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RIP Nick Arias Jr.

 

Words: Richard Parks   Photo courtesy Yellowbullet.com   Gallery Photos: Roger Rohrdanz

 

Some funerals and memorials we attend to support the family of a recently departed friend, and some funerals leave a huge hole in our hearts and the fabric of our relationships. The funeral of Nick Arias Jr. is just such a huge loss, both for the family and for the relationships we all had with Nick. It is one of those ‘what are we going to do now’ sort of feelings. Nick was larger than life, but also a very humble man who fit in everywhere and helped so many people, often without acclaim or even notice. I have a biography on Nick, so I won’t repeat it here, but you can see it listed on www.hotrodhotline.com.

The first person I met at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Auto Club of Southern California, was Chris Haston, a close family friend. He kindly gave me a background sketch of the Arias family so I could understand more about them. Nick Arias Sr. and his wife Sarah immigrated to the U.S.A. over a century ago to pursue the American dream. They instilled in their two children, Nick Jr. and his younger sister Gloria, a sense of the work ethic, values and virtues that would make this close-knit family successful and well-liked.

Nick Jr. married Carmen Jimenez and they had five children, in this order: Kristine (Andy), Michelle (Marty), Nick III (Cindy), Carmen (Mario), and Andrea. Kristine and Marty had three boys: Adam, Joshua and Shaun. Michelle and Marty had two children: Jennifer and Ryan. Nick III and Cindy (née Gibbs) had two sons: Steven and Justin. Andrea also had two children: Dominick and Gracie. Nick Jr. lived long enough to see his great-grandchild, James Arias, who is almost one year old. It is important to understand Nick’s family if you wish to understand Nick Arias Jr., for family meant everything to him.

Gloria was born a year later in 1930. She married Dick Hampton and they also had five children: Terry, Laura (John), Linda (Tom), Nancy (Chris) and Carolynn (John). Gloria and Dick have 10 grandchildren, 9 great-grandchildren and 2 great-great grandchildren.

Gloria told me about her past. “I was only a year and a half younger than Nick, but he and his friends would be out tinkering on their cars and ignoring me,” she said. “I would take out the trash to the incinerator; you remember how we used to burn our trash in incinerators in those days? Well, I would take out just a piece of trash at a time until they noticed me and that’s how I got the attention of one of the boys, Dick Hampton, who eventually married me.” She laughed. “Nick was always working on cars and making things that he couldn’t afford to buy. He was quite talented.”

Dave McClelland was the moderator, and he read several letters from those who couldn’t make it to the Celebration of Life. “I wish I could be there to give my support; best wishes and condolences to the Arias family,” wrote Dick Martin, a noted journalist and writer. “I will always hold the Arias family in my heart. They are a very special family. It was a great honor for me to arrange the 5 guys’ reunion, including Nick Jr., at the Motorsports Museum several years ago. They are now gone, but I remember that day like it was yesterday.”

McClelland went on to mention several other people who sent their condolences, then added his own thoughts: “Nick was 87 years old at his passing. He did everything and he made everything. He was honored by the SEMA organization, the California Hot Rod Reunion, the Dry Lakes Hall of Fame, the International Drag Racers Hall of Fame and was the NHRA’s Man of the Year.”

Cindy Gibbs Arias was the next to speak about her father-in-law. “Nick went to the dry lakes to race in the 1940’s, served in the Korean conflict, opened his own business in 1969 and made Arias Pistons and Arias Engines a thriving and successful business based on quality and service. He was forced to improvise in order to survive. He was an early pioneer in dry lakes, Bonneville, drag and boat racing,” she said.

Cindy told the crowd of some 300 people that, “Nick was inducted into a lot of Hall of Fames, including the Inliners. He was a member of the Photons of Los Angeles car club, enlisted in the US Army on June 23, 1948 right out of high school and served in the 40th Infantry Division, Special Unit Battalion. When he got out of the service he headed to the dry lakes and was the 1954 season high points winner in the Screwdriver’s car club. He built engines for the NJBA, NDBA, midget and drag cars.”

