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Contrary to popular belief, the founder of the American Hot Rod Association was Walt Mentzer, not Jim Tice Sr., the man usually associated with this feat. The 65-year-old Mentzer says he has the paper work to not only prove it but actually revive the organization again. He currently is a family counselor in Deland, Florida, but told this reporter that if things worked favorably, the original AHRA could become an entity in drag racing. Not only is AHRA not dead, but there are actually two AHRA’s extant!

Mentzer’s career dates back to 1952 when he was a member of the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Pacers car club, of which he soon became the president. His star ascended to the point where he was elected president of the Pennsylvania Timing Association in 1955, an umbrella organization that encompassed the Pacers.

“The PTA was really doing well and I told the guys in the Association that we had enough money in our treasury to form our own hot rod association if we desired to do it,” Mentzer remembered. “I had been with NHRA as a regional advisor for the northeastern part of the country, everything from Maryland north. I considered then and now that Wally (Parks) is a good friend, but I thought the organization's focus was wrong, so I left NHRA in 1955.

“I firmly felt that the drag racers needed an organization that spoke for them as opposed to one that spoke for the drag strips. I could understand the position of the track owners and promoters, but my attitude was that they did not deserve the majority of the say. The promoters did, but I didn’t.”

Mentzer went to the Pennsylvania county office that handled such things and incorporated the name of the American Hot Rod Association with himself at the helm. At the end of 1955, Hot Rod magazine did a story on the fledgling Pennsylvania non-profit organization and it attracted a lot of attention.

“I wanted the racers to actually have a voice in how this organization was run, ” Mentzer said. “Every member registered with the home office in Pittsburgh and after a year, they had a vote in how it was run. ”

According to Mentzer, AHRA got its first break after NHRA ran its inaugural National Drag Racing Championships at Great Bend, Kansas a year earlier. NHRA’s initial national event was run for a couple days, but rain washed out Monday’s Labor Day eliminations. Instead of returning to Kansas for the final runoffs, NHRA elected to go to Perryville, Ariz., and finish the event there in conjunction with the Arizona State Championships. This ticked off the Great Bend city fathers and when they found out about AHRA, they flew Mentzer and a couple of association officers to the Sunflower State to discuss an AHRA national championship drag race there in 1956.

“We leaped at the chance, ” Mentzer said. “The Great Bend people really wanted us and we wanted the race. We decided that a weekend prior to the first AHRA National Drag Racing Championships, we would hold a convention and set up elections.

“Wally had told me that he had liked the Great Bend race course and the fact that it was centrally located, but the problem was that there was no populace there. The Arizona site was close to Phoenix and could draw from there and even Los Angeles.

“On our end, we spent a lot of time building for our national event and spreading the word about our organization.”


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