.  Issue #349.
Dec 16, 2014
Editor-in-Chief: Jack and Mary Ann Lawford, www.landspeedracing.com
President of the Society: Jim Miller, 1-818-846-5139
Assistant Editor:
Richard Parks, Rnparks1@Juno.com
Photographic Editor of the Society
: Roger Rohrdanz, beachtruck@juno.com
Northern California Reporter: Spencer Simon, sparklecraftspecial@yahoo.com
Field Reporter/Historian: Bob Falcon, rfalcon279@aol.com
Historians: Anna Marco, Dick Martin, Tex Smith, Burly Burlile, Jerry Cornelison


Click On All Images / Link For more Info / Images

STAFF EDITORIAL, by Richard Parks:
     There is an issue in which all contributors and editors should be aware of and that is the “legal rights” of authors, photographers, artists and makers of intellectual material.  Property rights are very important.  We must respect the rights of those who create text and photos.  You’ve heard me say that just because you “possess” something that does not give you the right to claim it as your own.  Just because you stumble upon an old photograph, letter, collectible or some sort of memorabilia does not give you ownership of the “creative idea.”  What you have is the “ownership” of the object, but NOT the ownership of the idea behind that object.  An artist creates a painting and makes prints of it and sells them.  He keeps ownership of the image and sells you ownership of the print only.  He can make one or a million prints and yet he still owns the “creative idea of the painting.”  You own the print, but you cannot make copies of the print and sell them; only the creator of the original can do that legally.
     The same is true with the written word.  Each word that I am typing belongs to me and I own it.  You cannot copy it and distribute it without my authorization; with exceptions of course.  One of the exceptions is that you can copy an object and disseminate it with the author’s permission.  Or you can copy and send it to your friends if you merely use it for personal use and enjoyment, but not to sell or profit from it.  You can also quote sections of the work in a journal or newsletter.  The important thing to remember is that the creator of the material is due all profits and rewards for his or her work.  Some authors, magazines, newspapers, websites and journals will grant you use of their material while others will restrict all use.  In some cases they will let you use part of the text if you refer them back to their site to read the rest.  Some will let you use their photographs and captions and others won’t.  Always respect their property rights and rules and you will find them very eager to work with you on your requests.  On the other hand if you get a reputation as a plagiarist or if you refuse to honor their property rights you may risk a lawsuit and you will have a bad reputation.  The Society of Land Speed Racing Historians always tries to follow the rules and as editor I won’t allow you to post material without permission if I know that you didn’t follow the rules. 
     Here’s a partial email that I received from an editor of another website recently.  "I'm fine with you re-posting our stuff on LSR.com.  I think it's an excellent use of our material, and I appreciate you redirecting folks to us for additional content.  You really provide a great service to the industry and the hobby, and I'm very grateful to have you contributing, supporting, bolstering, and championing our website."
     You can see by the tone of the letter that we have a fine working relationship with this editor.  I also have a good working relationship with a lot of other websites, magazines, newspapers, journals and other publications.  That’s because I respect their property rights and I never take offense when they tell me not to touch their material that they own.  I simply tell my readers to go to the other publication’s website to see the article and photos.  Sometimes, even when I have permission, I will just refer you to their websites to read the article.  I very rarely use other people’s photographs or captions and prefer to send you to the other website.  Why do I borrow material sometimes and not at other times?  First, copying something must always have an ATTRIBUTION.  That is, whenever I borrow anything I must explain where I got it and that I have permission to use it.
     My purpose is to strengthen ties between that publication and our newsletter.  I want our newsletter to grow, but I also want that other publication to grow and thrive too.  Finally, processing photographs and captions is time consuming for our photographic editors and I want to spare them that extra work.  The main reason I borrow material is that I have discovered over time that what is “right in front of you” will probably be glanced at and read.  Each time I place a hurdle in front of someone the possibility exists that readers will simply stop reading.  Each time you are forced to sidetrack and go to a link there is a 95 percent chance that you won’t go there and finish reading the article.  That’s why I reprint the article and post it in the newsletter.  If it’s THERE in front of you it will be noticed and read, but if only part of the borrowed article is there you will read only that part and most likely not go to the original source.  I know, because that’s what I do; I read what I can see and I don’t have the time to go to links that take me elsewhere unless I really, really want to finish the article or see the photographs.

      I am the editor of The Antique Outboarder, the quarterly magazine of the Antique Outboard Motor Club, Inc.  Donald W. Peterson was a frequent contributor to the magazine.  We wish to publish a memorial article on him (as we do for deceased members of the club) and are looking for a photograph to accompany the article.  We have been unsuccessful in polling club members.  I am aware that you reviewed his book "Racing Outboards."  If you are willing and able to help, can you connect me with someone who might be able to supply a photograph of Mr Peterson?   Scott Bogue
     SCOTT: At one time I had a wealth of boat racing history and photographs, but when I left the board of the Boat Racers Reunion no one took over the editorship of the Boat Racers Reunion Newsletter and I found out the hard way that records don't stay on the internet unless the websites stay in operation and pay their fees.  So we lost a great deal of irreplaceable photographs and historical text.  I did two reviews for Donald W. Peterson and you can run those in your newsletter if you want.  The only photograph that we have of Peterson comes from the back cover of his books RACING OUTBOARDS 1907-1989, and RUN TO GLORY; CHASING THE WORLD’S WATER SPEED RECORD 1967-1989.  On page vii of RACING OUTBOARDS there is an acknowledgment list and it is possible that you may track down someone who has a photo of Donald.  His books appear to be self-published for I could not find a publisher or printer mentioned, or they could be "print on demand" books.  I had the same problem in contacting Donald before.  You might check with Bob Senior, who could tell you more about how to find people who knew him.  I am very sorry to hear that he passed away.  He was a fine man and a devoted follower of boat racing and his work filled an important niche in boat racing history.  I wish that we had more like him and his loss impacts our future knowledge on researching boat racing history.  If you create an obituary and would like me to run it at
www.landspeedracing.com, please let me know.  There is no charge for anything that we do. 
STAFF NOTES: The following story comes from SLSRH historian Bob Falcon.

     I never had the chance to know your uncle (Kenny Parks) but I raced in the CJA circuit and knew many of the guys mentioned in your story all over the Jalopy Circuit. The interesting thing about that form of racing is that it was the accepted entry level of competition for those of us that were transitioning from Street Hot Rods to honest to gosh, Real Race Cars that raced on oval tracks. Most oval organizations of the time restricted their competitors from running at events sanctioned by other racing bodies. The Jalopy circuit was open to all cars that fit the CJA Rule Book and competitors who were members of other Jalopy groups were welcomed to compete in their events.  I did not become involved in Jalopy Racing until I left The Navy and discovered that it served as the entry level into oval track racing.  It proved to be a great training ground in spite of the comical nature of the title.
     Jalopy racing proved to be the most competitive style of oval racing of the mid 1950’s.  At Culver City Speedway on Sunday there were over 200 race cars that passed through the pit gate and each entrant was assured of having three timed laps to qualify for competition.  The competitors fell into line at the entrance to the racing surface and each ran one warm up lap then received the green flag for the timed lap at the end of which they were shown the checkered flag.  After returning to their pits for adjustments, and checking the board to discover their "Time" they then queued again in position to make their two remaining qualification laps.  Now here is where it gets competitive!
     The fastest 16 Qualifiers were the group that would race in the Main Event (aka Feature) and the second group of 16 cars were assigned to the Semi Main event.  All the remaining qualifiers were assigned into The Hooligan Event.  Main event lap times were in the high 14 seconds for the main event and the spread over the field was 1/2 second, or less.  The same held true for the main event except the lap times were perhaps less than one second slower that main event times.  And all events were started with the field placed inverted!  Yep, the fast guy was on the outside of the last row.  There were a whole bunch of us who ventured off into other forms of competition but the fact was that if you were a consistent starter in the main event, you were a pretty good race car driver.
  Bob Falcon

