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Lions Dragstrip....Who was there??

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by straightaxle65, Nov 18, 2007.

  1. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 3,694




    It was in November of 1960 that I tried going to Lions to race our 58 Impala again. Yes, I knew it was underpowered to compete in the A/Stock class, but entered anyway to see if I could get a better time and speed. I was not very successful, but got out some frustrations from no more drag racing in this class. Afterwards, I went to see my brother, who was still in the Long Beach Memorial Hospital after our August 1960 explosion and fire in the 671 SBC 40 Willys we built.

    After 3 months in the hospital, his new room was facing South toward the ocean. There happened to be an empty road we knew of that had small industrial shops and buildings, then an open space just down the street from the hospital. He could see it from his bed. The recovery was going nicely. But, it was a tiring experience for him, being so active, previously.

    We talked about how the 58 Impala was running and I told him of the last race at Lions. I also told him that several “Cherry Avenue” races were successful, too. So, getting ready to leave, he asked me to uncork the downward exhaust cut outs (built for the dual scavenger pipes) and race it down that street that he could see and hear from his hospital window.


    I knew that I could get in two runs, East to West and back, before the complaints would start rolling in to the local police. The empty lots bordered on some homes and it was in a very out of the way place, but the hot rodders knew of the street. So did the police.

    I got off one great run that was extremely loud on this quiet street and went to the end. I turned around and did the same powerful acceleration back toward the East. Since the Impala was set up (Bruce Slicks and 4:56 gears) for the previous day at Lions drag racing, it sounded outstanding uncorked (like at Lions) and left a little chirp between gears.

    The next day on my visitation, my brother thanked me as he heard/saw both runs on that empty street below his hospital window. He was a happy guy, as far as being happy during this recovery. But, I think he knew our building/drag racing days were coming to a close, so one last, “Oh, Yeah!” My brother never drove that Impala again at Lions or anywhere else.

    My brother would have liked this video of one of his favorite race cars at Lions. Joe Malliard, Sidewinder. He saw the silent original films, (as we were there almost weekly)
    But, he did not see the clip I found from RRUSS' 56-60 Lions film of us at Lions.

    Also, the Sidewinder with the "SOUND" of the same race car, same year added in 2017 for effect.

    Turn it up!
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2017
  2. El 56
    Joined: Dec 8, 2017
    Posts: 6

    El 56

    I work there
  3. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 3,694


    58 chevy:
    From American Graffiti thread:
    Hey Guys,
    Guess who I filmed entering Lions Dragstrip in 1959? Could it be the car of the star? Although, it was a long drive from the Central Valley down to So Cal. We will never know... ha!
    The timeline fits and so does the 58 Impala.



    Back in May 2017, I posted this film clip I just happen to film in 1958 at the Lions Dragstrip entrance. The white 58 Impala was blasting into the entrance from Wardlow Rd. (Wardlow turns into 223 St. right in front of Lions Dragstrip) As we approached Lions Dragstrip, my brother pulled over and told me to get out to film him driving up to the Lions Entrance ticket booth.

    Since I was the primary photographer, I ran across the street between the cars lined up for the entrance. The spectator’s and competitor’s cars all came through the same main entrance. As it was a weekly event, there were cars lined up on the main street, ready to turn into the dragstrip entrance driveway.

    After running across the busy entrance road, (Wardlow Rd.) I was waiting for my brother to arrive at the entrance. He wanted to show that we went to Lions in 1958-59 season. When he finally drove into the entrance road and met the ticket guy, they had a funny conversation.

    Watch the ticket guy talking to my brother. The conversation goes like this: “This money is for two people. (with one person in the car) My brother is filming over there…” Then the ticket guy turns and looks. An actual movie set up for a So Cal drag racing documentary. Ha!


    It was the best of times…being a couple of teenagers spending the day at the drags. Racing, eating the same meal for lunch and dinner, being a spectator, filming, working on our car, racing the Impala, talking shop with other racers, etc… a full day’s work. It was a sight to see other early, race car designs and how they worked. If only we were getting paid to do what we liked during this time period.

    Our involvement got much more complicated with the build of our own, 1940 Willys 671 SBC B&C/Gas coupe and racing. Finally, a few years later, after we were out of drag racing, in 1964, we were documenting our friend, crew chief, info/build expert, Atts Ono and his immaculate 40 Willys at a Lions’ All Gas Coupe/Sedan Only Event.

