The rich history of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) is kept alive year by year as land speed enthusiasts race on the dry lakes of Southern California and at the Bonneville Salt Flats of western Utah. Every year after the season ends in November the officials and volunteers meet to organize the awards banquet that is held in January of the following year. This year the awards banquet was held on January 29, 2011 at the Westminster Rose Center, in Westminster, California to celebrate and honor those men and women who have set records or served with distinction. Roger Rohrdanz and I were not certain that we would be able to attend as that weekend was full with important events. We had spent three exhausting, but exhilarating days at the Grand National Roadster Show, at the Los Angeles Fairplex in Pomona. In addition, there was a special celebration of life for a good friend and land speed racer, Vince Davis in Corona, California. As the time drew near my brother, David Parks, drove out to be with Karen Davis and to pay our respects and Roger and I wearily made the trip out to the SCTA banquet. The land speed racers had already arrived and the event was starting when we drove up. Frank Acosta and Marion Deist from Deist Safety offered us a place at their table as the room was packed. Shortly thereafter Lou Senter and Bob Leggio arrived and Frank graciously offered them a place as well. Marion is the owner of Deist Safety and co-founder of the company with her late husband, Jim Deist. There isn’t a finer lady in all of motorsports than Marion. The Deists have always gone out of their way to help people in land speed racing and they were there this night to show their support to straight-line racing.
Frank Acosta is the general manager and right hand man in the company. We see him at many racing functions and he is always so supportive. Lou Senter founded Ansen Automotive, a speed equipment company that has a legendary following among hot rodders and racers. Though he has been out of the business for some time, Lou is accorded a senior statesman’s role among hot rodders. Bob Leggio is Lou’s right hand man and driver. Wherever Lou goes, Bob takes him there. But Leggio is also well-known in his own right as the insurance guy that writes the policies that allow the association and racers to do what they do. He’s a cool dude too, because if I made a living doing what Leggio does I would have ulcers by now. The bench racing came to a close and dinner commenced. The food was Haut Cuisine, which means citified, small, very delicious and completely unlike the greasy fast foods that land speed guys are normally accustomed to. Actually, food is usually an afterthought when guys are racing, or it was in my family. My father could never understand why my brother and I asked for food at the lakes. Wasn’t the racing enough? We learned to eat when food was available and to eat as many calories as we could, for we didn’t quite know when we would eat again. Thus you now know about our poor eating habits. But this was the banquet and there were wives present, so we put aside our petty, selfish opinion about French culinary recipes and picked up a fork; one of many put out on the table to confuse us.
I looked around the room and noticed a few people; Jim Miller, Ron Main, George Poteet, a group of Boy Scouts of America officials visiting from Salt Lake City, Mark Brazeau and more. Main and Poteet run some of the fastest cars anywhere and they are imposing figures. George has this southern accent and passion for fast cars. Everywhere you look he is involved in some sort of racing enterprise. Ron is an eclectic creator. He seems to never be satisfied with second best and half the time he’s not even happy with being the best. He created a movie business and collected an awesome volume of Hollywood collectibles. He builds some fast cars. He is knowledgeable on so many subjects and you don’t want to mention politics to him; unless of course you have a few hours to kill. They were sponsoring a troop of Boy Scouts from a council in Salt Lake City and you could tell how much they admired the youth who also admired them in return. This is the way that land speed racing should go; bring in the young people and watch them rise to the challenge. New blood in LSR can never hurt us. Jim Miller is the President of the Society of Land Speed Racing Historians and a researcher, archivist, photographer and writer. He doesn’t have a life; all his time is dedicated to racing history and the SCTA. He’s a third generation racer and his pedigree is blue-blood auto racing. When I stop, because I’m tired and cross, Jim keeps on going. The best time to reach him for a conversation is sometime after midnight. Mark Brazeau sells videotapes of the racing on the lakes and Bonneville. Or he sells a few, most he gives away. If there’s a need for an auction, raffle, fundraiser or other worthy cause he’s your man. He’s as dedicated as they come and next to Miller I doubt that he ever sleeps.
