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“Outlaw” Operators Hosted By Wally Parks And His Museum

Moderator Dave McClelland (back to camera) introduced celebrity-panelists Blackie (“Call Me Whitey!”) Gejeian, Steve Gibbs, Chuck Griffith, C.J. Hart, Harry Hibler, Mike Jones, Don Rackemann and Lou Senter. Partially visible at far right is James Ibusuki’s original painting of “The Manufactuers Final”, a lithograph (available from celebrating Jones’s best-remembered OCIR event. (Photo by Chris Ouellette/Good Communications)

y favorite NHRA events are presented by the “guerilla wing of the organization, i.e., the small staff of the Wally Parks Motorsports Museum. Located on the grounds of the L.A. Fairplex, mere minutes from corporate headquarters, the museum is operated as if it’s on a different planet. That’s not a bad thing. While the historically-challenged outsiders in charge of the parent company continue to come up with innovative ways to drive off NHRA’s oldest, hardest-core racers and fans, the savvy museum crew conceives nostalgia-flavored shows that appeal to us “lost souls.”

The first such success was the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion at Bakersfield, the brainchild of museum staffers Steve Gibbs and Greg Sharp. In 12 years, its attendance has grown to rival that of some NHRA national events. Another example is the year-old National Hot Rod Reunion, an immediate sensation in Bowling Green, Ky. Not
coincidentally, both shows are staged at distinctive, decades-old drag strips, which in no way resemble the sterile, concrete-and-aluminum “’plexes” that pollute the championship circuit.

Lesser known, but no less significant, is a series of indoor presentations hosted at the museum itself. So irresistible was the latest such promotion that I found myself driving all night—more than 400 miles—to make a 10 a.m. gathering of former California track operators, appropriately billed as “Drag Strips We Knew And Loved (And The Men Who Ran Them)”. As the sun came up beside Highway 99, I was reminded of countless early-morning trips to the same Pomona property in the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s, when I wouldn’t have dreamed of missing opening day of a Winternationals or World Finals. Sadly, those days are long gone for me.

Irony was everywhere, beginning with a familiar approach that took my dad and me along the full length of the Pomona track, on a road that was once recognizable to anyone who ever saw a top-end photo. Alas, those towering cypress trees behind every parachute shot have been harvested to make room for more concrete. Upon arrival at the museum, more irony was supplied by the odd combination of panelists: former track operators traditionally aligned with, and invariably opposed to, the sanctioning body and its edicts. In a program both hosted and promoted by NHRA, the panel leaned heavily towards the latter, “outlaw” element.


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