    Was it worth it? Memories last, but, drag racing was worth it just being a teenager there, in the thick of things. Observing, making new friends, racing, and learning at the same time.

    Shown was the first film at Lions in 1958, for us. Also, it was the last film taken at Lions in 1964. There are many films in between and I am still sorting them out, today.
    Ron Funkhouser and elgringo71 like this.
  4. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 3,694


    Watching my brother getting ready to race in his A/Stock 1958 Impala. Red, checked pattern, Pendleton, Levis, white t-shirt, desert boots…The blue nylon jacket was in the Impala’s trunk.(a friend took this as I was wandering around at the starting line on the tower side area)


    These are some photos that were taken of me wandering around Lions from 1958 to 60. They were surprises in the Lions films I took. There were times when my brother took over the camera. The one where I am in the photo and my brother was racing his 58 Impala, was taken by a friend. The other “pits” shots were taken by my brother to show that I was there at Lions. Also, I am sure, my inclusion was to appease my mom, who wanted to make sure I was hanging around with my “older brother at that loud noisy, car place…”

    She was one person who did not like those loud cars and did not want me to hang out over there, except with my brother. Who in their right mind would close the front door to keep the loud sound out of our house in the hot summer weekends? Every afternoon, the west winds blew through our west facing front door. But, that door was always closed to keep out the loud drag racing sounds. Sheesh!

    So, who would want to miss going weekly to Lions back in those days? It was a good thing I had almost as much interest and knowledge of hot rods as my brother. I am sure that is why he allowed me to continue to “hang out” with him. Brotherly love…


    In all of my searching for missing photos of our 671 SBC 40 Willys, I came across an old 59-60 film taken by RRUSS here on the HAMB. It was his compilation of old films taken back during those times and all put together as one film. In it was a film of us standing on the spectator’s side and lo and behold, a short clip of our primer Willys making a run at Lions. What a find. It is the only film from those times of our Willys build that is still around. Thanks, RRUSS…

    I did take a lot of films of the Willys racing. I put them on a separate 16mm reel and stored them away. When I had them made into VHS tapes, I had a copy. Somehow since my brother’s passing, the VHS tape and reels of original film have gone missing. There have been many house moves since that time and we all know what happens in whole house moves.
    upload_2018-3-21_4-3-50.png upload_2018-3-21_4-3-59.png
    James Nak Photos

    upload_2018-3-21_4-4-32.png upload_2018-3-21_4-4-48.png

    The brothers and friend, (all blue nylon jackets, Levis, Clark’s desert boots, buzz cuts, etc…THE GARB) on the spectator’s side of Lions Dragstrip…thanks, Rruss 1959-60.
    double exposure from Rruss’s 1959-60 film
  5. Sky Six
    Joined: Mar 15, 2018
    Posts: 1,266

    Sky Six
    from Arizona

    Jnaki, image32.jpg I know this is not as old as yours but I hope it brings back some memories. image32.jpg
    Ron Funkhouser and jnaki like this.
  6. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 3,694



    Who was at Lions in the 50s-60s? Growing up in the 50s-60s, hot dogs were a staple at our house. We won’t go into what goes inside of any hot dog, but suffice it to say, when cooked correctly, there is no other snack or lunch that was better. It was too bad my mom refused to put a hot dog inside of my school lunch. But, sometimes our schools, had steamed hot dogs as a menu item.

    Cooked over a small “hibachi” grill or a large barbeque grill, boiled in a pot, baked, broiled, it did not matter. It was just the flavor of those skinny hot dogs. Barbecued seemed to taste the best, but any other method was satisfactory for growing teenage brothers.
    upload_2018-6-11_4-43-42.png upload_2018-6-11_4-43-54.png
    The refreshment stand before the huge bleachers were built and installed.

    When we were at Lions in 1958-60, our favorite place was the famous refreshment stands near the pits entrance. Over the years, we had many of our high school friends working in that refreshment stand. They had plenty of stories to tell, some good, some bad. But, despite all of the choices of food available, those hot dogs were the best. If chili was on the menu, then more power to the chili dogs for lunch and dinner.

    fiat in trouble
    upload_2018-6-11_4-45-17.png Don Gillespie photo
    upload_2018-6-11_4-45-48.png The small hot dog stand in the Pits
    When the lines were long at the main refreshment snack bar, there was a small refreshment stand in the pits. This was a small stand, but had the necessary items for us. Most of our friends from high school worked here. Stories abound about this hot dog stand in the pits…

    The clientele for this stand were not just visitors to the strip, but the racers, owners, mechanics, etc. They were all discussing speed secrets over Hot dogs, Chili dogs, and Cokes, that was part of a typical teenage diet for growing hot rod boys.
    upload_2018-6-11_4-46-53.png some hungry kid...

