Fast Five with Junior Thompson,
Grand Marshal of the California Hot Rod Reunion,
Oct. 10-12, 2008
Auto Club Famoso Raceway,
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (Sept. 8, 2008) The year 19 1958 brought Americans the Hula Hoop and NASA. But one moment that stands out among the drag racing community is Junior Thompsonâ€™s Little Eliminator victory at the NHRA Nationals in Oklahoma City. Fifty years later, Thompson, the Gasser great, continues to be a star among cars. This year Thompsonâ€™s been named Grand Marshal of the 17th annual California Hot Rod Reunion, Oct. 10-12, Bakersfield, Calif.
Thompson is being honored along with Georgia Seipel, Steve Davis, John Edmunds, Walt Rhoades and Butch Maas. In this interview, the always talkative Thompson looks back on his 30-year drag racing career as a driver and his current duties as Grand Marshal of the Hot Rod Reunion.
1. How does it feel to be named Grand Marshal for the 17th Annual California Hot Rod Reunion? What does the Reunion mean to you?
Junior Thompson: I’ve been in drag racing since the 50’s, and coming out to every California Reunion since it began, so it feels great being named Grand Marshal after so many years in the sport. The Reunion is a wonderful time to meet up with my old friends and talk about racing. I’m expecting many of my friends and family to come out to the Reunion.
2. When you were racing decades ago, did you think you’d be honored years later? Are you surprised that people remember your racing exploits?
JT: When I was a 17-year-old at my first race, I was in it just for the love of drags. Since coming to the Reunions, my friends and fans would always askwhen I was going to be honored. So after more than 50 years in racing it really feels good to tell friends that I’m being honored as Grand Marshal. I’m not surprised because I’ve been involved for so many years and racing is still a big part of my life and my family’s life.
3. What are some of your fondest (and funniest) memories about drag racing in the early days? What do you miss most? Do you keep in touch with a lot of your old drag racing friends?
JT: My win as first Little Eliminator at the NHRA Nationals in Oklahoma City in 1958 and my win at the first Bakersfield March Meet in 1959 are two of my fondest memories. Drag racing is not what it used to be. The Reunions are wonderful because we get to be around things we love like racing and cars the way they were. That’s why I continue to go to the Reunions; to see my old drag racing friends and talk about the good old days and remember good friends that have passed on like Wally Parks.
4. Are you surprised at the popularity of nostalgia drag racing? Why do you think people enjoy it so much?
JT: I’m not surprised because I’ve been around it for so many years and I grew up with it. They enjoy it for the same reason I do: a love for speed and cars.
5. What do you think of drag racing today compared to when you were on the circuit?
JT: Today, I’m amazed at how expensive drag racing has become. You almost have to be a millionaire to drag race and maintain your car today. When I started it was just a few bucks to maintain the parts for my cars and get me to the races. Back in the old days, it was purely for the love of the sport, not the fame or money like today
The 17th annual California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, Oct. 10-12 at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif., is a 3-day festival of speed, hot rods and American automotive enthusiasm. It’s also the season finale of the inaugural NHRA’s Hot Rod Heritage nostalgia drag racing series.
Produced by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, and located in Pomona, Calif., the Reunion is part of the museum’s “living history” philosophy, which works to bring to life the sights, sounds and people who made history in the early days of drag racing, land speed racing and the golden age of American car culture.
Unique among motorsports events, the Reunion honors some of the top names in hot rodding from the past and features a fabulous array of cool drag cars, street rods and customs of the historic and present-day hot rod eras.
Those purchasing their credentials at least three weeks before the event receive significant added value including a “goodie” bag, Reunion program, commemorative dash plaque and a colorful and collectible plastic souvenir credential. Three-day credentials ($55 each) are available by calling 800/884-NHRA (6472) or by completing a form found in the Reunion section of the Museum’s Website (http://museum.nhra.com). Auto Club members receive a $5 discount off Adult credential prices.
Daily general admission tickets/pit passes will be available at Auto Club Famoso Raceway gate, (www.famosoraceway.com). Cost per person: Friday, $20; Saturday, $20; Sunday, $15. Children 15 and under are free when accompanied by an adult. Auto Club discount is also available at the gate: $2 off Friday and Saturday and, $1 off Sunday.
The Reunion features a wide variety of activities and events, including:
• NHRA vintage drag racing, featuring some the sport’s most famous and historic cars and drivers, racing in such classes at Nostalgia Top Fuel, Funny Car, Fuel Altereds, Supercharged Gassers, Classic Super Stock, Hot Rods and others. It’s the grand finale of the NHRA’s Hot Rod Heritage Series.
• Hundreds of gleaming pre-1972 hot rods, street rods, custom cars, rat rods, classics and muscle cars. “Memory Lane” will have a display of nostalgic race cars. The Justice Bros. Spotlight Award will fall on drag racer Gas Ronda.
• California Hot Rod Reunion Reception, held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Bakersfield, Fri., Oct. 10, from 7 p.m.- 10 p.m. Open to everyone at no charge, it’s a tribute to the Reunion’s Grand Marshal and the other Honorees. The reception offers a chance for fans to meet some of drag racing’s heroes.
• Cacklefest on Saturday evening, where nitro-burning historic, front-engine top-fuel dragsters and other classic race cars are push started just like in the “old days.”
• The Swap meet and Reunion Midway filled with hot rod and automotive related vendors. Something for everyone!
Information, including a full activities schedule, entry forms and tickets, is available through the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum at http://museum.nhra.com or by sending a post card or note to California Hot Rod Reunion, 1101 McKinley Ave., Bldg, 3A, Pomona, Calif. 91768. Requests can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proceeds of the California Hot Rod Reunion benefit the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. Celebrating its 10th anniversary and named for the founder of the National Hot Rod Association, the Parks Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California houses the very roots of hot rodding. Scores of famous vehicles spanning American motorsports history are on display, including winning cars representing 50 years of drag racing, dry lakes and salt-flat racers, oval track challengers and exhibits describing their colorful backgrounds.
The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., PST. Current NHRA members are admitted free and Auto Club members enjoy a $2 discount. Admission for non-members is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors 60 and older, $5 for juniors six through 15, and free for children under the age of five. The Museum is also available for special group tours. The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is located at Fairplex Gate 1, 1101 W. McKinley Ave. in Pomona. For further information on special exhibits, museum events or directions, call 909/622-2133 or visit http://museum.nhra.com.