Impound Insights - November 8-9, 2014, by Dan Warner.
     The last meet of the season has been put to bed with great fanfare.  The weather cooperated with minimal winds on Saturday and Sunday and pleasant temps both days. A high entry count, approaching 180, I am told, made for a super show.  We ran three rounds on Sunday ending just before the permit cutoff time.
     As usually happens the November meet saw a spike in the El Mirage 200 MPH Club roster.  First up is Ted Olson who drove the Steinegger & Eshenbaugh lakester.  The car ran in the F/FL class using 1/2 of a Chrysler Hemi.  Big load of nitro pushed Ted through the lights at 213 MPH.  Martin Menne scored a ride in The Kraut Bros. C/BGRMR and took advantage of the opportunity to set a new class record of 212.06. Long time salt and dry lakes runner Les Leggitt debuted his new '53 Studebaker in the B/BCFAlt class.  Brandon Leggitt has the driving chores and while stepping up in the license program was able to lay down a 231 record.  Donnie Hicks and his Zoom Zoom Racing F/BGL upped last month's record to a 200.9 earning him a new club hat.  While Donnie was in route home to Orangevale, CA on Sunday, Joe Cardoso took the Tracer Racing entry and ran in the same F/BGL class.  Joe bumped the record way up to 208. I wonder if Donnie knows?  Finally, our long time President, Jon Meyer, is relocating to the Mid West in a few weeks. The club wishes Jon and Julie all the best in the future. The club held their annual BBQ and party at the SCTA building on the lakebed.  The party was well attended and I am sure more than one of us had a difficult time answering the rooster call on Sunday.  A fitting send off for Jon and Julie, thanks for your service Jon.
     In addition to the five records mentioned there are another 13 new certified car records and six bike records.  Starting by entry number we have #7, the Aardema Braun Sheriton V4/BGRMR driven by Cal Rothe.  Cal did a fine job setting the new class record to 165.2 MPH. Derek McLeish was once again in the hot seat of the McLeish Bracket Racing H/BFMS.  The much chopped Triumph TR6 coupe ran to a 177.9 record. I call that close enough to 178 for bragging rights.  Bill Lattin set a record on Saturday but, the one that counted was Sunday's pass. Bill turned everyone's head with an amazing 182 run in the XXF/FCC class using the White Lighting Austin coupe running under the Lattin & Stevens banner.  Don Ferguson III, known as D3, drove the Ferguson Macmillan Honda powered F/BGS to a new record of 269+ MPH.  This could have been the run to win the championship.  We will have to wait until the results are compiled.  The well used Cohn Jucewic Monza ran in the F/CGC class this meet. Driver Bob Jucewic also builds the engines and his 181 ci wonder set the record to 165.1 MPH.  Keith Black and his Black Racing team of family members and friends had a season of wins and firsts in the A/GS class.  Two records at this meet, Saturday's record was superseded on Sunday with a 223.3+.  As mentioned above Martin Menne drove the Kraut Bros. car on Saturday to a club membership.  Not to be outdone, car owner Willie Boelcke took the wheel and beat Martin's record by .276 to place his mark in the upcoming 2015 rule book.  Ed Fenn ends his season with a C/FL record using an engine built by the infamous Bob Brissette.  Ed's new record in the Brissette & Fenn entry stands at 240.7 MPH.  Big Tim Boyle brought his Dodge Ram truck down to So Cal from Colorado for the weekend.  Tim goes home with a 169.3 record in the B/DT class.  The H/BStR class had the current record holder, L.T.D. Sights Racing with Robert Sights up resetting their own record to 153.7.  Robert is the beloved gentleman known as 'Prozac" from the salt.  Chet Thomas closes out his year with the final record in the AA/StR class.  His Ford powered, John Beck built entry finishes as top of class at 211.7 MPH.  Previously mentioned John Beck drove the Vintage Hot Rod entered C/AIR roadster to a final record of 175+ MPH.  John is in contention for the points championship.  He told me that he would like to see a compressed air roadster (C/AIR) on the cover of the rule book.  Eric Eyres and father Russ turned up in impound after a not planned absence.  The Eyres and Son roadster has been close to record speeds at each meet and got one this time in the E/BFR class.  Eric took 'er down track a class setting 212.5 MPH.  White Goose Bar Racing set their second record in a row with Tom Hanley driving.  Once again in the G/MMP class, Tom added 6 MPH to last month's record ending up with a fine 130.7 speed.  The last certified record for this event is the Notabusa entry.  This little Subaru is powered by a Kawasaki engine.  Driven this month by J. R. Foley, the team gained a 123 record for their efforts.
     The bike side came by with six new records: Dave Iversen rode his Dave Iversen Knuckle to a 1000-APS-VG record of 137.5 MPH.  Alp Sungurtekin rode his Alp Racing and Design entry to his third record of the season.  This event Alp was in the 650-APS-VG class with a speed of 130.7 MPH.  Scott Mattern rode the McLeish Brothers team entry to a 125-APS-BF class record of 124.8 MPH.  Cathy Butler and her Van Butler Racing entry has returned to the record lists.  This month Cathy rode in the 650-A-G class with a record speed of 176.6 MPH.  The Pflum Wagner Racing team seems to set a record each meet.  This time rider Jeannie Pflum set two records.  Sunday's final record in the 1000-A-F class was 198.7 MPH.  I am pulling for a 200 speed in 2015. Ralph Hudson rode his 1000-APS-BF Suzuki to set the only bike record in excess of 200 this meet. Ralph twisted the throttle to record a 235.8 MPH record.
     There are still two car and one bike record to be certified before the final 2014 record list is finalized.  We allow teams up to 30 days following a meet to have the engine measured if they desire.  Records are held in pending status until the process is completed.  The 2014 season had ups and downs but I think it all turns out well in the end.  Mark your calendars for 2015.  The first meet is scheduled for the May 16/17 weekend.

     We’ve just finished “A History of Auto Racing in New England.”  It’s at the printer; very well researched with over 400 photos.  Give me your mail address and I’ll mail it to you.  There’s a whole chapter on drag racing.  Dick Berggren
     STAFF EDITOR: I'd be glad to do a book review on “A History of Auto Racing in New England.”  If you want the book back please include a paid return pouch and after the review I will return the book to you.  All reviews are published at
www.hotrodhotline.com and www.landspeedracing.com.  You can use the review in any other publication that will publish it and you can reduce the size to fit a publication’s parameters.  I will also publish any reviews that have already been done on the book; please send any reviews to me as a normal email or a word document.  
     I have to be honest with you; reviews don't have the impact that they once did.  Reviews are part of the free service that the Society of Land Speed Racing Historians accumulates as a service to the racing community.  All our work is archived at the two websites listed above.

