2010 Show Header700

Show Pictures Brought to you By
Classic Performance Products


Santa Ana Drags Reunion
Oct 2, 2010
City Orange, CA.
Story by Richard Parks, Photographs by Roger Rohrdanz

 

richardwillba roger

Richard Parks & Roger Rohrdanz

    The Santa Ana Drags and Main Street Malt Shop Reunion was held on October 2, 2010 at the park along East Memory Lane, in Orange, California. This year the event coordinator was Leslie Long, owner of Stinger Ignitions and a long time historian in dry lakes landspeed racing. Leslie also raced at the old Santa Ana drag strip near the present day airport and his hobby is collecting all the history that he can find of that storied race track. He has recorded all the race dates since the track opened in 1950 until it closed a decade later. He has photographs, time slips, newspaper entries and other memorabilia that he uses to chronicle the history of the drag strip. Then he adds the data to an extensive spreadsheet, puts that information on a disk and shares it with other historians. Leslie’s contribution to our knowledge of the drags at Santa Ana is huge. There are other people who have recorded bits and pieces of the history, but that information is spread out in hundreds of individual records and resources. Leslie’s contribution is in bringing together all these sources into one file and the work that he has done is impressive. Santa Ana drag racing will always carry a special place in the hearts of drag racers. 

   We can’t say that C. J. and Peggy Hart were the first promoters of drag racing. We also can’t say that their experiment in getting kids to stop racing on the streets and come to a sanctioned and controlled drag strip was the only program at that early day. C. J. Hart was the first drag strip operator to charge admission and to begin a codification of the understood rules into a form that we know today. He was also the most influential for the first few years of the 1950’s. Young people were racing on the streets even before WWII and after the war that form of illegal street racing became quite prevalent and even structured. Borrowing barricades from road crews the young hot rodders, or hoodlums as the local populace called them, set up their own semi-professional racing courses on streets, highways, abandoned airports and other sites. They left only when the cops were spotted or until they were caught. Chuck Griffith and the Choppers car club were active at Fontana and Colton in the late 1940’s and the Southern California Timing Association did time trials at Muroc and later at El Mirage dry lakes both before and after the war. We are finding more and more straight line racing in all parts of the country and even overseas that predated the Santa Ana drags, which officially started on July 2, 1950 and reported on in the Orange County Register on July 3rd. 

   Just what makes the Santa Ana drag strip so important if it wasn’t the first drag race? Goleta, in Santa Barbara County, had an organized race months before C. J. Hart and his two partners started Santa Ana. But few people know about Goleta or the impact that it had on drag racing. Santa Ana on the other hand had several things going for it that caught the fancy of the nation. One advantage was C. J. Hart himself. C. J. was a small man in stature, but a big man in heart and enthusiasm and after his initial success; Hart would leave his garage and devote a lifetime to the sport that he helped to create. There was something magical in C. J.’s personality that made one want to listen and accept his ideas and Hart had plenty of ideas. He codified much of the early rules the kids followed and created a safe and sanctioned place for drag racing. He knew how to handle the hotheads and the big shots with big egos. He was on the level of the young people of that time, yet he was 20 years their senior. Another thing that Hart did was charge admission and plow the proceeds back into the track for improvements and to pay rent and wages, which made this a business. Another advantage was Peggy Hart, C. J.’s wife and a real hot rodder and racer in her own right, often beating anyone who challenged her. The location was another plus. The San Diego 405 Freeway had not yet been built and Orange County was a tiny place in comparison to Los Angeles County, but it was close enough to the county seat of Santa Ana and it was easily accessible. Not only could hot rodders and young drag racers reach the track, but reporters could as well.

   It was this ability to be seen, photographed and written about that caught the gaze of a nation and within weeks of the first race there were carloads of young people coming from all over the country to see this new sport and when they went home they created their own timing associations and drag strips. The disarray and utterly chaotic drag racing scene eventually caused the National Hot Rod Association to form the Safety Safari, a roving group of professionals to tour the country and teach these new car clubs and drag racing associations how to put on professional looking drag meets. But it was the Santa Ana drags that inspired this flowering of home grown American drag racing. Perhaps the nation would have gotten their inspiration from someone else eventually, but that honor must and will always go to C. J. Hart and the Santa Ana drags. The reunion also honors the Main Street Malt Shop, where the local drag racers hung out both before and after the drag racing was at the track. Every group and car club has their special “hang out” place and the Main Street Malt Shop was the favorite place for the Santa Ana kids. Today they are in their seventies and eighties and the malt shop is long gone, but the memories remain and as long as they do that era in our early history will remain as well.

   The reunion has no fees, nor did we have to pay for parking. In the past we would bring our own picnic basket and drinks, but this time, for about the last three reunions, Gene Mitchell catered the food and provided it to us for free. Mitchell owns a garage over in Anaheim, California and he loves hot rodding history. This was his treat to the old-timers for all that they had done to create a new American sport. The day was overcast, but the group that attended was far from gloomy. In fact, it was a grand day, though the numbers of attendees has been falling precipitously from year to year and we need a few younger people to attend to keep the reunion going. Here are those that I saw at the reunion. Bill McGrath drag raced at Santa Ana, Riverside, Colton and other places in the late 1950’s and ‘60’s in the stock class with a ’58 Ford. He also participated in open wheel racing at Sebring, Daytona Beach and Watkin’s Glen. “I moved to Santa Ana in the 1950’s and kept hearing the noise from my house and one day I finally drove around and found out where they were drag racing,” McGrath told me. He also said that he is not related to the McGraths in open wheel or land speed racing that he knows of. Kris Klingaman told me that he raced his VW on the drag strips and remembers the old street racing days. Otto Ryssman came from Arizona and hardly ever misses a reunion. Otto raced a model-A coupe and an early flathead dragster, although the dragsters in those days are far removed from what you see on the drag strips today. Otto was a name in those days and except for an accident where a fan died from parts that came off his car, would have continued in the sport. While he raced there were few who could beat him and he established himself as one of the best drag racers in the country. 

   John Albert remembered when he and his friends used to drag race down Main Street in Santa Ana. The county of Orange wasn’t as large back then. It had a population of only 212,000 in 1956 and there was plenty of room and roads to race on back then. Bob Jaques raced at the Santa Ana drags from 1952 through ’54 with Jazzy Nelson and sometimes against him. No one was famous then; they were all just kids having fun. Jaques also raced at the Pomona drag strip. I talked to Gene Mitchell and asked him about his garage. “I have a general garage and do a lot of fleet work repairs. I also build drag cars for racing and street rods. I’m working on a ’70 Shelby, Cobra, Pantera and a Willy’s Jeep right now. I have 12 employees and the name of the garage is Gene’s Automotive in Anaheim,” he told me. “These are the real pioneers of drag racing,” Mitchell added. “They figured out how to make things run,” said Gene enthusiastically. A familiar face was Chet Vetter, who raced at Santa Ana on opening day and was an original member of the CRA just after the Second World War ended in 1945. “I joined the CRA in 1946,” he told me. He and Walt James were good friends. I hope to see Chet at the Legends of Ascot Reunion at Perris Automotive Speedway on October 23, 2010. 

   Another fascinating character is Hardy Allen. Whenever I see this bear of a man with the ready smile I always say to him, “Why it’s Hardy Allen, or is it Allen Hardy, I can never remember,” and Hardy beams that huge grin of his. “It’s whatever you want as long as you call me for supper,” he says. Hardy is one of those faces that you see everywhere and who knows everyone, but for some reason you just don’t know much about him, but you suspect that he is important. So I asked him, “Hardy, why are you so famous?” No one is quite as gregarious and friendly as Hardy, but he can also be quite humble and he usually replies, “No, I’m not.” I got him to talking about his past. He started out like the rest of the hot rodders, working on cars and in shops. He worked for Sam Hanks and Billy Wilkerson and was introduced him to A. J. Foyt, who asked Hardy to relocate to Texas and work on his crew. “Hardy, you gotta come to Texas and work on my crew,” said Foyt. Hardy responded, “But A. J. there ain’t no black people in Texas,” said Hardy, who is African/American. Hardy went to work for Foyt and was there at the Indy 500 when Foyt won his three titles. Hardy Allen or Allen Hardy lights up the room no matter what you call him. 