That seems to be a normal thing for land speed racing people; they’re always at it and they never seem to tire. It might be the salt or the El Mirage dust that gives people a boost of energy and keeps them moving. I continued to scan the room and noticed Zane McNary, George (who lost his arm in an accident), Chico Kodama, Matt Williams, Tim Rochlitzer, Joann Carlson, Mike Manghelli, Van and Cathy Butler, Jerry Cornelison, Bob and Judy Sights, Glenn Freudenberger, Keith Allen, Art and Goldy (Shirley) Goldstrum, Dana Wilson, Mike Waters, Len Jones, Derek McLeish, and a lot of people that I know that I know, but my mind simply fogged over from the events of the day. Zane has landspeedphotos.com and provides great photographs of the events that he sells. Without Zane we would have gaps in our knowledge. I feel so foolish forgetting fellow Gear Grinder George’s last name. He is always the first to greet me and offer a pat on the back. Chico Kodama works at Mooneyes and was over at the Grand National Roadster Show with some gorgeous young models manning the Mooneyes booth. Matt Williams and Tim Rochlitzer came down from the Santa Barbara area and represented the Gold Coast Roadster & Racing Club. They will soon be putting on their annual Gas-UP Party and Dry Lakes Racers Hall of Fame Awards presentation, in Buellton, California at the Mendenhall Petroleum Museum. Joann Carlson is one of those sweet ladies who volunteer their time to keep the association going and to help with many of the auxiliary groups that are so valuable. Mike Manghelli is a past President of the SCTA and a very likable guy. At least my father said so and that’s the stamp of approval in our family.
Van and Cathy Butler are Gear Grinders, close to my heart and wonderful people. You couldn’t ask for a more supportive pair and good racers. Jerry Cornelison is the historian and secretary for the Road Runners, a club that my father, Wally Parks, used to belong to. Ak Miller was another hallmark name in the club. Jerry keeps the records and searches for more history. He sends me some very cool reports that he finds in his searches. Cornelison is an A-One historian and we need many more like him. Bob and Judy Sights are also Gear Grinders and a more likable pair of hard working club officials you will never find. They are working on the Gear Grinders banquet and club awards party and always extend us an invitation. Glenn Freudenberger is a Hall of Fame member of the Gold Coast Roadster & Racing Club’s Dry Lakes Racers Hall of Fame. He deserves it for all the work that he has done. Glenn is getting ready to host his Northwest Bonneville Hall of Fame Banquet. Keith Allen is another Dry Lakes Racers Hall of Fame, who is known as a ferocious competitor who has a sense of humor that keeps the rest of us on our toes. Art and Shirley (known affectionately as Goldy) Goldstrum come from Las Vegas to attend the Grand National Roadster Show and then support the SCTA Awards banquet. Art and Shirley have a museum in Las Vegas that is huge and they spend a lot of time and money finding cars and collectibles to fill it up.
Dana Wilson and Mike Waters are better known and feared as Wilson and Waters. I’ve never understood why they aren’t known as Waters and Wilson. Mike was a well-known drag boat racer and official back when everyone wanted to go drag boat racing in the old NDBA. In those days car drag racing was dirty and dusty. All the good looking girls went to see the drag boats race, next to the cool waters and glistening sands and the party life. I could always count on Mike to help me out when I ran the Boat Racers Reunion. The Wilson and Waters roadster went tooth and nail with other great racing teams, including the Jack and Mark Mendenhall roadster. Len Jones and Derek McLeish are Gear Grinders. You hear a lot about the Gear Grinders and that’s because they’re a huge club and they let everybody join, even me once. They are also receptive to motorcycle racers and encourage the bike guys and gals, as if they needed any encouragement. Derek takes great pleasure in winning and once won a prize for the fastest time with the smallest motor. He showed it to us once. It fit into his palm and then he bent his fingers over and around the tiny power plant. We finished with our dinner and some of us figured out what the second and third forks were for. A raffle started that would go throughout the night. Then a thirty minute video from Mark Brazeau came on and the crowd moaned, laughed, sighed and groaned, depending on whom was crashing, winning, losing or blowing up.