     We just returned from Dandenong in Victoria Australia racing our Shelby Cobra last weekend in the Historic Sandown Races; a Tribute to Sir Jack Brabham and as a special invitation.  There was a fellow we met from last March at Philip Island in March of this year by the name of Ray Sprague and he races a 1932 Hot Rod against the sports cars of the pre-1955 period.  He has an aluminum body he had made and he races very well in the pack.  Ernie Nagamatsu

STAFF NOTES: The following report for the August 2009 Speedweek comes from Ross Ireland and is reprinted by his permission.
To: Our Bonneville Friends:
       Well, another Bonneville Speedweek is over for us and while we had a great few days of awesome racing fate caused us to not be able to set a new record.  But we should have.   Racing started on Saturday and we made one run which turned out to be a false start in the morning.  Our transmission has a special neutral lockout which allows us to roll the car around, and push it to the start line.   On our first run we were not fully in gear relative to the neutral lockout and we had to abort the run.  We immediately found this problem and we checked all our transmission systems and all were working perfectly.  We went back to the line to try again.
       Our second run on Saturday was the best run the car has ever made.  We had our first 300+ MPH average speed for a mile and we did it in the 4th mile.  Our speed was 301 MPH in the 4th mile recorded by the “official Bonneville clocks.”   Our driver felt the engine stumble at the end of the 4th mile and he shut the engine down.   We coasted through the 5th mile and had an exit speed of 279 MPH.  We had an average 5th mile speed of 302 MPH.  This means we entered the 5th mile at about 320 MPH.  The current record is “315.766 MPH.”  This was our first run and we were pretty excited.  Back in the pits we found we had burned the piston in #3 cylinder from an apparent lean fuel mixture.  All other cylinders appeared OK.  It took us all day on Sunday to tear down the engine, check everything and replace the piston in #3 cylinder.
       Monday we made our second full run on a new rebuilt engine and a much richer fuel mixture particularly in #3 cylinder.  We ran well but got a bit of a slower start and ran 304 MPH in the 5th mile with no engine damage.   We were delighted.  We planned out the next two or three passes to get our fuel mixture closer to optimum and then put more blower boost into the engine to get the record.  I was feeling pretty confident that we had a plan and we would get the record.
       Tuesday morning we ran again and we were in the 4th mile on a pass that would have been about a 307 MPH to 312 MPH pass when the engine just quit.  Fate got us.  One of our 32 fuel injection line connections vibrated loose during the run and leaned out the engine burning up engine parts and completely melting our intercooler radiator.  We were done.  By the way the part that loosened up is the proverbial 50 cent part.  I believe we know what to do to set a record and we will be back in 2010 to do just that.
Best Regards, Ross Ireland, Frank Silva, and John Sprenger
DRAG RACERS INCORPORATED 1957, written by Joe Arce, for the Gone Racin' series at
www.hotrodhotline.com, a division of Internet Brands.  Photographs by Joe Arce, editing by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz.  October 4, 2014.  Reprinted with permission of Internet Brands, for photos go to www.hotrodhotline.com.  

     Even though our Arce family has only been here about a century, my Arce ancestors, Jose Gabriel de Arce, and Sebastian Constantino de Arce were with Father Juniper Serra in 1769, when they traveled from La Purisima, Baja California, Sur, (population less than 200) to meet Father Serra at Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana de Velcata, located more than several hundred miles south of the Alta California border (and San Diego).  The two Arce brothers left La Purisima, with Fray Juan Crespi. 

     My sister, Irene Arce Foster, found this mission in ruins when she was doing her Master’s thesis research.  Irene is now retired but she was an instructor at Fullerton College and Cerritos Community College.  She is a professional archaeologist and has been on four major digs.  Her Bachelors degree (Fullerton State College) is in geology.


     I was born on March 23, 1935 in Oxnard, California to Joseph Arce, Senior and Catherine Rodriguez Arce.  I am the oldest of four children that include Kay Arce, Norman Arce, and Irene Arce Foster.  My father was born in Nogales, Arizona in 1912. My mother was born in Hacienda Ojo de Agua, Michoacan, Mexico, in 1913.  My father was self-employed as a semi-truck driver most of his life.  My mother worked most of her life at Service Foods (later, Embasa Brand) in Carson, California, as a quality control manager.

     My grandfather on my father's side, was a cattle rancher in Nogales, Arizona and earlier, in La Purisima, Baja California, Sur.  My grandfather was born in La Purisima, in 1860.  My grandmother, Guadalupe Mayoral Arce was born in La Purisima in 1875.  We are descendants of Sebastian Constantino de Arce and Jose Gabriel de Arce, Spanish "Soldados de Cuera," who were soldiers in the Gaspar de Portola Expedition of 1769.  Most of the soldiers selected to accompany Father Junipero Serra on his northward march belonged to a unique breed of Spanish soldiers called los soldados de cuera (the leather-jacket soldiers).

     Many of the pieces, such as the heavy leather jerkin, a bull hide shield and a lance, set these men aside from the regulars. They were called SOLDADOS DE CUERA because of their heavy jerkin. Weighing some eighteen pounds and reaching almost a yard from the shoulders to the knee, this form of armor represented a mixture of an ancient European garment and a similar cotton quilted outfit worn by the Aztecs called ICHCIPILLI.  The CUERA, shaped like a coat without sleeves, was made of seven plies of white tanned deerskin. It provided protection against the arrows of the Indians except at very close range. The shield was heart-shaped, made of two plies of raw bull hide and carried on the left arm to turn away spears and arrows.

     The Portola Expedition was there to protect Father Junipero Serra as he traveled to Alta California.  In 1769, the first mission was founded in San Diego.  According to Marie Northrop's Spanish-Mexican Families of Early California: 1769-1850, vol. I, pp. 40-41: Jose Gabriel de Arcesoldado de cuera of 1769 Portola Expedition arrived at Monterey with a pack train from San Diego.  He returned to Loreto with Sgt. Ortega in September 1770 and was a sergeant there in 1782.  "Arce believed to be an English name."  Jose was born about 1727 at Villa de Sinaloa, Sinaloa, Mexico of Francisco Pereda y Arce and Rosa Lopez.  About 1760 at Loreto, Baja California, Mexico he married Ana Gertrudis Velasco (Velesquez) [buried 31 August 1785 at Velicate, Baja California]. They had 8 children from about 1760 to 25 February 1780, all born in Baja California.  Jose married for a second time on 8 June 1786 at Mission Rosario, Baja California, Maria Josefa Aguilar.  They had 3 children between 20 November 1788 and 11 November 1792, all born in Baja California.

     According to Gateway to Alta California by Harry Crosby pp. 144-146:

Jose was born about 1724 and died 1800, buried at San Fernando de Velicate.  Mr. Crosby gives details of his military career from the time of his enlistment in 1749 until his retirement in 1784. His brother, Sebastian Constantino de Arce was born about 1736 at Villa de Sinaloa; died 1795 at Purisima Cadegome.  Sebastian married first Josefa Rafaela Espinosa and they had one child.  He married second; Francisca Velazquez and they had seven children.  Mr. Crosby gives details of his military career from the time of his enlistment in 1759 until his death, at which time he was Majordomo at Mission de la Purisima de Cadegomo.
     Spain declared war on England 21 June 1779 and continued operations against England until peace was declared.  King Carlos Ill urged his soldiers and sailors to attack the English wherever they were found.  During this period, his officers reinforced the California settlements of New Spain and established the new pueblo of Los Angeles, the new presidio of Santa Barbara, and the new mission at San Buenaventura.  They sent two armed frigates to counter Captain Cook, said to be off the northern shores of Alta California.  They took steps to prevent the capture of horse herds and livestock by English landing forces.  They gave individually to the fund to defray expenses of the war.  They did without supplies for two years so the Port of Manila could be supported.  The 500 plus soldiers and sailors who served in these frontier settlements and waters were specifically focused on warding off the English claims and advances.   Because of communications time lag, soldiers in California did not know they were at war with England until 1780, and they did not know the war was over until 1784.  By September, 1779, they had rumors of impending War with England, and began to take precautions.  These families include most of the 3000 Spanish/Mexican people in California in 1822 when Mexico declared Independence from Spain.



