Wally Parks 94th Birthday Banquet at Wally Parks NHRA Museum
Feb 8, ’07
Story by Richard Parks and photographs by Roger Rohrdanz
The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, located on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona, California held a banquet honoring Wally Parks on his 94th birthday. A second guest of honor was the legendary Carroll Shelby, inventor of the Cobra racing car. Wally Parks founded the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) in 1951, in an effort to organize car clubs throughout the United States in an association that would offer alternatives to illegal street racing, then a bane of law enforcement. Shelby and Parks are long and close friends and the two of them together on the podium brought out stories of the good old days. The date was February 8, 2007, and over 220 people came together to pay their respects to these two men who have had such a great impact on motorsports racing in the United States and overseas. Some of the guests were; Gary and Collene Campbell, who is the sister of racing legend Mickey Thompson, Steve and Gloria Gibbs, Dave and Eloise McClelland, Randy Fish and Ernie Nagamatsu. Gibbs was called “the Hook” by those in drag racing, because if you broke on the line, you got the hook. He was also the first director of the Motorsports Museum and a favorite NHRA Vice President and administrator among the racers. Dave McClelland is the voice that so many of us loved to hear announcing the races. With a mellow and slightly Southern accent, Dave charmed the crowd as the emcee for the night. Eloise is famous for the wonderful quilts that she makes and donates to causes. Randy Fish is the editor of Drag Racer Magazine, the pearl of the APG Media empire. Ernie Nagamatsu is the proud owner of Max Balchowsky’s Ole Yeller, a junkyard dog that routinely beat the foreign sports cars during the heyday of American road racing in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.
We met Tom Compton, TV Tommy Ivo, Dallas and Sandi Gardner, Chick and Lynn Saffell and Bud and Bev Coons. Compton is the current President of the NHRA and in charge of much of the new growth of the organization. TV Tommy Ivo raced in the 1960’s and starred in numerous teen flicks and hot rod movies. Dallas Gardner was the second President of the NHRA and is now the President of the Board for the largest motorsports organization in the world. Chick Saffell started the company that would dominate souvenir sales at the drag races. Bud Coons was a police sergeant for the city of Pomona who worked with youth car clubs and was an early employee of the NHRA. He led the original Safety and Drag Safaris across the country as the new drag racing organization sought to stem illegal street racing. In the audience were Art and Shirley Goldstrom, Katt and Eric Lotz, Don Rackemann, Greg Sharp and Alex Xydias. The Goldstrom are collectors of hot rodding memorabilia and have a huge museum in Las Vegas, Nevada. Don Rackemann was a very successful track manager. Greg Sharp is the curator for the Motorsports Museum. Alex Xydias was the founder of the So-Cal Speed Shop and partner with Pete Chapouris in the new shop. Near the front were Parnelli Jones, Jim Dilamarter, Carroll and Cleo Shelby, Joann Brock, Charles Rollins and Robert Genat. Parnelli Jones won the Indy 500 race and Rodger Ward always considered his good friend and competitor to be the most talented racer he has ever raced against. Joann Brock came with her son-in-law, Charles Rollins. She is the widow of Ray Brock who was with Primedia when it was Petersen Publishing Company. Robert Genat is a motorsport author and writer with a great following among hot rodders and muscle car owners.
The Motorsports Museum covers 29,000 square feet of space, with room for 60 cars and ample glass display cases. Sightseers to the museum and banquet were Ed Justice Jr, Mike Basso, Chuck Blum, Ron and Brian Hope and “Fast Jack” Beckman. Ed Justice Jr is a talented host of his own radio and TV show on autosports and the President of Justice Brothers Car Care Products in Duarte, California. Mike Basso is a past president of the SCMA (Southern California Marine Association). Chuck Blum is a former President of SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association). Ron Hope drives the Rat Trap fuel altered roadster, which his son Brian is slated to drive in the future. Jack Beckman has made it to the pro Funny Car ranks in the NHRA. Others viewing the museum included Epi Parks, Barbara Parks, David Parks and Richard Parks, sons and daughter-in-laws to Wally Parks. Museum staff who worked so hard to present the program were Barry Weisart, Julie Hisel, Sheri Watson, Mike Hollander, museum Director Tony Thacker, Katt Lotz, Wayne Phillips and Rose Dickinson. Guests included Paul Candies, Kim McMahon, Dusty McWilliams, Scott Cochran, John Ewald, and Ron and Marilyn Lachman. Marilyn was a long time secretary for Wally Parks at NHRA. Seen briefly were Jerry Toliver, Bob Muravez, and “Grumpy” Bill Jenkins. Toliver won championships in drag boat racing and was a hard-charging Funny Car driver. Muravez used an alias to race under, Floyd Lippincott Jr, and was able to establish himself as a star in the sport during the 1960’s. Jenkins, with his cigar and grumpy looks was a fan favorite and Pro Stock legend for decades. Representing NHRA were Tom Compton, Dallas Gardner, Graham Light, Bob Frey and Jerry Archambeault. Dick and Faye McClung were special guests. Dick raced under the name of Dick Webb in oval track racing in Southern California and was recently honored by Walt and Dottie James at their CRA (California Roadster Association) Reunion. McClung is a Board member and booster for the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.
