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10th Annual International Drag Racing
Hall of Fame Banquet

By Phil R. Elliott 

The inimitable John Force was up to his usual levels while paying tribute to Steve Evans. Photo by Phil Elliott
The inimitable John Force was up to his usual levels while
paying tribute to Steve Evans. Photo by Phil Elliott

It was without a doubt a memorable evening.

The foyer was overly full of my heroes. There was Don Garlits, up to his ears in last minute problems, including the lack of a ticket for yours truly. He handled all with usual aplomb, stuck a ticket in my hand, and invited me to have a good time.

Amusingly, when I E-mailed him with a "press" request, saying I was still a vegetarian, would not eat the roast beef and asking if there were any vegetarian alternatives, he suggested I not eat the chicken either.

I was there for two reasons, to cover the event for you and to be there in support of a very good friend, Jerry Verheul, being inducted into the H of F. It's been a few years since he left us, and there hasn't been a week that has gone by since that I haven't nearly picked up the phone to call him about some tech inquiry – usually clutches and fuel systems.

A pre-banquet shot of two of the greats, Gordie Bonin and Richard Tharp. Photo by Phil Elliott
A pre-banquet shot of two of the greats, Gordie Bonin and Richard Tharp.
Photo by Phil Elliott

I sat at a table with his widow, Rosemarie, daughter Margo, her husband Cordel Guenther, Jerry's best known driver Gordie Bonin, all-round nice guy and constant Verheul supporter Charlie Strand, long-time sponsor and friend Ron Hodgson, racecar artist Greg Ozubko, Rob Flynn, and English photog Andy Wilsheer.

When the festivities actually began, emcee Dave McClelland did a minor welcome then announced the first presenter, Carl Scheifer, who gave a fine introduction of Jerry Baltes. When dragrace pioneer Baltes stepped up to the microphone, he thanked the H of F for "honoring people for who they used to be."

Next up was a crazy time. McClelland started by talking about his friend, announcing competitor and everyone's friend, Steve Evans. Then, John Force stepped up and literally roasted the late, great Evans with quips, cuts and jabs reminiscent of the verbal boxer he is. He shared several stories of his long-term relationship, and how he hated Steve Evans for a very long time.

It seems early in John's career, in the days when he was known more for ontrack faus pax than winning, Evans had told him to "take his racecar fishing." Later, Evans advised him on how to improve himself and his racing, and Force thanked him for everything. He closed his time by suggesting that the sport couldn't have lost a better person.

Cameron Evans accepted the Hall of Fame honors bestowed on his father, Steve Evans. Photo by Phil Elliott
Cameron Evans accepted the Hall of Fame honors
bestowed on his father, Steve Evans. Photo by Phil Elliott

When the verbal barrage ended, Cam Evans explained that his dad was "an enabler," that he just helped drivers say what they would have said anyway.

Pat Foster enjoyed the evening, being inducted a highlight in his career according to his speech. Photo by Phil Elliott
Pat Foster enjoyed the evening, said being inducted a highlight in his career
according to his speech. Photo by Phil Elliott

Steve Gibbs came to the podium next to induct Pat Foster, suggesting there won't be a more all-around drag racer ever. It's certainly possible. What is absolutely true is how Gibbs described Foster as having "the best B.S. filter" he'd ever experienced. I would agree 100%. P.F. read a speech similar to the one he'd read less than a year ago when he was inducted in the NHRA Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

Al Hanna inducted his friend and jet FC nemesis Roger Gustin next. Roger, who single-handedly got the sanction OK for jets, told several wonderful stories. His last was about the late Jack Hart, who one day told him that NHRA still felt the same about jets as they always had, he just refused to buy another file cabinet just for the letter "G."

TV Tommy Ivo and Don Garlits traded barbs before inducting Darryl Gwynn. Photo by Phil Elliott
TV Tommy Ivo and Don Garlits traded barbs before inducting Darryl Gwynn. Photo by Phil Elliott

Next up, Don Garlits shared the mike with Tommy Ivo, the latter who mostly threw much-deserved accolades at "Big." Then, they announced inductee Darryl Gwynn who wheeled himself to the podium.

The first words out of Darryl's mouth were "How cool was that, having the number one rated driver in history inducted you into the Hall of Fame?" He then shook his head and said, "It's kinda like having Elvis induct you into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…"

Then Joe Amato and Garlits inducted Connie Kalitta. Amato told a few Flying Services stories, by some thought to be myths. Garlits shared the early days of Kalitta's drag racing career, including Top Gas wins that received no ink and a switchover to fuel. According to "Big," helping Connie with the switch to nitro was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made.

Steve Reyes thanked all the fireball-producing drivers for making his time on dragstrip sidelines entertaining. Photo by Phil Elliott
Steve Reyes thanked all the fireball-producing drivers for making his time on dragstrip sidelines entertaining. Photo by Phil Elliott

Jon Asher introduced his friend and arguably the finest photographer in dragracing history, Steve Reyes, with a brief background on just what Reyes has contributed. Steve stood up to his full height and thanked every driver that ever caught fire and threw parts at him. He also thanked all the photogs out there that had missed the shots that made him look even better.

Bob Frey gave a few quick jabs to audience members, including Baltes and Force, then inducted Kenny Safford who had a long and varied career.

The late Elmer Trett was inducted by fellow innovator Jim Head, who described Trett as being able "to use nitro, not have it use him." Trett's wife Jackie came to the mike to thank NHRA for running Top Fuel Bike, and noted that it was Elmer's birthday.

Gordie Bonin and Ron Hodgson inducted good friend and crew chief Jerry Verhuel. Photo by Phil Elliott
Gordie Bonin and Ron Hodgson inducted good friend and crew chief Jerry Verhuel.
Photo by Phil Elliott

Last in alphabetical order came my friend Jerry Verheul, inducted by Hodgson and Bonin. The two shared several stories about their friend, and even several quotes retrieved from several of Verheul's contemporaries.

In retrospect, the evening was a tremendous impact on me. I became a bigger fan of Connie Kalitta because of how human he became during his delivery. I listened to another round of Richard Tharp stories. I saw a lot of my friends. I felt like I belonged.

Thanks to Don Garlits and his staff for hosting this event, and inviting me to share in their celebration.

Flyin' Phil Elliott

 

Thanks for checking out the PhilZone portion of Draglist.com. If you have accolades, complaints, comments, questions, or if you want to share a story, please feel free to post it on the PhilZone Message Board. Phil
 

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