10th Annual International
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
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
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
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, said being inducted a highlight in his
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
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
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
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
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
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
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