An exhibit honoring the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) was unveiled by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, in Pomona, California on November 7, 2007. The SCTA was formed from seven car clubs in the Southern California area in November 1937 after George Wight and George Riley withdrew their support for dry lakes time trial racing. Land speed racing and time trial racing is a motorsport formulated on competing against the clock and not another opponent. It is the oldest form of motorsports known and is followed by a small but zealous group of racers and fans. The dry lakebeds or playas have been used to conduct time trial tests and endurance racing since the 1920’s and may have been used sporadically before then. These dried mud lakebeds are smooth and flat and perfect for conducting speed tests. Some of the early dry lakes used in the Mojave Desert include Muroc, Harper, El Mirage, Rosamond and other playas. The only other sources for long and straight racecourses were the streets and they were inherently dangerous and illegal to use. The drive out to the desert dry lakes was long and hazardous during the early days. Cars would break down under the poor road and weather conditions. There were few garages or way stations where help could be found. Food and water had to be brought in and the early land speed racers relied on the help of their friends.
None of these primitive conditions seemed to deter the throngs of people who journeyed the long distances to the sere dry lakes. They came by the thousands to race their cars or watch. The speeds ranged from 80 to 110-mph, which was fast for the cars of that era. Earl Mansell organized the first timing trials and used flags and stopwatches to start and time the competitors in 1927. By 1931, George Wight of Bell Auto Parts, a popular Southern California speed shop and George Riley were sponsoring land speed time trials at the dry lakes. Local car clubs volunteered to act as security, set up the timing systems, coordinate inspections of the cars and control the crowds, which were sometimes numbered in the thousands. Wight and Riley withdrew their sponsorship and support of dry lakes time trials at the end of the 1937 racing season. Seven car clubs gathered together in the Fall of 1937 to discuss organizing their own Timing Association based on the experience that they got by working under Wight and Riley. The SCTA began their inaugural racing season on May 15, 1938, at Muroc Dry Lake, now called Edwards Air Force Base, in the Mojave Desert. World War II interrupted all motorsports racing, though the SCTA managed to operate timing trials through July 1942. The war ended in August of 1945 and the SCTA reorganized and would become the largest land speed time trial association in the country.
Many land speed racers would go on to create the new sport of drag racing in the 1950’s at such legendary sites as Goleta and Santa Ana. Abandoned military air fields and access roads would provide places to race that were much closer than the desert dry lakes and the SCTA saw its numbers drop. The association merged with the Russetta Timing Association and accepted members from groups that had disbanded. Other timing associations that co-existed with the SCTA in the 1930’s and ‘40’s included Bell, Muroc, Western, Russetta and others. During the late 1940’s the land speed racing groups grew to huge numbers and drew the attention of young people everywhere. Today the SCTA is growing once again and has over 700 members in a dozen car clubs. The members race at El Mirage Dry Lake near Phelan and Adelanto, California and at the Bonneville Salt Flats, near East Wendover, Utah. The speeds that they attain are no longer in the 80 to 110-miles per hour category. It is not unusual to see speeds of 200-mph or more at El Mirage and up to 400-mph at Bonneville. On some occasions the Bonneville Salt Flats have seen speeds in the 600-mph range and at the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada the Noble/Green car went 763-mph to set the unlimited record.
The display of land speed cars at the museum was impressive. There were roadsters, streamliners and other classes of cars on display. Mike Cook told the museum of an old timing tower stand stored at George Callaway’s El Mirage ranch. The SCTA restored it and brought it to the museum. They found mannequins and dressed them in the outfits and hats of the 1940’s. The museum played videos of dry lake and Bonneville time trials and filled the display cases with photographs and memorabilia of the SCTA. Some of the SCTA members and guests included Julian Doty, Al Teague, JD Tone, Gene Barbee, Alan Barbee, Keith Allen, Ed Safarik, Lee Nichols, Jim Travis, Gary Brauer and Alex Xydias. Doty served the SCTA in a number of capacities before the war and is considered one of the founding fathers of the SCTA. Teague set a record of 409-mph in his streamliner that has lasted two decades. Safarik is the editor of the SCTA Racing News. Xydias was the founder of the So Cal Speed Shop and a close friend of Wally Parks, past President of the SCTA and founder of the NHRA. Others present were Clifton Wheeler, Mike Cook, Jim Lattin, Debbie and Steve Toller, Bob Webb, Bill Lattin and Jerry Kugel. Cook and Jim Lattin have been presidents of the SCTA and Lattin is serving as president for the 2007 year. Bob Webb is the president of the Gear Grinders car club, one of the biggest racing clubs in the country. Jerry Kugel not only goes fast, he builds some of the finest roadsters in the country.
Representing the museum were Faye and Dick McClung, Tony Thacker, Greg Sharp, Sheri Watson, Julie Hisel, Kat Lotz, Bill Groak, Wayne Phillips and others. McClung raced at the dry lakes in the 1940’s and on the circle tracks of Southern California. His experiences are vast and varied and he has been honored by Walt James at the CRA Reunion for his exploits in track roadster racing. Thacker is the Director of the museum and Greg Sharp is the curator and historian, who knows as much about our racing history as any man alive. Among the visiting press, writers and photographers were; Dusty Colgrove, John O’Neill, Gary Brown, Dave Lindsay, Roger Rohrdanz, Hib Halverson, Stewart Harnick, Dave May and many more. Some of the racing historians included Jim Miller, Jerry Cornelison and George Callaway. Miller is an exceptional SCTA historian who has been honored by the Gold Coast Club in Buellton, California as their Dry Lakes Historian of the Year. He is also the president of the Society of Land Speed Racing Historians (SLSRH). Cornelison is the historian for the Road Runners car club, one of the seven founding clubs in the SCTA. Callaway is called the Mayor of El Mirage; the friendliest town of its size to be found anywhere; just two people. He lives right next to the lakebed and organizes work parties to maintain the playas racing surface.
Other SCTA members and their guests included Mike LeFevers, Ron Main, Ernie Harmon, Jeff Kugel, Dale Leavitt, George Steele, Steve Rini, Darrel Kirkman and Ed Horton. Many wore the famous red hat that is awarded to land speed racers who set a record over 200-mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The Bonneville 200-Mph Club makes it hard to achieve the red hat. Not only do you have to go 200-mph, but you have to set a record as well. That makes it pretty tough if you are going after Andy Green’s 1997 record, which he set at Black Rock Desert in Nevada. If you go 762 mph, you will fail to break Green’s record AND you won’t get the red hat. My brother, David, earned the red hat in his Camaro at Bonneville in 1996. He earned the brown cap at El Mirage and Muroc for setting records over 200-mph and this award is given out by the El Mirage 200-Mph Club. He wears that red hat everywhere and lets me know it. The red hat is a badge of honor among land speed racers. Also going on at the museum was the monthly Twilight Cruise night. The parking lot was filled with hot rods and muscle cars from the 1920’s through the 1960’s. The Cal-Rod Car Club is the group that volunteers to help the museum put on this worthy car show. They also restored the Wally Parks roadster and donated it to the museum. It is a replica of a car that my father drove in the 1940’s and ‘50’s that was used to create the logo for the NHRA. Dad used to drive my cousin, John Ziebarth and myself, to the Garmar Movie Theater in Montebello along the back roads in that roadster. It was a Ford flathead powered car and it could literally fly. We had no seatbelts in the car in those days and John used to scream in delight. I mostly held onto those Ford doors that had a penchant for coming unlatched unexpectedly. That is something my cousin and I will never forget. Another thing that we will never forget is the love of speed and fine cars exhibited at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. Their website is www.nhra/museum.com.