Gone Racin'... Reunions and Events for all you Parts Geeks

Helping Hands

Gone Racin’…To the reunions by Richard Parks

There are races, events, cruises, shows, rallies, regattas and time trials mingled throughout our busy schedules during the year. Then there are the eclectic reunions and banquets that come along from time to time. Reunions have a plaintive quality to them. They remind us of our age and mortal condition, and of the need to pay our respects before it is too late. Yet, if they have an evocative and reflective feel, they also exert a strange and exotic pull on our emotions. Reunions draw upon the past, validate the present and ordain the future. Many are held annually with great flair and eclat, while others occur occasionally or only once. We are normally busy or preoccupied when they occur, and regretful after we have missed them. Here are a few to jot down on your calendar so you'll never miss another reunion, party, or Parts Geek event worth attending.

The Racers of Balboa (Stadium) meet on the third Saturday in September in El Cajon, California. The Racers of Balboa honor and celebrate the heyday of the Midget Racers who raced at Balboa Stadium in San Diego. Midget racing is still popular throughout the country, but their peak of glory ran from the 1930’s up through the 1960’s. Ray and Nancy Alcaraz, with a dedicated group of volunteers, are perpetuating this reunion to keep alive the memories of midget racing that took place at the venerable Balboa Stadium. Their event is held annually at the Elks Lodge in El Cajon, California. Midget racing aficionados will be bringing photo albums, posters and memorabilia to share. Thirty vintage racing cars will be on display in the patio.

The Gas-up party and Dry Lakes Hall of Fame is held on the last Saturday in April, at Jack Mendenhall’s Gas Pump Museum in Buellton, California. This is the highlight of the Land Speed racing community and attracts some 800 people, many of whom raced at the dry lakes in the 1930’s and at the Bonneville Salt Flats from 1949 to the present time. As with the other reunions, bring your camera, indelible markers and notepads as you will want to get pictures and autographs. The Gas Pump Museum is an amazing place, chock full of Americana and history. Over 100 gas pumps and 500 rare globes are on display, besides a myriad number of signs and automotive collectibles. Some of the fastest land speed cars ever raced will be on display. This is the second largest racing reunion in Southern California, and well worth the effort to attend.

Walt and Dottie James host the CRA (California Roadster Association) Reunion on the second Saturday in January, at Knotts Berry Farm Hotel, in Buena Park, California. For those of you who remember the fast and furious dirt track roadster racing of the 1940’s and 1950’s, this is your chance to attend and meet your heroes in that sport. Photos, albums and memorabilia will be on display. Expect to see racers, mechanics, car builders and the men and women who make dirt track racing popular. You get to choose between Knott’s famous chicken dinner or their equally pleasing prime rib plate and the price is very reasonable. This is an excellent event to spot the hero you’ve always admired.

The biggest, baddest, noisiest of the reunions in the Southland is the California Hot Rod Reunion (CHRR), sponsored by the NHRA/Auto Club of Southern California, and the NHRA Motorsports Museum. Steve Gibbs, Greg Sharp and the Museum’s staff work diligently to bring this event to you. Held on the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October, at the old Famoso Raceway, north of Bakersfield, California, this event will draw over 20,000 fans. There’s nostalgia racing, famous early drag cars, drivers and crews, a swap meet and rows upon rows of hot rods, roadsters and coupes. Vendors set up display tents and if you’re into collectibles, taking photos and gathering autographs, this is the place for all you drag racers. There is an awards presentation on Friday, and a “cacklefest” on Saturday. The rest of the time is devoted to hearty partying in the pits and in the stands as the old cars “race” down the track. Don Garlits usually tows his trailer all the way out to Famoso from Florida to attend this event and to sell books and t-shirts and is always willing to give you his autograph.

The Bean Bandits of San Diego hold their annual reunion and party in conjunction with the WRA (Western Racing Association) on the last Saturday in July at the Community Center in La Mesa, just east of San Diego, California. They serve a Mexican meal that is delicious and ask for only a donation to offset their costs. The parking lot is full of various racing cars, roadsters and coupes. Sodas are free and beer is reasonably priced. There is an auction and tables with Bean Bandit t-shirts and memorabilia for sale. This famous club was founded by Joaquin Arnett and his friends in the late 1940’s. They went on to fame at early drag strips, at the Bonneville Salt Flats and the dry lakes in the deserts of Southern California. They founded the Paradise Mesa drag strip, the second one formed in the country, back in the golden age of drag racing. You will have no trouble making friends for life with a racing club well known for their racing exploits and their outgoing personalities.

The Santa Ana Drags reunion is held sporadically. It honors the first professional drag strip and the men and women who raced there. Look for it to be held at the end of summer, in August or September, at the Elks Lodge in Santa Ana, California, across the street from the zoo. Creighton Hunter and Leslie Long produce this reunion with the help of local drag racing enthusiasts. Only the Goleta drag races predate the Santa Ana Drag Strip. Look for the pioneers of drag racing’s golden age to be in attendance: Otto Ryssman, Joaquin Arnett and the Bean Bandits, Dick Kraft, Melvin Dodd, Ed Osepian, CJ Hart, Art Chrisman, and many more of your favorite all time heroes. The food at the Elks Lodge is very good and the Pit Pass entrance fee is reasonable. There will be drag, land speed and other race cars on display as well as some sharp looking roadsters and coupes.

The American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AARWBA) holds their annual awards banquet on the second Saturday in January, at the Sheraton Hotel, in the Fairplex center in Pomona, California. Business attire is required for this event. The affair starts with a special party at the renowned NHRA Motorsports Museum in the late afternoon and then continues into the evening with a banquet and awards show spotlighting various winners in motorsports racing. Some of the past Honorees are: Andy Granatelli, Wally Parks, John Force, Craig Breedlove, the Agajanian Family, Jeff Gordon and many more. Racers from IRL, CART, Indianapolis, NASCAR, Grand-Am, IHRA, NHRA, USAC, ARCA, ASA, and the World of Outlaws are represented at this awards banquet. The food is prepared by the Chefs at the Sheraton Hotel and is excellent. Dusty Brandel is the coordinator for this event.

The NHRA Awards Ceremony is held on the Monday following the last official race of the year for this drag racing body. It is open to the public, free of charge, on a first come basis and business attire is required. The last two ceremonies were held at the Universal Amphitheater, situated at the Universal Studios Amusement Park, near Burbank. The ceremony is held on the second Monday in November and is an evening affair. There is no food or beverage served. It is similar to the Oscar’s but is faster paced and lively. Expect a wicked wit and repartee to be the order of the evening, as the various winners, sponsors, family and crew celebrate their victories after a hard fought racing season on the NHRA circuit. Emcees have included Christopher Titus of the show “Titus” and Tim Allen from the show “Home Improvement”. Bob Frey, Dave McClelland and many others will share the podium, and the show will be taped for ESPN2, so you may see yourself on TV. Parties are scheduled after the awards ceremony ends.

Keep reading your ACE Magazine to find the dates of these reunions and many other events held during the year. It is a good idea to contact the coordinators of these events to see if they have room for your party and to get on their mailing list. Sometimes they will take walk-ins at the door and sometimes they won’t, so be sure to plan ahead. Don’t forget your camera, video recorder, pen or permanent marker and notepad for autographs. Often these groups use reunions as their fundraisers for the year and have memorabilia for sale, so take extra cash. And lastly, enjoy yourself.

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