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Dick Wells Memorial

Dick Wells Memorial
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Wally (L) and Dick (R)

Dick Wells passed away on January 18, 2010 due to complications from heart surgery.  I’ve written his biography and it is posted on-line at Hot Rod Hotline here.  A memorial service was held for Dick at the Auto Club of Southern California sponsored by Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.  There was a great outpouring of support in the automotive community for Wells.  He was a young man from Lincoln, Nebraska, and came out to California in 1960 to see the great hot rodders in Los Angeles and stayed to leave his own indelible mark on the sport he loved so dearly.  He was not only the editor of many magazines, but a stalwart in the formation of SEMA, which was originally the Speed Equipment Manufacturing Association that morphed into the Specialty Equipment Manufacturing Association.  I mention that because Dick was a consummate public relations man as well as a prolific writer and editor.  I suppose he got that from my father, Wally Parks, because the two men served as Board members of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) for decades.  Wells was a trusted associate, slow to anger, quick to spout off a wicked joke and ever ready to correct my grammar, “Don’t use so many commas Richard they aren’t needed.” 

Dick Wells was gay and he didn’t care if anyone knew it.  He stood up for his beliefs and for the right to live his life the way he wanted to.  I mention it only because he was a member of my little newsletter called the POBB (Political Opinion Bulletin Board) and he used the alias BizDick.  He defended the little guy, people who couldn’t always fight back and was willing to go toe to toe with anyone on issues that had meaning for him.  No one knew who he was on the newsletter that I sent out, because it was mandatory to use an alias, and he enjoyed the bantering.  Every time a POBBer wrote in condemning gay or lesbian issues or marriage, Dick would send back a response that was well-reasoned, factual and devoid of hatred.  Many of us on the newsletter came to a radically different understanding.  We didn’t accept it as a belief, but we understood his perspective and we became more tolerant.  During the memorial his lifelong partner was introduced and we accepted him.  It wasn’t just a politically correct response on our part; we had come to a level of tolerance and acceptance and that was due to Dick Wells.

He was a lively, creative and always on-the-go kind of guy.  Dick helped Jack Stewart put together a pictorial book of the L. A. Roadster Club and I’ve also reviewed that book here.   Wells was a man universally loved and respected and he never turned down a request if he could help it.  More than that, he was trusted and he knew the secrets.  I coaxed very few facts out of him over the years for the stories that I wrote.  If I was lucky, I would be within earshot as he spoke to famous men and women in the various auto racing sports, especially drag racing.  He never took advantage of a single person, as far as I could tell.  He made everyone feel welcome and important and it didn’t matter whether it was a sponsor, manufacturer, famous owner or driver or the fan in the stands.  To say that you knew him made you important too, but to say that he was your friend made you special.  Dick Wells was also the founder of the National Street Rodders Association (NSRA).  He had so many projects going and helped so many people that he crammed more life into his 75 years on this earth than a dozen people possibly could.

The Motorsports Museum in Pomona was a special place for Dick.  He was a supporter of the idea long before its opening in 1998.  He was also a supporter of the California Hot Rod Reunion since its founding in 1990.  I met Dick hundreds of times in my life, but he was always the happiest and bubbliest when he was visiting the museum where he served as a board member.  Every project that his good friend and mentor, Wally Parks started, Dick was there to help promote.  He served on numerous boards and was honored by many organizations and Halls of Fame.  He took it in stride as if to say, “why me?”  I suppose that the best way to eulogize Dick Wells is to tell you about the people who showed up to honor him and to share their memories with the throng that gathered that evening.  Linda Vaughn was the first to speak and told us about the time she went waterskiing with Dick and Bernie Partridge.  “Linda, you don’t need one of those water wings,” said Wells.  The crowd roared at this humor from the past and the buxom spokesperson and model continued, “I met Dick in 1966 when I was Miss Hurst Shifter and we developed an immediate friendship.  He was just a brother from a different mother,” she said with that infectious smile, Southern charm and delightful accent that racers and hot rodders adore.  “He was a brilliant writer and PR man.  He wrote in the Hurst Armed Forces Newsletter during the Vietnam War, ‘Win a date with Linda Vaughn.’  Dick personally arranged to have Bob Hope come to the SEMA Banquet and personally hand me my SEMA Hall of Fame Award,” she added.  “Dick was our racing brother, now he’s our racing angel,” she finished through her tears.

Bill Groak, a friend and fellow public relation’s co-worker said, “Everybody knows Dick Wells, he was there when SEMA began.  He always carried red pens with him to edit what people had written.  It was a pet peeve of his that a writer had to know how to abbreviate the States correctly,” Bill added.  Tony Thacker, the museum director interjected, “Mate, you’ve been Dicked (corrected),” as the audience groaned.  Groak concluded with a mention that Dick had a boat, which he humorously called ‘Climax Two.’  Marilyn Lachman, a long-time NHRA employee and personal secretary to Wally Parks added, “Dick Wells was a very sentimental man who had a great heart.  He also loved lots of margaritas and Mexican food.  He loved to get you involved in political arguments on all sorts of subjects.”  Chris Kersting, president of SEMA told the throng, “Dick would appreciate this gathering tonight.  He was very passionate in his beliefs and cared a great deal for his friends.  He turned that caring into actions; he was a doer.  He developed the SEMA Style manual.  Dick was a major player at Street Rodder.  We owe a great deal to him,” Kersting ended.  Don Smith couldn’t make it and sent a letter that was read to the audience.  “I took some photographs of Dick and Jack Hart at Half Moon Bay (dragstrip) and this car went out of control and was headed straight at him.  Dick jumped over the guard rail and he later told me that he messed his pants,” as the crowd roared at the thought of it.

