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Celebration of Life for Louie Senter

Celebration of Life for Louie Senter


On July 9, 2016 over 300 people came together at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, in Pomona, California to say goodbye to one of the grand old men of auto racing and speed equipment pioneering.  Louie Senter was an original member and past leader of the SEMA organization and a man who was there in the beginning of drag racing and other forms of motorsports racing.  He was a good friend and attended the Santa Ana Drags Reunion, which Roger and I help others to put on twice a year.  As we approached the museum we saw Louie’s Ford 100 Twin I Beam pick-up truck with the Ansen Automotive logo and pinstriping that said, “Lion’s Drag Strip,” and “Drive the highways, Race at Lions.”  There is no telling how many cars he towed with the pick-up truck or how much speed equipment that he brought from his Ansen shop to the race tracks around Southern California.  Ansen was the name of the business coined from the names of two partners, the first two letters of Andrews and the first three letters of Senter, which became Ansen.  Louie’s wife Betty was the real driver of the company.  Louie created all sorts of speed equipment and innovations on prior parts, but it was Betty who handled the bills and kept the business running.  It was a perfect partnership and it included the love of their life, their daughter Marsha, whom they doted on.  They loved the life they created for themselves and the myriad of friends in the racing community that they met on the tracks of America, in their showroom or at banquets and reunions. 

Marsha married Rodney Scully and she publicly told the audience that there was never a better organizer than her husband.  In Louie’s eyes there was never a better son-in-law either and they did many things together as a family.  Another Senter of note was Sid Senter, or Dr Senter to the many race car drivers who needed someone with medical skills after an accident.  Sid was the track “Doctor” at racetracks and he and Louie were inseparable.  You could find Louie at the dry lakes, Bonneville, drag strips or oval tracks in the company of the best and brightest racers, mechanics and speed equipment manufacturers of the day.  Bob Leggio was a close friend of Louie’s and brought him to car races and shows when Louie couldn’t drive himself any longer.  Louie’s wallet was always open for those in need.  Anyone could approach him and talk to him on any subject.  He was generous in his support and sponsorship of racers just getting started in their careers.  What I will miss most is the phone conversations that I had with Louie, and with Betty too.  There are a few people in the world that I rely on to answer questions about the past and to give me wise advice.  Louie was one of those people that I relied on and it is a huge loss to me and for many others.  I never heard anyone call him Louis and so I called him Louie just like everyone else.  Betty always took me to task and corrected me; “It’s Louis or Lou,” she would scold in her kind hearted way.

I tried to keep a list of all those in attendance, but when I looked around the room it was impossible to take roll, there were so many who came to offer their condolences and to pay their respects.  Frank Acosta, John Springer and Gary Wilson were some of the first on the scene.  Frank ran Jim and Marion Deist’s safety equipment and parachute business for many years until their passing.  Like Louie, the Deist’s were original innovators in the speed equipment business and founders of the SEMA organization, dedicated to racing and the automotive culture.  They were men and women who cared about safety as well as speed; such as Edelbrock, Blair, Deist, Richter, Iskenderian, Arias, Hilborn, Senter and so many more.  John Springer was sponsored by Louie at Bonneville in the “Got Salt” roadster.  Gary Wilson was at Bonneville from ’72 through ’80, took a break and then returned to Bonneville in 1998.  George and Jan Callaway came from El Mirage, where George is known as the Mayor of El Mirage.  More importantly is the fact that Callaway is one of those racing authorities that we all rely up; one of those sources I mentioned.  George is a long time land speed racer and looks after the interests of racers right next to the lake bed where the SCTA holds their meets.

Larry Fisher and Greg Sharp were busy seeing to all the needs of the guests.  Larry is the current director of the museum and Greg is the historian and archivist.  Whenever we have a question about early day drag and oval track racing the man to see is Greg Sharp.  Among those attending were Jim Travis, Andy Casale, Lloyd Hendrickson, Jack Gillette, Bob Leggio, Dennis Scully (friends with, but not related to Rodney Scully), Jim Murphy, Billy Cruce, Stewart and Christine Van Dyne and their granddaughter Grace Mayer, JC and Francine Agajanian, Bobby Colgrove, Dusty Brandel, Laverne Unser, Bobby Joe Kimbrough, Jim Miller, Al Teague, Parnelli Jones, Ed Iskenderian, Richard Parks, Alex Xydias, Roger Rohrdanz, Ed Pink, Chet Knox, David Steele, Jimmy Oskie, Shane Scully, Lindsay Scully, Dave McClelland, Nick Arias, Don Rackemann, Harry Hibler, Frank Baney, Ed Justice Jr and many more.  Jim Travis is the president of the Rod Riders and a long-time land speed racer, race car builder and restorer.  Andy Casale builds V-drives for race boats and with Hendrickson were supporters of the Boat Racers Reunion which I founded with Don Edwards.  Jim Murphy and Billy Cruce are reunion members.  Murphy raced and worked on motorcycles and race cars.  Stewart Van Dyne owns his own automotive shop in Huntington Beach and also has the original molds for building Offenhauser engines.  He is a member of the SCTA and is a visitor to the famous Jack’s Garage hangout in Fountain Valley, California.

