It’s not everyday that you write an obituary or memorial for a hero that has been lost, let alone capture the essence of real life heroes that we have lost this past year. Every year as the New Year creeps closer, every media agency hurriedly scrambles to post their annual “people lost this year” segment. Sadly, these typically miss the true mark on loss that is felt when we lose legends.
This is why we don’t look forward to writing the year end tribute to those that have departed in the past year. Never less, we have to put forward our best effort to capture the spirit of those lost legends. With a heavy heart, we look back at the hot rod celebrities and trailblazers who left their mark on society and died in 2016.
Wally Parks’ youngest son David passed away at his home in Corona Del Mar, California. He was 63 years old. David was involved land speed pursuits as a member of the Southern California Timing Association’s (SCTA) 200 Mile Per Hour Club, at El Mirage and Bonneville, and the Muroc 200 Club, racing a twin-turbo second-gen Camaro.
His older brother Richard said, “David loved straight-line racing; drags and land speed. He loved all the people associated with racing and with all his might and spirit tried to make it a better sport for all.”
According to Richard, “David seemed to be in the prime of life, healthy and eager to go racing or to work on another project. That’s the bane of us all, we have too many projects to do for the life that we have in us. But we have to admire David and those like him because they never stop creating and building.” The full tribute from Richard to his brother can be found here: www.hotrodhotline.com
Richard Megugorac was a pioneer in the slot car industry back when these cars were at their prime, but he was also well-known for highly detailed hot rods that you really could show and drive everyday. He was often referred to as the Father of the Highboy.
When he joined the Low Flyers Racing Club in Santa Monica, he was the youngest member of the club that included Stu Hilborn, and Phil Remington. His close friends included George Barris, Dick Kraft, Jack McGrath, and Jack Engle.
Megugorac reached national prominence while at his Canoga Park shop called Magoo’s Street Rods, and his builds were featured on the popular car magazines of the time. Magoo also built some of the earliest giveaway cars for the likes of the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association and the National Street Rod Association.
Roy Brizio of Roy Brizio Street Rods said of Megugorac, “I always looked at Magoo’s cars for inspiration. He detailed his cars so nicely. I sincerely learned so much from him by just looking at the cars he built.” Megugorac’s story can be found at www.kustomrama.com.
Frank Currie. March 2, 2016
We were heartbroken when Currie’s Brian Shephard, who has been a part of Currie Enterprises for the last 17 years, broke the news that Frank Currie had passed. “Frank was from a different time and generation,” Shephard said. “He is the true definition of a car guy. Frank is a veteran of the US Air Force, but things took off when he returned from service”
Frank was a huge part of the modular rearend replacement in the automotive world. Born in Anaheim, California, in 1929, he began designing and building differentials for material-handling equipment back in 1959. He worked out of his garage fabricating and assembling rearends for personnel carriers, electric carts, tugs, scissor lifts and other specialty vehicles.
By 1964 the Currie manufacturing facility moved to a 5,000-square-foot building in Placentia, California. Frank’s three sons Charlie, John, and Raymond, entered the family business full-time in the late 1970’s. Today Currie Enterprises occupies a 40,000 square foot complex in Corona California. The company continues to grow in size and product line, thanks to the man who got it all started.
Bill Hines died peacefully in his sleep at home on May 20, 2016.
Famous for chomping on an El Producto Puritanos Finos cigar while working, he had a natural skill with the old customizing process of leading a car. He started building his own cars after dropping out of high school in 1941 and starting work at a local gas station in Lincoln Park, Michigan. He worked customizing cars after work and on his days off.
Through years of hands-on building, Hines developed some strong beliefs. “Bondo is poison, and every custom should be Candy Red with Tan or White accents.”
In addition to his incredible body work, Hines was also known as the “Godfather of Hydraulics” for his early work in full-lift hydraulic system installations. He was one of the first shops that specialized in hydraulic systems.
Hines quietly went about his work until he made an appearance on Jesse James’ Monster Garage. A whole new generation was introduced to the handy work of a master. His full tribute can be read here: www.rodauthority.com.
Louie Senter. May 28, 2016
Not enough can be said of this industry giant that sought to work behind the scenes and away from the public’s adulation. A quiet man that looked to solve problems and issues that others had given up on. The quickest way to get a new performance part was to tell Senter that something couldn’t be done. An hour later he would return with a new invention.
Senter started in the industry at age 12 when he won the very first Soap Box Derby, held in Los Angeles and sponsored by the Gilmore Oil Company, years before the race was moved to Akron, Ohio. He graduated from high school and went to work at Byron Jackson Oil Tool Company in 1939, where he honed his craft as a machinist and tool maker.
Louis “Louie” Senter. All photos, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Shane Scully.
