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Car Show: Gear Grinders 2011 Awards Banquet

Gear Grinders 2011 Awards Banquet

Story by Richard Parks

Huntington Beach, CA
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Photos by: Roger Rohrdanz

The 2011 annual Gear Grinders club awards banquet was held on Saturday, March 24, 2012 in the parking lot behind Steve Davis’ shop in Huntington Beach, California.  The Gear Grinders are a club that goes back to pre-World War II days and are a major club in the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA).  The Gear Grinders have a balanced approach between those who race motorcycles and those members who race their cars at the El Mirage dry lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats.  It is a huge club with over 140 members who live all around the country.  Approximately 150 people attended this year’s event to pay tribute to those in the club who achieved awards for their voluntary service to the SCTA, the Gear Grinders or who achieved records and honors for their racing.  It was a beautiful, sunny California weekend and the Gear Grinders were the perfect hosts.  Bill Kennedy and Heather Black were kind enough to assist Roger and me in the compilation of this story and to provide background information.  This year’s awards banquet was held in the parking lot of a complex owned by Fiddy Alvarez that provides lots of space to show off race cars and projects, including some very nice nostalgia drag cars, one of which was the Yeakel dragster owned by the Baney and Rossi family. 

Among the shops in the Alvarez complex is one operated by Yoder, a good friend and Donut Derelict hot rodder.  Yoder is a sign painter, pinstriper and chipped glass artist.  Yoder goes by one name and I have never been able to extract a first name out of him.  He learned the old world artistry of ‘chipped glass art’ and is one of a few practitioners of the art.  In order to create this artwork, Yoder says it helps to be dyslexic and read things backward, because the skill is in chipping the glass from the back of the pane.  I tried it and botched it up completely.  Yoder applies glue to a leather strap and then places it on the glass.  When it dries he pulls the strap and a thin layer of glass with it.  Then he coats the chipped glass with various paints or silvers it to create a mirror.  The designs are reminiscent of the old Wild West saloons.  Another building is a basketball clinic that trains young athletes in basketball skills.  They good naturedly abandoned their parking spaces to the hot rodders on this occasion.  The last shop in the complex was Steve Davis’ shop and he builds some of the best street rods and dragsters.  Steve told me that right now he has lots of demand for dragsters.  He is also busy on a project with Danny Thompson to rebuild the old streamliner that Mickey Thompson ran at Bonneville.  They believe the Thompson streamliner can break the wheel driven record at Bonneville and go over 500 miles per hour.  Right now they are nearly finished and they can use a few more sponsors to complete the project.

I wandered over to the cooks who had the barbecues going and were cooking some very delicious foods.  Felipe Cortes and his staff were cooking up tacos with their special recipes.  Felipe is well-known by local hot rodders.  I watched as Felipe easily unloaded the grill and equipment from a trailer and quickly had the fire going and the food prepared.  After tasting his food I can heartily recommend him for any group wanting a catered and delicious meal for their parties.  His phone number is 714-728-8577.  Next to him at another grill was ‘Jules,’ a good friend and brother of the owner of the shop complex.  Jules is Julian Alvarez and he is a great cook in his own right.  Jules and Roy Fjastad Jr were busy cooking homemade burritos and tamales and they were every bit as good as any that I have had before.  The ten dollar pit pass at the door covered the program and the food.  There were also miniature cupcakes baked by Christy Taylor that were outstanding.  Heather Black made the great Salsa, Danny Thompson helped set up the tables and chairs.  The Gear Grinders know their food and hospitality as well as they know their racing and many of the attendees were guests representing other car clubs.

Some of the guests and members attending the event were; Bruce Meyer, Tom McEwen, Frank Acosta, Reese Callaway, Frank Baney, Al Teague, Stan Betz, Art Chrisman, Ed Iskenderian, Fiddy Alvarez, Rinsey Mills, Bryan Wheeler, John Keefe, Joe Bok, Gary and Andy Hemenik, Judy Thompson Creach, Phil Remington, Bill Guzenski, Dave Robinson, Jim Busby, Bill Brown, and Rick Hobbs.  Bruce Meyer has been honored by many organizations for his life’s work in restoring and preserving rare automobiles and race cars.  His collection is vast and he began restoration work long before it was a popular thing to do.  Tom McEwen match raced against some of the best drag racers in the world and his duels with Don Prudhomme helped to popularize the sport of drag racing.  Frank Acosta is the general manager at Deist Safety Equipment and a good friend.  Frank Baney is the son of Lou Baney who ran the Saugus drag strip for many years.  Al Teague set the top land speed record mark in his class in 1991 at Bonneville, reaching a speed of over 409 mph. 

