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Say Goodbye to Jack Stewart

Say Goodbye to Jack Stewart
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Jack Stewart passed away within the last few days and I checked my records to see if I had written a bio on him; I didn’t.  Perhaps the reason was that Jack seemed indestructible, like so many other hot rodders and I just assumed that he would be around forever.  That’s the way hot rodders think.  That’s what I thought.  My father knew Jack Stewart and admired him, but I can’t ask Dad, because he is gone too.  Dick Wells was a close friend of Jack’s, but he has passed on too.  Jack and Dick collaborated on a book together, titled L.A. ROADSTERS; A RETROSPECTIVE.  I gave it a good review and then told Jack that he should have included an index so that I could find all the guys in the book.  He just twinkled his nose, gave me that Stewart smile and promised to give me an index on the next rewrite.  There was something charming and boyish in Stewart that made him so appealing.  It is probably why the L.A. Roadster Club made Jack their PR guy with the media.  He had that happy and excited attitude about him that caused people to seek him out and befriend him.

     Jack was a great help to Roger Rohrdanz and me.  Every time we covered the L. A. Roadster Show at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona there was Stewart to greet us and take us around in his golf cart and point out the activities that he felt we should concentrate on in our coverage.  He loved the L.A. Roadster Club and dedicated his life to it, though it wasn’t an easy love.  The club itself formed in the summer of 1957 when Dick Scritchfield gathered about eight people together at the Weiand Equipment Company on San Fernando Road, in Los Angeles.  Le Roi “Tex” Smith was there, along with Tony LeMasa and the group elected Scritchfield as their first president.  Some of them had roadsters and some didn’t.  The reason for a club was a love for the roadster form and hot rodding culture and rules would change and adapt to the times until it became a rule that you had to have a killer roadster to be considered for membership.  The Model A’s, and ’32 Deuce Coupes with a V8 engine were the preferred cars and anything after a ’34 roadster was just not considered good enough.  It seemed strange that a roadster club would form in the late 1950’s.  The heyday of the car clubs was in the 1930’s and ‘40’s, the Golden Age of Hot Rodding.  By the 1950’s the car clubs that had formed around neighborhoods and schools were folding.  There was a new era of drag racing, both illegal street and legal drag strip competition that didn’t need a large club to go racing.

     Perhaps it was a reaction to the demise of car clubs that drove these eight men to form a roadster club to simply enjoy the hot rodding culture, gymkhanas, road tours and car shows.  What other reason did they really need other than a love for the beauty and grace of a topless car on the road; a vehicle that could literally scream and fly down the highways of America.  When you get young men together they don’t just stop with a weekly club meeting and a slow cruise down the local Main Street.  In 1961 the first L.A. Roadster Show was held at the Hollywood Bowl, but didn’t have the success the club desired.  Years went by until the club held the next Roadster Show in 1967 to great success and in 1980 the show and swap meet was moved to the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona, California and has been there ever since.  Today the Show is always staged on Father’s day and it attracts roadster lovers and hot rodders from all over the world.  The club members pride themselves on the success of this event.  If you drive a roadster to the show you get admission, a BBQ on Saturday, a pewter mug and a gift bag all for free.  Sponsors and vendors fill up a building and put up tents and stalls to sell or publicize their products.  The revenue from the show allows the club to fund their functions and charitable programs.

     Jack Stewart joined the L. A. Roadsters in the early 1970’s.  His close friend, Bob Barnes, joined the club a few years earlier and said, “Jack and I must have driven over a million miles together.”  The club’s goal was to enjoy their roadsters and take them on the road.  Besides Scritchfield and the inimitable Tex Smith, others who were early members included; B.C. Carlton, Tex Collins, Les Cowman, Bill Woodard, Sam Conrad, Don Burgess, Jim Fyke, Matt Chilk, Fred Yaeger, Royce Mackey, Carlin Schoepfer, Wayne Bausman, Neal East, Steve Dawes, Kurt Wiese, Bob Lopez, Steve Murray, Pat and Mike Germon, Otto Miller, Arnold Avila, Ian Cusey, Russ Klindworth, Everett Israelson, Tom McMullen, Eugene Esteves, Kaye Trapp, Skip Torgerson, and Norm Grabowski.  They held their meetings close to the offices of the Petersen Publishing Company and regularly saw Robert “Pete” Petersen, Wally Parks, Don Francisco, Lynn Wineland, Dick Wells, Bud Coons, and Gordon Browning.  Later members of the club included; Lee Titus, Don Wilson, Greg Sharp, Don Thomas, Ed Silvera, Bill Stepp, Steve Kelly, Dick Megugorac, Dave McClelland, Kenny Safford, Brian Brennan, Bill Stecker, Jim Gacchina, Mort Smith, Chuck Small, Bruce Meyer, Eddie Aston, Jim Travis, Ray Milazo and Gene Vredenburg.  These men came from a wide variety of the automotive world and many raced their cars on the dry lakes, on the drag strips, or in Grabowski’s case, built beautifully wild cars for Hollywood.

     For many people, Jack Stewart was the face of the L.A. Roadster Club.  He was always around promoting the club’s activities and seeing that people understood what the goals of the group was all about.  There were more famous people involved, including Norm Grabowski and Tex Smith.  If I had the time and space I could go into detail about all the events the club put on and the bios of all the club members who came and went.  But in the end the man that I think of when the L. A. Roadster club is mentioned is Jack Stewart.  No one worked harder than Stewart to constantly promote and build up this world famous club and there were men and their wives who worked tirelessly to do so.  I will always remember the kindness that Jack and his gracious lady, Sally, gave to Roger and me as we covered the show. 

Gone racin’ is at [email protected].