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Twilight Cruise at the NHRA Museum Aug. 1, 2012

Twilight Cruise at the NHRA Museum Aug. 1, 2012

Twilight Cruise
at the NHRA Museum, Pomona, CA.
Story by Richard Parks, Photographs by Roger Rohrdanz


It was a beautiful, sunny day and Roger said that we had to go to the Auto Club of Southern California Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, in Pomona, California to see the August 1, 2012 Twilight cruise.  That’s a mouthful, but I intend to get as many names in the title as I can, because sponsors want to know that we paid attention, and rightfully so.  As cruises go they just don’t get any better than those hosted by the museum with help from the Cal-Rods of San Gabriel Valley.  The cruise takes place in the parking lot of the museum and there are spaces for over 300 cars.  It’s all free and you even get to see the museum for free.  Can’t beat a deal like that.  The museum is on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Fairplex, with trees and flowers everywhere.  You won’t find any dust here.  Bring any car built before 1970, or out of car parts that old, set up lawn chairs around the ring of trees in the shade next to McKinley Avenue and kick back with your friends.  It’s hot in the sun, but oh, so wonderful under the shade trees.  The Genesee Hills on the other side of McKinley Avenue starts to blot out the sun around 6:30 to 7ish and that means the night air for a summer cruise is just perfection.

I chose to beat the heat and stay inside the air-conditioned, 29,000 square foot Museum facility.  I was attracted to the gift shop, which seems to expand and take over more and more room every time that I go there.  This especially attracts wives and mothers who have a hard time buying that special gift for their Gearhead husbands and sons.  Since more women are getting into the sport of hot rodding, there are also husbands and sons who are buying gifts for their wives and mothers as well.  The cruise is supposed to start around 5 PM, but hot rodders are notorious for evading rules and the museum has given up the attempt to train car guys.  So it starts when the first hot rod, custom or vintage car shows up and ends about the same time when the last person leaves the lot.  Since there are no chains or guards, I’m assuming that can be just about any time before or after midnight.  Don’t expect to be entertained; make your own entertainment, though Dave McClelland handles a good mike.  There are plenty of famous and equally infamous people who show up every month.  They often show up days before and after the cruise, either being forgetful or just totally in love with the place.  You’ll run into the most fascinating people.  I’ve come to believe that if you just ask a perfect stranger enough questions, you’ll find a connection to them.  As hard as I try I can only seem to meet about 40 or so people out of the hundreds that show up.

The museum is a nice place to hang out until the sun goes down a bit and cools off the lot where the cars are.  I went over to the gift shop to see what they had, especially the books, magazines and videos for sale.  Here are some of the videos for sale at the gift shop; The Big Drags, Lions the Greatest Dragstrip (#1, 2 and 3), 2006 California Hot Rod Reunion (probably all the other years too), NHRA Drag Racing (years ’88 to ’96), Man with a Wrench ’68 Nationals Eliminations, Xydias’ Hot Rod Story, Once upon a wheel Prudhomme vs McEwen, A night of Cackle and Flames, 2002 March Meet, Wild Shots Oldies and Goodies, Bad Boys Altereds #2, Nostalgia Wild, Wheels of Fire, Muscle Bikes Kings of Raw Power, Vintage Drag Racing X-Treme Nostalgia, 2008 NHRA Year in Review and more titles they have hidden from us.  The book titles on hand were; Show Car Dreams of the Grand National Roadster Show, Hot Rods First Gear, Art of the Hot Rod, So-Cal Speed Shop, Hot Rod Memories, Hot Rods in the Forties, Rockin’ Down the Highway, Classic Customs and Lead Sleds, Fifties Flashback, Classic Hot Rod Styles, Kustomland, Crazy Horses, Chevy Powered Drag Racing, Wild Rides II, TV Tommy Ivo, The Art of Drag Racing, Barris Cars of the Stars, The All American Hot Rod, Snake versus Mongoose How a Rivalry Changed Drag Racing Forever, Top Fuel Dragsters, Hot Rods by Pete and Jake, and Pro Stock Drag Racing.  At this point Bud and Lynn Rasmus stopped by.  I’ve known them for years.  They are always at the museum to support the events and to mingle with their friends and they are true fans and collectors.  Bud told me that Rasmus was really Rasmussen, but got chopped down at Ellis Island.  It helps hot rodders to remember when we have an interesting story to go along with a name or date.

After Bud and Lynn left to go look at the cars I went back to checking out all the books and found more titles, which I hope to review some day for the website.  They were; Top Fuel Dragsters of the ‘70’s Photo Archive, Hot Rod Magazine All the Covers edition, Hot Rod Roots A Tribute to the Pioneers, Roy Brizio Street Rods, Roadside Relics, Drag Racing Funny Cars, Art of the Hot Rod, Funny Car Fever, Vintage and Historic Drag Racers, Go with Moon 1950-2010, Flathead Ford V-8 Performance Handbook, Mongoose the Life and Times of Tom McEwen, NHRA 2012 Rulebook, 60th Anniversary of the NHRA, Mickey Thompson First American to 400 MPH, San Diego Motorsports 100 Racing Years, Memories of the California Jalopy Association, Speedseekers, Real Road Racing The Santa Monica Road Races, Drag Boats of the 1960’s, Hot Rod Pin-ups, Up in Fumes the Art of the Flame Painting, Portfolio 1 Boys and their Toys, City of Speed Los Angeles and the Rise of American Racing, Drag Racing Fuel Altereds, and Hot Rod Pin-ups Gearhead Girls and Dragster Dolls.  They had a selection of magazines as well; National Dragster, Gasser Wars, Drag Racer, DRIVE!, Diesel World, Holly National Hot Rod Reunion, California Hot Rod Reunion and Rodder’s Journal.  Besides the videos, books and magazines the museum gift shop also had a large selection of clothing, ball caps, t-shirts, hot rod and polo shirts, jackets, dash plaques, metallic enameled pins, patches, metal signs, art work, photographs, posters, welcome mats, decals, key chains and other souvenirs.