Racing History:


     From 1954 to 1962, I made my living as a semi-truck driver.  But my future all changed in 1962 when I left the trucking business to start a lifetime career working with rocket engines and chemical lasers. This all began because of my need to learn more about handling rocket fuels when I was drag racing my Triumph T100R factory racer motorcycle in 1957.
     Early in life I learned to develop mental skills to properly focus on my goals in life. Activities like racing motorcycles, driving down a steep hill in my 50,000-pound, 60-foot semi-tractor/trailer fully-loaded and trying to slow down in heavy traffic using vacuum brakes or mixing rocket propellants in a concrete bunker requires a person who is mentally tough and can stay focused on things of the moment regardless of the circumstances.  That means staying calm and remain centered when an explosion occurs in the laboratory.  Or, like when my Triumph motorcycle went into a wheel wobble at high speed at the Pomona Drag Strip where a slight dip existed in the 1950's. Instead of panicking, I concentrated on slowly reducing the speed until I was safely out of the wobble that was causing my bike to get out of control and possibly flipping over.  A motorcycle will go through various "zones" of oscillatory stability and instability as it accelerates up to its highest speed. High speed wobbles can occur whenever something starts a vibration that matches a resonant frequency of the wheels.
     A resonant frequency is one at which your motorcycle will vibrate very easily; a particular motorcycle may have multiple resonant frequencies.  The starting point may be a bump in the road, a rough patch in the road, or some combination of these factors. Other potential contributing factors include the small torques resulting from wheel rotation and the tiny lateral oscillations that spinning wheels make if they're not aligned with absolute perfection.  While wobble or shimmy can be easily remedied by adjusting speed, position, or grip on the handlebar, it can be fatal if left uncontrolled.

     Drag racing began at the small Santa Ana Airport in 1950.  It is now called the John Wayne Airport (2014).  On weekends this small airport used one of the airport landing strips for drag racing. We use to race on an air strip adjacent to small airplanes landing nearby. There were not many drag strips in the country in 1957. I realized early on that I would have to learn how to handle rocket fuel like hydrazine, that some of my competition was using, to keep all of my drag strip records.  
     My drag racing success was not entirely due to my efforts. I had help along the way from Bobby Sirkegian, Jack Milne, and Kenny Staggs. Bobby Sirkegian, then age 18, took my intake manifold, ground down and polished out the ports. He did this at his father's motorcycle shop in Monrovia. Jack Milne, a Pasadena motorcycle shop owner who I met at a drag strip, reduced the total weight on my Triumph T100R by eliminating steel items like the oil tank, etc., and constructing them out of aluminum. He also removed the 7-10 pound, aluminum chain case cover and the kick starter. Kenny Staggs worked on my racing cam timing to improve my acceleration. He helped me install special (high tension matched) clutch springs. At one point we dismantled the cylinder block and replaced the racing-worn piston rings right at the track since he felt we were losing compression through the cylinder rings. He did not feel re-boring was necessary. That resulting in my breaking my own speed record at Santa Ana Drag Strip on that day. We normally went out to the race track together using his two motorcycle trailer. At the end of my racing days, I had raced about 250 times and lost only two races.  
     At the end of one year I had broken most of the drag strip track records that included Santa Ana Drag Strip, San Fernando Drag Strip, San Gabriel Drag Strip, Pomona Drag Strip, Colton Drag Strip and the World's 1957 Drag Strip Record at Famoso Drag Strip. I am a member of Drag Racers Incorporated, made up of persons who held the World's Record in their respective racing classes.  All of this is documented in my family history files from 1957 Drag News Magazine, and the Orange County Register Newspaper clippings. I stopped racing at the end of 1957 and enrolled in high school chemistry classes at Hollywood High School at night. Later, I enrolled at East Los Angeles Community College in Monterey Park, taking chemistry classes after working hours. 

     While we were cleaning out our garage, I found my Triumph T100R dual carburetor racing manifold with 1-inch Amals and float bowls on it.  They were rare in 1957, so they are even rarer now.  Also, I found my motorcycle drag racing helmet that Von Dutch pin-striped in 1957.  You can see me wearing my helmet in the photo taken at the Santa Ana Drag Strip in 1957.  Dean Jeffries painted/lettered my motorcycle tank.  As you recall I could not trust Von Dutch to do it since he was drinking all of the time that he worked.  Von Dutch's lifelong alcoholism led to major medical issues later in life.  He died on September 19, 1992 from alcohol-related complications.  I was surprised that he lived to be 63 years old.  Dean Jeffries lived to be 83 years old.  At that time, Von Dutch shared the same building (shack) with Jeffries in Lynwood, on Atlantic Blvd., not far from George Barris.  Everyone hung out at the Barris Custom shop in Lynwood, including many celebs of the day.

     I only met Bud Hare once.  That was in 1957 when my racing buddy, Kenny Staggs and I drove over to visit him at his home in Orange County.  Besides Bud Hare's Dubble Trubble dragster, another legendary drag bike of the 1950's era was Chet Herbert's "The Beast."   Few people now remember when "The Beast," a Harley Davidson fuel-burning dragster raced a jet plane at the Santa Ana drag strip and won!  Polio attacked Herbert in 1948.  Herbert spent six months in an iron lung, and was paralyzed from the chest down and spent the remainder of his life in a wheelchair. 

     Herbert developed ideas for racing parts; and went back to motorcycles and stripped a Harley-Davidson down to just the essentials.  He took it to the Santa Ana drags in 1950, where the unattractive bike, nicknamed THE BEAST made runs of 121 to 129 mph, beating bike and cars at the Santa Ana drag strip.  Herbert used the roller lifters in the Harley V-twin and applied the technology to a Chevrolet six-cylinder from his circle-track race car.  Herbert using a lathe made a camshaft grinder and made his own cams.  The Chevy engine made 275 hp, which was more than the Offy's made.  Chet Herbert Cams became the market leader in roller camshafts for American competition engines for the next ten years.   

     His business grew and his roller camshafts went in several Bonneville streamliners which he named BEAST.  Herbert went into drag racing in the 1950's and raced dragsters.  He is known for the twin inline V-8 design and the zoomie header, which sent exhaust gases toward the rear tires to blow debris away and improve traction, helping dragsters break the 200 mph barrier.

     Doris Herbert bought DRAG NEWS with her brother Chet's help in 1959.  The newspaper first published in 1955 and gave a serious competition to the NHRA news magazines.  It developed a loyal following and was considered the drag racers Bible.  Even after it ended publication there was a large fan club that continued on and called themselves the 1320 Club; loyal followers of DRAG NEWS.

     Doug Herbert, Chet's son, was a racer too, starting in drag boats and then going into dragsters.  Doug worked for his father in the Santa Ana shop and then moved to North Carolina to open his own speed shop and racing headquarters and Doug Herbert Performance Parts, is still in business.  Chet Herbert was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame along with his sister Doris in 1993.  He continued in racing and his other automotive businesses right up to the end of his life. 

