Gone Racin'  by Richard Parks
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Gone Racin’ to the…12th Annual California Hot Rod Reunion 

The 12th Annual California Hot Rod Reunion (CHRR), sponsored by the Auto Club of Southern California, and hosted by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, was held on October 3-5, 2003, at the famed Famoso Raceway dragstrip, just north of Bakersfield, California.  This three-day event has everything imaginable for the avid drag racer and fans of the sport.  Hundreds upon hundreds of hot rods, muscle cars and vintage and classic drag cars are out in the pits, and on the track for display.  Restored drag cars from a by-gone era bring back memories of the golden age of drag racing.  Vintage warplanes from WWII periodically buzz overhead and the roar of the dragsters and the smell of nitro evoke a mysterious pull from the past.  In the pits are vendors selling T-shirts, memorabilia and souvenirs, and all sorts of salvaged parts for the racer who is looking for that original part to complete his project.


Separated from the pits by a fence is the hallowed memory lane, where people have donated funds to plant a tree for their loved ones, friends, famous racers or those who have passed on.  Along the tree-shaded lane are the old vintage race cars and tents for organizations involved in keeping alive the history of drag racing and hot rodding.  Ed Justice Sr was busy unloading one of his Midget racers from his Museum in Duarte and remarked how the CHRR has grown over the years.  I stopped by to see Ora Mae Millar, Pete’s widow, and their family.  The Cartoon tent was filled with Pete’s cartooning and memorabilia, and people were milling around and reminiscing about the past.  It was great to see the Millar family keeping the past alive, and Pete would be proud to know that his fans haven’t forgotten him.  The 1320 Club was well represented as well.  This large and boisterous group of drag racing enthusiasts maintains a large website where all the members can congregate and send emails back and forth.  They were staunch readers and fans of Doris Herbert’s old Drag News publication, from 1957 until 1971, and maintain, with a great deal of zeal, was the heyday and Golden Age of drag racing.  The 1320 Club had tents on both sides of the drag strip, and along with many other groups, partied on all day and into the night, for three solid days. 


I spoke to Clyde Dedrick, car and boat builder and racer, who had just restored the CHUBASCO.  Like so many other restorers, Clyde searches for the original race car or boat, researches the provenance or history to be sure it is accurate, and then commences on an all consuming effort to restore the vehicle to the way it was.  Strolling down memory lane was a walk back into history, as car after car has been lovingly restored and the past comes to life again.  Then the roar of old engines storms through the air, and our attention is turned to the track, just a few feet away.  Classic drag cars are hauling down the runway, directly into the sun, creating a spellbinding sight of sound, images and burning fumes.  One tends to walk in circles at the CHRR, passing the track and wending through the vendors and sponsors bazaar, then into the pits, which seem endless.  I came across John Ewald, who was carrying broken parts and looking forlorn.  His car had just been given the best appearing award, and was in the hunt for Top Eliminator, but the damage was severe, and their chances slim at best.  Top Eliminator eventually went to that steady and consistent racer out of Utah, Jack “The Sheriff” Harris.  Jack, a young but thoroughly veteran racer at age 60, ran a 5.878 E.T., at 250.13mph, to beat Bill Dunlap, who ran a solid 5.926 E.T., at 235.41mph. 


Friday night was the Awards Ceremonies for the CHRR honorees, or what many call the Gathering of the Geezers, and it truly was amazing.  Held at the Double Tree Hotel in Bakersfield, the event is truly worth the trip.  The parking lot was packed with hot rods and vintage and classic cars.  Many never made it into the hotel to see the ceremonies and speakers.  Groups formed around their cars and the event turned into one cruise after another.  Old friends slapped each other on the back and recounted the old lies one more time.  Inside there were racing celebrities everywhere.  Ed Iskenderian came with his trademark cigar, the “Bushmaster” was there taunting all his victims, with his blue headband wrapped firmly in place.  Bob Muravez, the famed “Floyd J. Lippincott, Jr” held court everywhere, as the Grand Marshall of the event.  Dave McClelland emceed the proceedings and praised the late Ernie Hashim for his contributions to the sport.  Wally Parks, John Bradley, Ed Justice Sr, and Louie Senter were present.  Along with Bob Muravez, the other honorees were Bruce Geisler, Pete Millar, Gary Cochran, John Bradley and Glen Stokey.  Drag racing and hot rodding just doesn’t get any better than the CHRR.  Don’t miss the next one.


Gone Racin’ is at RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM