The Grand National Roadster Show (GNRS) hosts an annual banquet and Hall of Fame to honor hot rodders, car builders, people and companies that have made the GNRS a world renowned show. This year the Hall of Fame and banquet was held on January 29, 2011 at the Sheraton Hotel on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Fairplex, in Pomona, California. We had a few hours to spare before the banquet, so Roger Rohrdanz and I toured the show and took a few photographs. The L. A. Roadster Club was housed in Building 3, the Fine Arts Building. They lined the walls with photographs of the club and exhibited many of their famous cars. This prestigious car club has been together for nearly six decades and limits their membership to around 35 full time members and some associate members from outside the Southern California region. Owning and driving a roadster is a requirement of the club. Represented in this building were some of the famous cars of the past, often owned by those in the GNRS Hall of Fame. The “Wally Parks Roadster” is a reproduction of a ’29 Ford built by members of the Cal-Rods Car club of the San Gabriel Valley and driven by David and Richard Parks at the Celebration of Life held at the Winternationals in Pomona in February 2008. Harold Johansen’s ’27 Ford roadster (unlimited) was raced at the dry lakes and Bonneville. Johansen is from Agua Dulce, California. Del Packwood’s ’40 Ford Pick-up was raced at Bonneville. Del is from Placitas, New Mexico. Neal East, from Centennial, Colorado exhibited a ’27 Ford roadster. Rick Strollo, of Newport Beach, California, brought his ’29 Model A street roadster.
Don Clem showed off his ’27 Ford Altered T roadster. Don is from Redlands, California. Tony Boch, from San Juan Batista, California brought down his ’27 Ford Altered T Track Roadster. The “Sandy Belond” 1931 Ford roadster is now owned and restored by Michael Brennan, from Glendora, California. It is a famous dry lakes car and painted on the side was “Sandy’s Muffler Shop.” Brennan is a member of the Society of Land Speed Racing Historians and he researches into the history of the various car clubs that Sandy Belond belonged to or raced against. As I finished up and headed for the banquet I noticed the Cruise sponsored by the GNRS. For less than parking and admission, anyone with a great old car can join the cruise and park outside of the buildings on Saturday. You can’t get any closer than that to the action. The cars outside were also spectacular and worth going to see all by themselves. I stopped by and said hello to Bob and Lynn McCoy. Bob is a famous racer and artist and his lovely wife has written a book called Circle of Impact that is outstanding. There is a forward by Parnelli Jones and if you buy the book from Lynn at the shows that she attends, Bob will sign the book for you. The next stop was the Sheraton Hotel and I met some interesting people in the lobby while the staff was getting the room ready for the banquet. Bob Larivee was the photographer for a book written by David Fetherston. There are several versions of the book and one of them has a chapter by Greg Sharp, the curator for the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, which was next door to the GNRS. The book is called Show Car Dreams and chronicles all the cars honored by the show.
I met Jay Ohrberg, and since I see him at a lot of car shows, asked him about his history. I know that he has show cars that he rents out and that he recently bought Ron Martinez’s Hot Rod Memories DVD film library. I always enjoy going over to Ohrberg’s booth and looking at the selection of old movies that he has for sale. When I can I try and review the movies and let you know how to reach Jay. There is nothing like playing one of those old movies from the 1950’s to kindle a spark from the past. He sells most of his DVD’s through his website at www.hotrodmemories.com. “I’m from Moline, Illinois and when I was twenty years old in 1960 I won the World Series of Drag Racing at Cordova, Illinois, in the gas division,” Jay told me. “Don Garlits wanted me to come to California to race with him. I had a speed shop in Moline and Ray Farner wanted to put on a car show in Chicago and asked me to bring a car to exhibit. I got some appearance money, trophy and watch and liked the idea of competing. I moved to California with Ray and one day we went to see Craig Breedlove. That turned into a job and I toured the country with him for a few years. I hurt my back and became ill and decided to leave Breedlove and return to California. I bought Craig’s dragster, the Sonic 2, with the idea of exhibiting it in car shows. The car is now in Don Garlits museum in Florida. Nye Frank was the builder of the car and also the “Pulsator.” I took these cars to shows and added TV Tommy Ivo’s streamliner to my collection. Another idea that I had at the time was to buy some land and build a museum near the old Ontario Motor Speedway, but that idea fell through,” Ohrberg continued.
Bob Reisner owned an auto shop and we became partners. We built another car, called “The Bath Tub” car. This was the start of our Hollywood style cars that would appear in the movies and car shows. We built ten more cars and bought five more and began to tour the country, taking these cars to shows for a fee. We had four semi trucks to haul the cars from show to show and named the business California Show Cars. I took the cars to the New York Auto Show for the Petersen Publishing Company. The Eldon toy company at that time wanted to make copies of all the cars and create model car toys from the designs. I had a falling out with Reisner over the profits of the company that we had and felt that Bob had withheld my fair share. We split up the cars between us and I started my own company called Hollywood Cars. A deal with Leisure Entertainment came by that seemed so lucrative that Bob and I merged our two companies together. We got a lot of stock in Leisure Entertainment and at that time the company was doing very well. Reisner operated the division that included our two companies and our cars, but had a falling out with the main company. Leisure asked me to put new locks on the door to keep Bob out and to take over the running of the division. I stayed with Leisure for two years and then decided to resign. Leisure did a deal with George Barris. Then they sued me in court and won. I lost all my holdings and stock in the company,” Jay said.