The hard working staff at the museum included Wayne Phillips, Sheri Watson, Rose Dickinson, Greg Sharp and many others.  Dave McClelland was the emcee for the evening and a fan favorite among drag racers for his Southern accent.  He was announcing in the south many decades ago when he was hired to work for the NHRA and has since announced for many racing leagues.  Sharon and Bob Muravez were visiting the museum.  They never miss an opportunity to see drag racers that Bob raced against in the ‘60’s.  I asked Bob if he was working on his biography and he told me that he purchased a ‘Dragon Program’ for his computer, which allows him to speak into the computer after it has been voice activated.  The Dragon Program is set up to recognize Bob’s speech pattern and to type in the letters and words as he dictates.  Sharon bought it on-line for him and said that it wasn’t very expensive at all.  I ran into John Duran who was riding in the museum golf cart and he gave me a ride around the cars and gave me a run-down on the event and who was there.  Duran told me that near 300 cars had participated.  It is hard to get good numbers because guys come and go during the cruise.  Roger will have some great photographs and captions for this part of the cruise.  Vic Cunnyngham, from the Cal-Rods, was also present and stopped by to say hello.  Vic’s team among the Cal-Rods built the Wally’s Roadster for use by the club and as an honor to the late Wally Parks.  David Parks, my brother, and I got to drive it around in November, 2007, at the Auto Club of Southern California NHRA Finals during a tribute to our father.

I noticed two land speed streamliners on display.  The Haas Racing Team streamliner is a blown gas, twin-engined car that has gone 308.816 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah.  Jeff Shipley is one of the crew and he was on hand to tell the public about the car.  Jeff has done it all; drag-raced, built cars and raced land speed cars.  He was a close friend of Bill Summers.  The other car was the Patton & Steel Special streamliner owned by Dave Isley.  It is a new car and will be racing at Bonneville for the first time in August of 2012.  Jeff has promised to work on his history and biography for us when he returns from Bonneville.  Marc Weller was there with Jeff.  Marc made many of the model cars that are in the museum.  He is also a surgeon and is a fan of land speed racing.  He also promised us his biography.  Sonny and Jack Cerneka walked over and said hello.  Sonny and Pete Teresa drag raced at tracks all over Southern California in the 1950’s and then settled down to raise families, but they never forgot their early contributions to the sport.  Sonny showed me where his and Pete’s name were posted on a Hot Rod magazine article in the display cases in the museum.   My father opened that magazine to that very page prior to his death in 2007 and it has been left just like that since his passing.  The staff left it just as he left that magazine.  How’s this for peculiar; Pete Teresa is the brother of my Uncle Russell Teresa.  Small world for hot rodders and drag racers, isn’t it?

One last adventure at the museum before it was time to leave and come home to be with my grandson (Wally’s great-grandson) Brock for our weekly Dinosaur movie on PBS.  I noticed a fascinating display of neon signs in the northwest wing of the museum.  There I met Kim Koga, Jack Corcoran and David Svenson from the Museum of Neon Art (or MONA).  Kim is the director of the museum, David is the chairman of MONA and Jack is a faithful member and supporter.  Not only is this exhibit something special, but I learned that MONA is moving to a brand new facility in Glendale, off of Brand Street.  Neon art wasn’t the first effort by artists to provide a lighted sign format.  The earliest was colored glass that had light bulbs to illuminate the signs.  When neon came on the scene around the 1920’s it revolutionized illuminated signs for businesses.  It was easier to operate and the businessman didn’t have to constantly replace burnt out light bulbs.  The colors were eye-catching and allowed small businesses to attract customers.  It was especially helpful to the many small automotive garages.  Neon artists are still turning out masterpieces; some practical and others are impressionistic.  The neon exhibit at the motorsports museum is just getting underway, but you should visit the museum soon, for it could close soon. 

I don’t have their new address yet, but you can reach the MONA staff at P.O. Box 631, Glendale, California 91209.  There website is, and their email address is [email protected] or you can call them at 213-489-9918.  If you like glass bending, neon, kinetic and electric art then contact Kim and make a trip to this wonderful museum.   When it opens the 10,000 square foot building will house office and storage space, guest lobby, café, gift store, exhibition area and a neon fabricating area.  For the hot rodder at heart, the fabricating area where David Svenson and other artist are working and teaching the art is the heart of the museum.  They have membership rates that are quite reasonable starting at $35 and continuing through 8 levels.  There are neon and glass bending classes for the beginners and for the more advanced neon artist.  Kim told me that there is another museum like this back east, but the entire west has only MONA in Glendale.  MONA also has cruises, shows and exhibits and is seeking to expand their shows to other venue sites.  If you haven’t seen the mastery and artisanship of this fantastic art form then you are truly missing out.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]

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