Alex Xydias, founder of the So-Cal Speed Shop and a close friend of Wells and Wally Parks said, “Dick was a nit-picking perfectionist,” Alex said in that special droll of his.  “Wally, Dick and I were close, we always did things together.  I miss Wally who left us in 2007 and I’m going to miss Dick too,” Xydias intoned.  Gloria Gibbs, wife of former NHRA Vice-President Steve Gibbs said, “I was at the first Hot Rod Reunion in Kentucky selling my jewelry and Dick came by with his new book and stayed to help me sell my product.  Can you picture him selling jewelry?”  The crowd nodded, because they could picture that image in their mind about this likable guy.  “He called me his little buddy,” Gloria recalled as she wiped away a tear.  Speedy Bill Smith, that irrepressible speed shop guru from Omaha, Nebraska rose to speak.  Everyone in the crowd was somebody special, but Speedy Bill commanded their attention.  “Dick Wells left me in 1960 to come out here to be famous,” Speedy Bill said with a twinkle in his eye.  “He learned spelling and grammar from me,” Smith said as the audience groaned in delight.  Carroll Shelby took the microphone and in his southern drawl said, “When I first started building Cobras I went to Wally, who I trusted, and he told me to build a hundred of the cars.  I talked to Dick who talked me into building them in the production class with only three Cobras.  Dick Wells was very flexible in his thinking,” Shelby ended.

Jack Stewart, close friend and fellow member of the L. A. Roadster Club told the group that it was Dick Wells who put together the book on the club and got it published.  “It was Dick all the way,” Stewart averred.  Tom Compton, president of the NHRA said, “Dick’s sense of humor was off-color.  He could be earthy, but he was human.  My secretary, Leila, shared some of the emails she received and can vouch for the humor he had.  Dick’s dream to further the NHRA and the Motorsports Museum was exactly the same as Wally’s dream.  It’s the same way with all of us here in this great museum,” said Tom.  “Dick Wells loved the races.  He loved talking to people.  My daughter Rachel whispered to me at the races one time, ‘Dad, he’s been talking to me the whole time.’  Dick was a tremendous human being and a very nice man,” concluded Compton as the audience nodded in agreement.  Others who spoke briefly and shared their feelings included James Schmitz, who told us about Dick’s participation in his sports car club, Harold Owens, Adriane Ridder, Anthony Vestal, Sandi Wasserbeck, Graham and Fay Light, Dr. Joe Oliver in his North Carolina accent, and Mike McClelland.

Approximately 250 people were present with all the chairs filled and more standing at the back of the room.  Some of those present included Cleo Shelby, Steve Gibbs and his daughter Cindy, PJ and Bernie Partridge, Stan Goldstein, Bobby Colgrove, Richard Parks, Wayne Phillips, Phil Burgess, David Parks, Louis Brewster, Ken Gross, Tom Curnow, Doug Stokes, Alan Dickler, Leila Fenberg, Marleen Gurrola, Rose Dickinson, Megan McKernan, Arleen Wood, Janna Kerro, Catherine Brown, Oscar Munoz, Marilyn and Ron Lachman, Janet and Kevin Lee, Nancy Lund, Randy Fish, Roger Rohrdanz, Judi Ritchie, Kay and Leon Presto, Mike Deschenes, Dave Crockett, George Philips, Bob Reynolds (NSRA), Stan Adams, Chuck Griffiths, Wayne and Ruth McMurtry, Dave and Louise McClelland, Rob and Stephanie Wingate, Captain Ed Ballinger, Thom Taylor, Steve Young, Leslie Kendall, Peter and Judy Clifford, Martha Lee, Scott and Stacy Parks, Mike Spagnola, Roland Leong, Susie Sue, Dick Van Cleve, Toni Terry, Alex Xydias, Joann Brock, Kevin Tanaka, Charles Rollins, Janice Burkenheger, Jack and Sally Stewart, Jacques and Angelique Lazier, Jamie Cook, Jim Trace, Sandi Kraushar, Yvonne Wagner, Rick Lalor, Harry Perdew, Teresa Long, Linda Louie, John Siragusa, John and Brandy Rader, Bill Holland, Sharon Rice, Jamie Eriksen, Don Rackemann, Ed Justice Jr, Tom Compton, Dallas Gardner, and many more who didn’t sign the guest book.  I wish I had the time and space to explain who all these people are, but if you follow auto and drag racing you will know their names.  When a person passes away and you look at the guest list that attended the memorial you will get an idea of what kind of man or woman that person was.  Dick Wells was a giant among men and a very good friend.  We will all miss him.  No commas were hurt or injured in the making of this story.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]