     His dream was to return to the Bonneville Salt Flats with Doug and break the land speed record of 409 mph in a wheel driven car.  He passed away in April, 2009, aged 81.  "Despite the fact that he had polio and was in a wheelchair for much of his life, he never let that stop him from doing anything," Doug said.  "He proved to everyone that he could accomplish whatever he set his mind to, which taught me that, no matter how tough something may seem, if you fight hard enough, you can overcome it," his son concluded.

The following was abstracted from the internet; source unknown.

     The sport's first weekly drag racing track at Santa Ana showed the motorcycle to be dominate. The racers did not always run on gasoline in the very early 1950's and since no records were kept, it's hard to determine what kinds of fuel they used.   
     Santa Ana opened on July 2, 1950 and seven of the 19 events top speed was by motorcycle riders.  There was no such thing as elapsed time in 1950 with the sole emphasis placed on speed.  Chet Herbert's motorcycle called the BEAST, a lay-down, fuel-burning (sometimes) 80-inch Harley Davidson set top speed with riders Al Keys (primarily) and Johnny Hutton atop six times.  Keys also wheeled Joe "Frenchy" LeBlanc's the BEAUTY, another Harley that set the top speed once. By the end of 1950, Keys' 122.95 on the LeBlanc bike was the track speed record.   
     Throughout the early 1950s, the bikers continued to win.  Louis Castro became the first motorcycle rider over 130-mph when he beat Otto Ryssman's D/Roadster in a Top Eliminator final in January 1952. Racers like Bud Hare, Pete Lockhart, Lloyd Krant, Bill Johnson, Mike Ward, Pat Presetti, and Tommy Auger all won Top Eliminator titles and set top speed marks at Santa Ana in the years between 1950 and 1956.
     Of this group, Auger remains as one of the most impressive of all fuel motorcycle racers.  San Fernando Raceway opened in late 1955 and winning Top Eliminator that day was the Vincent of Duncan-Auger-Martz.  In August of 1956, the first of two San Gabriel Raceways opened for business, and Auger pushed the same fuel burner past 1955 NHRA Nationals runner-up Fritz Voight and his gas-burning Chrysler dragster to win Top Eliminator there.
     By the beginning of the 1960's the bikes began losing ground to the cars.  The Top Eliminator saw the dragster dominate, especially when the blower was used by 1959.  Emery Cook was running eight second runs at 166-mph and Don Garlits reached the 180 mark.  Late model Stockers became more prominent, and professional chassis builders started setting up shop, the bikes were soon relegated to a backseat position. 
     Drag News, the top drag racing newspaper, began running a records page on its page two in 1959 and there was no spot reserved for the bikes.  Except for a brief flirtation with gas cycles in 1960 and early 1961, the bikes were absent from the records page.  When NHRA's National Dragster began publishing in 1960, the bikes were not noted in the records pages.
     The bikes did not have many places to race in the 1960's.  Cars outsold motorcycles by a wide margin then and bikes, thanks to the movies and headlines, conjured up the image of outlaw groups like the Hell Angels, Satan's Slaves, and the Gypsy Jokers motorcycle gangs.  At heavy traffic dragstrips like Lions Dragstrip in Southern California, the bikes ran once a month (if that) in a given year, and they were almost always street bikes.  This situation applied to midwest tracks like Cordova, Union Grove, U.S. 30, and Detroit.  They would run bikes, but almost always they were street machines and not nitro burners.
     At big races such as the 1961 U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships in Bakersfield, no bikes were entered and the same applied to NHRA's two big races that year, the Winternationals and Nationals. However, nitro motorcycles did exist in the 1960's, most of them raced on the West Coast.  Two tracks that stuck by the bikes in this period were Fontana Raceway and Colton Dragstrip at Morrow Field, both located in San Bernardino County.
     We first ran SLO-MO-SHUN against Gonzalez's Cadillac-engine dragster    I sent the following email to this website: - - http://www.bikeexif.com/1951-triumph-thunderbird - - Bobbie SirKegian came out of drag racing retirement once in 1957 to race his Vincent Black Shadow dragster bike against tennis star, Pancho Gonzalez, at the San Gabriel Drag Strip. This Top Eliminator race was held when only gasoline was allowed on drag strips. There was a ban on racing fuels like nitromethane at this time due to the large number of people (spectators & racers) who had been maimed or killed from explosions when engines blew up and scattered shrapnel all over.                
     I was there on my Triumph T100R factory racer, SLO-MO-SHUN, a 500cc drag racing motorcycle, which Bobbie had worked on to improve my elapse time.  We first ran SLO-MO-SHUN against Gonzalez's Cadillac-engine dragster, then SirKegian's Vincent Black Shadow.  It was a close race.  Bobby SirKegian's (I also see it spelled SirKegain) 1951 Triumph Bonneville bike is going to be up for auction at Bonham’s, at the November 12 auction at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.  Now as most of you know I usually don't report short articles or short stories or auction alerts I think there are enough of those online but when I heard the Story behind the bike and I learned who Bobby SirKegian is, I just had to do a story about this.  Bobby’s 1952 Triumph was nicked named "Pretty Boy."  In 1953 when most So-Cal 13 year olds come back from summer vacation they told stories at school about going finishing, playing with the family dog, playing baseball in the sandlot and being chased by giant dog and spending a weekend finding a dead body in the woods while being chased by homicidal teenagers and getting attacked by leeches‚ which you know that’s pretty typical stuff to hear it gets kind of boring and it’s not like anyone will ever make a movie out of those topics. Anyway Bobby came back to school telling the class how he won the first ever AMA/NHRA Grand National Title for Motorcycle Drags betting people much older than him and he just set a new record at the Bonneville speed week for the 650cc class which is a story that would of shocked and amazed the class! His Dad Bob SirKegian SR. was also a Motorcycle racer and ran a Triumph dealership and helped Bobby get started in racing motorcycles. Together both Bobby and Bob Sr. help start the sport of Drag Bike racing. Bobby Inspecting "Pretty Boy" before a race Even though Bobby never went back to Bonneville held the AMA/NHRA Grand National Title.

