In 1966, I was 10 and getting interested in cars. My uncle, Mike Lilley,
came to visit us from Illinois in 1962 or 1963 and just stayed. He started
hanging out at Lions Drag Strip and eventually got to know Chick Christ and
"Big Jack" who were working with the starting line crew and the
'New' Starting Rollers.
My uncle used to take me Friday nights to spend the night at Chick's
house then up early Saturday morning to Lions to set up the timing lights,
walk the track, and pick up engine parts and such. That always fascinated
me: finding half of a piston about mid-track and realizing what had to
happen to get it there! I attribute most of my hearing loss to all those
Saturday nights standing just behind the rollers, nitro burning my eyes
& nose ... burnt rubber ... all fond memories.
When Lions closed, the sport had become pretty popular and everyone
gravitated to OCIR or Pomona. I had to sit in the stands like everyone else.
There are two moments of my time on the starting line at Lions that I can
see in my mind's eye as clear as when the events happened. I was standing on
the tower side, right behind the Kohler Bros. Anglia. On the green light it
hooked up so good (torquey little cars) it actually 'launched' itself off
the line, flew over the guardrail, and got pinned between the guardrail and
the base of the old tower 50 or so feet down the track! Hours of down time
that night getting the Anglia outta there ...
The other was when the A&W Root Beer car veered off the right side
about mid-track heading for the bleachers, through a chain link fence [I
think] and was stopped only when it plowed into the telephone poles along
the old startup road. Just folded the digger up like an accordion ... worst
crackup I'd ever seen. When I got there the driver was already out with only
a slight scratch on the forehead ... amazing. My uncle and I commented later
that he could probably write a book three inches thick about that 7 second