“I had lost everything, but since I’ve had that happened to me before, I just started all over again. I created a new company called Mr Roadster. Ray Brock and Dick Wells had started Rod Action at this time, led by Brian Brennan. I got plenty of publicity in this magazine and the business was doing well. I moved the company back to Illinois and eventually sold Mr Roadster to Speedway Motors, which was owned by Bill Smith out of Lincoln, Nebraska. Wells had got his start working for Smith, before he came west to work for NHRA and Petersen Publishing. A group of us, including Dick Wells, Brian Brennan, Loren Ellsworth, Pete Van Eiderstein and myself created Street Rod Association, Kit Car Association and a drag race trade show in connection with the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). Wally Parks and Wells asked me if I could create a car museum in Indianapolis, but that project fell through. I created another car show company and began to build more vehicles. I put on a show in Germany for over fifteen years and took about 100 cars. I’ve promoted car shows in over thirty countries around the world. Today my car collection is stored at the Volo Auto Museum in Chicago, Illinois. I have about 40 cars today and once had 200 show cars. I built and named them after personalities like Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. They are “crazy cars” built just for shows,” Jay concluded. I met Dean Jeffries and Ruben Procopio and talked briefly about the early days of car building.
It was time to enter the banquet hall and honor the new inductees to the GNRS Hall of Fame. Approximately 350 people were in attendance. Those who were being honored and past honorees were present and any remaining tickets were sold to the public. John Buck welcomed all the guests, speakers and honorees. Greg Sharp gave an introductory speech for Gene Winfield. Gene is now a household name in car painting, but his history goes way back to the famous chicken house that became his garage. In 1964 he closed his shop in Modesto and went to Phoenix to open a business there. He returned to Los Angeles in 1970 and built cars for Hollywood movies. In 2000 Winfield moved his business to Mojave, California. He is a famous car restorer and customizer. He has raced at Bonneville and recorded a time of 211 MPH at the fabled Salt Flats according to Sharp. The 2011 Hall of Fame Honorees were; Paul Bragg, Leonard Lopez, Bob Munroe, Jimmy Vaughn and Tom Walsh. Bragg is known as an old school tin man, building cars without shortcuts like using bondo. He has been building cars for over five decades and was honored at the West Coast Kustoms Hall of Fame in 2009. Lopez raced Midgets in USAC and began building cars in 1982. For the past fifteen years Lopez has built the DuPont Tour Cars. Munroe has been a metal fabricator for nearly five decades and has worked for Jim Davis, Arlen Ness, Art Himsl and Moal Coachworks. Vaughn is a famous Grammy winning musician and builds his own award winning cars. Walsh is a car builder and former Top Fuel Drag racer. He is a member of the Dry Lakes Racers Hall of Fame and co-built with Steve Moal the 2005 AMBR winning car called Seduced.
The 2011 Builder of the Year award was given to Scott Bonowski, owner of company Hot Rods and Hobbies. The GNRS was started in 1949 by Al and Mary Slonaker, but the Hall of Fame concept to honor car builders and supporters of the car show did not begin until 1960. For seven years the GNRS Hall of Fame inducted the leaders in the automotive show car world and leading hot rodders. Then in 1967 the ceremony ceased and there were no inductees or program for the next twenty-two years. Just why the program was halted is not clear, but over the years there was this feeling that honoring the legends of custom car builders and industry leaders was long overdue. In 1988 the Hall of Fame was brought back and revitalized. Today it is a major part of the GNRS and the honorees look forward to it every year. Some of the honorees from the past include; Wally and Barbara Parks, Robert E. “Pete” Petersen, Joe Bailon, George and Sam Barris, Ezra Ehrhardt, Al “Romeo” Palamides, Chic Cannon, Gene Winfield, Dick Day, Blackie Gejeian, Jack Hagemann Sr, Dean Moon, Al and Mary Slonaker, Eric “Rick” Rickman, Bill Cushenberry, Ted Frye, Ak Miller, LeRoi “Tex” Smith, Bud Coons, Richard Guasco, Dean Jeffries, Fred Agabashian, Don Tognotti, Andy and Roy Brizio, Ray Brock, Boyd Coddington, Dick Dean, Tom Medley, Norm Grabowski, Kent Fuller, Gray Baskerville, Bill Hines, Kenneth “Von Dutch” Howard, Rick Perry, Greg Sharp, Hershel “Junior” Conway, John D’Agostino, Sam Foose, Rich Pichette, Steve Moal, Herb Martinez, Sid Chavers, Jim “Bones” Noteboom, Chip Foose, Larry Watson, Pat Ganahl, Pete Chapouris, Gary Meadors, Vic Edelbrock Jr, Jay Ohrberg, Alex Xydias, Steve Coonan, Thom Taylor, Bruce Meyer and many more deserving inductees.
The honorees for this year’s induction ceremonies were each called to the podium and thanked the guests in attendance. John Buck has improved on the banquet and ceremony, making this one of the most respected Hall of Fame programs in custom car building and automotive shows. The crowds filed out and some went over to the Pinstripers Reunion auction to bid on prized art work. The money raised went to charities dedicated to research into childhood diseases. Others from the Hall of Fame ceremony made their way over to Building 9 where a panel discussion was taking place and the public could ask their most curious questions. The panel consisted of George Barris, Jack Stewart, Frank Livingston, Sam Foose, Steve Stanford, Rod Powell, Greg Sharp, Frank DeRosa Sr, Penny Pichette, Paul Bragg, Gene Winfield, Bill Hines, Rik Hoving, Dean Jeffries, Blackie Gejeian and Howdy Ledbetter. Later in the day there was a pin-up trophy girl contest in the Suede Palace to choose a show queen and princesses to help pass out plaques and trophies to the winners of the various show categories on Sunday. Special guest appearances by entertainment celebrities and retro hot rod bands were scheduled for the GNRS over the three day run of the show.