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A Visit with George Callaway
06-12-08
Biography by George Callaway and Richard Parks photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

richardparks roger

Richard & Roger

AK 025AAa

George Callaway “The Mayor of El Mirage”.

George K Callaway was born in Garden Grove, California, on September 16, 1932.  His grandfather was George Washington Callaway and the family had settled in Richfield, Utah, where his father was born.  Richfield is nestled in the Sevier River valley of central Utah.  A beautiful oasis surrounded by austere desert land.  In the 1930's, George Kenneth Callaway Sr moved to Los Angeles where he met his wife, Audrey Hunt, who was originally from Haymarket, Virginia.  Audrey studied to be a nurse and worked for a doctor in Garden Grove, California.  Though the family lived in Los Angeles, she returned to Garden Grove to deliver her son, George Kenneth Callaway Jr.  The family lived in Los Angeles until 1939, when they moved to Burbank, California, where they bought a house on a dirt street.  George's father was always called Ken, in order to avoid confusion.  George went to Lincoln Grammar School, then graduated to John Burroughs Jr High and finally to John Burroughs High School.  "I took all the usual classes in Jr high school such as metal and wood shop," George remembered.  "In High School I

wanted to be an auto shop major, but I was dropped from the auto shop and ended up in Photography.  At the time I was growing up, there was NO legal drag racing; the dry lakes were the main activities for young car nuts.  The fastest thing around 1946 or '47 was a 1925 Chevy 4 banger.  My neighbor, Dave Roberts bought this '25 Chevy roadster and we took off the fenders and muffler and ROARED up and down our DIRT street driving everyone CRAZY," he continued.  "My first trip to El Mirage was in 1949 as a spectator.  I did manage to make it out several times a year after that.  About that time the drag races at Santa Ana was starting up.  My High School buddy, Ronnie Guymon, had a channeled 1932 roadster and Santa Ana was our (almost every) Sunday entertainment," George said. 

   "In 1951 I started working at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank and had a '34 coupe with a 3/8 by 3/8 flathead.  Two years later, in 1953, a new employee by the name of Ted Worobieff came into my department.  He was only 19 and at our Coffee break we got to talking and he mentioned that he had just gotten back from running at the Bonneville Salt Flats with a '32 coupe with an Olds motor in it.  Teddy said he did not hurt the motor at Bonneville and suggested that we change the rear-end gear and take it to the Santa Ana drag races.  That Sunday evening as we drove along on the Santa Ana Freeway in the slow traffic gave us lots of time to talk and that's how our first Bonneville chopped '34 comp coupe got started.  We worked on the '34 for 8 or 9 month.  At one time we were looking into an Allison aircraft engine, but ended up with a blown Olds. The coupe was done, now we needed a trailer, so we went over to Alex Xydias' So-Cal Speed Shop and measured their trailer.  So-Cal Speed Shop had some famous land speed racing cars and equipment.  We made our trailer exactly the same as their trailer.  Our trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats took 26 hours, as the So-Cal trailer was set up for a '34 coupe with a flat head.  Our car had that blown Olds and at 45 mph the trailer we built would start to whip back and forth.  We tried putting the coupe on backwards, but that didn't help.  We blew out our last of 6 trailer tires about 65 miles out of Ely, Nevada and had to put on one of our 600X18 Indy tires to make in on in to Bendover," George told me.  Bendover is a play on words for Wendover, Nevada, the town on the border of Utah and the closest place to the famed Utah Bonneville Salt Flats for lodging, food and gas.  "On our first pass we SMOKED a rod bearing, out came the engine and we went in to Salt Lake City, Utah and had the crank turned and bought a new rod.  That was the last of our cash money, but luckily my then wife, Bonnie, went to work at a little cafe next door to Dixson's market and made enough money to buy some gas to get us back to Burbank.  We only ran the '34 coupe for 2 years, and then we ended up with Howard Johansen’s crashed Crosley," Callaway added.