   Pat Berardini Senior, Pat Berardini Junior and Susan Berardini Foshee told me about Pat and Tony Berardini’s experiences at Santa Ana back in the 1950’s. The Berardini Brothers won many of their races and set records in their class. They were feared competitors and Pat’s roadster was named one of Ford’s all time ’32 Deuce cars at the Grand National Roadster show in 2007. Al Teague came to the reunion. He raced with George Bentley and Earl Evans at the dry lakes and Bonneville. Teague set the land speed record in his streamliner class in 1991 with a speed of 409 mph. Al and Jane Teague are still involved in the SCTA. Jane’s brother, Alan Welch passed away several years ago and I mention his name because he was so influential with so many car and boat racing teams over the years that even today, we miss Alan. Bernie Couch raced at Santa Ana drags. “I only raced once though, in 1950, but I was there. I did 134 mph at El Mirage racing in the California Roadster Club, which was known as the old Knightriders of Fullerton. Then I became a member of the Strokers car club. I knew Ed Adams, who was the first president of the SCTA, though he was older than I was. Adams went to Fullerton High School and learned something about the Hallock windshields that were being built there by Duke Hallock. He helped build some of the windshields that Duke and his brother Jud made for the local hot rodders and which were quite popular. I was only thirteen at the time Adams was around. Soon after Ed moved to Arizona and got involved in the foundry business. I remember going to Muroc dry lake for the June, 1941 meet,” Bernie told me.

   Roy and Barbara Price were present with their son, David Price. Roy raced at Santa Ana around 1956 through ’58. He also built sprint cars and a motorcycle streamliner which he raced at Bonneville in 1960. David Price builds sprint cars for oval track racing. Diane Vandenberg told me that she was one of many women to race at Santa Ana in the 1950’s and did so with some success. “I was there from opening day and raced at Santa Ana until they closed the track. My family’s name was Carmelo and we were all involved in racing back then. My mother was Mary Carmelo and she raced stock cars at Santa Ana. Peggy Hart was another woman who raced successfully at Santa Ana; she was C. J.’s wife and a good racer. I used to street race a lot and we also raced at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley, California. My family was really into racing and we went to all the races; circle tracks, jalopy racing, sprint cars and drag racing,” Diane exclaimed. Sam Hollingsworth told me that he was with Bob Jaques and had never attended Santa Ana, but feels like he knows what it is like after attending the reunion. Ed Farrell is a member of the Lakers car club, a member club of the SCTA and a good friend of my brother, David Parks. Ed remembers being at Santa Ana in 1952 with Ronnie Bush who drove an early slingshot dragster with a flathead engine. “The axle broke loose and parts bounced up into the crowd. I won 72 trophies and drove a fuel car while drag racing. I left drag racing and sold my dragster to “Muffler Tom” Steinbreaker, then went off road racing. 1948 was the first time that I went to El Mirage. I also raced at Long Beach, Santa Ana, Pomona, Colton, Saugus, Bakersfield and other tracks while I was drag racing,” Farrell added. His career in drag racing spanned the early years from 1950 through 1962. He remembered street racing with Joe Reath in El Monte. He race at the dry lakes in 1951 with the Dusters car club, which was part of the old Russetta Timing Association. He also raced at Bonneville in 1951. He joined the Lakers car club around 1990.

   Robert Jewell is one of the oldest members of the old drags. “I bought my ’32 roadster in 1941 and I’ve had it ever since. I was in the navy in WWII with the LCIG and took the Marines off the ships and delivered them to the fighting on the beach. I raced at El Mirage from 1947 until 1991 and at Bonneville too. I was there at the Santa Ana drags on opening day in July 1950 and I also raced at Lions,” said Bob, who is 87 years young this year. Rich Childers also raced at Santa Ana in 1950 with his 1940 Ford Coupe. Terry Shaw was a second generation attendee. “My father’s name was Robert Shaw and he raced at Santa Ana back in the 1950’s, but I never saw him run,” Terry told me. Terry would like to find out all that he could about his father and this is a common request among many of the younger people who attended. We are all looking for a photograph, letter, timing tag, time slip or other document that can give us a little more history about our elusive ancestors. Jim Donoho’s stepfather was Gordie Williams, who raced at Santa Ana and was an original Bungholer car club member. Jim was also looking for history. Chris Eichert was another young man looking for history. His father was Kenny Eichert. Kenny and my uncle Kenny Parks were South Gate Gaters and shared a history in land speed, drag racing and oval track and jalopy racing. Bob Caverly hung out at the Santa Ana drags and sponsored his brother, Tom Caverly’s car, in the early 1950’s. The reunion drew to a close and Roger Rohrdanz called everyone together to get a group photograph and this time they included the second generation. I’m in the yellow Hawaiian shirt on the right.
Gone Racin’ is at [email protected] 


Click on Photos to Enlarge

IMG_0293AA

The event coordinator was Leslie Long.