     In 1962, I left the trucking business to embark on an entirely new career that has continued most of my working life; all of it due to drag racing.   After being self-employed in the trucking business for more than 8 years, with Louise's help, I decided to make a career change and begin working in chemistry. I had completed only three college chemistry classes plus some math prerequisites when I successfully interviewed at Aerojet-General. I began my chemistry career in 1962 as a chemical research technician in the Solid Rocket Propellant Research Department at Aerojet-General's Von Karman Research Center in Azusa, CA. I was there from 1962 until 1964 (before I transferred to the Liquid Propellant Department). I was hired by Dr. Keith Sweeney, Assistant Department manager, to work for Dr. Charles Kuchar on the Polaris, Poseidon and Minuteman ICBM missile programs. Polaris was an ammonium perchlorate, aluminum metal powder, with a polyurethane binder missile that had a specific impulse of 255, using a 6-point, star-shaped internal grain cavity (grain configuration). Minuteman 2 was similar in composition with a specific impulse of 270, using a 4-point, star-shaped internal grain cavity (grain configuration). I was hired as Dr. Kuchar's "right hand man" because he had his right hand blown off earlier that year in a laboratory explosion.    
     I do not have to tell you that our administrative assistants (secretaries) avoided any area outside of their immediate building where they and our technical managers worked. It was off limits to them, anyway. They were afraid to venture into a dangerous area like our laboratories and concrete re-enforced test cells where our high-energy work was being conducted. Some of them were very nervous from hearing explosions from time to time. I recall talking to our own secretary each day. She talked to me like it was to be for the last time. Those that had been working there for some years were familiar with explosions that had blown buildings and test cells apart and had sent steel I-beams as far as ¼ mile away past their work area. Our area was about 400 feet by 900 feet, or more than four acres.  Quite compact for the type of hazardous work we were doing. 
     I believe the reason I was so successful in solving problems as a troubleshooter in the aerospace business was due to my early days as a teenage hot rodder and later at improvising on the spot when I needed to make changes with my motorcycle at a drag strip. I spent 25 years working at TRW Space & Defense, in Redondo Beach.  My wife, Louise worked at TRW for 14 years as a computer data clerk. We both retired in 1992.  Our son, Steve, worked at TRW for more than 4 years while he was attending UCLA.  In 1992, TRW offered a group of us a Golden Handshake incentive to retire.  Now, "The Boys of '92" several hundred of us who retired on the same day, meet annually at places like Alpine Village in November.  Our retirees travel from all over the United States to attend this annual event.  I write a TRW Applied Technology Division Retirees newsletter each year. 
     This year the emphasis is on the work we did on chemical lasers: ALPHA, MIRACL, and COIL.  The other lasers we worked on may still be classified so no mention is made of them, of course.  I left Aerojet General's Von Karman Research Center in 1966 and began working in the chemistry department at TRW.  At that time I was assigned to TRW's Inglewood Test Site where I fired small rocket engines.  Yes, this was a residential area at the time.  You might recall that about the same time, Ford Aeroneutronic was firing rocket engines on land that is now called, Fashion Island, in Newport Beach.  A longtime friend and car enthusiast, Jon Mandell, a Ford engineer, was working there at the time.  Jon used to race his FIAT Topolino 3-Window modified fuel dragster at various drag strips when he lived in Dearborn. 
     The following email came from my friend Jon Mandell.  He wrote, "You're probably referring to my FIAT Topolino 3-Window that I built in 1954-55.  I used an Essex frame completely drilled with 3" diameter lightening holes, a 48 Merc flathead, Lincoln 3-speed floor shift, suicide front end, center steering, Halibrand quick-change rear, etc.  I set it up like they do with funny cars today where I pivoted the body off the rear of the frame so I could access everything.  To my knowledge, it was the very first one ever used on a drag strip.  Within 6 months after my picture appeared in Hot Rod Magazine, there were a half-dozen (of these cars) on strips around the country.  That body style is still being used today.  I won my class at the World Series of Drags at Lawrenceville, but sold the car and most of my racing stuff shortly afterwards.  I don't have very many pictures and none with me here in SoCal."
     Our chemistry department spent many years working and analyzing the reaction products of various chemical lasers.  Due to early success in this area, our ATD group in Redondo Beach, received US Air Force contracts to build higher power CW HF/DF lasers that achieved 100 kW power levels.  In 1975, I left TRW to work on chemical lasers and the Space Shuttle Main Engines at Rocketdyne at their Santa Susana Field laboratory in Ventura County.  Rocketdyne built various chemical lasers on company funds in anticipation of receiving Department of Defense contracts to build even larger lasers.  Only Rocketdyne received contracts of sufficient dollar amounts to continue competing with TRW.  Even though I had a good future at Rocketdyne, and due to the long four-hour drive (round trip each day) from Rancho Palos Verdes, I left Rocketdyne after two years (1977) and returned to the chemistry department at TRW in Redondo Beach.  By then the company had much success with other lasing systems.  TRW produced the MIRACL Laser for the U.S. Navy that achieved megawatt power levels.  The latter is believed to be the highest power continuous laser, of any type developed to date (2007).  I also worked on the ALPHA laser and later on the COIL laser.
Gone Racin' is at
Gone Racin’…to say goodbye to Bill Bagnall.  Story by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz.  Circa January 2007.  Reprinted with permission of Internet Brands; for photographs go to
www.hotrodhotline.com and www.bikerhotline.com

