More Obscure Memories of Lions Drag
by Bruce Schwartz
Note: In the October 10, 2000, Story of the Day
(http://www.draglist.com/stories/SOD%20Oct%202000/SOD-101000.htm). Top Fuel owner Bruce Wheeler posed a series of questions about Lions Drag Strip. Fuel crew chief Bruce Schwartz happened upon the article the other day and provides these answers.
I just read your article "Obscure Memories of Lions Drag Strip" and I think I can answer at least one of your questions and, maybe, add just a little bit of color to those stories of the old days of so long ago.
At one time Mickey Thompson was the manager of Lions. I do not think he was ever in the Lions club, however. He was the manager briefly. Actually, so was Steve Evans. Then, C.J. "Pappy" Hart took over and remained the manager until the eventual demise of the track.
The people that worked at the track were not members of the Lions club. They were paid employees. We all got minimum wage which was $1.25 per hour, or maybe it was just $1.00, I'm not sure. But, in those days it only cost $1 to get in and an extra $0.25 if you wanted a pit pass. After paying the wages of the employees, the remainder of the money was split between the several Harbor Area Lions clubs.
The winning pay off in those days, for the big races, was US savings bonds. They would advertise that the winner would get a $1,000 savings bond. That was true, but I think everyone cashed in the bond and got $750 because no one wanted to wait until maturity for the full $1,000.
The tower at the finish line was where employees would pick the winner of a race. Two or three guys would stand up there and watch the finish line, they would identify which car crossed first, and that would identify the winner. Later, that system was replaced. There were not any win lights, but the timing clocks in the tower would identify the winner. This new electronic system of identifying a winner was much better, more sophisticated, and high tech. It also prevented fights.
There was another tower, the original timing tower that was located on the left of the track as you faced down track. It was a two-story building. The trophies and other equipment were kept on the first floor. The second level was the announcer and two ladies that would write the time slips.
I was one of the announcers. The others were Jerry Hart (C.J.'s son) and a guy named "Gary." I don't know his last name. The ladies that wrote the time slips were Pam Sutton and Marion Ferguson. Marion's son drove an AA fuel dragster and Pam is the wife of Larry Sutton. They were even married back then.
The announcer would read the elapsed time from an electronic timing device and announce it. Then, the announcer would look at another time on the timing clock and then check a chart to convert that to a mile per hour. When the announcer would announce these times over the P.A. Marion and Pam would write them by hand on a slip of paper. The time slips were then deposited into a thing like a mail drop and a guy outside on ground level would retrieve them and hand them to the racers when the came by the tower.
On Saturday, we ran the top classes. That is, the gassers and the dragsters. There was a Top Eliminator and a Top Gas eliminator. Factory Experimental, super charged gassers, A, B, C dragster, etc. It was all of the faster cars and the hot classes. Sunday was stock car day.
On Sunday, we ran four cars at a time. Yep, four cars, two in each lane. If you got beat, you got your number wiped off the window. It was only put on with shoe polish, but I don't think anyone cheated and put it back on again. All of the cars that didn't have their number wiped off would come back to the lanes for another round.
The year that I was there was early 60s and I'm guessing it was about 62 or 63. I had been racing with Tom McEwen as a crewman and he decided to sell all his stuff. He became a hired driver and I went to work for Lions. Then, my friend, Stump Davis, built a new car called "The Mangler" with Danny Ongais as the driver and I left Lions to go be a crewman for them.
Hope this helps, and that it is interesting and not just a bunch of rambling on my part.
Ah, such good memories.
P.S. - I am still involved these days. I announce for NHRA at various races and am the only announcer at Inyokern. Now, Inyokern. There is a place that has lots of stories and history. It hasn't changed hardly at all since 1954.
Also, I race a Super Eliminator dragster and have been running with the So Cal Super Eliminator Association. I guess that when you start drag racing you never get it out of your system. My first experience was in 1958.