DRAG RACE 1953
Contributed byThe Geezer The Geezer

In the early 1950's in the Los Angeles area street drags were a necessary evil in the world of drag racing.  There were no organized drag strips operating except for the Orange County Airport strip in Santa Ana.  The Santa Ana strip operated only on Sunday's, leaving a whole week of idle time for anxious owners of street rods and just ordinary "kids cars."

This void in the "need for speed" was easily filled by eager throttle jockeys by finding relatively remote and little used stretches of straight, smooth pavement.  These were not hard to find back in the 1950's.  One of the most popular was the "Divide," a two or three mile long piece of Vermont Ave., south of Gardena.  And there was Slauson Ave. in East L.A., at that time a developing industrial area, among a slew of others.  One of the handiest and most often used drag sites for the kids in southeast L.A. County was Clark Ave., south from Imperial Hwy to Rosecrans Ave.  This straight piece of blacktop sliced through the few remaining dairy farms and some new sub-divisions of homes under construction.

This location was handy because most of the "choosing-off" took place at one or more of the local drive-in restaurants in the area.  The Clock Drive-in chain was a notorious hang out for Hot-Rodders and others with ordinary cars and an itch to compete. The Lynwood Clock, located on Atlantic Ave. just south of Imperial Highway was a favorite and often produced some of the more memorable drags between some very hot cars. (For those days).
One clear night in 1953, probably March, I'm not sure because my wife, Billie, was a couple months pregnant.)  The Lynwood Clock was filled beyond capacity with cars.  Many were circling the lot, in and out, hoping to find a coveted parking slot.  A match-up was made between Junior Thompson, in his built-up 1950 Ford (I don't recall the details of his engine etc. I'm sure he was running a 59A block flat-head in those days) and another car I can't recall (he might).  As soon as the choosing-off had been done, word spread through the crowd like a bolt of lightning. The whole place seemed to come alive with engines starting, doors slamming, car-hops trying to rescue the trays from moving cars, and a noisy hubbub of excitement.  There was a general mass exodus from the Clock, everyone headed to Clark Ave. in Downey.  My wife, Billie Lou (Wilson) and I rode to the Downey drag site in Junior's car, leaving my '46 Merc. Parked at the Clock.

At least a dozen cars, probably more, had gathered on Clark Ave.  My guess is that more than fifty people were there, mostly out of their cars, standing or sitting along the roadside.
Very little, if any, discussion takes place between the drivers.  There were no "rules" and about the only thing to decide was whether it would be a standing or rolling start.  Since my sixteen year old wife, Billie, and I had come to the race in Junior's car, along with Bud Cornelius and Monty Deason (I think) we were left without wheels if there should be a bust by the local sheriff.  It was decided that we all should make our "getaway" in a 49 or 50 Mercury, driven (I think) by Gerry Steinkoenig.  A Kennedy tool box and the mounted spare tire were removed from the trunk of Junior's car and left in our care.

The race was great, as usual.  The screeching tires and the smell of the burnt rubber is something that you don't forget.  The crowd kinda surges into the road to watch the cars, trying to judge which one is ahead as they grow rapidly smaller in the distance.  Hearing the "chirp" of the tires and seeing the tail lights dip as the drivers slam-shift through the gears.  Then the brake lights come on in the distance and the crowd gives a collective cheer, then argue about which car was the winner, not being sure due to the darkens and distance.

On this particular night, both cars made u-turns, their headlights arcing across the cow pens and dairy buildings along the roadside.  Then they squared away, pointed northward, for another run back.  There's a sort of unanimous silence, anticipating the start of the return run.  Then the headlights suddenly bounce upward, signaling the start.  They bounce again as the shift is slammed to 2nd gear.  We begin to hear the whine of the engines.  Then suddenly the whole street behind the racing cars flares up with flashing red lights.  And the sound of sirens can be heard.  It looks like a half dozen Sheriff's cars are in pursuit.

The crowd of spectators seems to explode in all directions.  Car engines roar alive, doors slam, tires squeal!  Me, Billie, Monty and Bud start toward the "getaway" car, but see it is already crammed with people.  It pulls away with doors still ajar, kids half inside, others trying to get in.  The dragging cars go roaring by, heading for anywhere that the Sheriff's can't catch them.  There's not much of a chance of that, as the Sheriff's are driving stock, underpowered 1952 Chevrolets.  But they can and do swoop down on the crowd of spectators trying to flee.  They are successful in catching a few cars that are trapped in the cul-de-sac between the new homes being built.

Billie and I are running toward a half-built house.  Monty is right behind us, loping along with the toolbox in one hand and the spare tire in the other.  It is pitch dark and the weeds are knee high.  As the cops begin to play their spotlights across the field, Billie and I drop to our bellys in the weeds. (Remember Billie is a couple months pregnant with our first kid).  Monty flings the toolbox and spare tire and dives into the weeds behind us, the toolbox and tire landing on either side!  I know that Bud Cornelius went clambering over a fence or two and I think he hid in the crawl space under a new house.  The cop continues to spotlight the area until someone trying to sneak quietly away with lights out taps his break pedal.  The flashing brake lights attract the cop like a fly to a horse turd.  Off he goes to catch the poor soul.  Billie, Monty, and I make it to the house and stay hidden among the 2X4 frame for what seemed like an hour.  It was probably only about ten minutes or so.

The cops have a group of kids and cars herded together about a block away, when we notice the shape of a '41 Chevy Coupe hidden between the houses in the dark.  We sneak over and beg a ride.  At first it seemed hopeless, there were so many kids trying to fit into that little coupe.  With one or two of us in the trunk and others sitting two or three deep on laps, we slowly pulled out onto Clark Ave.  We drove quietly, lights out, for about a quarter mile.  Eventually we made it back to the Lynwood Clock where I had left my car.  Later that night Billie and I went to the Norwalk Sheriff's Sub-station to ask about our pal Gerry.  They told us to get the hell outta there or they'd lock us up!  I think they were a little P.O.'d that so many of us, including the racing cars, got away.

Our baby girl, Linda, was born December 19, 1953.  She was perfect.  No bumps or flat spots!

Oh yeah, anybody remember a car club called THE LORDS OF DOWNEY?

This story was contributed by an ole buddy of Jr's, Lyle Wilkenson also known as


the Geezer
~ The Geezer ~
Thank you!


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