IMG_0296AA

Bill McGrath drag raced at Santa Ana, Riverside, Colton and other places in the late 1950’s and ‘60’s in the stock class with a ’58 Ford.

IMG_0297AA

Otto Ryssman came from Arizona and hardly ever misses a reunion. Otto raced a model-A coupe and an early flathead dragster, although the dragsters in those days are far removed from what you see on the drag strips today. While he raced there were few who could beat him and he established himself as one of the best drag racers in the country.

IMG_0298AA

John Albert remembered when he and his friends used to drag race down Main Street in Santa Ana. The county of Orange wasn’t as large back then. It had a population of only 212,000 in 1956.

IMG_0302A

Bob Jaques raced at the Santa Ana drags from 1952 through ’54 with Jazzy Nelson and sometimes against him.

IMG_0303AA

 

IMG_0304AA

Another fascinating character is Hardy Allen. Hardy is one of those faces that you see everywhere and who knows everyone, but for some reason you just don’t know much about him, but you suspect that he is important.

IMG_0307AA

Pat Berardini Senior, and Susan Berardini Foshee told me about Pat and Tony Berardini’s experiences at Santa Ana back in the 1950’s. The Berardini Brothers won many of their races and set records in their class. They were feared competitors and Pat’s roadster was named one of Ford’s all time ’32 Deuce cars at the Grand National Roadster show in 2007

IMG_0308AA

Bernie Couch, “I only raced once though, in 1950, but I was there.

IMG_0309AA

A familiar face was Chet Vetter, who raced at Santa Ana on opening day and was an original member of the CRA just after the Second World War ended in 1945. 

IMG_0315AA

Al Teague came to the reunion. He raced with George Bentley and Earl Evans at the dry lakes and Bonneville. Teague set the land speed record in his streamliner class in 1991 with a speed of 409 mph.

IMG_0317AA

Gene Mitchell catered the food and provided it to us for free. Mitchell owns a garage over in Anaheim, California and he loves hot rodding history.

IMG_0318AA

Ed Farrell is a member of the Lakers car club, and a good friend of my brother, David Parks. Ed remembers being at Santa Ana in 1952 with Ronnie Bush who drove an early slingshot dragster with a flathead engine

IMG_0327AA

 

IMG_0319AA

Rich Childers raced at Santa Ana in 1950 with his 1940 Ford Coupe.

IMG_0321AA

Robert Jewell is one of the oldest members of the old drags. “I bought my ’32 roadster in 1941 and I’ve had it ever since. I was there at the Santa Ana drags on opening day in July 1950 and I also raced at Lions,” said Bob, who is 87 years young this year.

IMG_0323AA

Jim Donoho’s stepfather was Gordie Williams, who raced at Santa Ana and was an original Bungholer car club member. Jim was also looking for history.

IMG_0324AA

Ron Woodside.

IMG_0325AA

Dave Cook was on-hand.

IMG_0333AA

Bob Caverly hung out at the Santa Ana drags and sponsored his brother, Tom Caverly’s car, in the early 1950’s.

IMG_0326AA

A little “shop talk” and sharing memories.

IMG_0331AA

The Santa Ana Drags and Main Street Malt Shop Reunion drew to a close and they gathered together to get a group photograph. Today they are in their seventies and eighties and the malt shop is long gone, but the memories remain and as long as they do that era in our early history will remain as well.

 

 

 

 

[Home Page] [2010 Show Coverage] [Classifieds] [Press Releases] [Vendor Directory]
[Buyers Guide] [New Products] [Barn & Field Cars] [Blast to the Past] [Book Reviews]
[Build Articles] [Club Directory] [Event Listings] [From our Friends] [Garage Shots]
[Guest Columnists] [www.hotrodhotline.com/md] [Newsletter Archive] [Our Heroes]
[Order a Catalog] [Rodders Forum] [Rodders Row] [Shop Tours]
[Young Rodders] [Advertising Information] [Modern Rods]

Copyright 1999 - 2010 Hot Rod Hot Line All Rights Reserved
No Portion May Be Used Without Our Written Permission
Contact Us Toll Free (877) 700-2468 (US) or (208) 562-0470 (Outside US)
230 S. Cole Rd, Boise, ID 83709

mailbox