My name is Cheryl Coons. Yes, my father is Bud Coons one of NHRA’s founding father, You should also know, that my step-father is Chuck Griffith, the man that raised me and is best known as having been Pomona’s Drag Strip manager for 30 odd years and an outstanding AA Fuel Drag racer in his own right. That’s my background and what I consider gives me the right to pen this heartfelt tribute to MY WALLY, the Wally I remember when my father was on the road setting up NHRA sanctioned drag strips.
When I was a small child, Wally Parks was a sweet faced man who used to tickle me, tease me, cuddle me, hold me, give me forbidden candy, and throw me up in the air till I screamed like a sweet old grandpa. My memories of Uncle Wally are grounded in that time period and from what I can see, best left there, as this big business of drag racing now, I know nothing about nor do I care to.
My step-father and the man that raised me on the drag strip literally, put the gravel in my gut and the burned rubber on my face, was Chuck Griffith, best remembered as the man who had the Starlite series of AA Fuel dragsters and Pomona’s Drag Strip manager every Sun for most of his life juggling these two conflicting all consuming tasks every single weekend. We were that rag tag bunch of drag racers that had no money for extra blowers, tires, didn’t even know from extra engines, just trying to squeak by and qualify for the next round so we would have enough money to buy dinner for our volunteer crew. But while Wally relied on his crew to build the strips, he counted on us to build the actual sport called drag racing. You can’t have a drag strip with out drag racers willing to give their all and fans willing to come and watch us do it. Week by week we struggled, not just us, but a whole lot of just regular Joes, way before corporate sponsors, when getting donated a set of tires to run was a really big deal.
I had a bunch of “uncles” in our same situation, broke, struggling to keep our sport alive and keep the fans entertained, Jim Dunn, Connie Kalitta, Jeep Hampshire, Stormin Norm, Dennis Holding and his brilliant engine man Jim Fox, and so many others that I have left out, whose names my memory fails to recollect and am sorry for not mentioning. I am talking about the guys that came way before the Don Prudomme’s, the Roland Leong’s, what we considered the big boys with money, Keith Black engines and corporate sponsors.
Our champion back at NHRA headquarters, the man that was always on the side of the real drag racers and the fans, was Wally. He loved drag racing, he loved us and we loved him, because he understood where we came from and where we were desperately trying to get to with every single race down the track.
I hope you will forgive me for this highly emotional response. You see, my Wally was the man that loved all of us poor just barely making it drag racers, he identified with us and with the fans that loved us. When we raced you could hear the cheering from the stands. It made your heart sing, us kids mixed fuel, I packed the parachute, said 3 Hail Mary’s and prayed it would come open every run. The Wally I remember threw me up in the air when I was a baby and patted me on the back when I was a teenager and in tears because we didn’t make the cut. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, but time stopped for me and Wally right then when I left and went away to college.
My Wally was really Drag Strip royalty to me and a lot of other young and old people like me. He, my dad Bud and a lot of others went around the country side and built the drag strips that made it possible for all of us poor old strictly down-home, on your own, no sponsors to speak of AA Fuel dragsters, willys, modifieds, stock cars and everything in between off the street to build the sport of drag racing into what it is today.
That is how I and a whole generation of people before and just after me remember you, my precious WALLY PARKS. Your kind, funny gentle way of making even the lowly of us all seem special, especially a little girl whose Daddy wasn’t there, and who knew and cared enough to throw me up and catch me at just the right minute. That is the way I will always remember you.
Cheryl A. Coons