JC Agajanian Jr is the son of the legendary JC Agajanian, the Armenian/American with the cowboy hat, promoter of Ascot Speedway and owner of numerous Indy 500 race cars.  What isn’t well known is that JC Jr is the lead guitarist for his own band that plays in local pubs and his specialty is traditional rock and roll with a beach sound.  JC and the band have been playing together for years and they are very good.  If you get a chance to hear them play it will be well worth the effort.  I can’t wait until their next gig.  Bobby Colgrove and Dusty Brandel were pioneers in women’s journalism when women were not readily welcome in the pits and on the race tracks.  But they persevered and now women journalists are welcome everywhere.  Dusty is the president of AARWBA and Bobby is a volunteer with the museum.  Laverne Unser is the widow of Louie Unser; an engine builder who was wheelchair bound for most of his life but still was a master mechanic.  Laverne shared with me news of an award in Louie Unser’s name that goes out to gifted mechanics that persevere against difficult odds.  The Unser family also includes Jerry, Bobby, Al and Al Jr, famous racers from the New Mexico area.  Jim Miller is the President of the Society of Land Speed Racing Historians and the archivist for the American Hot Rod Foundation.

Al Teague is a land speed racer who set a record over 400 miles an hour in the 1990’s that lasted nearly two decades.  Parnelli Jones won the 1962 Indy 500 and was called the greatest race car driver of his generation by Rodger Ward.  Ed Iskenderian founded Isky Cams and was a founding member of SEMA, the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association, now known as the Safety Equipment Manufacturers Association.  Alex Xydias opened up So-Cal Speed Shop just after World War II and then went into automotive racing journalism for Petersen Publishing.  He was a life-long friend of the late Wally Parks, whom he met on the dry lakes of Southern California where they raced their roadsters.  Ed Pink is an engine builder whose motors ruled drag racing for many decades.  Chet Knox was the owner of Autobooks/Aerobooks in Burbank, California before selling the business a few years ago.  David Steele is a field researcher in hot rodding history for  Jimmie Oskie is an oval track champion racer.  Dave McClelland is the silky-smooth voiced announcer who was discovered in Louisiana and announced drag and other racing events.  Nick Arias is an engine builder and owns Arias Pistons and a founder of SEMA.  Don Rackemann has managed drag strips and once worked for Louie Senter at Saugus raceway.  His stories are legendary and hilarious.  Harry Hibler has been an editor and reporter since the early days.  Ed Justice Jr is the owner and CEO of Justice Car Care Products and a master illusionist (magician).  Frank Baney is the son of the late Lou Baney, who was a partner with Louie Senter at Saugus Speedway and dragstrip which they promoted and ran.

The Celebration of Life began with opening remarks by Rodney Scully who welcomed Louie’s friends and family to the museum.  There were light refreshments to snack on and afterwards everyone present was invited to go outside where the In-n-Out Burger truck was setting up to enjoy sandwiches and drinks.  Rodney introduced his wife and only child of Betty and Louie Senter, Marsha Senter Scully.  He also told us how Louie was a master innovator of speed equipment and produced one of the first such catalogs for the sport.  “My father created many of the products that he sold at the shop, but my mother, Betty, was the CEO and kept the business going,” Marsha told us.  “I grew up in a great home with an incredible father; life with him was truly amazing.  During World War II my father was a machinist mate First Class in the Navy.  That’s where he learned how to make things for the ship; he could make anything.  My mother’s birthday fell during the Indy 500 race and every year she gave him permission to go and enjoy the racing.  He loved her very much,” Marsha added.  Then she told us many stories about what it was like to be a teenager in the Senter household and the times that she went to the races with her father.  “I snuck out one time after promising to go to the library and he found out and followed me to the dance.  When I got home he asked me what I learned at the library.  He was so calm, but I still was grounded,” Marsha laughed.