When World War II broke out he was offered a military service deferment to support the making of war equipment. Senter turned down that offer and joined the Navy as a Machinist Mate. After the war he started working at Eddie Meyer Engineering, which brought him into his second greatest love, the auto industry and racing. Senter received a first class education from both of the Meyer’s brothers.
Senter left to start his own shop, doing business with legendary car builder like Frank Kurtis and eventually George Barris. Senter’s Ansen Automotive Engineering helped launch or grow many other companies including Edelbrock, Weiand, Pink’s Engines, Hurst Shifters, Arias Pistons, Isky Cams, Miller Rods, and Crager Wheels, among others. Senter was instrumental in starting the SEMA organization, and was honored as an early SEMA Hall of Fame inductee in 1978.
Chrisman grew up in high-performance with his father and Uncle Jack opening up a shop in Compton shortly after WWII ended. Soon they were hitting all the local drag strips, working as a family unit. Uncle Jack campaigned a Model A Tudor that topped the tracks at 114 mph while Art ran one of the oldest dragsters at the time. He managed to coax that dragster to hit the 140 mph mark, becoming the first driver in a dragster to do so.
Art was also the first driver to take a dragster over 180 mph and the first driver of the first dragster down the strip at the first NHRA Nationals at Great Bend, Kansas. He was the fifth member of Bonneville’s 200 mph club and the winner of the first Bakersfield March Meet. Art was a key member of the legendary Autolite race team. Art Chrisman was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame, the NHRA Hall of Fame, as well as the SEMA Hall of Fame.
Gejeian was a popular American racecar driver, racecar builder, and hot rod enthusiast. He was considered an industry legend as the organizer of the Fresno Autorama, one of the largest custom car shows in North America and the world. In addition to building cars with other notable car builders like George Barris and Richard Peters, Gejeian was a NASCAR dirt track champion five times.
He was the promoter of the Clovis speedway for over two decades from 1960 to 1980. Takiing over when the speedway, was in a dire situation, the track became more popular with Gejeian’s promotion. Gejeian was also the owner of the Fresno Dragway 18 years.
He began the Fresno Autorama car show in 1958, holding the event annually. His Autorama was well known for drawing some of the finest examples of automotive customization. In its 50th anniversary in 2008, the Autorama showcased over 250 cars. When Gejeian retired, the Autorama car show was also retired. Gejeian was 90 years old.
John Dianna. September 28, 2016
Dianna began drag racing in the late 1950s, eventually moving to the hotbed of drag racing, Southern California. Jim McFarland, publisher of Hot Rod magazine, offered Dianna a job at the magazine. This turned into a career as he worked as an editor at Hot Rod, Car Craft and Motor Trend magazines, among others.
John Dianna (left) accepted recognition from PWA on behalf of Hot Rod magazine for its 50th anniversary in 1997. Photo from www.sema.org.
Dianna became the president of the company’s Automotive Performance Group, overseeing up to 72 automotive titles. He helped transition the sale of Petersen Publishing to the Chicago investment group, and again when British publisher Emap purchased the company.
Dianna started his own publishing company called Buckaroo Communications, with magazines such as Super Rod and Street Rod Builder. He eventually moved the business to Chattanooga, Tennessee, but Dianna and the company quietly retired in 2009. He passed away in Chattanooga, Tennessee, from complications associated with cancer at the age of 74 years old.
Brock Yates. October 5, 2016
Noted automotive journalist Brock Yates died on October 5, 2016, after battling Alzheimer’s disease for over 12 years. He was 82 years old.
Yates came to prominence as the editor of Car and Driver magazine, later becoming a pit reporter for CBS covering NASCAR’s Winston Cup races in the 1980s. He also authored more than 14 books on automotive topics ranging from Harley Davidson motorcycles to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s history.
Yates is most frequently known for founding the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, better known as the Cannonball Run. The cross-continent road race was originally developed as a protest against lowered speed limits when the 55 mph federal speed limit law was passed. Yates and co-driver Dan Gurney, Formula One and Le Mans winner, drove their Sunoco blue Ferrari 365 GTB Daytona to the race’s first win. He is also credited with screenwriting the movies Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run.
Arlen Kurtis, son of fabled racecar builder Frank Kurtis, was well known for following in his father’s footsteps, continuing to build the Kurtis 500S roadsters with the same jigs and molds that his father had used.
Working out of his shop in Bakersfield, California, Arlen Kurtis’ cars were a loving tribute to his father. Keeping the same worksmanship and style that he inherited when he took over the company when Frank Sr. retired in 1968.
Arlen developed his own line of Kurtis-Kraft boats that held many racing records including fastest carbureted drag boat. These boats were built in his own shop, first in Glendale, and later in his hometown of Bakersfield, California.
Rest In Peace Heroes.
Your lives were full of legendary deeds, Forever thoughtful of our special needs. Today and tomorrow our whole life through, We will always love and cherish you.