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Car Show: Santa Ana Drags and Main Street Malt Reunion

Santa Ana Drags and Main Street Malt Reunion

Orange, California
Saturday, October 4, 2014
Photos by: Roger Rohrdanz

Story by Richard Parks & Photos by Roger Rohrdanz

The Santa Ana Drags and Main Street Malt Shop Reunion is held twice a year, once in April and again in October.  It is a combination of two old reunions, one honoring the iconic drag strip organized by C. J. and Peggy Hart, with Frank Stillwell and Creighton Hunter’s help, back in 1950 on a roadway next to the old Santa Ana Airfield.  The drag strip shut down in 1959 when the county of Orange expanded the airport, which is known by the locals as John Wayne Airport.  For years a reunion was held at the Elks Club in Santa Ana by Creighton Hunter.  When Hunter passed away, Leslie Long and Gene Mitchell took over.  The other reunion being kept alive is the Main Street Malt Shop, a local hangout for young people in Santa Ana.  The malt shop is no longer in operation and has become a Mexican/American pastry shop.  But the spirit of the past is alive and strong in these two reunions, which is held at Santiago Creek Park at the corner of Lawson Way and East Memory Lane, in the town of Orange.

Leslie Long keeps the mailing lists and calls people to remind them of the event.  He is also the historian for the Santa Ana Drags and for the El Mirage dry lake land speed racers.  Gene Mitchell provides the tents, tables, food and drinks for the guest.  He does so at his own expense and never asks for help.  Gene is there early to set up and stays late to take everything down and transport it back to his home.  Gene is always ready to greet people and make them feel welcome and to see to their needs.  Roger Rohrdanz is the official photographer for the two reunions and keeps a visual history of the event.  Richard Parks writes the reports on the reunions and posts them with Roger’s photos at www.hotrodhotline.com and www.landspeedracing.com.   Jim Miller also posts photos and reports to his website at www.ahrf.com. 

     A hot Santa Ana wind condition had driven the temperature up into triple digits and it was feared that the reunion might be affected.  But on Saturday, October 4, 2014 the day was absolutely California weather with the temps in the 90’s, sunny and bright and we found plenty of shade under the trees and canopies, with gentle breezes making the day perfect.  There was lots of bench racing, posters, photo albums, old flyers, maps, books and other material to share.  Gene Mitchell announced that lunch was ready and after that Roger lined everyone up for a group photograph.  Ed Iskenderian was the guest speaker and for nearly an hour he related stories from long ago at the Santa Ana drags.  Then it was back for more munchies, water and dessert and bench racing.

Those in attendance were; Gene Mitchell and his daughter Megan Mitchell, who helped her dad set up the tents, chairs and food.  Roger Rohrdanz and Richard Parks represented the Society of Land Speed Racing Historians (SLSRH).  Kay Kimes was an original ‘49’er, who raced at the first Bonneville Speedweek in 1949.  Diane Vandenberg came with Lyman Wilson.  Diane raced at the Santa Ana drags and was also a Main Street Malt Shop patron.  Old time racers Gene Ellis, Doug Wilson, Dave Cook, Eldon Harris, Jim Moran and Tim Timmerman were present.  Ellis also raced on oval tracks and had quite a career.  Gerald (Jerry) Hart, the son of C. J. and Peggy Hart brought lots of photos of the old drag strip.  He worked there as a young man.  Motorcycle racers Jim Murphy and Joe Arce told us about their racing exploits.  Joe brought his wife Louise with him to the reunion.  Other racers were; Mac McClelland, Phil Turgasen, and Harry Deshazo.  Diane Foley and Dina Macias came with Harry.  Ben and Amy Iskenderian came with Ed.  Ben is Ed’s brother and Amy is Ed’s daughter.  1949 Goleta class winner Ed Osepian was also there.  Osepian raced at Santa Ana.  Rob Johnson, whose mother’s name was Hagopian, told me there were a lot of Armenians in early day drag racing, including the Iskenderian family.

Alan Zusman came after talking to Anna Marco.  Alan is learning all he can about early drag racing.  Al Teague set many land speed records at Bonneville and his record of 409 mph lasted for nearly twenty years.  Bob Falcon came and introduced Jon Durham.  Bob did everything you could do in racing and raced oval track cars, as did his father before him.  He is one of our historians and main research guys on the SLSRH Newsletter.  Jon is attempting to bring back the Halibrand name and is doing research on the company’s past and Bob, who used to work there, is helping him.  Doug Westfall and Shawn Diaz are book publishers and have decided to bring out more books on early day racers.  Mike and John Uribe came representing the Bean Bandits, who had their own drag strip for many years down in San Diego at Paradise Mesa.  Mike told me that they would come up to Santa Ana to race every chance that they could and often toured the country with their drag car, when racing was very inexpensive.  Jim Miller was there taking photographs for the American Hot Rod Foundation, based in New York City.  Miller is the President of the SLSRH and the most knowledgeable person around in all forms of motorsports.  Jim “Grumpy” Donoho and Rich Childers rounded out the list of racers who attended the event.  The next reunion will be held in April, 2015 and you can check the website at www.landspeedracing.com for details.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]

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