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Main Street Malt Shop & Santa Ana Drags Reunion April 13, 2013

Main Street Malt Shop & Santa Ana Drags Reunion April 13, 2013

Santiago Creek Park
Orange, CA.
April 13, 2013
Story by Richard Parks
Photos by: Roger Rohrdanz


“The Main Street Malt Shop and the Santa Ana Drags are 2 events that should be in the first chapter of the Book of Drag Racing.”

Leslie Long and Gene Mitchell organized the Spring reunion of the Santa Ana Airport Drag Strip and Main Street Malt Shop, which was held on April 13, 2013 at Santiago Creek Park in the City of Orange.  There were sixty-five people in attendance, an increase since our last reunion in October.  The two reunions were merged several years ago.  The purpose is to honor those who raced at the old airport drag strip in the 1950’s and to keep alive the spirit of the old hangouts of our youth; in this case the Main Street Malt Shop in Santa Ana.

Leslie Long was our event organizer and Gene Mitchell brought food, chairs and tents at his own expense.  Roger Rohrdanz provides the group photographs and captioned pictures and I was in charge of PR.  Santiago Creek Park is just off Main Street, on East Memory Lane and Lawson Way.  It’s a picturesque setting in a beautiful park next to a playground and a lawn bowling field.  Leslie will organize another reunion in the Fall, around the first Saturday in October.  Early arrivals were Harry Deshazo, Rick Sallot, Bob Caverly, Jim “Grumpy” Donoho, George Hale, Brent Collier, Mike Pace, Jim Stabe, Dave Mandella, Jerry Hart, Betty Belcourt and Dave Wallace Jr.  Deshazo raced at Santa Ana and went to the malt shop in the 1950’s.  Pace raced at Santa Ana in 1956-57.  George Hale towed in his newly built roadster.  He was a member of the Russetta Timing Association in the 1940’s.  He told me how he wasn’t allowed to join the Southern California Timing Association because he was racing a coupe and not a roadster.  A story on his car was published in the 1950’s in Hot Rod magazine by Wally Parks.  Jerry Hart is the son of C. J. and Peggy Hart, who founded the Santa Ana Airport drag strip.  Betty Belcourt was married to drag racer Dick Rosberg, who was inducted into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2013.  Dave Wallace Jr is a well-known photographer and writer/editor.

The next group to arrive included; Rose Hartelt, Susan and Ron Whitney, Bob Baxter, Ben and Ann Iskenderian, Jim Murphy, Bob Falcon, Craig Durham, John Durham, Greg Ryan, Johnny Ryan, Gene Ellis, Chris and Shannon Norman, Bud Lang, Bob Marderosian, Bernie Couch, Janet and Ron Griebenow and their three little dogs; Penelope, Bandit and Lulu.  Rose Hartelt is Doug Hartelt’s wife.  Doug and Melvin Dodd were early drag and land speed racers who won many a race.  Ben Iskenderian is Ed’s younger brother.  Ed founded Isky Cams and Ben worked for him.  Also in the business was Luther Iskenderian, who has since passed away.  Bob Falcon introduced Craig and John Durham who are working to bring back the Halibrand manufacturing name.  They are starting out with t-shirts and memorabilia.  Johnny Ryan built more race winning flathead engines than just about anyone.  Gene Ellis was an oval track racer who tried out for the Indy 500 twice.  Bud Lang is a retired editor who worked for Petersen Publishing Company.  Janet Griebenow is Ed Iskenderian’s niece.  The three little dogs brought a lot of energy to the reunion, but they weren’t allowed to chase the ubiquitous ground squirrels. 

Next to arrive were Rich Childers, Dave Cook, Diane Vandenberg, Lyman Wilson, Phil Turgasen, Eldon Harris, Doug Wilson, Norm Stevenson, Wally and June Saika, Ed “The Camfather” Iskenderian, Tom and Eileen Date, Ken Freund, and Jim Miller.  Diane was an early racer at the Santa Ana Airport drags and was encouraged by her parents and by Jack Hart.  Jack Hart is not related to C. J. Hart who founded the drag strip.  Both Harts’ have since passed away.  Jack Hart was a well-known owner/driver who later became the Vice President and General Manager of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).   Ed Iskenderian is one of the largest cam grinders in the world.  He has been grinding cams since the 1940’s.  Ken Freund is a writer, photographer and editor of motorcycle magazines.  Jim Miller is the Director of the American Hot Rod Foundation and President of the Society of Land Speed Racing Historians and a well-known hot rod and land speed researcher.

The last to arrive were Warwick Nethercoat, Vic Cohen, Chris Wickersham, Barry Bowyer, Stan Betz, Mike Hagopian, Wes Wyatt, Tito Carrasco, Steve and Linda Ford and their daughter Ellie and son Tyler, Stormy Byrd and Anna Marco.  Nethercoat, Cohen and Wickersham represented the Pasadena Roadster Club.  This club was started way back in the 1920’s, merged, divided and remerged during the coming years.  Finally around 2000 several people started up the club again and brought back the highly popular Reliability Runs.  Stan Betz is the nephew of Dick Kraft.  Stan raced at Santa Ana, but it is his uncle that gained fame there with “The Bug,” which was a car stripped of just about every bit of weight that wasn’t absolutely necessary to make the car run.  “The Bug” now resides in the Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum, in Ocala, Florida.  Steve Ford now lives in Camarillo.  He used to write for The Automotive Calendar of Events Miss Information for Joan Denver.  Anna Marco is a photographer and editor and loves the hot rodding world. 

After the reunion, pictures where taken of  the area where the old malt shop was located, which is now a bakery.  The tables and benches inside look as if they have never been replaced.  Across the street, Pomeroy’s Garage is still there at Main and Chestnut.  Main St. was a favorite place to cruise with wide streets and plenty of parking and the presence of those who frequented the malt shop in their youth, could be felt.

Thanks go to Gene Mitchell for providing the food free of charge and for his warm hospitality and eagerness to make everyone feel at ease.  We also want to thank Leslie Long for volunteering to take over this reunion from Bill and Marie Jenks, who ran it for many decades until ill health forced them to stop.  It is a wonderful reunion and one that is free and easy to attend and enjoy.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]