Tommy Ivo's Air Force Hero
By Tom Ivo
Tommy Ivo stands next to Bobby Langley's car in his boot camp uniform.
Photo thanks to Tom Ivo
Here's a very different story and picture about racing for you. I was stationed in San Antonio, Texas, at Lackland AFB for Air Force basic training for 10 weeks in 1958. We got to leave the base only once during basic training. Our one day "on the town" was a Sunday, about six weeks after first getting there. They were having a race at Caddo Mills drag strip, right out side of San Antonio. So where do I go for my "one" big day off? To the drags, of course!
I was running my single engine Buick dragster then. The last weekend I before I had to go "save the country," I ran 150 at San Gabriel. If you ran 150 two weeks in a row at San Gabriel -- and no one had done it yet -- you would get a "color" TV set. A table model, of course, but a prize like that was unheard of at the time! But by the next weekend, I was marching around Lackland AFB. So much for the color TV.
So on my day off I went into town via the AFB shuttle. I went to Greyhound and found a bus that went out past the drag strip. After looking at the schedule, I got a round trip ticket for the first bus that went out that way, and the last one going past there on the way back. I was really worried about being able to stop the bus on the way back because, of course, there was no station near the strip. I had to walk about four blocks to get to the entrance of the track from the
highway. If I hadn't been able to stop the bus, I'm sure I would still be in the stockade today for getting back to the base late. You just didn't do that in boot camp. But I was prepared to lay on the highway in front of the bus to stop it, if that's what it took!
I badly needed a "Dragstrip Fix" after being locked up on base, saluting people 'til my arm fell off, and walking in circles on the parade grounds at good old Lackland AFB for six weeks. You get the "shakes" after that long a time away from hearing something go "rump, rump!" I used to run the wheels off my dragster. If there was a track running that day, I was there!
When I got to the track, to my surprise and overwhelming joy, "The" Bobby Langley was there. Boy it just doesn't get any better than that! I would have been thoroughly satisfied if I'd only gotten to see a bunch of stock door slumbers running up and down the track -- it was Drag Racing! But Bobby Langley was a bonus!
I had someone take my picture in my "save the world" uniform, standing next to Bobby's car. I didn't have the guts to actually "talk" to him. He was "Bobby Langley," and I was just an old "gas burning" west coaster guy. They were still running mostly nitro in Texas at the time, while LA was mostly gas during the NHRA nitro ban. I saw Bobby many years later when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I couldn't resist telling him the story, and I had the picture along with me to prove it. He still gets a big laugh out of it today, when I call him my "Air Force days hero."
I might add, Bobby didn't disappoint me that day, either. He made a run every bit as good as the "Greek" ever could. Running off the track under full power, never lifting. Throwing tumbleweeds and prairie dogs in all directions. And coming back onto the track, continuing to smoke the hides right on through the lights! I was standing in the group around him after the run, listening to him describe it to us fans. Bobby said, "It felt so good, I just couldn't bear to lift!!!" That's my "hero,"