Suede Palace is a fan favorite, especially among the young up-and-coming hot rod customizers and designers. Seven buildings, nearly five football lengths in size, hold vast treasures for the die-hard hot rodder. If that wasn’t enough, the lanes and alleys surrounding the buildings are full of additional displays and vendors. It takes a full three days of the event to see everything.
Roger and I approached the parking lot and the first person that we saw there was John Duran. John is a Cal-Rod car club member and a true hot rodder. He volunteers to help the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsport Museum and the Twilight Cruise Night, held the first Wednesday of the Month, April through December. You can expect a smile, a handshake and news about what’s happening and where to go. When we see John, we know that the rest of our stay will go smoothly and he’ll help us get our story. Perhaps there are a hundred or more Cal-Rod car club members volunteering to help put on the GNRS, and without their invaluable help, the show wouldn’t be quite the same. Greg Sharp welcomed the Media to the Museum and then Buck gave us a breakdown of the show. He introduced John Clinard, Western Region Public Affairs manager for Ford Motor Company, who spoke on the commitment of the Ford Company to continue to promote auto racing and hot rodding. Ford is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the famous Model T, which was first brought out in 1908 and became an instant success, propelling Ford to the rank of the world’s top automaker. Clinard also introduced the new Mustang line for this year. Clinard mentioned that the Ford headquarters in Irvine, California has a car show every Saturday, from 7 to 9 am and welcomes all hot rodders to come and show off their cars. John Buck then spoke to the assembled reporters and outlined the events and the exhibits in each building. Troy Trepanier was the recipient of the 2008 Builder of the Year Award. Fourteen AMBR contestants vied for this year’s top prize. There were cars owned by Hollywood celebrities and those driven in movies by actors like Cindy Williams, Bo Hopkins, Candy Clark and Paul LeMat, who were also on hand to sign autographs.
Some of the well-known customizers and car builders included Boyd Coddington, Chip Foose, John D’Agostino, Jim Noteboom and Steve Moal. There were land speed streamliners, Bonneville Salt Flats cars and vintage drag and oval track racecars. Billy F. Gibbons was on hand and went out of his way to sign autographs for his fans, except the writer, who could not get past Gibbon’s ‘handlers.’ John Buck went on to tell us about the improvements and the added attractions. The Suede Palace with the traditional hot rodders and rockabilly fans drew a lot of excitement from the spectators. The LA Roadsters, Cal Rods car club, woodies fan club, Lifestyles and many other car clubs were present at the show with a large contingent of their members and cars. Half a building was dedicated to motorcycles, some of the finest machines anywhere. Buck ended the Media session and we began to walk through the huge buildings and explore the exhibits as the spectators flowed in. Stan Chersky walked by and said, “This is one of the greatest events in Southern California since it relocated here from Northern California. I’m having a blast running into great people at the show. I took a photograph of the Dukes of Portland and it’s neat to have their picture to go with their car club plaque,” he added. Stan Chersky is one of the largest collectors of car club plaques in the world and by his own estimate, has more than 6000 in his collection, many hanging on the walls of his plant. He knows a great deal about the history of many of these car clubs and has saved these aluminum car club plaques from becoming extinct. On Saturday, the show has a special drive-in special that includes two tickets, a goodie-bag and a place right in the middle of the grounds to drive your car in and create your own car show. Jim and Sharon Thomas gave me a rundown. The cost is only $40 and it’s a fun way to spend the day with your car club friends. “This is our first cruise-in to the show. We came in our ’39 Ford Coupe and are members of the Cal Rods and Street Rods Forever car clubs.”
Hot Wheels, the maker of fine toy cars, brought two prototype and very normal sized cars; Twin Mill and Deora II. Tom Thibodeaux works for the Grand National Roadster show. “We are up to 300 plus cars and more are coming in. We have plenty of room to expand, so bring in your cars,” he said. The grounds around the buildings are huge and I could visualize how big the show could be if all the land was used. Unlike most County Fairgrounds, the area used by the Roadster show is all paved and beautifully landscaped and kept clean. Shirley and Art Goldstrum were visiting from Las Vegas. We call her Goldie and she and Art are two of the nicest people and avid supporters of hot rodding and drag racing. They attend all of the big events and look for auctions to support need racing charities. They collected a museum full of cars and racing memorabilia. They have accumulated so much in fact that they decided to open up their own museum in the ‘town that never sleeps.’ John Duran, our friend from the Cal Rods car club came over to give us some suggestions as to what was going on. It really pays to have an inside man to give you the skinny on the latest developments. Don Montgomery came over to the Hot Rod Hot Line booth. Don is a prolific writer on the early hot rod scene in Southern California and has self-produced 8 books, selling 40,000 copies in all. You could say that all 8 books taken together constitute “The Bible” of hot rodding. Mary Ann and Jack Lawford drove all the way to the show from Boise, Idaho, to set up their booth and publicize their website www.hotrodhotline.com. They’re super people and have given hot rodders everywhere a home to post articles and photographs of thousands of shows throughout the United States and the rest of the world. They’ve created additional websites to help us get the word out on hot rodding and early land speed, dry lakes and Bonneville racing at www.landspeedracing.com. “We’ve come to meet our friends in Southern California,” they told me. I watched as the other vendors, car exhibitors and spectators came by to say hello to the Lawfords.’