   William M. Bagnall passed away last November 22, 2006, and a memorial was held for him at Joe’s Garage in Tustin, California.  The Garage is actually a museum owned by Joe MacPherson, who created it as a testimony to his love of cars and the motorsports fans and racers that he knew.  We hold a lot of memorials at Joe’s Garage.  It’s our way of saying goodbye to our friends who love motorsports as much as we do.  We called him Bill, and his brothers were Art and Jack, and if there was ever a more animated and fun loving family we have yet to meet them.  Bill’s father, Arthur Jack Bagnall, came from Boston, Massachusetts.  Jack served in the Army in France during World War I, and stayed over after the war to study art.  He traveled to California to visit an old Army buddy and met his future wife.  Bill’s mother was Mae and she was the first woman elevator operator in Oakland, California, and yes that’s where they met. The Bagnall’s moved to Taft, California where Arthur worked for Standard Oil of California.  The Bagnall’s had three sons; Jack was born in 1924, Bill followed on March 27, 1926, and Art in 1928.  Jack and his brother Bill were both born in Taft. 
   The family moved to Santa Ana, California, where Art was born.  Then around 1931 they moved again to Huntington Park, California and Bill attended Huntington Park High School.  That’s where they met the Parks boys, Wally and Kenny, and formed a lifetime friendship.  Art Bagnall told us that “when Bill was a teenager he would do funny stunts.”  Bill arranged to have his friend put on dark glasses and stand in line at the Oscars.  “Then Bill put an MGM Movie Studio decal on his car, drove up in the Limousine line and picked up his friend as the fans cheered,” said Art.  “Bill was sponsored by Danny Oakes, the great midget racer, in 1940 at the Soap Box Derby,” Art recalled.  Bill never joined any of the local car clubs, and after graduating from high school he went into the Army and served in the Philippines.  On discharge from the service, Bill worked for Acme Brewery, then went to work for a magazine, and eventually started his own magazine.  Bill’s wife and lifetime partner was Shirlee Alzina, the daughter of Hap Alzina.  Hap was the West Coast distributor for the Indian Motorcycle, and according to Allen Girdler, saved the financially struggling motorcycle manufacturer on several occasions.  Bill first met Hap when he was at Motorcyclist Magazine and they attended the same races and Hap introduced Shirlee to Bill.  Shirlee supported Bill in everything that he did and was constantly working on the magazines as well as taking care of their family. 
   Sammy Tanner, a pro motorcycle racer since 1956, recalled that Bill was without a car, when a motorcycle fan picked him up one day and took him to a motorcycle racing field meet.  This happened before WWII, and Bill was hooked on motorcycle racing from that time on.  After the war Bill went to work at a camera store and combined his love of photography with his love for motorcycle racing.  Variations on field racing vary, but Tanner said that the racers would take one of their boots and put it in a pile, then return to the starting line.  The object was to race your motorcycle down to the pile, find your boot, put it back on and race back to the finish line, with the winner obviously shod and there first.  Bill was now a motorcyclist at heart, and a photographer of merit, who would combine these two loves so that they would define his life.  Tanner would race professionally from 1956 to 1973 at Ascot and other tracks.  Bill would go into the media and marketing profession and promote motorcycle racing.  Sammy explained some of the types of racing.  There was Speedway Bike racing, which were light bikes with no brakes that raced on short oval courses and were called Class A racing.  Class C is the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) division for flat track racing on larger oval racing courses.  TT racing was a form of road course racing with right and left turns that eventually evolved into Motocross racing. 
   Bill had endless energy, charm and determination.  He was the editor of Motorcyclist Magazine, which he purchased from his boss, Chuck Baskerville in 1965 and which was later sold to Petersen Publishing, according to Don Emde.  Bill and Larry Hester started Motorcycle Dealer News in 1965, which was a motorcycle industry trade magazine.  Bill was at the center of American motorcycle racing with his contacts in the business and his media talents and photography made him popular and respected.  He stood for positive growth and recognition for American motorcycling, whether recreational or for sport.  Bill was elected the President of the AMA and served three one year terms from 1968 to 1970.  His ability to mediate and get people to work together brought growth to the organization and he traveled to international conventions to promote American interests in motorcycle racing.  Bill was a member of the Trailblazers Club, founded in 1940, and a past president from 1994-97.  He was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame.  Shirlee passed away first and left a deep sorrow.  But Bill continued to do what he loved to do, take pictures, support motorcycle activities and continue to run his photography swap meets with his daughter Tracy. 
   Those attending the memorial spoke lovingly of their time with Bill Bagnall.  Don Emde recalled that his father, Floyd Emde had known Bill.  Don and Floyd had the distinction of being a father and son who both won the Daytona 200 Motorcycle race.  Floyd won it in 1948 on an Indian Scout and Don won in 1972.  Allen Hardy, whom we call ‘or is it Hardy Allen,’ is a genial man who has worked on racing teams for as long as we can remember.  Dale Koch recalled the time he met Bill at the Hottentot in 1955, and Bill rode off on Mouse Mulholland’s big Gold Star.  Bob Anderson reminded us that Bill was also a Board member of the Corvair Club.  Allen Girdler told us that Bill had given him tremendous help on Girdler’s book
The Harley/Davidson Indian Wars.  Bruce Flanders said that Bill gave him his first chance at writing for the Motorcycle Dealer News.  Bruce wrote on motorcycle racing at Bonneville while only a junior in high school, and had a cover shot in the magazine.  Bruce is the announcer at Irwindale Speedway and Speedway Bike Racing at the Grand in the City of Industry.  He also mentioned that he will be the announcer at the Grand Prix of Long Beach for the 30th straight year. 
   Shane Bagnall, Bill’s great nephew, told us, “They were all characters.  We grew up in Orange County and Huntington Park, California.  Jack was the quiet type, loved motorcycles and passed away in the 1980’s.  Art is a real character and very funny.  Art is an Indy 500 old-timer and everyone likes to be around him.  Bill had boundless energy and was always taking pictures.  We always met at Jack’s house for holidays and especially on Christmas Eve.  Bill always let me help him at his camera shows which were held at the Sequoia Club in Buena Park,” said Shane.  Bob Airheart and Don Rackemann knew Bill through his brother Art.  Billie Parks, Kenny’s widow, and her son Bob and daughter-in-law Laura traveled down to the memorial from Templeton, California.  Art and Kenny made an art form out of pestering each other in fun.  Diane Bagnall, Art’s wife, said “Bill was a fine and generous man.  I’ve known him since 1959, and Bill can be very proud of his accomplishments.  Art and Bill also owned and edited
Van, Pick-up and Off Road Industry News.”  Danny Macias knew Bill from the 1950’s.  “I worked at Johnson motors at the time,” said Danny, who was also a motorcycle racer.  Danny did all kinds of motorcycle racing and was in the Trail Blazers with Bill.  Bill was bald and always kidded Macias about his hair, “Danny and I have known each other for years, but the only thing different about us is our barbers,” joked Bill.  Macias raced from 1939 to 1967 at Ascot, Tulare, San Diego, Catalina Grand Prix, Big Bear Run, Hare and Hound and other events.
   Ken Clark knew Bill from the early days and he was an active racer from 1952 through 1969.  Bob Johnson told us that Bill handled the advertising for the Corvair Club that he belonged to.  The club has about 35 members.  “Bill was a great guy,” said Bob, “we went to Catalina by seaplanes in the 1950’s to see the big bands play at the Casino.  The museum there had photos of motorcycles, which Bill had taken.  The Catalina race started in Avalon and went through the island.  Bill didn’t race but he wrote stories and took photos,” said Johnson.  Thomas Ritter had known Bill since 1986 and rented a booth from Bill.  Terye Bagnall is Steve’s wife.  Jim Kalke is Shane Bagnall’s stepfather.  Mike Parti was a sidecar racer for TT and flat track racing.  Ernie Aragon knew Bill as a member of the Trailblazer’s Hall of Fame committee.  Ernie used to race and do stunt work in TV and movies.  Harry Ringer knew Bill from his Huntington Park days.  Nick Nicolaides raced cycles from 1948 through 1952.  Howie Zechner is a well-known videographer in motorcycle racing.  Bud Wright was an enduro racer who knew Bill in high school.  Other friends included Gene Pegenkopp, Hobo John, Harry Suture, Cindy Rutherford, Bren Baillie, Dana Shapir, Max Brubeck, Pat Owens, Tom Shedden, Terry Pratt, Lynn and Adina Wineland, Bob and Barbara Maller. 
   Cindy Rutherford said, “I knew Bill through the Motorcycle Dealer News, which was a motorcycle Industry trade magazine.  Bill was going to do an article on my shop, Century Motorcycles, in San Pedro, California.  My dad, ‘Wild Bill’ Cottom founded Century in 1933.”  Walt Fulton III and his father also knew Bill when his father was involved in racing.  Bryon Farnsworth recalled Hap Alzina and his influence on motorcycle racing in the early days.  They called Bryon ‘
Clutch Cargo,’ after a cartoon character.  Bryon raced in the early 1960’s worked briefly for Motorcyclist magazine.  Tracy Bagnall-Lloyd and her family and friends worked very hard to create this special memorial service so that Bill’s friends could give their last farewell gestures to a man who meant so much to American motorcycling.
Gone Racin’ is at

Gone Racin’…The Amazing Life of John Cooper Fitch, by Art Evans.  Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz.  October 29, 2014.  Reprinted with permission of Internet Brands, to see the photographs go to www.hotrodhotline.com

