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Irwindale 30th Anniversary "Last Race" Reunion
This little '27 T Roadster pickup has been hiding in a container in Temple City for more than 30 years. What a find complete with blown Hemi. Behind it is Hop Up Mark Morton's A-V8 with '33-style louvers
On October 30, Jim Peltz wrote a great story for the Los Angeles Times about the city's lost drag strips: Lions, San Fernando, San Gabriel, Fontana, Colton, Irwindale, Saugus, Orange County, Ontario, Riverside, and most recently L.A. County better known to locals as Palmdale. Urban development and escalating land prices have pushed all but a few to extinction. Pomona, where they started racing in 1953, is only allowed 15 "noise" days a year, the new track at the California Speedway in Fontana has its own noise problems and there is the eighth mile track at Irwindale Speedway -that's it for drag city.
Steve Dennish of Limeworks was there with his barn-find Anglia
The name Irwindale of course, conjures fond memories of the old track that is now under a Miller brewery - not a bad fate but under nevertheless. Unable to come to terms with the fact that Irwindale closed three decades ago, local racer Robbi Robison of Legends of Speed, staged a 30th Anniversary "Last Race" Reunion at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. "The owners of the new Irwindale Speedway didn't seem all that interested." Said Robbi, "So the natural choice was Wally's Museum in Pomona where there has been continuous drag racing since 1953."
The recently restored Mondello and Matsubara Fiat lines up next to the Winged Express in the lush grounds of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum
The Reunion attracted almost 1000 people including dozens of old racers and race cars. In the crowd we spotted Gas Ronda, Jr. Thompson who raced with Big John Mazmanian, Bob Muravez, a.k.a. Floyd Lippencott III and, Steve Gibbs who worked at Irwindale and is now race director for the Museum as well as a member of its board. Other local luminaries who were regular Iriwindale attendees include Pete Chapouris, Pete Eastwood, Eric Vaughn, Mark Morton of Hop Up magazine and Brit Steve Dennish of Limeworks who was there with his barn-found Anglia. All were there to honour driver and sponsor Lou Gasparelli and racer Mike Bartlett.
The car park was jammed with old race cars and hot rods. "It was so crowded, it was like a Prolong Twilight Cruise night." Said museum director Tony Thacker. "Of course, I never got to go to Irwindale, it closed 30 years ago, but looking at these cars, especially all the straight-axled gassers, you can imagine what it was like."
Don't you just love those straight-axle fifty fives with 12-spokes and fender-well
headers. Nice flat gray paint too
Temple City for more than three decades. Complete with a Jimmy-blown Hemi, it was quite the find. And who said they're not still out there? Events like the Irwindale Reunion prove there is still a ton of metal out there for the finding.
Favourites among the line up included the famed "Mousie" Marcellus Winged Express AA/Fuel Altered driven most famously one-handed by Willie Borsch, and the Mondello and Mastubara Fiat, recently restored by Pete Eastwood, Karpo Murkijanian and Derek Bower. Also there was a neat little '27 T pickup that had been stored in a barn in
A regular visitor to Bromley, Kent, Bob Muravez, a.k.a. Flloyd Lippencott II with the Parks Museum-owned Howard Cams Rattler. Bob used the pseudonym because his family wouldn't let him race so he just raced under a different name. The Rattle is a regular cacklefest car
The next big event on the Wally Parks Museum calendar is a fund raising dinner hosted by Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen and Don "The Snake" Prudhomme. Scheduled for the evening of Thursday, Feb 7, 2008, all the proceeds from this event will directly benefit the Museum.
And as a special bonus, the ‘Goose has replicated, for the first time ever, the helmets he and the Snake wore back in the day. They will be auctioned off and, again, all proceeds will go to the Museum. For more information on this and other Museum events go to http://museum.nhra.com or call; 001 909 622 2133.
There were cool old jackets everywhere and some still fitted
Story & photos: Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum