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Car Show: LIONS Drag Strip 40th Reunion Dec. 1, 2012

LIONS Drag Strip 40th Reunion Dec. 1, 2012

at the Auto Club Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, CA
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Photos by: Roger Rohrdanz

LIONS Drag Strip 40th Reunion
At the Auto Club Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum 
Pomona, CA
Dec 1, 2012
Story and Photographs by Roger Rohrdanz

 

It all began in the early 1950s with a Los Angeles Police officer named Gordon Browning.  Browning had formed the Police Advisory Council of Car Clubs with officers from 25 Police Departments in the area.  He met Wally Parks, who was the editor of Hot Rod magazine (HRM).  Gordon found some land at 223rd and Alameda Streets and got the Harbor Department to put in a dragstrip for the kids to race on.  He then got the Lions Clubs in the Long Beach Harbor area to sponsor the track, which became known as the famous Lions Dragstrip in the mid-1950s.  Then a young, up and coming racer named Mickey Thompson was made the Track Manager.  For more than 15 years Lions enjoyed an unrivaled reputation.  In 1972 the fun ended when the Los Angeles Harbor Commission needed the land for the development of what became the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility.

Now 40 years later on December 1, 2012, the Auto Club Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, CA. hosted a photo, memorabilia exhibit, and reunion including 2 panels of race heros from “The Beach”.  After a brief introduction by Museum Curator and co-moderator Greg Sharp, the “Master” of ceremonies, Dave McClellan took over and introduced the first panel: innovative Gene Adams with his ’50 Olds who worked on the legendary Albertson Olds dragster that captured 12 straight championships, the “Adams-Rasmussen-Stewart dragster, and now the Adams & Enriquez A/fueler; photojournalist Don Gillespie made 3 videos of  “Lions – The Greatest Drag Strip”;Lions track photographer, John Ewald; Jim Dunn who started drag racing in 1953 at 19 years old; and gasser pilot “Bones” Balogh, driver of such cars as the J & J Muffler Coupe, Safeway Sandblasting Willys, and the “Big” John Mazmanian Willys.  The final panelist was this year’s California Hot Rod Reunion Grand Marshal, “TV” Tommy Ivo.

The panel discussed how they always followed the rules, or not. Gassers were just as popular (maybe more) as Top Fuel.  They talked about the various kinds of concoctions to improve tire traction, and reminisced about Mickey Thompson and his antics.

After a short intermission to view a trailer for the new “Snake & Mongoose” film, Dave McClellan introduced the second panel:  Mike Kuhl from the Top Fuel dragster team of “Kuhl & Olson” that won the last drag race at Lions; Gary Cochran; engine builder Ed Pink,  termed “The Old Master” at 31. Roland Leong, the next panelist, made his first (& last) ride in his “Hawaiian” top fuel dragster in 1964.  Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, was one-half of the Wildlife Racing Team. The other half of the Wildlife Racing Team was our final panelist, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme.  The continued the discussion of Mickey Thompson and talked about their early experiences at “The Beach” and with each other.  A common topic was the closing & last night at Lions.

An estimated 300 racers & fans filled the Museum meeting area until there was standing room only.  Some of the many notable people on-hand were: Jack Beckman, Steve Gibbs, Dar Hawthorn, Beachcomer-Don Johnson, Al Teague, Mendy Fry, Junior Thompson and son Tommy, Bob Muravez, Doug Fisher, Jim Rossi, Frank & Chris Baney, Bill Pitts, Art Chrisman, Stormy” Byrd, Don Zig, Tommy Greer, Blake Bowser, and Adam Sorokin.

Three nostalgia Top Fuel dragsters were on-hand for people to check out.  Rick Voegelin brought his amazing HO scaled replica of Lions drag strip complete with a operating quarter mile to test your ability.  It featured a computerized timing system that records elapsed times, top speeds, reaction times, and margin of victory of the scale model slot cars.

This well done event will be remembered as a magical evening and hope to see it here again next year.

 


 

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