Sixteen years ago, a few guys and gals got together and said, "we ought to have a reunion before all the old timers are gone." Those in on the planning included Wally and Barbara Parks, Steve Gibbs, Marilyn and Ron Lachman, Shirley Bunce, Bob and Eileen Daniels and dozens more. The reunion was planned for Bakerfield’s historic Famoso Dragstrip made famous by the Smokers Car Club and renamed in honor of the Auto Club of Southern California for their support and sponsorship. Right from the beginning it was a success. The first reunion had a will of its own apart from the original group of organizers. Nostalgia drag racing was in its infancy and men and women were restoring and rebuilding their old cars. They asked if they could 'display the cars' on the track and take a slow run down the course for "old times sake." The parade laps became more popular and there was no holding them back. The "one-time-only" concept of the reunion became an annual event and the "let's just show our cars off" became a competitive and vital nostalgia race, one of the best in the country. We are 16 years into the concept of a reunion, a drag racing honorary program and nostalgia drag race with excitement in every run. The event was so successful that some spectators were forced to park on the highway and walk to the track.
The reunion seems to grow beyond its original scope every year. The Reception and honorary awards takes place on Friday night at the Double Tree Hotel in North Bakersfield, after a full day of racing. This year the announcer was the legendary Dave McClelland whose slight southern drawl is world famous. A short tribute was given to the founder of the National Hot Rod Association, Wally Parks, who passed away on September 28, 2007 at the age of 94. Then 'Mac' recognized many in the audience who came to the reunion. The 1964 US Drag Team that went to England to introduce American Drag racing to Europeans were acknowledged. Ed Justice Jr awarded the Justice Brother’s TV Tommy Ivo Reunion Spotlight Award to the entire US Drag Team for their efforts in spreading the message of drag racing to the world. Nostalgia cars filled the hotel parking lot and sporadically fired off their engines, thrilling the crowds of spectators. Inside, 'Mac' continued to honor those in attendance. The Grand Marshal was Ed 'The Ace' McCulloch, who not only was a winning driver, but one of the top crew chiefs in all of drag racing. The honorees at this year's reunion were John Buttera, Childs & Albert (Rocky Childs and Jim Albert), Gary 'Red' Greth, Mike Jones and Kuhl & Olson (Mike Kuhl and Carl Olson). Past Grand Marshall Linda Vaughn and honoree Louis Senter were also in attendance. Jim Deist, Ed Iskenderian, Ed Pink, Nick Arias, Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen and many other of drag racing's illustrious past were also on hand. The reunion owes its success to the hard working efforts of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsport Museum's staff, led by Tony Thacker and Greg Sharp, with support from Steve Gibbs. The support of the Auto Club of Southern California and the Holley Corporation from Bowling Green, Kentucky made it financially able to succeed.
The reunion consists of the efforts of thousands of drag racers and hot rodders. The reunion wouldn't thrive without their efforts. Men and women from across the country and from foreign lands come to the reunion every year and display their restored cars and talk to the fans of the Golden Age of drag racing. Don and Pat Garlits brought two of their famous Top Fuel dragsters, Swamp Rat number 3 and Swamp Rat number 8, from Florida. They drove all the way and Pat said it was quite a trip. Garlits put his stamp on drag racing. He is one of those men who not only helped to create the sport of drag racing, but also by his persistence and hard work, changed it and made it what it is today. Bill 'Grumpy' Jenkins came from Ohio and he, like Garlits, is another man who is responsible for making the sport of drag racing a success. The 1320 Club grows larger every year and they man the pits around the tree-lined area behind the grandstands called the Grove. If you grew up reading and loving Doris Herbert's Drag News, then you have to join the 1320 Club's website and relive those glory years from 1957 through 1971. TV Tommy Ivo, Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen were signing autographs among many other famous personalities. Ivo's line of fans was the longest. I spent some time with Eileen Daniels and we toured the pits and saw the swap meet, the traditional hot rodders (don't call them rat rodders) and the wide variety of cars and personalities that hot rodding has become. Orah Mae and Robin Millar let me stay with them in their tent. They are keeping the memory of Pete Millar alive. Pete, you may recall, was the Drag CARtoonist, whose comic books and artistic drawings pilloried the famous and infamous among drag racing's elite from the 1950's through the '70's. His style was close to that of Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth, Tom Medley and Robert Williams.
Gone Racin' is at