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Richard Parks

Gone Racin’

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Story By Richard Parks and Pictures By Roger Rohrdanz

Gone Racin’…To say goodbye to C.J. Hart

It is inevitable in racing, that we must bid farewell to our friends and heroes. July 1, 2004, we paid our respects to one of the greats of auto racing, C.J. Hart. His full name was Cloyce Hart, and he took the name Joe in an attempt to hide from an angry father. C.J. became his name and he was a paradox for us. A kind and fatherly type of man, he could also set standards and refuse to cross the line.Born in 1911, he ran away to join the circus, came west with his bride, best friend and fellow car racer, Mary Margaret “Peggy” Hart. They formed a team that could not be broken, even by Peggy’s untimely death in 1980. 

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CJ “Pappy” Hart (on the left)

 Born in 1911, he ran away to join the circus, came west with his bride, best friend and fellow car racer, Mary Margaret “Peggy” Hart. They formed a team that could not be broken, even by Peggy’s untimely death in 1980. C.J. was affectionately called Pappy, and for good reason, for most of the racers were at least a decade his junior. Hart worked in a gas station, then left to form a garage with a friend in Santa Ana. The depression in the 1930’s was hard. Hard on men and hard on their families, but C.J. and Peggy found a way to raise a family and still do what they loved to do, and that was race cars.

Hart was eager to stop illegal street racing among the young men after World War II, and get the kids off the streets.  He and two friends, Creighton Hunter and Frank Stillwell got permission from the authorities to open a dragstrip on an old abandoned airstrip that has since become John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. Pappy literally had to invent the rules for drag racing. His track was not the first, because a club had formed a race at Goleta in 1949, but Hart was the first to charge admission and to consistently award prizes and trophies and to codify the rules. He decided on a quarter mile distance after watching the quarter horses run at horse tracks. A quarter mile distance also allowed plenty of room for stopping the cars. Running a drag strip turned into a lifetime avocation and  Hart created a venue, and a system that was copied by people from all over the country. People came out to the West Coast to observe this new racing phenomena, and then went home to start up timing associations, as they were called, in nearly every part of the country.

Distinctly American, this sport has grown and prospered. Sanctioning bodies formed to carry on what Hart had started and over time the rules were modified and became the sport of Drag Racing as we know it today. Pappy went on to run drag strips at Lions in Long Beach, Famoso Raceway, north of Bakersfield, and worked at many other tracks in Southern California. Upon retirement, he went to work for Steve Gibbs and NHRA with their Safety Safari Team, which is the group responsible for the safety of the drivers on the track. He may have retired again, but it is hard to tell, because Pappy was always at a race, a reunion or a drag racing event. It is also impossible to tell all the stories about Pappy. Drag racing and the people in his life were everything to him. 

He always had a cigar in his hand and a wispy smile on his face, just barely visible. He could chide and admonish someone who had broken the rules with such warmth and humor, that no one ever took offense. He was terse. His advice was short and to the point. When someone was losing a fight, he blurted out the sage help, “don’t get up, dummy.” When he caught someone breaking the rules, he would say “Cheater, don’t do it again.” Years later he would see the same guy and greet him with the words, “hello, cheater.” Once he was cajoled and nagged into taking a trip to Hawaii. He gave in, and went with the group, but upon landing in Honolulu, and taking one look around, went immediately back into the terminal and boarded another plane to come home. When asked about his trip to Hawaii, he exclaimed that if they tried to put one more lei around his neck he would strangle them. C.J. was a no nonsense kind of guy. He knew what he wanted and he kept focused on that goal.

It had been 24 years since he lost his best friend and wife, Peggy. She was every bit the competitor that Pappy was. She was his right arm and confidant. She was a tenacious race car driver and drove on the drag strip and at the dry lakes. Peggy did not like to be beaten. Pappy gave her the best car that he could, and Peggy drove it to victory after victory. C.J. always said that he was just biding his time until the Good Lord came to take him away to be with his darling wife. Pappy was 93 and said that he had a full and good life. He liked to joke with his friend, Wally Parks, close in age and equal in zeal for the sport of drag racing, that one or the other of them could remember Adam. They traded age jokes all the time. Pappy was an honored guest at all the reunions; the CHRR in Famoso, CRA, Car Racers Reunion, Bean Bandits, Gas-Up Party and many more. He was inducted into several Hall of Fames, and no doubt will be added to more as the years go by. His greatness came not only from his idea to create a sport that would get kids off the street, but his leadership with those kids, who would follow him anywhere. His famous quote was always, “But you got in free.”

A person’s funeral is often the measure of the man himself. Those in attendance were some of the very young people that looked up to him, and then went on to glories of their own. I saw Dale Pulde, Linda Vaughn, Gloria and Cindy Gibbs, Wally Parks, Sam Jackson, Dick Wells, Jerry Archambeault, Bob Muravez, or as we came to know him, “Floyd Lippincott Jr,” Reverend Ken Owens, Reverend Scrub Hansen, Jack Underwood, Ron Henderson, Orah Mae Millar, Pete’s widow, and her family, Doug Kruse, Louie Senter, Bob Leggio, Mousie Marcellus, Creighton and Betty Hunter, John Ewald, Dave Wallace Jr, Tommy Ivo, Donny Johansen, Hila Paulsen Sweet, Andy and Ron Marocco, Neil Britt, John McClenathan from the Bean Bandits, Big John Hunt, Ed Justice Sr and his son, Ed Jr, and many more. We will miss Pappy but he set us straight when he said, very simply, "I’m ready, it’s been a great ride, and I have no regrets.”

Gone Racin’ is at www.oilstick.com or

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