Edelbrock, McClelland, Xydias, Iskenderian, Pink,
and Wally Parks at NHRA.
Living Legends Live up to Billing during Panel Discussion at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports
Museum. By William Groak
POMONA, Calif. – (January 17, 2005) - When legends speak, people listen. And when the
legends are from the performance and racing industry and they share tales from their storied pasts,
people laugh, cry and, more importantly, remember the early days. Such was the scene at the Wally
Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, Calif., where Wally Parks, Vic Edelbrock Jr.,
Alex Xydias, Ed Iskenderian and Ed Pink held court for 2-plus hours, keeping the past alive and
an audience of about 150 thoroughly amused during a panel discussion aptly titled "Living Legends."
The event was an offshoot of the Museum’s current exhibit, "Edelbrock: A Performance Legacy,"
which runs through Feb. 14. It’s also an ongoing part of the Museum’s "living history" agenda,
where people can come and see and hear their icons in action. "It’s great to be here with my
heroes," said emcee Dave McClelland to the crowd. McClelland, who always asks the right
questions at the right time to evoke the best, and often funniest responses, was right on target once
again. He set the stage when he said, "we’ve come to celebrate a performance legacy here today.
Ask yourself, ‘what if there was no Edelbrock?’ It’s impossible to think about because Edelbrock
has had such an influence on the performance industry." McClelland got tossed for a loss
momentarily as a quick quip about USC football (Vic’s alma mater) winning the championship
spurred a debate between the panelists, especially Vic and Alex. "Enough about football, already!"
McClelland said. The crowd and panel laughed and the real discussion about the history of the
performance industry began in earnest. The program covered quite a bit of subjects, ranging from
various forms of racing (dry lakes, drag), engine building, first uses of nitro, famous cars such as
the legendary SO-CAL Streamliner and Belly Tank Lakester, the scene at Gilmore Stadium and
the early days of manufacturing and distributing performance parts. But two names dominated the
discussion: Vic Edelbrock Sr. and Bobby Meeks, his famed engine builder. Every panelist told
several stories about both. For Vic Jr., the stories represented his childhood as he watched his
dad and Meeks develop a special brand of performance parts and help forge a new industry.
"I feel very fortunate to have been born into the family I was," Vic Jr. said. He talked about the
excitement from Meeks and his dad on using nitro for the first time and beating the Offys at Gilmore.
He also spoke about learning about dynos and testing products as a teen, as well as doing things
right, the Edelbrock way. "My father would say ‘hurry up and screw up the first so you won’t
screw up the second one.’" Vic Sr. may have been tough on young Vic, but nothing like Bobby
Meeks was, well, to everyone. Ed "Isky" Iskenderian, the ‘Camfather,’ said Meeks was "pretty
blunt and not too diplomatic on mistakes. He would say you were a dummy, you’re doing it wrong,
but he was sort of polite about it. Panelist Ed Pink, a racer as well as an accomplished engine
builder, was schooled under Meeks, who he said was tough, but fair. "When I made a mistake,"
Pink said, "at least Bobby Meeks didn’t hit me like the teachers did back in school." Alex Xydias,
founder of the famous SO-CAL Speed Shop, called Meeks, "The engine guy – a true legend." Of
course, Vic Jr. knew Meeks before he got famous…and a little gruff. "Bobby Meeks was 15 and
hangin’ around my father’s place,’ Vic Jr. said. "He had no place to go. My father asked him,
"wanna get your hands dirty?’ Bobby became a brother to my dad. He would be here today, but
some of his parts are wearing out and they don’t sell replacements for those parts yet." Vic Jr. also
told of the time when Vic Sr. got Meeks a car "Bobby needs a car – it was time. My dad brought
in a pile of junk and said, ‘put it together.’ He did it and that was his car." Pink told a great story
of how he organized a bowling team that consisted of Meeks, Vic Sr. (and Jr. as an alternate), Don
Towle and one of Pink’s customers. "We weren’t out to break any records," to which Vic Jr.
chimed in, "maybe beer-drinking records." As the crowd laughed, Pink continued, telling everyone
how they did, uh, have "many beer frames and got real loud. We just wanted to let our hair down.