The Museum has regular banquets during the year, and several to raise funds for the preservation and maintenance of the facility. Dave McClelland started the program. Two large and comfortable sofa chairs sat on a large stage, where the two honored guests would sit and regale the crowd with stories from the past. McClelland called Carroll Shelby and Wally Parks to the stage and handed each a microphone. McClelland looked out over the audience and said it would be impossible to mention all the people there who had contributed to motorsports, but he said we could mention the ‘bookends’ who set the stage and those whose time is now. He told the crowd, “there’s Parnelli Jones, he’s one of the bookends of auto racing,” and Jones raised his arms to an adoring audience. “And there’s Ashley Force, a rising star and another one of the bookends,” he told us. “Everybody is somebody in the world of motorsports,” said the sonorous man of the mike. He pointed out Jimmy Shine of Hard Shine TV Show. “The guest of honor has kept his secret. Just how old is he,” said McClelland, “But Richie Cline of the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas knows, because he sent 94 red roses.” McClelland pointed to the screen and the pictorial tribute to Parks, and there was Tex Smith and Ernie Shorb, the Wayne Horning Belly Tank and other dry lakes cars. Doug Carruthers car popped up, “that’s the car Art Chrisman bought and turned into his famous #25 car,” said Dave. Large videos showed the Pasadena Reliability Run, and a Jeepney from the Philippines, then photos of the guest of honor as a photographer, writer and editor at Hot Rod Magazine. Photos of the 1955 Safety Safari were shown with Bud Coons, Eric Rickman, Chick Cannon and Bud Evans, followed by the early NHRA Division Directors, with a very young Steve Gibbs. The crowd moaned when the old Ontario Motor Speedway was shown, probably one of the greatest tracks ever built. Then the last picture showed Wally Parks passing the presidency to a young Dallas Gardner, who in turn has passed it on to Tom Compton.
McClelland paused and then said, “Here’s Wally,” and the crowd clapped their approval. Parks thanked everyone for coming to his birthday party and for their support of hot rodding, drag racing and the museum. There followed a friendly back and forth reminiscing of the past between old friends, Carroll Shelby and Parks, which kept the crowd focused on every memory. Then the microphone was handed to those in the audience who wished to give Parks their heartfelt accolades. Frank Hawley spoke of his gratitude for the help he received when he first broke into racing, as a reporter no less. Vic Edelbrock Jr told the audience about the close friendship that his father, Vic Senior had with Parks on the dry lakes. Don Prudhomme and Ed Justice Jr told of their early experiences in racing. Debbie Lewis asked McClelland to auction off those beautiful red roses, “one for each of the ladies here in the room,” she said and the crowd roared their approval. John Force rose from his chair, hoarse from rooting for his daughter at the track. “My voice is shot from shouting, not from drinking,” said the Funny Car Champ. “You made drag racing a success for all of us,” he added. “My father told me that if you stand among the Gods, say very little, so thank you Wally,” then Force added, “I’m building up the next generation to follow.” Then as he was about to finish, Force rallied his flagging strength and said, “God bless you Wally, we love you.”
Collene Campbell wished the guest of honor a happy birthday and then said, “remember also this night all those who have passed away and cannot be here with us today.” Parks took up his microphone and said, “Collene, we commend you for your patience and courage.” The crowd remembered Collene’s brother, Mickey Thompson. Parks gave a special tribute to Steve Gibbs, the first director of the Motorsports Museum, and said, “Steve Gibbs is the heart and soul of this museum and all of us give you our thanks.” McClelland told the audience that it was time to get their wallets out and support the mission of the museum, and with the help of Greg Sharp and the museum staff, started the auction. The items up for auction included a large framed and signed photo of Carroll Shelby and Wally Parks. Ed Iskenderian donated a framed memorabilia box full of Isky treasures. There was a beautiful 1/6-scale reproduction of the Greer/Black and Prudhomme car. Also auctioned was a Joe Amato numbered print by artist David Peters. An original poster in good condition from the 1st NHRA Nationals in Great Bend, Kansas was offered. There was a Don Prudhomme 1/32nd scale diecast Funny Car that had lights and a voice over by the late announcer Steve Evans, and plenty of engine noise. There were two prints well-known hot rod artist James Ibusuki. The first print was of the Yakel Plymouth driven by Tom McEwen. The second print showed Prudhomme and McEwen in a side by side run at Lion’s Drag Strip.
Don Prudhomme donated a very rare 100 win commemorative cap, one of only 100 in existence. An original metal poster announcing Wally’s Custom Supreme Gasoline, which was made in jest years ago. There was also auctioned a California Hot Rod Reunion Poster. Then Paul Candies made an offer on the 94 red roses, “I bid ten dollars a rose and will give one to every lady in the room,” to a rousing cheer. Candies had also had two racing cars restored and gave them to the museum. Parks asked him if he was enjoying everything, and Candies who had been bidding with gusto on many items said, “when it quits being fun, I’ll get out of the sport.” But it was obvious to all that it was never going to quit being fun. Hot rodding is in their blood and the crowd thoroughly enjoyed the evening. The museum collected over twenty-two thousand dollars and many of the bidders gave their treasures back to be re-auctioned in the future. The museum also gained two famous restored racecars and the support of many in the racing community. After the banquet and auction were over the crowd dispersed to see the world class museum. Pat Foster came from his shop in Kansas. He said he tries to do one car a year. Robert Genat will have a book out in May called Chevy SS, with David Newhardt, and another book due in February 2008 called Fuelie, about Fuel injected Corvettes. Other guests included Mike Spagnoli of Street Scene Magazine, Connie Braun, Pete Chapouris, Dale Armstrong, Jean and Rick Lalor from the Auto Club of Southern California, Ed Pink and Tom McEwen. Randy Walls showed me some great artwork on metal done of his car by Greg Dravis of El Cajon, California. The plate is 12 by 18 inches and the computer image was lifelike. Greg’s website is www.mightyimage.com. Greg explained that the customer sends him a photo and he enters it into his computer, which runs a machine that prints an ink/chemical transfer onto the metal plate and is then burned into the metal. He can do the same thing on canvas banners. Finally the crowd left and only a few people were left, the last person to leave was Wally Parks himself. They say you can never get enough of the hot rodding scene.