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Bud Evans Celebration of Life

Bud Evans Celebration of Life


Written by Richard Parks with Joyse Evans and Leigh Ann Evans.

Photographs courtesy of the Evans Family. Photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz.

Bud with wife Joyse Ann Evans.

Bud Evans will forever be linked to the founding of the National Hot Rod Association and three other members of the original Safety Safari; Bud Coons, Chic Cannon, and Eric “Rick” Rickman.  “Bud Evans worked as an announcer for NHRA's Drag Safari from 1954 to 1956, and continued a long career in the auto racing industry.  Bud is survived by his wife Joyse Ann Evans, and his daughters Leigh Ann Evans, Sheila Telliard, and Lesly Kenney, as well as grandchildren Evan and Lexington Telliard, and Claire and Audrey Kenney," Leigh Ann said.  He passed away on October 3, 2014 at the age of 86.  Evans was a former dry lakes racer.  He was the regular announcer at Colton Raceway in California. 


It was Wally Parks who decided to send a team of racing experts around the country and organize drag racing.  Parks had a strong goal in mind for a national organization that would create safe and sanctioned drag racing into local communities to help combat the rising negative image of hot rodders as street rodding punks.  What he didn't have was a lot of money to sink into a tour, but he did have some advantages.  The first was the backing of Robert E. "Pete" Petersen and his publishing empire.  Petersen had selected Parks as editor of HOT ROD magazine in the late 1940's when it was small and Petersen Publishing was a one-magazine company.  Parks brought with him a large number of contacts in the racing world and the ability to get people to work together and soon HOT ROD magazine was famous from coast to coast.  But Parks accepted the job as editor with bigger things in mind than a paycheck.  He saw HOT ROD magazine as a forum to take the local dry lakes racers and form them into a larger national structure. 

At first the Petersen/Parks combination concentrated on breaking even and covering all motorsports and hot rodding.  There was the Hot Rod show in 1948 that set the standard for all hot rodding and car shows to come.  Then there was the 1949 Bonneville Speed Week event for land speed racers.  By 1950 both men were intent on branching out.  Petersen opened more magazines and Parks came up with the idea for the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), with Pete's full support and money behind it.  Parks and Barbara Livingston, later to become Parks' second wife, worked on the NHRA when they weren't producing issues of the magazine. 

There had been illegal road and city street racing going on in the 1940's that had the public in an uproar.  An organized drag race at Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara, California in 1949 was authorized by city officials to help stem the danger of street racing.  There had even been semi-official races organized by individual policeman, but not their departments.  The police seemed to be divided into two groups; one side that wanted to stomp out drag racing altogether and another side that wanted to promote legal drag racing.  There were even drag racing events staged by the police in order to gamble on the outcome of the races.  Unsupervised street racing was very dangerous for the racers and the public.  Then in July of 1950 the Santa Ana Drags opened up at the Santa Ana Airport and the world was never the same again.  C. J. and Peggy Hart, along with support from Creighton Hunter and Frank Stillwell, got the blessing of officials.   Drag racers from all over flocked to the new drag strip.

The NHRA sprang to life in early 1951 as a result of all this individual and unstructured drag racing activity and it didn't grow, it exploded.  Parks planted a letter purportedly written by someone else, but actually his own, into the March issue of HOT ROD magazine and then answered it.  “We need a national organization,” the letter said, and Dad answered that “We’ll create one.”  But what direction to go was an issue.  Sure there was racing going on, but the name chosen indicated that Parks’ early idea was to form youth car clubs and encourage activities that would keep kids from illegal street racing.  Parks had street raced in his youth, but now he was a convert to public safety and he fought tooth and nail to end this dangerous pastime. 

With wife and 3 daughters in 1994 with his newly planted tree. Famoso Grove 1994 Heritage Award. From left, Lesly Kenney, Joyse Ann Evans, Sheila Telliard, Leigh Ann, and Bud.

It became painfully obvious by the end of 1952 and the beginning of 1953 that the era of the youth car club had ended and what young people like Don Garlits and others wanted was a league or association that allowed them to drag race.  They weren't interested in gymkhanas, picnics, dances, car shows or any of the fun things that kids did back in the 1930's and '40's.  All they wanted was a place to race.  An NHRA sanctioned race was run in Madera, California in 1953 and I remember listening to Dad say he was very nervous about accidents and whether this would be financially safe, for all we had in resources was his paycheck.