Stan Betz is the nephew of the late Dick Kraft, a famous drag racer in the 1950’s at the Santa Ana Drags.  Betz owned his own paint shop in Orange and could mix paint by eye alone.  I’ve watched him and came away amazed at his skill.  Art Chrisman was a famous land speed and drag racer and has built many fast cars.  His number 25 car is in the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California.  Ed Iskenderian began grinding cams in the 1940’s and is famous for his Ad wars with other cam manufacturers in the early days of drag racing.  Fiddy and Julian Alvarez and their families competed successfully in drag racing for many years.  Rinsey Mills is a writer and biographer with works on Carroll Shelby and Phil Remington and resides full time in England.  Bryan Wheeler is a member of the Wheeler family that owns and operates Wheeler Speed Shop on Metzler Lane in Huntington Beach.  Judy Thompson Creach was the wife of Mickey Thompson and the mother of Danny Thompson.  Judy handled the book work for the Lion’s Drag Strip when Mickey was the manager there and Danny handled security, sales and whatever job needed to be done.  Phil Remington has been involved with land speed, open wheel and other forms of motorsports racing for over fifty years. 

Some of the members of the Gear Grinders in attendance were; Norm Adams, Mark Anderson, Connie Beavers, Ron and Steve Bell, John Bjorkman, Heather and Keith Black, Keith J. Black, Mike Blaisdell, Willie Boelcke, Mark Brazeau, Van and Kathy Butler, Bob and Dan Chilson, Jay Cotting, David Cox, Neil Doty, John Drake, Chauvin Emmons Jr, Mike FitzMorris, Paul Hamilton, Kim Harding, Billy Hatch, Andrew Helmandollar, Rob Hilton, Andrea Hoffman, Howard Hoffman, Len Jones, Bill Kennedy, Dean Kennedy, David Kennedy, Peter Kindred, Max Krantz, Ralph LeClerq, Larry and Anne Lindsley, Rick and Ruth MacLean, James Manning, Gary Mansfield, Anna Marco, John Mitchell, Nick Nicolaides, Mark Olson, Dr Jeannie Pflum, Ron Phelps, Richard Reed, Charlie Reno, Jim and Paula Rhone, Alan and James Rice, Frank Scott, Judy and Bob Sights, Bob Sights Jr, Bobby Sykes, William Smith, Bob Stahl, Don Stegens, Ed Van Scoy, Mark Vigeant, George Vose, Angel and Jamie Wagner, J. D. Wagner and Bob Webb.  The current Gear Grinders leadership is; Bill Kennedy, club president, Larry Lindsley, vice president, Heather Black, secretary, Bobby Sykes, treasurer, and Dan Chilson, sergeant at arms.  The club representatives to the SCTA are Dan and Bob Chilson and Bob and Judy Sights. 

Mark Brazeau is the official videographer for the club and the SCTA and always a help to others.  He donates a number of his discs to the club and other groups to help with fundraisers.  Van and Kathy Butler were assisting Bill Kennedy in running the banquet was very important to the success of the event.  Max Krantz, Ron Phelps and Bobby Sykes are always welcoming guests and helping to answer our questions.  Anna Marco is a club member and also works for Ol’ Skool News, a magazine with a huge young readership base.  Bill Kennedy mentioned that member Jeannie Pflum is not only a top-flight doctor but has gone over 200 mph on a bike at Bonneville.  Just the kind of doctor we admire.  In the awards category, Mark Vigeant achieved the Top Wrench Award.  Willie Boelcke was named the Top Driver of the Year Award winner.  Chauvin Emmons Jr received the Top Speed Award for times over 200 mph at El Mirage and over 300 mph at Bonneville. 

Stan Betz received a special honorary award from the Gear Grinders.  Bob Stahl, Mark Olson, and Matt Shickler were honored for their volunteer service as patrol leaders.  A special recognition went to Steve Davis, Van Butler and Heather Black for their roles as Banquet coordinators.  Frank Scott was given the Jim Lindsley Award for outstanding service to the club.  The top points earners were; Derek McLeish and Team McLeish took home the top honors in the Motorcycle category.  In the car category it was Bobby Sykes who garnered that award.  Second place went to the McLeish/Grether team.  Third place went to Butler/Pflum/Wagner.  Fourth place went to Jim Robinson.  Fifth place went to On Line Racing and Bobby Sykes.  Sixth place went to Hands On Racing and Ralph LeClerq.  Len Jones took seventh place.  The eighth spot went to Low Sodium.  In ninth place was the team of Rice and Vigeant Racing.  Route 66 Racing earned the tenth spot.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected].


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