|Bill Groak, Feb 12, 2005 Drag Racing Legends, Fitzgerald, Wallace, Armstrong, Parks, etc.|
Editor's notes: The following comes from Bill Groak. February 12, 2005.
Drag racing legends Leon Fitzgerald, Dave Wallace and Dale Armstrong were among those on hand Friday night as the
Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, announced the Honorees
for the 14th Annual NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion. Armstrong was named Grand Marshal for the event, Sept. 30-Oct. 2
in Bakersfield. Fitzgerald, Wallace, Dick Landy, Shirley Shahan, Bill Simpson and Dave Uyehara will be those honored at the
event. Tie votes by the selection panel meant that six persons will be honored rather than the normal five.
The Night of Champions brings together racing fans with some of the drivers competing at the nearby Pomona Raceway in
the CarQuest Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals (Feb. 10-13) and past champions of the event. It’s just one more example of
the Museum’s "living history" project, said Sam Jackson, executive director of the Parks Museum, which is presented by the
Automobile Club of Southern California. Grand Marshal Dale Armstrong won twelve NHRA National events with a series of
alcohol-burning dragsters, altereds and funny cars during the 1970s. But the 1975 Winston Pro Comp champ and former Funny
Car National Record Holder is perhaps best known for his mechanical prowess. As crew chief for Kenny Bernstein, he tuned
the Budweiser King to four NHRA Funny Car Championships in the 1980s as well as Kenny’s first 300-mph pass in 1992 at
Gainesville. His driving career dates back to the early 1960s in his native Canada and he was named Number Ten on NHRA’s
all-time Top 50 Drivers list during NHRA’s 50th Anniversary season in 2000.
Best known as the driver of the famous Pure Heavan Fuel Altered, one of the first racers to successfully use the big block
Chevrolet, Leon Fitzgerald was part of the National Fuel Altered Tour in the late 1960's and early 70's that included Leroy
Chadderton in the Magnificent 7, the Marcellus and Borsch Winged Express, Henry Harrison in Nolan and Pritchard’s Beaver
Hunter and Don Green’s Rat Trap and introduced the exciting Fuel Altereds to fans all across the country. Although he started
his drag racing career in Fords, from the early ‘60's through the mid-‘70's, Dick Landy’s name was synonymous with Mopar.
He was a pioneer in the days of altered wheelbase factory experimentals that led directly to the current Funny Cars. When
Landy reached 196 mph on fuel, Chrysler Product Planning decided they’d seen enough and set up a series of Performance
Clinics at showrooms throughout the country. Landy was selected as the Dodge representative. In 1967 alone, Landy conducted
more than 70 clinics for 50,000 people in 29 states. Landy made a great many friends for Mopar and raced as many as seven
different cars in a single season. In the early ‘70's, he helped pioneer the Pro Stock category.
When Shirley Shahan won Stock Eliminator at the ’66 Winternationals, she became the first woman to win an Eliminator
title at an NHRA National event. This pioneering effort made it possible for her to become one of the sport’s first female
professional racers. She began her career racing a ’58 Chevy and won the Super Stock class at the first Bakersfield March
Meet in 1959. In 1965, with some backing from Chrysler, she and then-husband H. L. Shahan bought a Plymouth Super
Stocker. A Plymouth public relations man came up with the Drag-On-Lady title that stuck throughout her career. She toured
the country for four years, running both Super Stock and injected match races. In 1969 she was offered a factory AMC Super
Stock and eventually a Pro Stock when the class was created.
Bill Simpson began his drag racing career with an injected fuel dragster and began manufacturing drag chutes in his garage
in Redondo Beach as a second job to supplement his job at the movie studios. The demand for his products became so great
that he expanded his business to include fire suits, seat belts and other safety equipment. By the 1970s he was able to live a
lifelong dream racing Indy cars. It was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that he performed his famous publicity stunt by
setting himself on fire while wearing one of his own suits. He eventually became the largest manufacturer of safety equipment in
the industry before selling his company and forming a new one called Impact Racing. Over the last four decades, Simpson’s
products have literally saved hundreds of racers in all forms of the sport from serious injury or worse.
Dave Uyehara has been a drag racer in Northern California for over forty years. Teamed with Frank Martinez, he began his
career in a Jr. Fuel dragster in the mid-‘60's. Since then he has driven and built countless dragster and funny car chassis and in
the late ‘80's he was one of the most prominent chassis builders in the sport with a long list of customers including Eddie Hill.
Today, his Nostalgia Top Fuel cars are the standard of the sport.
In the 1950s, Dave Wallace Sr. took a second job at San Fernando Drag Strip to help raise his growing family and
supplement his income as a postal worker. His love of the sport led to his becoming a track reporter for Drag News as well
as honing his photography skills. A photo he took in the early ‘60s survived to win an award in the Leslie Lovett Memorial
Photo Contest at the 2002 California Hot Rod Reunion. His son, Dave Jr., has continued the tradition started by his father,
reporting on drag racing himself for nearly four decades.
The 14th annual NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, annually
attracts thousands of hot rod enthusiasts to Kern County to honor the pioneers of the sport. The honorees speak at a Friday
night reception and receive the "Wally Award" at ceremonies on historic Famoso Raceway. Named for the founder of the
National Hot Rod Association, the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern
California houses the very roots of hot rodding. Scores of famous vehicles spanning American motorsports history are on
display, including winning cars representing 50 years of drag racing, dry lakes and salt-flat racers, oval track challengers and
exhibits describing their colorful backgrounds.
The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., PST. Current
NHRA members are admitted free. Admission for non-members is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors 60 and older, $3 for juniors
six through 15, and free for children under the age of five. The Museum is also available for private parties, meetings, corporate
events, weddings and special group tours. The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is located at Fairplex Gate 1, 1101
W. McKinley Ave. in Pomona. For further information on special exhibits, museum events or directions, call 909/622-2133 or
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