a coach of a great team. We’re the ‘Fun Team’ and we’re never going to stop. Keep the nitro coming!’
To a standing ovation, Vic Jr., and his family personally led the crowd over to the Edelbrock exhibit where the party continued.
Work hard, play and keep the nitro coming. Amen.
Dave McClelland holding a poster!
Vic, Wally & Sam!
Vic & Wally!
Camee and friend!
Alex, Vic & Peter!
Vic, Helen, Barbara, & Nancy!
It looks like this was a wonderful evening and a fitting tribute to one of the founding companies in this great hobby.
The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is a great place for all enthusiasts to visit and has a continuing program of fantastic exhibits in addition to the permanent exhibits. Every enthusiast should visit the museum at least once
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We thank the great folks at the museum for inviting us to participate in these events and for keeping us ‘up’ on all that is going on there!