Madera turned out to be a success and in those days just about everything turned out well.  Not that they made any money in those days, but there were no losses to speak of and it generated a lot of positive press for the fledgling sport.  One thing Wally Parks had was a lot of talented volunteers, because with the wages that the early NHRA could pay people was less than minimum wage.  Among these early employees were Chic Cannon, Eric “Rick” Rickman, Bud Coons and Bud Evans.  Leigh Ann Evans told us about her father’s early years, "Bud (A. C.) Evans was born in Colton and attended Colton High School, graduating in 1948.  He later attended San Bernardino Valley College.  He grew up and lived his entire life in Colton, California.  He played football in both high school and college.   My father raced at the dry lakes and he had a small stamped brass plaque that said P.C.T.A 103.21 MPH - El Mirage 4/6/47.  He served in Baker Company, 224th Regimental Combat Team in the US Infantry and was discharged from Korea in 1952.  He was a Mess Sgt in the Army and spent time in Korea and Japan.  During his time in Japan, he developed a love for Japanese culture and taught himself Japanese.  He later created a Japanese Tea Garden at his home. He had a Ford Roadster that he stored at a friend's garage while he was overseas.  When he returned home he found that it had been sold because it was left there too long.”   Parks met Evans sometime in 1953 when Bud was announcing a race at the Colton drag strip, where Evans lived. 

Bud Evans was working at the Colton drag strip in 1953, when he met Wally Parks and Bud Coons.  He was the announcer at the drag strip and his pay was a hamburger, fries and coke.  Bud would walk through the pits and talk to the drivers and this knowledge came in useful when he was announcing the race, for he could always add in a bit of personal information on the drivers as they came to the starting line.  Bud was always a cut-up with a comedic sense of humor and his repartee amused the crowds.  The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) came to the Colton drag strip as the sanctioning body.  Wally Parks heard Bud announce the race and sent word to Bud that he wanted to meet with him after the race.  He told Bud that he liked his style and would like to hire Evans to go on a tour around the country to organize car clubs and teach them how to hold drag racing events in their areas.  The story that Bud told me was a little different.  “I was in the tower and this guy goes off course and hits the supports and I nearly fell out.  I was hanging onto the tower with one hand and holding the microphone with the other and I didn’t miss a beat in reporting the race.  That impressed the hell out of your dad.”

Chic Cannon, Bud Coons, Eric ‘Rick’ Rickman and Bud Evans would form the Safety Safari.  There were a few other men hired to go along, but they didn’t stay very long for a variety of reasons.  Coons and Evans would set up the communications system.  Coons was the boss in charge of the operations of the team and worked the staging lanes, showing the car club members how to stage the race and flag start the two drag racers at the line.  Evans was the announcer and also had the power to disqualify a run.  Rickman took the photographs and made up reports to send back to Wally Parks at the NHRA home offices.  Cannon worked with the car club members on the rules and how to do technical inspections on the vehicles; training the young men how to make their cars NHRA race safe. Cannon also made up the membership cards for the young men.

The four-man team organized drag races at Colton, Redding, Deer Park (Oregon) among some of the places that they traveled to.  The purpose was to help the local car clubs to set up their own drag strips and follow NHRA rules for holding such races.  This included promotion, safety inspections of the vehicles, track safety, crowd control, announcing and communication, and public relations.  As an added job the team would meet with the police, fire and mayor’s office in the towns where the drag races were held.  Evans and Cannon remember that money on the Safari was tight and they were dependent on new membership subscriptions coming in before Parks would send them more money.  They loved seeing the country and talking to young and eager hot rodders and teaching these youth how to set up a safe and sanctioned drag strip.

Parks now had the men to implement his life’s goal of bringing order to a sport he helped nourish.  Evans had the gift of gab and whether it made sense or not, it was delightful to hear.  I could never get him to tell me a story exactly the same; it was always different in some way.  He was born to be an announcer.  He was a dry lakes racer in the 1940’s, right after World War II.  Born in 1928, he was too young to serve in WWII, but just right to be called to duty in the Korean conflict.  He had the background and the ability and if there was one thing that Wally Parks could do well it was to spot talent.  Evans said he took up my father’s offer to join the Safety Safari in 1954 for the food.  He loved cars and he loved racing; just feed him and he was happy.  I've known Bud and Joyse Ann Evans for many years.  I met Coons, Cannon, Rickman and Evans when I was a young boy.  Our paths did not cross again for nearly forty years, when after raising a family and retiring I had more time to go to the races.  What a group these four men made.  They were my heroes for what they had done to make drag racing successful. 

