Living Legends Live Up To Billing During Panel Discussion At The
Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum
Story & Pics By
William Groak

     When legends speak, people listen. And when the legends are from the performance and racing industry and they share tales from their storied pasts, people laugh, cry, and more importantly, remember the early days. Such was the scene at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California, on January 15th, 2005, where Wally Parks, Vic Edelbrock Jr., Alex Xydias, Ed Iskenderian and Ed Pink held court for 2-plus hours, keeping the past alive and an audience of about 150 thoroughly amused during a panel discussion aptly titled “Living Legends”.
     The event was an offshoot of the Museum’s current exhibit, “Edelbrock:  A Performance Legacy”, which runs through February 14th. It’s also an ongoing part of the Museum’s “living history” agenda, where people can come and see and hear their icons in action.

Winner’s Circle Trophy Awarded to those who sponsor the Museum!

     “It’s great to be here with my heroes,” said emcee Dave McClelland to the crowd.  McClelland, who always asks the right questions at the right time to evoke the best, and often funniest responses, was right on target once again.
     He set the stage when he said, “we’ve come to celebrate a performance legacy here today.  Ask yourself, ‘what if there were no Edelbrock?’  It’s impossible to think about because Edelbrock has had such an influence on the performance industry”.

Edelbrock Panel -
(L-R) Dave McClelland - Moderator,
Wally Parks, Alex Xydias, Vic Edelbrock Jr.,
Ed Pink, Ed Iskenderian

Moderator Dave McClelland holds up
a copy of Vic Edelbrock Jr., in Hot Rod
magazine, at the time edited by
Wally Parks, who looks on!

     McClelland got tossed for a loss momentarily as a quick quip about USC football (Vic’s alma mater) winning the championship spurred a debate between the panelists, especially Vic and Alex.
     “Enough about football, already!” McClelland said. The crowd and panel laughed and the real discussion about the history of the performance industry began in earnest.
     The program covered quite a bit of subjects, ranging from various forms of racing (dry lakes, drag), engine building, first uses of nitro, famous cars such as the legendary SO-CAL Streamliner and Belly Tank Lakester, the scene at Gilmore Stadium and the early days of manufacturing and distributing performance parts.  But two names dominated the discussion:  Vic Edelbrock Sr. and Bobby Meeks, his famed engine builder.

Ed Iskenderian contemplates a question
during the Edelbrock:  A Performance
Legacy panel discussion!

     Every panelist told several stories about both.  For Vic Jr., the stories represented his childhood as he watched his dad and Meeks develop a special brand of performance parts and help forge a new industry.
     “I feel very fortunate to have been born into the family I was,”  Vic Jr., said.  He talked about the excitement from Meeks and his dad on using nitro for the first time and beating the Offys at Gilmore.  He also spoke about learning about dynos and testing products as a teen, as well as doing things right, the Edelbrock way.  “My father would say ‘hurry up and screw up the first so you won’t screw up the second one.”
     Vic Sr. may have been tough on young Vic, but nothing like Bobby Meeks was, well, to everyone.  Ed “Isky” Iskenderian, the ‘Camfather,’ said “Meeks was pretty blunt and not too diplomatic on mistakes.  He would say you were a dummy, you’re doing it wrong, but he was sort of polite about it.”
     Panelist Ed Pink, a racer as well as an accomplished engine builder, was schooled under Meeks, who he said was tough, but fair.  “When I made a mistake,” Pink said, “at least Bobby Meeks didn’t hit me like the teachers did back in school.”
     Alex Xydias, founder of the famous SO-CAL Speed Shop, called Meeks, “The engine guy - a true legend.”

Standing - (L-R)
Alex Xydias, Vic Edelbrock, Jr.,
Ed Pink, Ed Iskenderian
Seated - Wally Parks

     Of course, Vic Jr. knew Meeks before he got famous ... and a little gruff. “Bobby Meeks was 15 and hangin’ around my father’s place,’ Vic Jr., said. “He had no place to go.  My father asked him, “wanna get your hands dirty?’ Bobby became a brother to my dad.  He would be here today, but some of his parts are wearing out and they don’t sell replacements for those parts yet.”
     Vic Jr. also told of the time when Vic Sr. got Meeks a car “Bobby needs a car - it was time.  My dad brought in a pile of junk and said, ‘put it together.’ He did it and that was his car.”

Legendary engine builder Ed Pink signs an autograph!

     Pink told a great story of how he organized a bowling team that consisted of Meeks, Vic Sr. (and Jr. as an alternate), Don Towle and one of Pink’s customers.  “We weren’t out to break any records,” to which Vic Jr. chimed in, “maybe beer-drinking records.” As the crowd laughed, Pink continued, telling everyone how they did, uh, have “many beer frames and got real loud.  We just wanted to let our hair down.  And you know what?  We won the league championship... but they never asked us back.”
     Ever-sharp Wally Parks quickly added, “Not too many of us in the room can let our hair down.”
     Parks remembered Vic Sr. as “an innovator.  He was an icon to me, very honorable. He was one of the top men I’ve ever known.”