She added, “Nick was born on January 20, 1929 and attended Saint Thomas High School. He often went street racing. He proposed to Carmen Jimenez in 1957, and she was the love of his life. Nick loved jazz, music, movies and television, but on the weekends he was off to the races.”

Dave McClelland, everyone’s favorite car racing announcer, then said in that sultry Southern voice, “Steve (Gibbs), we’re going through a real tough time right now. We are losing these guys from America’s Greatest Generation. Men and women who made our country great are leaving us in droves. If only the walls of this famed museum could talk, oh, what a story they could tell.” The audience nodded its approval.

Steve Gibbs, a museum board member, responded to McClelland: “I knew Nick Arias Jr. for a very long time. We shared some grandsons together, between my daughter Cindy and his son Nick III. We also shared a great-grandson together, Justin’s boy James. Nick Jr. had a life well-lived. He served his family, his country and racing and he did it with honor.”

Tom Curnow added his comments. “You know a man by the kind of family and friends that he has. I’ve known Nick for over 70 years and Nick’s passion was in racing, which became his business. Then his business supported so many families. We owe Nick our gratitude and thanks. Nick was a major part of the speed equipment performance industry. He was a smart and knowledgeable man, with high moral courage. He was aware of the world around him and had strong, conservative opinions.” The audience nodded in agreement, for they knew Nick Arias Jr. well. “He not only expressed his opinions openly and honestly, but he also had a fine sense of humor,” Curnow concluded.

Fred Blanchard met Nick in the 1950’s. “Nick became my mentor. He had all this knowledge about an engine and he could make it purr. We went to the dry lakes and to events all over,” Fred told us.

Nick Arias III then spoke to the crowd. “I could stand up here for hours telling you all the stories about my father. There were the trips to the dry lakes, Bonneville, the drag races and oval track racing. He was loved by so many and he never hesitated to give you his opinion on something. One of his sayings was, ‘Deal with foreigners but don’t get involved in their affairs.’ Another thing he used to say was, ‘It takes a Hemi to beat a Hemi.’

“He believed in the American Dream, that you can make something of your life if you are willing to work and struggle to achieve it, but you will never become a success by having it given to you. One of his favorite sayings was, ‘Any day above ground is a good day.’ He was a patriotic man, an ethical and empathetic man who treated people with respect,” his son concluded.

I will miss Nick Arias Jr. He was always available for me. I called and saw him at shows, races and reunions often and he always stopped what he was doing, answered my questions and helped me with an article. He was a kind, generous man who had a passion for engines and cars. There was a 15 year age gap between us but he treated me more like a younger brother. He knew so much, and now I will have to find another source of information and friendship. Steve Gibbs is right: we are losing so many men and women from the Great Depression and World War II, and with them we are losing a wonderful heritage, great values and dear friends.

Some of those attending were: Holly Martin, Fred Blanchard, Andrew Blanchard, Jim Murphy, Mendy Fry, George Callaway, Walt Stephens, Lou Grignetti, Joe Panek, John Hutzlar, Mike Cook, Don Ferguson II, Sonny Diaz, Ed Osepian, Jim Gilliand, Stewart Van Dyne, Ed Pink, Norm Adams, Phil and Mary Leatherman, Ben and Ed Iskenderian, Pete and Shorty Giroux, Lynne and Bud Rasmus, Cindy Gibbs, Jim Miller, Gloria Gibbs, Richard Parks, Roger Rohrdanz, Steve Gibbs, Augie Esposito, Jim Travis, Ed McCullough, Dan Warner, Mike Lefebvre, John Salkins, Jerry Kugel, Mort Smith, Bob Noice, Jim Dincau, Bob Muravez, Bob and Judy Sights, Bob Sights Jr, Rose Dickinson, Dave McClelland, Tom Curnow, Lanny Trefz and many more. There were about 300 people who attended the Celebration of Life for Nick Jr. Afterwards those in attendance were invited to an “In-N-Out” hamburger meal from the meal truck the family provided.

 

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