Bud in his Ham Shack at home

Bud Coons was the stoic and unbending ex-policeman from Pomona who had done so much to stop illegal street racing.  A big man, with a flashing smile, or a stern glare, and a full head of black hair, Coons was the sort of leader young kids needed.  You either were glad he was on your side or regretted that he wasn't.  Chic Cannon was the thinker and tinkerer.  He was the one under the hood, inspecting the cars, giving out advice to the young drag racers and generally the guy who got things done.  Eric "Rick" Rickman was everywhere with his camera and his ready and willing support for any show, race or car event.  He supported boat and car racing with his photos and articles and he was constantly on the road.  Bud Evans was the prankster, the trickster, the comedian who kept things loose and fun.  He was the announcer, the PR guy, the one to get into and get the others out of, any trouble they might face.  Our family loved them all.  They were all different and to an outsider, completely incompatible, and yet they became the perfect team.  I've heard stories that they constantly pestered each other and that they couldn't possibly work together.  Yet they did and they revolutionized a new sport.

In later years the four partners and friends would get together at drag races and reunions.  I saw them often at Pomona, especially Bud.  He was a character.  Don't take my word for it.  The first thing his wife Joyse Ann would tell me is, "Hi, Richard, don't listen to Bud, he's a character."  The stories that Bud could tell would curl your toes or make you laugh so hard you would collapse to the ground.  He served time in Korea and it soured his outlook on war, which he never considered glamorous.  His brother was Gene Evans, a Hollywood actor who often played grumpy old sergeants in a battle that was lost or a cause that couldn't be won.  Bud had that side to him too, the grumpy old man who nobody would listen to until it was too late.  But he also had a side to him that was childlike and carefree and devoid of too much seriousness. 

Bud loved to joke and he loved to make you the butt of his humor and if you were his friend you would retaliate and give it right back to him in spades.  That's how you knew that he liked you and how he knew that you liked him.  He knew what he had accomplished in life, but he was a hot rodder through and through and a real hot rodder never admits to being great or poor.  That's for other's to worry about.  As Tex Smith says, a "real hot rodder doesn't have to brag," or prove his value.  He just is what he is and that's enough.  When I introduced Bud to younger people and explained who and what he was they idolized him and this silenced him.  It wasn't often that Bud was quiet.  He had a lot to say and words were his best defense against the world.  Bud Evans had stories; boy did he have them and he changed them constantly.  He kept me off-base and confused trying to make sense of them.  I think that was his goal, to hide behind an impenetrable wall of facts and stories.  Don't believe for a second that any of these stories are false.  I've become expert in seeing how the Depression Era hot rodders used stories to hide their identities.  I've often wondered why, but it seems to me that they are zealously guarding their feelings and views until they decide you are worthy of being allowed into their world.  And what a world it is, for even though most of them are gone now, it is a world of infinite satisfaction. 

The greatest generation did things that our generation can only dream of.  We are much softer today.  Everything we do is more muted and tame.  We see the world through an electronic medium.  We are separated from reality, need, poverty and pain.  Bud Evans' world was hands on.  It broke, so you fixed it.  Their world was one of sights, sounds, touch and feel.  They raced and they fought and they loved and it was all person to person, not cell phone to iPad.  When Bud let us into his world it left us energized and motivated.  My three sons liked Bud and the more outrageous he became the more he was loved.  He's gone now, but he achieved his goal; never to be forgotten.  The enthusiasm of the four men was contagious.  They also irritated each other.  The food that was promised didn’t materialize.  Parks thought the clubs throughout the country would host the men and feed them, but they hardly ever got a meal.  Nor did they receive a lot of help and were left to load up all the equipment and push on to the next town.  Mobil oil was the only sponsor for the tour and the crew got free gas wherever there was a Socony Mobil station in the area.

"We pull into town.  The local car club knows we're coming.  They know who we are.  We go to a Socony Mobil filling station, and while we're there, cars start stopping.  And we're sitting in the wagon waiting to fuel up, and all of a sudden there are six or eight cars there.  You see, those people really hadn't seen a drag race before," said Evans.
"The NHRA started with the formation of car clubs.  We in Southern California were lucky.  We had the dry lakes and Bonneville to run on.  We heard of other clubs forming in other parts of the country, and we wanted to instruct them on how to run a meet safely.  To insist on safety," Parks explained.  The men rode in Coon’s '54 Dodge two-door station wagon and pulled a travel trailer that stored all their gear.  The gear included Chrondek timing equipment, PA system, field telephones, a one-cylinder generator, and stainless-steel wire to power the electronics.