The video ended and Don Ferguson III came to the podium. Affectionately called Three or The Third, Don represents a well-known family within the SCTA and is part of the new blood that members have been looking for. With a ready smile and a self-effacing manner of give and take, he made the audience and guests feel at ease. I will admit that many of his humorous quips were inside jokes, but we laughed anyway. He thanked everyone who helped with the races and meets throughout the year. He would return to the podium on several occasions and re-thank the volunteers; Don is one of those leaders that is so supportive and agreeable. Russ Eyres took the microphone on behalf of the Save the Salt committee and in his normally blunt fashion got right to the point; “We’ve had it with the salt companies and we’ve hired a lawyer to pursue them until they put more salt back on the course.” You always know where you stand with Russ. Three retook the mike and announced some award winners. I simply couldn’t write fast enough to get them all, but hopefully I got the top awards down. The 2010 High Points Club award went to the San Diego Roadster Club and somewhere in the hereafter I could feel Bozzie Willis smiling on the salt flats in the sky. The fastest car was the Costella/Yacoucci/Pappas/Stevens entry. The fastest bike was the Noonan/Derwin/Moreland motorcycle. A groan went up amongst the crowd as the realization that John Noonan would soon be taking the microphone. The fastest car driver was Rick Yacoucci. The fastest motorcycle rider was John Noonan (more groans). About 45 plaques and another 50 trophies remained to be given out. This was going to be a long night. Noonan was to win many of the awards and speak at great length.
John Noonan is land speed racing’s version of drag racing’s John Force. Personable and likeable, it is impossible not to tease him and he knows how to yank the rope back. Like Force, John Noonan knows how to put his foot into his mouth, but he isn’t mean and he’s one of the great motorcycle racers of all time. The groans weren’t made as an insult, but to kid John and maybe to inspire him to more outrageous comments. I like Noonan; he’s so quotable and I always get a story out of him. The audience has that moan down pat too; anytime Noonan gets close to the mike the room shakes with groans. Three began to mention the high points winner for the season and the crowd hushed. They knew what was coming and they were poised for a landmark never seen before. The winner was Miriam MacMillan and she would match Noonan award for award. Not only was Miriam the first woman to ever win the High Points Championship, but she did it in convincing fashion while holding down jobs in the SCTA, helping everyone who needed help, and managing a job and home. Hands down she was the crowd favorite tonight. Miriam is a native New Zealander and very modest. “I was blest with great sponsors, a great crew and a great team effort. Thanks to all the Rod Riders for their help this season,” she told the throng. She failed to mention that she was the driver and she flat-out earned that award. Top Bike Points Champion went to David Isley. “I did pray for rain the last two meets,” he said as the crowd broke into laughter and applause. “This coming year we are going over to the dark side and run a rear-engine car,” and the audience roared and laughed as Isley spoke.
Three turned the mike over to Judy Sights who represented the El Mirage Ladies Auxiliary as she thanked one and all for their support over the past year. Three then called Judy back to give a report on the new SCTA Scholarship committee. $10,000 was raised by the committee to award scholarship to worthy young students and to encourage the next generation to consider a career in the motorsports field. Three then continued the raffle and also an auction. Big prizes and substantial money was raised. Three called David Freiburger to the podium to award the Hot Rod magazine Trophy. Freiburger gave a brief history of the award and told us how Wally Parks as General Manager of the SCTA ordered the trophy in 1949 from Hollywood Trophies. I can remember those days and suddenly Freiburger made me feel really old. The winner of the Hot Rod magazine trophy for the fastest time at Bonneville was the Poteet and Main Team. Ron Main and George Poteet took the stand and then George dedicated, but did not give the trophy to the Salt Lake City Council of the Boy Scouts of America special needs troop. The BSA officials were honored to receive a special plaque from Poteet and Main and explained how they created a special merit badge showing the race car on the Bonneville Salt Flats. They told us about the great enthusiasm of these special need scouts and how motivated they were to be part of the race team.
