For a generation of NHRA racers Steve Gibbs was the face of the sanctioning body. He was the man who made the NHRA’s reputation for giving U.S. racers the best dragstrips anywhere in respect to traction and condition. Along with the late Buster Couch, Gibbs had a large influence on the golden age of drag racing when records fell with regularity. As director of Competition, Gibbs kept the race, racing, and racers on an even keel like no one else. His word when it came to the race was absolute, final, unquestioned. He was and is admired equally by drivers, team owners, and fans.
Now he has added one more chapter to his life story. He almost single-handedly has been responsible for starting an NHRA-sanctioned circuit for nostalgia racers, the Hot Rod Heritage Series. DRO sent West Coast Editor Darr Hawthorne to interview the man the racers affectionately refer to as Captain Hook.
Check out Part Two of the interview here.
: Steve, give us a brief history of your involvement in drag racing.
GIBBS: Oh boy, it goes back a long way. I got started back in the late Fifties as just, obviously, a spectator, a teenage spectator. My first job was at the old San Gabriel (Calif.) Drag Strip painting numbers on cars and writing articles for Drag News and other publications. My first full-time job was at the old Irwindale Raceway; went to work for them in full time in 1966, and became manager later in ’66. I put in a couple of years at Irwindale, then on to Fremont, then a few odd jobs, then in 1969 Wally (Parks) hired me to go to work for NHRA full time and I’ve been with NHRA ever since. I’m a consultant now, but I’m still on NHRA’s payroll, so I’m pushing forty years with NHRA since September of 1969.
: Did you ever drag race yourself?
GIBBS: Never did, didn’t have the money…just a blue-collar family. I come from an area where I just had enough money to buy an old ’50 Ford when I was in high school. I was just hooked on drag racing and I just didn’t have the money to repair broken transmissions and everything so I was on the sidelines, I just kind of got involved in the other end of the business. Kind of the right place at the right time and carved out a career out of being at a dragstrip.
: How did you meet Wally Parks?
GIBBS: When I was managing Irwindale Raceway. When it first opened up it was an AHRA track for a short time and then it went to NHRA. I met Wally through Bernie Partridge, who was the division director at that time. I started working the NHRA national events on the safety crew in the late ‘60s. Jack Hart was my main contact, Jack has been gone a long time, but a lot of people don’t remember how influential Jack Hart was at that time -- he was the main man. He was head of the finances, the insurance, the competition, he actually ran NHRA before Wally went to work for NHRA full time. Wally was still over at Peterson Publications when Jack was basically running NHRA.
So I had a good relationship with Hart and got to know Wally real well, then at Indy in 1969 Wally asked me to come to work full time for NHRA, strangely enough as the Ad Director for National Dragster, which was pretty much a fish out of water for me. I did OK at it, but once I was at NHRA, in a short time Jack Hart said we really need you over here on the racing end of things with my background at Irwindale and other tracks. Just a few month after going to work for NHRA I became Jack’s assistant running national events. Then Jack had some real serious health problems in the early 1970’s and I became the Competition Director, primarily running all the NHRA national events and I did that for twenty-five years.