In 1952, Strategic Air Cammand (SAC) commander Gen. Curtis LeMay opened selected air bases throughout the United States to Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) organizations to hold races on base flight lines. LeMay was himself a sports car fan and drove a Cadillac-powered Allard in the early 1950s. Although wildly popular with race fans—tens of thousands of spectators turned out for races on any given weekend—the races cost the U.S. government a great deal of money. The designers of the March track used the long smooth runway to good advantage in the track’s 3.5-mile length during races hosted in November 1953 and 1954. By 1955, the cash-conscious powers shut down the races for good.
I remember my dad taking me to the March AFB track. If it was in 1954, then I was five years old! Growing up I never thought of my dad as being a car enthusiast, but on the other hand, he took me to a lot of races at the Riverside International Raceway after it opened in 1958. He took me to Dodger and Angel baseball games as well.
He didn’t seem to be interested in owning a special car, but he seemed to appreciate cars in his own way. He bought an all-red 1955 Chevrolet Del Ray two-door sedan off of the showroom floor at DeAnza Chevrolet in Riverside. Had the dealer two-tone the car red and white. I remember him drilling holes in his new Chevy to install moldings that went on the front fenders and doors, standard on the Bel Air.
He didn’t realize it at the time, but he had the hottest new car from Detroit with Chevy’s brand new 265 V8. He told me that it was faster than a coworker’s older Corvette with a Cadillac engine, but he didn’t tell me how he knew.
He special ordered a 1968 Buick Skylark. When he got the car he was disappointed that it didn’t handle like the one he test drove. Which, as it turned out, was a Grand Sport. So he had the dealer install sway bars from the GS. Later he confessed that he should have ordered the Grand Sport in the first place.
When I was at GM, I ordered him a 1979 Buick Century Turbo Coupe. Loaded. He liked that. A lot.
When dad was young, maybe about 14, his dad worked as a mechanic for an automobile dealership. They parked the cars on the roof of the building. Charles showed Dad how to park the cars, back them out and move them around. That was how Dad learned to drive—on the roof of that building.
Dad’s Motorcycle Days
In the ’60s Hondas were all the rage. My Dad told me in no uncertain terms that I was never to get a motorcycle. However, there wasn’t a period after that statement, but a semicolon. He went on, “But if you ever do, get a BIG one.”
Dad owned his share of big motorcycles in the ’20s and ’30s, mostly Harleys. The Indian Four in the photos Dad bought from a policeman. He said the bike had a LOT of low end torque; the bike could be layed down standing still if the throttle was wacked hard enough. The policeman told Dad that it was a great cruiser at slow speeds in parades.
My dad and his brother Harry bought motorcycles and each received broken bones at different times. His mom told mine that she would always know through a tingly numb feeling that she would get that one of the boys was in a wreck. One day at work she had this tngley sensation and ran out the door to the mailbox hoping that the insurance premium which she had forgotten to mail on her way to work that day would get to the post office and be postmarked before the ambulance got to the hospital.
Dad took me to Riverside International Raceway several times a year. I was armed with a hand-me-down movie camera from my Uncle. All of the film shot over the years is edited down to about an hour.
In the mid ’70s I was able to help out with the IROC race cars at RIR, installing graphics on the Camaros once the cars and drivers were matched. Dad got a front row seat in the paddock and garage that day. As a footnote, I was able to sit in on the drivers’s meeting before the race. Mark Donohue ran the show.
Father’s Day was a couple of weeks ago. I sure miss mine.
Race Car Hunting in the Mid ’60s
Motel Row was on University Avenue in Riverside. Racing teams would check in to a motel and park their rigs in the back. So I’d cruise the parking lots looking for race cars. Texas plates were always of special interest. In the mid ’60s the Chaparral team, for example, would haul the cars on an open trailers behind Chevy pickups. And left out in the parking lot inviting inspection. Pretty exciting stuff for a teenager.