And you know what? We won the league championship…but they never asked us back."
Ever-sharp Wally Parks quickly added, "Not too many of us in the room can let our hair down."
Parks remembered Vic Sr. as "an innovator. He was an icon to me, very honorable. He was one
of the top men I’ve ever known." Xydias, a super-close friend of Vic Sr.’s, agreed. "He was my
mentor and best friend. He was also a great businessman. And Xydias would know: he sold
Edelbrock equipment back in the 1950s. He told stories of running back and forth between
Burbank and Hollywood to get Edelbrock manifolds as customers waited in his shop. "When I
first opened up SO-CAL Speed Shop, the first place I went for product was Edelbrock. You’d
sell one Edelbrock manifold and it would make your day ‘cause you’d make about $20 on it, and
that was a lot of money back then. I was a good Edelbrock customer!" Xydias seemed to
remember his moments with Vic Sr. (who passed away in 1961) like they happened yesterday.
Iskenderian also vividly remembered Vic Sr.. He told a story from the 1950s about Mickey
Thompson, who was trying to get the good-natured Isky to work on a racecar for him and build
cams for him for free. "Vic Sr. asked me one thing: ‘Has that man ever bought anything from you?’
I heard the significance in that," he said as the crowd laughed. Vic’s business sense wasn’t only
about money: it was about the products, especially R&D. "Vic Edelbrock Sr.’s philosophy was,
‘never have your customer’s do your testing. Make the parts the best they can be.’ "That’s why
Edelbrock equipment was so superior," explained Ed Pink. Vic Jr. acknowledged his dad "had
an incredible knack" for engines. He told the crowd about the time performance guru engine builder
Keith Black wanted his manifolds on some engines for a power boat race. "Keith told my dad the
manifold didn’t work. That was something you didn’t say to my dad." Vic said his dad, with Bobby
Meeks, of course, built their own engines and won the race. Speaking of products, McClelland
playfully focused on Isky and his famous cams. "So Isky, "McClelland asked with a smile, "was
it all BS about the cams with the trick names such as the "404" and "5-Cycle?" Isky got a gleam
in his eye and went along, admitting, "Yeah, it was all a publicity stunt. It could have been true it
made them faster." The crowd loved it and roared with approval. Isky told them what it was like
to develop performance products in the early days. "Back then, R&D didn’t cost us anything. We
did things by the seats of our pants." He added, "A guy can invent something in his backyard and
then an engineer will come along and put a formula to it." Poking fun at fellow panelist Xydias, Isky
told the time "Alex complained to Vic Sr. that his V8 didn’t work. Vic switched two wires and it ran
fine." Xydias turned to Isky and deadpanned, "I don’t know where you heard that one…" And
that’s how it went during the fast-paced event. The panelists not only offered insight on the history
of the performance and racing industry, but we’re not embarrassed to make light of themselves (or
each other) in the process. Vic Jr. told everyone how he was dropped into a can of super-thick
"Gunk" as a youngster and how his mom wasn’t too happy about it. Parks immediately chimed in
how that explained how "Vic Jr.’s hair is so blond when his dad’s was jet black. It’s because they
bleached him to get the Gunk off." Vic Jr. also made it clear that learning about testing engines and
products from his dad and co-workers took time. "I was working on a flathead as a kid and they
asked me, ‘Jr., are you sure you checked the timing marks?’ I said, ‘What timing marks?’" The
crowd appreciated the panel’s humor and, of course, the history. "I’d like to thank this outstanding
panel," said Sam Jackson, executive director of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.
Going with the fun flow, Jackson looked over the panel and added, "It’s kind of nice to be one of
the younger guys in the room." McClelland let Vic Jr. have the last word of the day. "This is what’s
it’s all about ladies and gentlemen," Edelbrock said. "These are the stories, of our past, of our
industry, of our sport. We never want to forget them. We want them to live on forever." And they
will, as long as the Parks Museum continues to present living legends who people can listen to…
and laugh with.