The Drag Safari tour in 1954 made ten stops on its first trip.  Evans missed a few stops, though Coons, Cannon, and Rickman made it to all the race dates.  They had help from other people and even met Parks at some of the stops.  It was too expensive to send out more than four people at a time.  Revenue to keep them on the road came from new membership subscriptions, entered by long-hand on an old ledger and kept up to date by Barbara Livingston, Dad’s secretary and future wife.  Even with a poor budget the first Safari turned out to be a huge success in motivating young people in organizing drag strips and timing associations throughout the United States.  Another Safari was planned for 1955.

Working for the new NHRA in the 1950’s was exhausting as the growth was exponential.  Bud Evans was now a permanent member of the four-man group.  NHRA was planning to hold a National race for the entire country in Great Bend, Kansas and they needed the Safari to rally the nation’s youth.  Everything rested on the success of this event.  Bad weather, a lack of interest and poor planning could cripple the young organization and ruin it financially.  It was a stressful time and my brother and I rarely saw Dad during this time.  The team had a new 4-door 1955 Plymouth station wagon, painted a two-tone Mobil red and white.  They visited seventeen towns and put on a meet in every place they stopped.  Cannon did the technical inspection, Coons spoke to mayors, police and fire chiefs, Rickman was the photographer and historian and Evans did the announcing and speaking.  Rules were made up as they went.  What worked well before, especially on the dry lakes, had to be modified to fit the new sport.  The event in Great Bend was a rousing success, even with the weather, though it did not result in a financial bonanza.  It would be many years before the NHRA would become as strong financially as it has since the support it gained in the 1970’s with Winston.

Bud during the Korean Conflict with Mount Fuji in the background.

The Safari was back on the road in 1956, going to meet with car clubs and timing associations and teaching them how to organize a good drag race.  One of the most important functions was to get the town officials on their side so that when they left the support for organized and legal drag racing would continue.  Often it was the dedicated and zealous support of the community that fostered the early growth of drag racing, for the town officials had seen what great results in reducing illegal street racing had occurred under NHRA.  They added a Plymouth Fury to the station wagon and trailer and there were six men now on tour.  The number of races dropped to nine, but there was still plenty of work for the men to do in structuring a timing association and training young people to run a drag strip.  "We were all single men, which helped a lot.  Having a married man in the group just wouldn't work.  There were a few who would join us, but they would leave because they didn't want to be away from their family and be on the road all that time," Cannon related.

Just like the big races today the Safari would arrive on a Wednesday and begin preparations and meet with city leaders and police and fire agencies.  It wasn’t always pleasant and they faced some opposition from some, and overwhelming support from others.  They had support from Mobil oil service station owners and managers and from the goodwill that the NHRA and Parks had with local leaders.  It helped a lot to have Coons’ on the Safari, for as a former police officer with the city of Pomona he had organized the youth of that town into clubs and legal races.  In his authoritative and firm manner he won over the officials and went on local radio to reassure the townspeople.  “We were accepted far more easily.  We went to quite a few places where the police departments were instrumental in getting the premises where we would run the race.  We did everything we could to get publicity," Parks added.

They would also meet with the local car clubs who knew they were coming and who had sent in requests to NHRA asking for the Safari’s help.   “The manpower came from the clubs," Coons said.  The crew would show the young people how to set up and run a drag race.  Every member in the club had a position to fill.  Some strung up the wire to run the equipment.  They learned how to weigh the race cars, and to do technical inspections to see if a car was safe enough to meet the rules and to race.  The young men were taught how to put cars into classes and write the car numbers and classes so that the announcers could see who was running.  They had to have an ambulance at the strip, or provide a station wagon with blankets and cushions to transport any injured to the hospital.  They taught the youth how to publicize an event, hang signs, set up the security perimeters and fencing, build the timing tower and install the PA system.  The clubs would learn how to create a registration format and to handle gate receipts and racing fees.