     Art Evans has written many books on road course racing, especially during the height of American sports car racing in the 1950’s.  The Amazing Life of John Cooper Fitch is his latest work.  This is a paperback book measuring 5 ½ by 8 ½ inches and is 192 pages, double spaced on high-quality paper to enhance the photographs.  There is one color photo on the front cover of the book showing John Fitch on the Bonneville Salt Flats, two maps and 101 black and white photographs interspersed throughout the book.  There is an introduction by Evans, but no index.  Enthusiast Books of Hudson, Wisconsin is the publisher and the ISBN is 1-583-88-329-0, or 978-1-58388-329-7.  You can reach the publisher at info@enthusiastbooks.com.  The price is $29.95.  You can also order this book through Autobooks/Aerobooks in Burbank, California.
     Art Evans has a gift for biography.  It starts with a love that he has for sports car racing; a sport that he participated in.  He doesn’t waste time; he goes right into the story.  The text is easy to read, the photographs are interspaced throughout the book and the interest level never flags or slows down.  The chapters are short and the characters are well developed.  My day is full of interruptions and yet I found it easy to pick up the book where I left off and continue reading.  John Fitch is a fascinating person and like so many other men and women of the Great Depression and World War II era, a man of many talents.  I’m glad to see Evans go into more detail.  Evans has written several books in a format that I like; a page or two of text and a full page photograph.  Evans is also an excellent photographer.  John Fitch deserved a book all to himself and Evans gave it to us.
     Fitch was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1917, young enough to know the men who created the modern day automobile industry, the greatest racers of the day, experience the Great Depression, fight in World War II and of course become a well-known American road course racer in his own right.  Patrician looking, he knew the Kennedy family well, had that look of a Boston Brahmin and the pedigree of a New England Yankee.  His great-great-great grandfather received a patent for a steamboat in the late eighteenth century.  John’s stepfather, George Spindler, introduced his stepson to the Indianapolis 500 motor race, the granddaddy of them all.  Fitch knew many of the racers from the early days of racing.  He took a leave of absence to travel just before the outbreak of World War II.  He traveled around England, Scotland and Wales and then returned home when Germany invaded Poland and Europe descended into a nightmare.  He purchased a sailboat, became a volunteer for the Coast Guard anti-submarine watch and sailed all over the Gulf of Mexico. 
     Fitch enlisted in the US Army and was sent to flight training to be a pilot.  Six months later the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States was at war.  He flew fifty missions bombing German target, was a test pilot and trainer.  With his rakish good looks he dated frequently and had many affairs.  He flew a German jet and even shot one down.  He was shot down inside Germany and became a prisoner of war and months later he was liberated by General George Patton’s 3rd Army.  The war ended and he had led an entire life in 28 short years.  After the war Fitch returned to Florida and while there he met Kathleen Kennedy and for a while they were a twosome.  At the Kennedy compound Fitch met Jimmy Doolittle, Edward VIII, the former King of England and John F. Kennedy, the future President of the United States, among others.  Kathleen died in a plane crash in 1948 ending any possibility of a relationship.  John moved back to New York State where he found work and married Elizabeth Huntley.
     He opened up his own MG dealership in 1949 and began competing in road course racing with Elizabeth on his crew and as a spotter.  He added Jeeps to his inventory list and continued road racing against the best of that era, including; Miles Collier, Briggs Cunningham, Tom Cole, Phil Walters, Luigi Chenetti, George Rand, Jim Kimberly, Bill Spear, Fred Wacker, Bruce Stevenson, Phil Waters, Peter Walker, Stirling Moss, Peter Whitehead, Phil Hill, Irving Robbins, Alberto Ascari, Robert Manzon, Jack McAfee, and many others.
     In 1950 he and Elizabeth moved to Connecticut, where they would live the rest of their lives.  That same year he raced in the first Sebring race in Florida and won his class. The next year he won the first ever Formula III race held in America and multiple class wins in other road course events.  He won the 1951 Formula 1 race in Buenos Aires, Argentina in a borrowed Allard and set the course lap record.  He met Juan and Eva Peron and was feted for his win.  Fitch was invited to join the Briggs Cunningham racing team in 1951.  As he left for Le Mans, his first child, a son was born.  At Le Mans he finished a respectable 3rd with co-driver Phil Walters.  Back home in the US he won at Elkhart Lake, was second at Watkins Glen and first at Palm Beach.  At the end of the year he had won the first ever SCCA National Championship and cemented his place as one of America’s best road course and sports car drivers.
     If 1951 hadn’t brought him enough accolades, Fitch also participated in that year’s Carrera Panamericana Road Race in Mexico.  The race started on Mexico’s southern border and went northward all the way to the Rio Grande.  It was a six day race over 2000 miles, with rest stops at night.  In 1952 Fitch raced in the French Le Mans endurance race and at Nurburgring, Germany, against the best Porsche cars in the world.  He won at Elkhart Lake and set a record.  At Watkins Glen a boy was killed when a car skidded out of control and the stewards decided the crowds were too difficult to control and cancelled the event.  He won at Turner Air Force Base and was personally congratulated by Air Force General Curtis LeMay.  That November he entered his second Carrera Panamericana Road Race.  The race lasted only five years before it was cancelled as too dangerous for drivers and spectators.  It was one of the most grueling races ever staged and simply to last the entire course was a victory in itself.  Engine trouble had ended his first attempt; Fitch was determined to do better this time around.
     The Panamericana was more than an endurance or speed contest.  The roads were treacherous, the spectators lined the road and often would drive their cattle in front of the cars to be killed, and then demand money for the dead animals, from government officials.  Cars skidded off the road killing drivers and spectators.  The jungles were hot and the mountains were cold.  It tested the mettle of the world’s best drivers and machines.  Fitch finished the race this time in fourth place.  In 1953 Fitch competed in the Monte Carlo road rally.  This was a four-day, 2000 mile road rally starting with check points in Glasgow, Lisbon, Munich, Oslo, Palermo, Stockholm and ending in Monte Carlo.  Returning to the US he raced at MacDill AFB in Florida, which he won, with Phil Hill in second place.  The Cunningham team along with Fitch also won at Sebring.  Fitch entered the Italian Mille Miglia in a Nash-Healey, which he found insufficient to do well in the race, but a very comfortable car to tour around in the Italian countryside.
     I normally don’t go into so much detail in a book review, but Fitch led such an exciting life that it’s hard not to tell you his every adventure.  My purpose as a reviewer is to tell the potential reader whether this is a quality-made book and if I would recommend its purchase.  The public needs to know if the book is well crafted and will last and more importantly, if it is interesting and fulfills a need.  The Amazing Life of John Cooper Fitch is a nicely done book from the standpoint of construction.  But it is also a fine read.  There are more chapters, including the Indianapolis 500, 1953 Le Mans, Reims, the Alpine Rally, Grand Prix racing, Monza, 1953 Mexican Road Race, THE RACERS movie starring Kirk Douglas, 1955 Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, the Corvette connection, Lime Rock Park, the Briggs Cunningham D-types, Sebring, Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Fitch Sprint (Corvair), and his last races. 
     Even after John Fitch retired from racing his creative mind kept busy.  He developed the Fitch Inertial Barriers, a design for barrels that cushion the shock of a crash and which are found on freeways and race tracks around the world.  His racing feats are enough to keep his memory alive, but the lives that he has saved is probably his greatest achievement and one that he may have felt was his best contribution to humanity.  He also created and patented the Fitch Compression Barriers, the Fitch Displaceable Guardrails, and the Fitch Driver Safety Capsule.  While Fitch was finished with competitive racing the world of racing wasn’t finished with him.  Numerous accolades and honors came to him over the years and he was inducted into many honorary programs.  He was invited to the Goodwood Festival in England as an honored guest.  Fitch went to the Bonneville Salt Flats to try for a record in Bob Sirna’s 300 SL. 
     I think the greatest honor John Fitch ever received was the friendship and good humor of his friends in racing.  He made many trips to California to attend events with the Fabulous Fifties, a group of the greatest men and women who ever raced sports cars on the world’s most daring and thrilling road courses.  They were a special breed of racers, which we will probably never see again.  Seeing Fitch with Art Evans, Bob Bondurant, Dan Gurney, Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Dick Guldstrand, Jim Hall, Ruth Levy, Carroll Shelby, Bill Pollak, Ken Miles, Parnelli Jones, Ed Hugus, Chuck Daigh and many more is a road racing fan’s greatest joy.  I enjoyed the book immensely and I recommend that you add it to your library.
Gone Racin’ is at
RNPARKS1@JUNO.COM.  ********************************************************************************************



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