    Oh yeah, there was some drag racing happening, over on the other side of the fence. Our favorite teenage diet, favorite drag racers, and their innovative race cars helped us get through the day and night. Lots of “food for thought!”
    upload_2018-6-11_4-47-36.png Dragmaster
    upload_2018-6-11_4-47-52.png Doug Cook 37 Chevy

    Lions Teenage Days
    When my brother was not racing, he took over the movie camera...(sneaky guy, shot some funny ones of me.) But, when we are both in the films, our friend did the camera work.

    Flash: Attend Lions Dragstrip in the 50s-60s? Then Bixby Knolls is the place, as the old Grissinger’s Drive In, redone as George’s 50’s Diner, will finally reopen on June 23. To celebrate, there will be a car show and festivities. The diner had a devastating fire in 2016 and it has been rebuilding ever since. This place during the Lions Dragstrip early days was “THE” hangout for racers and hordes of hot rod/cruising fanatics.

    Last edited: Jun 11, 2018
  7. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 3,694



    I am proud to say that I knew and became good friends with Gary Gabelich from Bixby Knolls. He knew of my brother and his friends from high school, as well as early Lions Dragstrip. My brother told me of this skinny kid who was racing at Lions and winning over those older guys in an Altered Sedan.

    I did not actually meet him until 1959-60. i had taken some movies of his first blue Altered at Lions Dragstrip. Then we were able to hang out for the summer of 1961 during our own, exit times from drag racing. Gary Gabelich was getting out of the Altered Class and into some sponsored FED racing. He told us that there were several FEDs being built and that he may be able to drive one or the other. That was exciting. Even though my brother (who was still in recovery) had a vision that he would some day, build and drive an FED like Tommy Ivo’s Buick dragster, I did not tell him about Gary Gabelich getting his chance to move to the top eliminator FED class.

    Despite the notoriety, Gary was a quiet, reserved guy. He also loved to talk and had ideas flowing out of his head. I was fortunate that he had me as a captive audience and those stories came flowing out about his career, so far. I wish I had a tape recorder to get all of the facts. Yes, we talked about his first blue Crossley Altered that we saw at Lions in 1958-59 and at Bakersfield in 1960.

    For the time we were able to “hangout” together, he took me to several shops to see the builds and to get some parts he needed. The people that I met were known to me from the Lions Dragstrip, but I had never met them before. It expanded my outlook on building race cars and specialty speed parts. That was very cool.


    I was proud that he went on to those early FEDs and made a name for himself. Then to top it off, get into all sorts of top fuel racing as well as funny cars and eventually, the land speed record in the jet. There are plenty of others in the Bixby Knolls area that knew and grew up with Gary. Those stories are hidden gems. He left us too soon, but is memorialized with a plaque and display structure at a local, Bixby Knolls neighborhood park.


    This composite film was made for the Legend of Lions display at the Historic Society of Long Beach, in Bixby Knolls. It was a privilege, as Gary lived a few blocks away from Atlantic Ave. and this local storefront.

    Thanks, Gary, for all of the information, history, knowledge, and most of all, your friendship.
    kidcampbell71 and Irish Mike like this.
  8. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 3,694



    In a recent photo, it showed the fairly modern Christmas Tree starting lights at the Lions Drag Strip Museum. In the 1958-60 years, the lights were similar to the neighborhood stop lights, red, yellow and green. Their was a specific countdown between the off yellow light and on green light. Once identified, it worked well on the elimination races. Every bit helped when all else was equal. By the time of the last drag race, it was modern countdown lights.
    When the red/yellow/green light was the standard fixture, there was a specific few seconds of counting before the next light in the succession, green, lit up. We practiced on the city streets and had the timing light locked up in our minds. While sitting in the bleachers waiting for the next round of eliminations, again, we practiced the time between the yellow going off and the green lighting up.

    From our driver’s education classes, we learned that it takes approximately 2 seconds for a reaction through the eyes to register down to the accelerator foot or brake foot. That was a simple fact for all racers and drivers. So, practicing the starting techniques was advantageous. On the street, the drop of the elbow was the key.


    Lions early Xmas tree lights at the start

    kidcampbell71 likes this.
  10. My Dad brought me when I was young and we watched some motocross. It was Good times.

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