"I'd oversee the inspection and train the club guys so we could standardize the classes throughout the country.  Back then there were no standardized classes. Our classes, which were based on body style and a ratio of cubic inches to weight, were close to what the SCTA had been using.  But Pappy [Hart] in Santa Ana would have different classes, and so would other tracks. It was Wally's idea to standardize the classes so you could have standardized, nationwide events," said Cannon.  Evans helped with the registrations and index cards so he could familiarize himself with personal information about a local racer.  Then during the event he would gush about a local racer and what he had accomplished, which endeared him to fans everywhere.  It added “color” to a race and the color announcer has been a steady function for broadcasters ever since.  They not only saw the local kids each week, but they began to recognize hundreds of regulars who followed them all over the country.  After the timing equipment was in place the race would start and the action would not stop for two days.  Then it was pack up the equipment, roll up the wire and head for another town.  Evans would often joke that the food he was promised rarely materialized.  Coons had the money and would go out for burgers and eat most of them before he got back.  “He was a growing boy,” Evans would quip.

The end of the meet only meant more work for the men, since Parks was a stickler for details.  The crew had a lusty thirst and enjoyed the time to socialize and have a beer or two.  Then it was time to write the reports and let Parks know what went well and what didn’t.  They put the report on two reels of a tape recorder.  Those old reels that unwound one reel and wound up the other.  The reels and Rickman’s film would go back to Southern California to be processed.  Parks would listen and take notes and then write an article for HOT ROD magazine and then gauge how well his ideas went over out in the field.  "These guys were the eyes and ears of what we were trying to portray out to the troops in the field," Parks said.  NHRA rules reflected the input from the Safari.  "It wasn't hard to find fault because it was all new.  Back then we didn't have the long-lead deadlines that you do now, so we could get the information printed and out in the field quickly," Parks added.

Bud at the California Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway.

Evans worked in the tower, and though each structure was different in height, could still see problems before the others.  "I was seeing stuff up there that you wouldn't believe.  I couldn't tell what was happening in the pits or what was happening in the line getting ready to come up, but boy, when they ran, if they weren't straight arrow I was screaming bloody murder.  As the meet progresses and they go faster and faster-dump the can to it, you know-if he's not good in the beginning, he's going to be worse as he gets going," Evans related.  The Safari crew made use of airstrips, old roads and even dirt roads to hold races on.  Some of the drag strips were longer than others.  Art Arfons raced his Green Monster at one track and got everyone’s attention.  "The Green Monster showed up, and that thing burned rubber clear off the pavement.  It ended up with the dust and dirt flying up at the other end," Coons said with a chuckle.  They ran into stockers and old cars that kids could afford, but there was no standardization.  They saw it all and the innovation of some drag racers was spectacular.

The Safari ended in 1956.  It had done its job of organizing the country’s young drag racers and it was time to let the local strips go their own way.  Some remained loyal members of the NHRA and others would affiliate with the IHRA or AHRA or other sanctioning bodies.  The four men also went their own way.  They married, got “real jobs,” as Wally Parks would say, and raised families.  “In 1959, my father and Eddie Kistler opened The Bug House in Colton, California.  They specifically sold karts from Bug Engineering, later known as K&P Manufacturing.   Shortly after he was offered employment and began working there from 1960 through 1990.  My father’s hobbies included Amateur (HAM) Radios, and he grew hundreds of orchids in his greenhouse and lovingly worked on and drove his two Alfa Romeos.  Rickman continued to cover meets, car shows, boat and car races for HOT ROD and other magazines.  Cannon had his own irrigation business and for a time lived in Templeton, California not far from his close friends Wally and Barbara Parks.  Cannon also worked on the Safety Safari and sold his home in Templeton, bought a motorhome and with his wife Julie, spent an entire year traveling America and going to every NHRA National event drag races.

In the 1970’s the Safari was brought back as a traveling safety crew at National events and Cannon went back to his old job for Parks, who was now the Board Chairman of a very successful company.  The station wagon and Plymouth sat out front of our house in Rivera and made a wonderful playhouse for awhile.  Coons, Evans, Rickman and Cannon were given special comp passes so that they could attend any NHRA drag race anywhere in the country for the rest of their lives in honor of their service to the organization.  They would get together at the races, especially at Pomona, and reminisce about the past.  Evans would joke, Coons would scowl and then grin, Rickman would shoot photographs and Cannon would just shake his head.  It was pure heaven to be around them.  I introduced them to new generations of drag racers in the ‘90’s and after and they couldn’t understand the adulation that they received.  It was fun to know them in the 1950’s, and it was even a greater treat to see them again, with Wally Parks in the middle, acting as referee.

Parts of this story were based on an article and interview in HOT ROD magazine on-line. 


Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]