“Hot Rod Ramblings”: The “Calera Kids” and the “Pit”

It’s been too long since I’ve posted a “Hot Rod Ramblings” feature.  For this post, I’m gonna go Nostalgia Drag and Funny Cars on you guys.  But, these “hot rod ramblings” come from my Uncle, “RickyRod” Hechtspeed.  These are my Uncle’s memories of the “Pit” from the late 60’s.  The “Pit” was the nickname for the first Irwindale Dragstrip.

A quick background… the “Calera Kids” were my dad (Rodger “Calera Ave burnout king” and Ford/Merc’ lover and his little bro, the “Chevy Puke” (as my dad would call him) and their buddies Rick Patterson, Scott Henry, John DeGraff (sporto), Lalo Gabriel, Rob Shultz, Pat Murphy and a few kids not directly in the “hood” Scott Taylor and Steve Presley were drag fans.  They lived on Calera Avenue in Azusa, California, the next city over from Irwindale.

Anyway, these ramblings are taken from some emails from my Uncle.  They mean a lot to me, because it is a piece of the Hechtspeed history.  I thought you guys would really dig ’em too, so here goes, let the Ramblings begin!

Gay Pontiac Tyree Headers Tiger Arnie Beswick at Irwindale Dragstrip

“It is possible that the four kids shrouded by the supercharger are the “Calera Kids”.  That was one of our favorite spots.  What do you think Rodger, could that be us?”

Keatons Komet at Fontana Drag City

Okay, one last Comet.  This guy we all liked.  Sooo, it is not a Vomit Comit. Dee was a great racer who let us “Kids” help unload the car, wax the body, clean the tires and what not.  A few of us even got to climb in and sit in the beast.  He didn’t win much, but I remember one night he kicked butt and took names (must have upped the nitro % and prayed to the Piston Rod and Crank Gods because it held together).  The car was a “hand-me-down” from Pete Gates but Dee made it his own with an awesome Red, White and Blue pearl paint job. Dee Keaton with the Keaton’s Komet !  He campained a Cougar “Keaton’s Kougar” in 68 and then faded away, but not in our memories.  He was a cool dude as compared to guys like “Big John” Masmanian who would yell at us for even going near his car.  A game we played when bored was to see who could put a finger print on the “Big’s” Cuda. Notice the aluminum body dents in the fender, identifying this car as one of the original FoMoCo sponsored Comets (fiberglass does not bend).

Fast Eddie Schartman's Mercury Comet funny car

“The MAN !  “Fast Eddie”, this car was unbeatable in 1967.  If he showed up at any East Coast vs. West Coast funny car meet, then us Chevy lovers could pack up and just go home!  I remember the rubber marks this car would lay down on the track. Check out this smokin’ tire wheelie!”

Charlie Allen's open door burnout Dart Funny Car at Irwindale Dragstrip

“Third picture is Irwindale.  Your dad and I where most likely in the stands watchin Charlie do one of his trademark “open door” burnouts.  Cleared the smoke out of the car, and he would look out the side of the door to line up on the rubber he just laid down!”

Flying Dutchman Dart Funny Car at Irwindale Dragstrip

“Okay, so the story goes in drag racing history that an east coast funny car named the “Chi-Town Hustler” started the super smokey burn-out with his 69 Dodge Charger.  Well, your dad and I could tell you that’s bull crap !  Our very own Al Vanderwoulde in his “Flying Dutchman” would lay down some very awesome rubber witness this photo.  That was 1967, two years before the Chi Town Hustler.  This Dart funny was later sold and ran as the Quarter Bender and was a regular at the pit for about three seasons.”

Tornado Dragster crash at Irwindale Dragstrip

“Okay.  This one is for you bro.  I remember this crash !  We where there, right at the starting line on the pit side.  The car pulled hard right, Big John cranked the wheel left, then over corrected back right and went straight into the guardrail.  The car had a huge steering wheel with a “broody knob” like a trucker would use, and he was really crankin’ on that thing.  This car never could go straight, he would hit the throttle only for seconds at a time, never made a full pass.  Looking back I wonder if the driver was just so frustrated with the car he just went for it, because on this pass he did not let up!”

Ruby red Don Gay Pontiac Drag car at Irwindale dragstrip

“This one is for Ben.  Plexigless was ragin’, this is the very first funny car I saw coming through the admission gates, I saw this car with it’s metal flake ruby red paint, red plastic windows and gold leaf lettering pulling another 150 – 160 mph pass.  It was then I knew the “PIT” was IT ! Those where the days my friend…”

Max Curtis Long nose Mustang Funny Car at Irwindale

“Here is another of Rodger’s famous ford cammers.  This is the Max Curtis 66 long nose mustang.  The cammers where getting the job done at the “Pit” in 66-67 until the Ed Pink and Donavan aluminum head hemis started showing up.  There were a few strong Big Block Chevys to come along but the next few days we will see the Ford’s that ruled (for a time).”

Gas Ronda  Cammer powered Mustang Funny Car at Irwindale

“This is the car that exploded a motor and hurt the GAS pretty badly.  Like Rodger said the cammers didn’t do so good on blowers.  Notice the air duct to push the cars nose down at speed from the front grill area up through the hood.  That is the kind of innovation you could count on from Gas.”

Pictures were found on the Speed City Resin website, a site dedicated to making Vintage Drag Racing Models and Parts.

Anybody remember the “Pit” in the late 60’s?  If so, let us know in a comment below.  Maybe one of the old “Calera Kids” is reading this?  Maybe you heard my dad’s ’64 Comet Cyclone with 4.56 gears, open headers and high revving 289ci cruising the streets of San Gabriel Valley or the drag runs on the 210 freeway?


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