Wally Parks – 1913-2007
A terribly prejudiced fix on the man who made me come alive … such as it were.
At the moment I don’t feel like being cute. Whaddya say at a time like this? Despite the awful inevitability, I could see it coming. I knew it. After all, I’ve only been preparing for it for 20+ years.
I got the news after a great booze and food fest in the woody hills of Sherman Oaks, Cali, on Sunday, Sept. 29.
Crashed out on a strange bed, my only connection to the familiar, outside of sunshine struggling through the clouds and the drapes, was a digital clock on a nightstand near the pillows. Bezel beams 7:34 a.m.
A voice?? It’s pal Alex.
“Hey Chris, ever heard of a Wally Parks?”
Vocally – “God yes, he got me a career. (Subliminally) – “Jeezus Christ the old bastard got off the bus.”
“You know he died last night.”
“If you say it … I believe it.” Mother of Lucifer, it’s time to go from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box.
In my tenure at NHRA as its chief historian, I was the designated writer if Wally ever got parked. I think it was Wally’s 80th birthday when National DRAGSTER editor Phil Burgess pulled me aside one day and said… “You know it might not be too early to think about an obit. You know the ‘old boy’ won’t be around forever and you also know we are really going to have to pull out the stops when it happens.”
And why not? But. I guess, like your parents or family members, it’s easy to diss that vulnerability. Love him or hate him, spank him or vote him president, Wally always struck me as one of those eternals. Naw, that guy … he’ll be in the catbird seat for decades. And there was a reason for this optimism.
Wally was in good shape in his 80s, and we wound up putting off the obit, (I always thought the tall gent from Goltry, Oklahoma, would outlive me anyway – so what the hell. I was greased out of the company later on and Wally was still doing the mambo although not as lively or as relevantly as before, but exerting some influence and being the sport’s major (or one of its few major) faces.
Then it happens….
I always said that the day Mr. Parks headed south, I would not take it well … my throat would be tight and my eyes, at the very least, would be moist.
The man supplied me with my permanent establishment identity … Chris Martin, National Dragster staff writer. I would’ve never been foisted on you guys if it hadn’t been for this white trash lunatic. He gave a life to a young cat that was quickly rejecting every opportunity at respectability thrown his way. NHRA hack, writer, wildman, reprobate ... it was Wally who kicked my ass to a position that might’ve generated a tiny modicum of respect. And in my own twisted way, I loved him for this. Thanks to his ability to call up a bigger picture than just what was in front, he, to a lot of people, made me... Me.
White trash lunatic!
That last remark? I can hear him now.
Wally: “White trash lunatic? A juvenile attempt at humor that is only funny to you and a small coterie of your friends, Chris.”
That’s what he would’ve said. A proper rejoinder. I know it … Wally and I disagreed on more than one occasion and when he felt he had an opinion that was on the money, he had no problem replaying it to a Merck Pharmaceutical test subject.
Wally and I were as well matched as Newt Gingrich and Louis Farrakhan and yet … we hit it off in a truly bizarre way. Take the way I got my job at NHRA in January of 1975.
I knew a week before that meeting with him that I needed to be on my game. How did I prepare for it? Well, I was on my game … blitzed on mild psychedelics, but not so crossed up that I didn’t bring things that would cinch my job.
In the previous two years, I had prepared for my-use-only nine hard-bound volumes that contained every Pro national event or Pro match-race result of every drag racer that raced more than a dozen times in the years 1972 and 1974. Damn right, I knew that was impressive. Cat has every race that Cliff Brown’s “Chicago Kid” Mustang nitro FC ran in 1972. Nobody had this. Sure, there were guys and gals who could outscribble me on the old Smith-Corona (I wasn’t all that disciplined back then), but nobody knew what I knew back then.