Panel at Edelbrock: A Performance Legacy
(L-R) Wally Parks, Alex Xydias,
Vic Edelbrock Jr., Ed Pink, Ed Iskenderian

     Xydias, a super-close friend of Vic Sr.’s, agreed. “He was my mentor and best friend. He was also a great business man.  And Xydias would know:  he sold Edelbrock equipment back in the 1950’s.  He told stories of running back and forth between Burbank and Hollywood to get Edelbrock manifolds as customers waited in his shop.  “When I first opened up SO-CAL Speed Shop, the first place I went for products was Edelbrock.  You’d sell one Edelbrock manifold and it would make your day ‘cause you’d make about $20 on it, and that was a lot of money back then. I was a good Edelbrock customer!”
     Xydias seemed to remember his moments with Vic Sr. (who passed away in 1961) like they happened yesterday.
     Iskenderian also vividly remembered Vic Sr..  He told a story from the 1950’s about Mickey Thompson, who was trying to get the good-natured Isky to work on a racecar for him and build cams for him for free. “Vic Sr. asked me one thing: ‘Has that man ever bought anything from you?’ I heard the significance in that,” he said as the crowd laughed.
     Vic’s business sense wasn’t only about money: it was about the products, especially R&D. “Vic Edelbrock Sr.’s philosophy was, ‘never have your customer’s do your testing.  Make the parts the best they can be.’  “That’s why Edelbrock equipment was so superior,” explained Ed Pink.

Alex Xydias signs an autograph.

Cam grinder Ed “Isky” Iskenderian signs
an autograph for one of the audience
members as others wait their turn!

     Vic Jr. acknowledged his dad “had an incredible knack” for engines.  He told the crowd about the time performance guru engine builder Keith Black wanted his manifolds on some engines for a power boat race.  “Keith told my dad the manifold didn’t work.  That was something you didn’t say to my dad.” Vic said his dad, with Bobby Meeks, of course, built their own engines and won the race.

NHRA Founder and Museum Chairman
Wally Parks (seated) and Vic Edelbrock Jr.
smile for the camera!
As a gift the Museum gave Vic Edelbrock Jr.
a new-style Museum Jacket!

     Speaking of products, McClelland playfully focused on Isky and his famous cams.  “So Isky,” McClelland asked with a smile, “was it all BS about the cams with the trick names such as the ‘404’ and ‘5-Cycle?” Isky got a gleam in his eye and went along, admitting, “Yeah, it was all a publicity stunt. It could have been true it made them faster.”  The crowd loved it and roared with approval.
     Isky told them what it was like to develop performance products in the early days.  “Back then, R&D didn’t cost us anything. We did things by the seat of our pants.” He added, “A guy can invent something in his backyard and then an engineer will come along and put a formula to it.”
     Poking fun at fellow panelist Xydias, Isky told the time “Alex complained to Vic Sr. that his V8 didn’t work.  Vic switched two wires and it ran fine.”  Xydias turned to Isky and deadpanned, “I don’t know where you heard that one.....”
     And that’s how it went during the fast-paced event. The panelist not only offered insight on the history of the performance and racing industry, but were not embarrassed to make light of themselves (or each other) in the process.  Vic Jr. told everyone how he was dropped into a can of super-thick “Gunk” as a youngster and how his mom wasn’t too happy about it.  Parks immediately chimed in how that explained how “Vic Jr.’s hair is so blond when his dad’s was just black. It’s because they bleached him to get the Gunk off.”
     Vic Jr. also made it clear that learning about testing engines and products from his dad and co-workers took time.  “I was working on a flathead as a kid and they asked me, ‘Jr., are you sure checked the timing marks?’ I said, ‘What timing marks?’”

Standing - (L-R)
Alex Xydias, Vic Edelbrock Jr.,
Ed Pink, Ed Iskenderian
Seated - Wally Parks

     The crowd appreciated the panel’s humor and, of course, the history. “I’d like to thank this outstanding panel,” said Sam Jackson, executive director of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.  Going with the fun flow, Jackson looked over the panel and added, “It’s kind of nice to be one of the younger guys in the room.”
     McClelland let Vic Jr. have the last word of the day. “This is what’s it’s all about ladies and gentlemen,”  Edelbrock said. “These are the stories, of our past, of our industry, of our sport. We never want to forget them.  We want them to live on forever.”

     And they will, as long as the Parks Museum continues to present living legends who people can listen to ..... and laugh with.

Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports
Museum Executive Director
Sam Jackson!

Vic Edelbrock Jr. (center)
Alex Xydias (left) and
Ed Pink (right)

       The great thing about the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is that it keeps all of us in touch with our “roots” by hosting these great events.   There is always something going on at the museum so be sure to check their schedule and remember to stop by whenever you are near the Pomona Fairplex.   It’s a stop you’ll be glad you made. www.nhra.com/museum   We hope you enjoyed this time reminiscing with the greats of rodding !!!

 

 

 

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