   Callaway moved to Palmdale, California and lived there from 1955 to 1959.   "I raced dirt bikes in the desert and worked at Lockheed Aircraft on the F104 Star fighter.  The first year that we raced the Crosley was in 1956.  In 1958 our coupe was the first to average 200 miles per hour (mph) and Ted got into the Bonneville 200 MPH Club," said George.  The Bonneville 2 Club is a special place for those who have set a record over 200 miles per hour in their class.  You can go 299 mph, but if the record is higher than that, then you don't qualify for the club.  In those days it was very hard to get into this prestigious club, but today there are more categories and people often rent a car to set the record.  Callaway and Worobieff earned their membership by constructing their own car and racing against the best.  "In 1960 I went to work at the Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in Lompoc, California and struck up a long and lasting friendship with Tim Rochlitzer.  Tim lived in Santa Barbara and is a member of the Gold Coast Roadster and Racing Club, affiliated with the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA).  While I was working at Vandenberg, I would go to the drags at Santa Maria and that's where I met Freddy Dannenfeltzer.  In 1963 I left VAFB and moved back to Burbank and went looking for old friends.  I was a member of the Road Kings car club.  Some of my friends in that club included TV Tommy Ivo, Don Prudhomme, Bob Muravez, Don Gadie and Kenny Safford.  Muravez was known as Floyd J. Lippincott Jr, a name he used so that his parents wouldn't find out that he was drag racing.  That club produced some of the most successful and famous car racers in the nation.  I ended up working for TV Tommy Ivo on his BARN STORMER Top Fuel Dragster and in 1964 I went on tour with him.  I will tell you an experience that has to be explained.  While I was working for TV Tom, I had to make a bunch of trips to see Jim Deist.  Jimmy "D" knew I was interested in land speed racing (LSR) and offered me a job helping him at the Bonneville Salt Flats on Walt Arfons WING FOOT EXPRESS and then Art Arfons GREEN MONSTER.  While I was at the Bonneville Salt Flats, I got to know Don Francisco and late in 1964 and early 1965 I worked for Don on the Mobil Economy Pontiac team.  One thing kind of led to another," Callaway added.

   "In February of 1965 I went to work for North American/Rockwell on the Apollo Man to the Moon Project, and lasted there until 1970. Somewhere in that time frame I also worked for Deist Safety Equipment and that's where I met John "Peanut Butter" Paxson.  Jimmy Deist was doing the chutes on Gary Gabelich's BLUE FLAME and he asked me if I'd help with packing the chutes.  At this time Clarke Cagle and I built and ran a 1979 Mock 1 Mustang at Bonneville.  I knew Bill Fredricks by reputation and met him while working on the BLUE FLAME. Fredricks wanted to do an all-out LSR car, and made the COURAGE, a 1/2 scale dragster to prove his concept.  I helped 'Frantic' Fred on that construction.  When Fredricks started the Budweiser LSR car, Paxson and I helped him on that and "Peanut Butter" Paxson was the Test Driver. I worked at Northrop on the F5E from 1974 to 1977, when I got a call back to Rockwell to work on the Space Shuttle Main Engines. When my sons got old enough to race they wanted to go Off-Roading, so I built a class 1 buggy and we raced it until the cost went CRAZY.  Near the end of my off-roading, Toyota started to pay contingency money to anyone who won a race with a Toyota engine, no matter what it was in.  My sons lost interest in racing and I had all these Toyota engines and parts.  My heart still was with land speed racing, but in the past I had always had coupes, so that's how the little white Toyota powered roadster came to be.  In 2003 we lost the Toyota engine and that's when I decided to put the S2000 Honda engine and transmission in the race car.  Our team, Paula Burns (our driver), Monte Warnock and I were the 2004 El Mirage (SCTA) High Point Champions.  It was the first time in the long history of the SCTA that a woman driver was High Points Champ.  This year we've made a few changes to the little white roadster, it's now yellow.  Our new Indy turboed Cosworth highboy roaster is still a ways off.  I am hoping to run it later this season," Callaway concluded.  George married Bonnie Stout and they have six children; Kathie, George Junior, Daryl, Teresa, Cheryl and Jamie. He has ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He and Bonnie divorced and George remarried to his second wife, Janice Anderson Callaway, and they live in a home that they built next to the lake bed at El Mirage Dry Lake on a forty-acre ranch.  He looks after the interests of the SCTA concerning the lakebed playa.  For his service and volunteerism, the members affectionately call him The Mayor of El Mirage.

Gone Racin' is at RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM

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