Freiburger presented the Hot Rod magazine Fastest Driver of the Year to John Noonan. The audience was visibly moving to and fro as they realized that Freiburger was about to hand the mike to Noonan. “I want to thank all the volunteers in the SCTA for making it possible for me to race. The course wasn’t the best, but the racing certainly was. I want to thank all the sponsors, manufacturers, the people who came to watch me race and the BLM,” said a beaming and happy Noonan. Freiburger sensed an opening and reached for the microphone, but Noonan was not to be denied. “I’m not done,” John said and protected the mike with a shoulder block worthy of an NBA player. “We bring in new blood every year to the organization. I want to thank Miriam MacMillan who has really stepped up and volunteered this year. I’m so thankful for the ride. Oh, my God, it’s not often that I’m speechless like this. This trophy is so cool. I proposed to Michelle and she said YES,” Noonan gushed. Michelle said something from the audience and Freiburger finally wrestled the microphone away. We were that close to another great quote, but John would reach the podium again and we would get our story. Three announced the winner of the Multi Aldrich Award. “The Multi Aldrich Man of Distinction Award for the year goes to the biggest so-and-so and that man is Ron Main,” Three blurted out. The crowd roared as Main took the stand and acknowledged that he indeed was deserving of the award. The Gear Grinders car club awarded their Gary Cagle Award for excellence to Don Ferguson III and Three accepted it graciously. “I’d like to thank the Gear Grinders for this honor, which the whole SCTA board deserves as well,” said Three.
Roy Creel presented an award from the Super Fours car club for the fastest speed attained in a 4 cylinder car to Greg Martinez. “I’d like to thank the Super Fours and all the SCTA volunteers,” said Martinez. Van Butler presented the Wheels of Fame award. “The Wheels of Fame award was started by Eldon Snapp, who designed the award to honor those who supported the SCTA,” Butler told us. He then announced the winner; John Noonan, who bolted from his seat and eyed the microphone. “I race to go fast, race for my club and race for the points. But this year we raced for the best speed. I’m really emotional and I seem like a cocky guy, but I’m really humble,” Noonan sang out as the crowd sat stunned. “I want to thank Michelle for all that she has done. The SCTA recently lost Willie Buchta and we are trying to help Sherrie through this difficult time. We also lost Vickie Spring too. I want to thank the BLM as well for a job well done,” Noonan said and the crowd was behind him now. “Let’s keep this going for another sixty years,” Noonan waved to the crowd. Mike Waters presented another Wheels of Fame award in memory of Jack Kelly, who recently passed away. George Poteet presented a third Wheels of Fame Award to Ron Main. “I read Hot Rod magazine as soon as I could read and fell in love with this sport. You’re all wonderful people and I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Main commented. John Myer awarded 200 MPH jackets and awards to Greg Waters, Ralph Hudson and Doug MacMillan. The Wrench of the Year Award was presented to John Noonan. “Oh, my God! I didn’t think they’d give it to me. Thank you all and those that work so much, just to everyone here tonight. It takes a lot to make me shut up,” as John handed the microphone back to Third. The crowd relented with a heartfelt cheer.
The Rookie of the Year Award was given to Rod Brissette. Judy Sights presented the Vera Aldrich Award for the woman who exemplifies that special spirit of help to Miriam MacMillan and the audience clapped and seconded the honor. “It really means something to follow Judy Sights who won the award last year. I want to thank all the ladies who volunteer their help and work so hard. This award is for everyone,” Miriam exclaimed. Roy Creel presented the Meb Healey Trophy to Nathan Stewart. “I’m truly honored. I’m thirty years old so this is my thirtieth year of involvement. I want to thank Mike and Annette Stewart for starting me on this path,” Nathan concluded. Third came to the stand and announced to the assembled throng that the last award of the night was the prestigious Pete Dean Award for Sportsmanship. This award was originally called the Arthur C. Tilton Award and was named after the founding secretary of the SCTA who perished in a military airplane crash. The first recipient of the award was Tony Capanna, who gave up the chance to win the High Points Championship in 1946 in a gesture of support for the eventual winner that year, Randy Shinn. The name of the award was later changed to the Pete Dean Award. Third asked Bill Lattin to come to the podium and accept this award. “WOW,” said Bill, “I didn’t expect any of this.” A long pause and deep breaths followed until Bill caught a second wind and the audience hooted and hollered for him to speak. “I don’t know what to say. Is this the last award of the night?” With timing that any Hollywood actor would love to have, Bill Lattin ended the SCTA Awards Banquet with these words, “Well let’s GO HOME,” and the crowd roared their approval. Third thanked the crowd for coming and then thanked Bob Sykes Jr for finding this banquet hall. With that the crowd rose and we headed for the exits.