Rodney then told the audience, “Louie was a twin, the second to be born and they thought he was going to be a girl so they had Louise picked out for his name.  Louise became Louis.  He had problems remembering names and called people Pal.  Long after I married Marsha he would still call me Pal.  He loved to go fishing, especially with his close friend Ed Iskenderian.  One time Ed came by and Louie said, ‘Ed, what stinks so much in your car,’ and Ed looked under the seat to find two chickens he had bought at the store and forgotten about.  He and Ed had hilarious fishing stories to tell, including the time Louie revved the engines and Isky fell overboard into the lake.  Louie helped everybody whether they were rich or poor, famous or not,” Rodney said.  Then he read a letter from Bobby Unser, “Louie helped me when no one else would.  He was just a generous man who gave without being asked.  He’s my lifelong friend,” wrote Bobby.  Rodney then read a letter from Don Garlits, who wrote, “Louie always helped me.  He was always nice and pleasant to me and it was a great honor to see him inducted into the drag racing Hall of Fame.”  Shane Scully added, “Louie was the best grandfather anyone could ever have; he was always a great support to me in whatever I tried to accomplish.”  Lindsay Scully spoke next; “My grandfather always saw the best in everybody.  In racing and in life he was always one lap ahead of the pack.”

Dave McClelland spoke next and his strong, soothing voice that millions of race fans love to hear, told the throng, “When Louie Senter came into a room it was like the lights came on, he was just that charismatic.  He and Wally Parks used to always tell me to sit next to them and I felt like I was on Cloud Nine, but then they would add, ‘… because I can hear you better.’  It was a great honor to be in their presence,” Dave beamed.  “He had many honors in his life.  He was a founding Board member of SEMA and was inducted into their Hall of Fame.  Louie was also inducted into the Drag Racing and the Motorsports Halls of Fame,” Dave added.  Then a video was played of the induction sequence to the Hall of Fame ceremony narrated by drag racing champion Antron Brown.  Ed Iskenderian spoke next in his well-known droll tone, raising his voice as the memories flooded back over nine decades.  “I got to know Louie when he formed Ansen Automotive with Andrews.  You know Ansen is formed from Andrews and Senter’s letters don’t you?  Anyway, Louie would try anything and he could invent new products or improve on old ones.  He took my cams when I was just starting out and learning how to make them.  No one else would sell my cams, but Louie did in the beginning.  He believed in me.  Louie was in to everything and it paid off.  He was my friend and I just loved the man,” grinned the irrepressible grand old man of cam grinders.

 Ed Pink was the next to speak.  “I’ve known Louie since 1948.  He built my first flathead engine.  I drove Louie’s cars and he was very supportive.  He would try anything.  Louie started a ‘dollar a lap’ business where people could drive his race car for one lap for a dollar, but the very first guy to do so crashed his car on the first lap and that was the end of that deal. Louie was never afraid to try something.  He actively sponsored racing in all the motor sports.  Louie put a smile on my face every time I saw him,” Ed remarked.  Nick Arias Jr related; “After I graduated from High School in 1947 I started buying parts at Ansen.  Louie heard that I was making pistons and asked me to make them for Ansen.  He is a big part of my success in the business.”  One of Louie’s old employees told the gathering that Louie was unreasonable; “You couldn’t tell him that it was impossible, because he would find a way to do it.  He had this positive energy that just filled a room.  Behind him was his wife Betty who would just not let the business fail.  They were quite a pair,” he ended.

The groans began as Don Rackemann came to the microphone.  If there was anyone who could match the wild stories of Louie Senter it had to be Rackemann.  “I’ve known Louie for 73 years, when I was just a young kid of 13.  When I was short of cash I would ask Louie and he always opened his wallet and gave it to me.  One time I was short of cash, having spent all my money on booze and broads and went to Louie for another loan.  He asked me to come and work for him and I asked him, ‘Doing what?’  He told me I could be his ‘Outside Salesman’ and I agreed.  Betty and Louie Senter were like my second parents to me.  Louie was the guy everyone came to see at Ansen, but Betty was the real boss.  How she managed to run that place was amazing as she suffered from migraines and had to go into the office and close the drapes and relax.  Then she would recover and go back to work.  I was paid $15 to be a starter at Saugus dragstrip but that was not enough to cover my expenses, which was mostly the booze and broads that I went with in those days.  Since there were a lot of gate crashers at Saugus who didn’t pay admission I rigged up a scam and charged them to come in and pocketed the cash.  Louie came up one day and said, ‘How’s your business doing?’  He knew but all he said was, ‘Don’t tell Betty.’  I could talk to them about anything and one day I had this rash that wouldn’t go away on my private parts and I asked Betty if she knew what it could be, because I was sure that I got it from one of my girlfriends.  Betty told me to drop my shorts and she would look at it.  She was just like my mom, so as embarrassing as that was I dropped my shorts.  If that wasn’t bad enough in walks Louie who sees Betty examining my testicles.  Betty says, ‘What do you think Don has,’ and Louie looks at them and says, ‘Beats me, let’s send him to Dr Sid.’  Well, Sid takes a look at me and says, ‘Wash your shorts.’  I wasn’t very good at housekeeping,” said a laughing Rackemann to the howling audience.