Jim Clark came from Veyo, Utah to see the show and meet the Lawfords.’ Clark is a partner in the Tex Smith Libraries. He’s worked for Tom McMullen and many other publishing houses and got involved in running businesses based on his friendship with the legendary McMullen. “I could tell you a ton of stories about Tom,” and then Clark went right on and told them to me. Hour after hour the friendly and outgoing man related one story after another. He mentioned various racers, famous and infamous events and the court battles of a by-gone age. Clark was a major player in the McMullen/Argus Publishing firm. Nowadays he publishes books for Tex Smith’s company. Tex is a legendary character in his own right and the former partner of Tom McMullen. I asked Clark why there hasn’t been a book written on this period in history. He gave me a wink, so maybe there will be one. The motorcycle show was a show in itself and if it’s possible, ought to be expanded. Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles were major displays. There were custom, chopped, traditional, trikes and other variations of the standard bikes on display, with the other half of the building devoted to muscle cars. The cycle guys deserve to have an entire building of their own. They were far too reserved. The excitement builds when each group has their own building and can focus all their energies on what they love the most. Each of the seven buildings had their own theme, yet there was a mixture of all sorts of cars for variety. On display in each of the buildings, except for the Suede Palace, were customs, muscle cars, lowriders, convertibles, trucks, bikes, cars from the ‘30’s, ‘40’s, ‘50’s, ‘60’s and later. One of the buildings contained cars from the ‘teens and 1920’s, woodies, several car clubs and a unique car called “Lifestyle Casino.” This car is a high-rollers dream. The extra-long doors fold down, not from the left to the right. Once the doors fold down, gamblers can play roulette or craps on the felt-lined ‘gambling tables.’ The ’79 Lincoln is owned by Joe Ray, from Santa Fe Springs, California. The rear of the car has a roulette wheel as a divider between the seats. Two slot machines were built into the trunk. About two dozen people can gamble at any one time in, on and beside this beautifully designed ‘gambling palace.’
One excellent holdover from past shows is the model car contest, which is now in its third year and run by Russ Price. John Buck met Russ three years ago at the Route 66 Rendezvous and was so impressed that he asked Price to organize a model car building exhibit. All ages are eligible to bring in their model cars and put them on display. There are sixteen different judging categories and ‘best of show,’ and the competition is hot. First place winners receive a plaque, with the second and third place winners receiving show ribbons. “I built model cars as a kid; it was a good winter hobby. I love the whole car culture, it’s in my blood,” Price explained. “I’m working on a full scale car right now,” he continued. In another part of the building was Manny Asadurian’s 1973 Cadillac. Manny is from Moorpark, California and his “Imagination” caddie is long, sleek and a modern version of the classic style. Building 9 housed some outstanding land speed record setting race cars. Ron Main exhibited his streamliner and had a few quotes for me. “Gray Baskerville came by one time and said that I had the best running engine, but the crappiest looking hot rod. That got me thinking about engineering, construction and design. That’s when I decided to build the lakester.” Ron is a member of the Sidewinders car club in the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) and a long-time land speed racer. He is also an avid collector of everything having to do with hot rods. Maybe the term is hot rod addict. He had old movie posters and other memorabilia about the B movies of long ago, especially those showing how the hot rods looked. He began buying movies at auctions, garage sales and other collectors. Soon he had an impressive collection of films on all aspects of car racing and hot rodding. Ron created ‘Main Attractions’ and set about copying and selling these movies to other interested collectors and hot rod fans. Cancer made him ill and his wife gave him an ultimatum to sell the films or his race cars. “My wife said it was the movies or the car-caine, which is what hot rodders term an addiction to cars. There was no way I was going to give up racing,” he told me. Ron’s health has returned and he is busier than ever building and racing his streamliner.
Eric Rickman stopped by on his motor scooter. Eric is nearing 90 years of age and has been honored by so many organizations that he has to keep it on his business cards. He is worthy of all of these honors. One of the first and among the best of the photographers, he has covered land speed racing, boats, drags, motorcycles and oval track racing, Rickman has been photographing events for almost 7 decades. He’s worked for all the big publications and was one of the first at Hot Rod Magazine. “I covered the Catalina Motorcycle race backwards,” he said. “Wilson Springer, from the Los Angeles Times drove his motorcycle and I sat on the back, facing backwards, filming the bikes as they overtook us,” he related. ‘Landspeed’ Louise Ann Noeth came by and said hello. ‘Landspeed’ as she is called is one of the most respected journalists who has covered the great racing events and is now the PR for the Steve Fossett Landspeed racing team. She has written one of the best books ever written to explain the sport of land speed time trials, an effort more than a sport, to race cars against the clock and not against other racers. Dave McClelland, the voice of the NHRA and an announcer in auto racing, was talking to Ed Justice Jr. Dave was discovered in the South and auditioned for the job of announcer for the NHRA drag races. He wasn’t sure whether they would hire him as his southern drawl seemed to be a disadvantage. They gave him the job and he has endeared himself to fans everywhere. Ed Justice Jr is the President of Justice Brothers Car Care Products and the son of Ed Justice Sr and nephew of Zeke and Gus Justice. JB Products has sponsored racers and racing for over five decades. Ed has a nationally syndicated car racing radio show and he was out taping and photographing for material. Skip Hedrich brought his C-Gas land speed streamliner, called the ‘American Eagle.’ His sleek and long car has gone 323mph to set the record in its class. With him was Lynn Goodfellow, who lives in Boulder City, Nevada. Lynn races in the B/Diesel class at Bonneville and has a top speed of 242mph. He’s working on another land speed project, but swore me to secrecy. He raced with Larry Lee, son of Marvin Lee, the first vice-president of the NHRA. Randy Fish said hello as he photographed his way down the aisle. Randy is the Editor of Drag Racer Magazine and a great photographer.
Gone Racin’ is at [email protected].