Bobby Joe Kimbrough, editor of Rod Authority, a part of Power Automedia, was the next speaker.  I’m a historian and I treasure my time with Louie Senter.  He’s seen so much and contributed so much.  He was also a racer and he had his share of victories and prize money,” said Bobby.  “He was also my friend and a good resource for the past,” Kimbrough added.  John Springer met Louie at Bonneville.  “My partner in our Got Salt Bonneville racer was Burke Peterson and we were successful because of the sponsorship we got from Ansen Automotive and Louie Senter.  Louie and Nick Arias would hang out in our pit area at Bonneville.  You can’t get more knowledgeable guys than that to help you out with your problems.  I just loved the stories that Lou told us,” Springer reminisced.  Harry Hibler, a long-time writer, editor and friend of Louie spoke next.  “I hurt myself cutting down a tree; stupidity can overcome anything,” Hibler moaned.  “Louie was the most generous person I know.  His generosity knew no bounds and he never played favorites with anyone.  I am proud to have known him,” said Harry.  The last speaker was a man unafraid of the microphone and a match for anyone when it came to holding an audience in the palm of his hand; J. C. Agajanian Jr.  “Louie Senter and my family go back a long way.  We raced at Indy and we shared the experience that comes with racing; winning or losing.  My father and Louie were great friends and he supported our track at Ascot and we supported his at Saugus.  Louie was a founding member of SEMA and also a Board Member and Hall of Famer.  His brother Sid was the track doctor.  What a family; and I am proud to know the Senter family.  He taught a young kid, me, a great deal about the sport of auto racing.  I will never forget him,” said J. C. with his lovable, booming voice.  Then Rodney Scully took the microphone and invited everyone to have a burger and bench race.  “It’s what Louie would have wanted,” Scully intoned.


Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]

“The senter of speed equipment pioneering”, Louie Senter.A shelf of his memories.Rodney introduced his wife and only child of Betty and Louie Senter, Marsha Senter  	Scully.Rodney Scully, Betty and Louie’s son-in-law,  welcomed Louie’s friends and family to  the museum.Shane Scully, Louie’s grandson, spoke of his favorite grandfather.Lindsay Scully, Louie’s granddaughter, spoke next, “My grandfather always saw the best  in everybody.  In racing and in life he was always one lap ahead of the pack.”Dave McClelland spoke next and his strong, soothing voice that millions of race fans  love to hear, told the throng, “When Louie Senter came into a room it was like the lights  came on”.Ed Iskenderian loved to go fishing with Louie. He and Ed had hilarious fishing stories to  	tell, including the time Louie revved the engines and Isky fell overboard into the lake!Ed Pink was the next to speak.  “I’ve known Louie since 1948.  He built my first flathead  engine.”The groans began as Don Rackemann came to the microphone. If there was anyone  who could match the wild stories of Louie Senter it had to be Rackemann.Harry Hibler, a long-time writer, editor and friend of Louie spoke next. “Louie was the  most generous person I’ve known!”Bobby Joe Kimbrough, editor of Rod Authority.J. C. Agajanian Jr.  “Louie Senter and my family go back a long way. We raced at Indy  	and we shared the experience that comes with racing; winning or losing.”Jim Travis, long-time land speed racer, race car builder and restorer.Bob Leggio, long time friend of Louie’s.(L-R) Billy Cruce, Richard Parks, Jim Murphy.Nic Arias lll (L) with Al Teague.Nic Arias Jr.The ugly half of the Steve Gibbs and Gordy team.Louie Unser’s widow, Laverne Unser. Andy Casale builds V-drives for race boats.Wallys’ son, Richard Parks with Ed Pink “The Old Master” hall of fame engine builder.Performance and speed equipment giant, Vic Edelbrock Jr.Ed Pink (L) talking with Frank Baney (Lou’s son).Parnelli Jones, won the 1962 Indy 500 and was called the greatest race car driver of his  	generation by Rodger Ward.Parnelli Jones with J.C. Agajanian Jr.  (L-R) Smokey Alleman (Former Engine Builder for Vel’s/Parnelli Jones Racing),  Ed Justice Jr. and Jimmy Oskie (5 time West Coast CRA Sprint Car Champion).(L-R) Ed Justice Jr., Raoul “Sonny” Balcaen, former member of Shelby Race Team  (in the 1960’s), and Harry Hibler.Lots of people were on-hand to honor Louie Senter.