West Coast Wheelman

He and his brother Richard began racing at San Jose Speedway in 1956- the same year I was born. The Hardtops were before my time. The guys were racing Super Modifieds when I first visited the Speedway in 1968.

Yarimie was driving the “Triple Deuce”, a car that had local history and had been raced competitively by Al Toland, Ken Shirley and Kenny Van Blargen. It was the first race car I’d ever seen with a three digit number and had playing cards painted on the airfoil. I thought that was cool and he became a favorite right away. He was a good guy to root for because he typically qualified well and rarely crashed. He would win a heat race from time to time and usually made the Feature.

1970 found Yarimie piloting #56 (the ex-Steve Chambers #8). This was a cool little hot rod and a step up to a more competitive mount for Larry. He ended the season with no less than five heat race wins, two Semi Mains, one Trophy Dash and four “A” Main top fives. Traditionally Yarimie wasn’t a points chaser but this would prove to be his most consistent season, garnering a twelfth in the overall standings. Sadly, ’71 would prove much more challenging.

While Yarimie struggled just to make the program, fellow veteran Ed Hopper and racing partner Dick Cinelli introduced a lightweight new Super that was competitive right out of the box. The new #54 had a unique rounded off coupe body that included little triangular windows on either side of the cockpit. (It was so popular in fact, that the Speedway used line art of the racer in their weekly display ads.) The car elevated Hopper to a potential winner and he finished out the season second in points. When Yarimie and his team had the opportunity to purchase the car, they jumped on it.

In 1972 a replica of the San Jose Speedway was constructed in the central valley. The new Madera raceway was the same length as San Jose (1/3 mile) but had less banking. Yarimie and his crew participate with their new racer (christened the Eaton Bros. Chevy) in the Copper Classic then held in Salt Lake City and drove all night to make Madera’s Sunday Opener. Yarimie arrived just in time to qualify but easily made it into the program. In front of five thousand enthusiastic fans, Yarimie ran down local favorite Lloyd Beard, taking the lead on the sixth canto. On June 25th 1972, after fourteen years of competition, Yarimie claimed his first victory and $465 in prize money. He would finish second the following weekend at the same venue.

Opening day 1973 back in San Jose found Yarimie in Tony Casho’s potent #44. He finished second behind legendary Howard Kaeding in his heat, placed third in the Trophy Dash, fifth in the Final heat and won the Feature outright. It was a satisfying win for Casho as well as Yarimie and paid $610. Unfortunately, the accomplishment was overshadowed by a last lap spectacular involving Kaeding and Nick Ringo-neither driver was injured. Most that were in attendance that day recall the smash up (captured by numerous photographers) rather than Yarimie’s second career win.

In the years that followed, Yarimie continued to campaign the ex-Hopper car with varying success. The livery changed (from blue with flames over the nose to gold) and the numbers changed (from #92 to #5 to #4) but Yarimie never won another Feature.

By 1978 the Speedway had closed and Super Modified racing moved to the dirt track at the fairgrounds. Like many, Yarimie did his best to convert his asphalt car for dirt competition. At the biggest race of the season, the Johnny Key (8/5/78), Yarimie transferred out of the Semi Main to start at the back of the Feature. In the one hundred lap grind, he strong-armed his straight axle car to a respectable seventh. He was paid $310 for his night’s work and at the end of the season was crowned Semi Main Champion. As far as I can tell, at forty four years of age he retired from racing. I wouldn’t meet Larry face to face for another sixteen years.

In 1994 I was strolling through a small automotive swap meet in Auburn, CA. On one of the tables among the auto parts was a wooden planter made to look like a Sprint Car. I remembered the planters being sold at the Fairgrounds Speedway. “You get this down in San Jose?” I asked. The crusty older gentleman smiled and pushed the straw cowboy hat back on his forehead. “Yeah, I used to race in San Jose,” he replied quietly. “What’s your name,” I inquired. “Larry Yarimie,” he said offering his hand.

Within the blink of an eye I reverted back to my childhood. I became a ten-year-old “fan-boy” standing in front of one of my idols. I wanted to tell him that he’d won many races in the Hot Wheels I’d assigned to him…but I refrained. I did run home to retrieve my album of Super Modified photos. He spent twenty minutes or so going through it page by page, commenting. It was awesome. He was totally humble but I think he could tell that he had been (and still was) a hero to me.

After I’d moved to Oregon I met another former San Josean who had crewed for many of the “old guard.” He had known Yarimie and shared with me what he remembered. He said he thought Larry had been a truck driver by profession and wasn’t a wealthy man by any means. He thought he was a better racer than the stats would suggest. He thought Larry had lost a son in some sort of accident, he was shot. He didn’t know what the circumstances were, but the death had devastated Larry. “He never was the same after that,” he said.

I had sensed a profound sadness about Yarimie when I met him. Today I wish I’d told him about all the races he’d won on my bedroom carpet. I think it would have put a smile on his weary face.

NOTE — Most of the photographs for this article were provided by Loel Burt—a lifelong fan and friend of Larry Yarimie

Where are we going with all of this?

Greetings GearHeads. By the time you are reading this, another year has passed. How did you like the last one? Dare I ask? At press time, a lot was going on in the country. Maybe some of you may have received a shot in the arm by now? Maybe this year, Motorsports will receive the shot in the arm it needs?
2020 was definitely the lamest year of all time when it comes to hot rodding. There were a number of races that went off around the place but hot rod cruises were damned few.

There will, however be less racing out in the world for VW this year. They are pulling out of Motorsports racing completely to focus on EV production cars. Next we see that Audi is pulling out of formula E competition followed by BMW who will be concentrating solely on EV production cars. The EVs are coming to the streets boys… And lots of them!

It looks like Atlanta dragway has gone up for sale. We were sorry to hear of the death of Dan-O. He was an OG Motorsports photographer in the LA area who got mowed down in an LA street race.

“… They were cruising against Communism.”

When it comes to car cruises in 2020. There was something worth mentioning that took place October 10th 2020. It was referred to as a car caravan by the Miami Herald. This car caravan consisted of primarily Cuban Americans and numbered at about 20K, they are saying!

They were cruising against Communism. Many of these participants were exiles who have experienced the evil and destruction of Communism firsthand in their countries. They see this coming to America and stand up against it.

Unfortunately, the influence of communism is shot through and through this country from shore to shore at levels most Americans would not even believe. And this is coming straight out of CCP. Yes the Communist Chinese badly want to rule the world. This should come as a surprise to none of us. Levels of communist corruption today are infected throughout Wall Street, politics CTC and public education in this country.

There is no question that many more Americans need to become vastly more informed on this subject. This writer is one who never likes to mix politics with hot rodding. But the CCP stands on its own as the premier threat of all time, to the United States.

Us Hot Rodders are pretty much long in the tooth. We are like the OG’s of the old school Hot Rodding started here in America in the last century. We are the last generation. It gets harder and harder for most of us to muster up what it takes to put on any kind of a cruise in these days. It makes me wonder what we might have left, if and when the time comes for us to stand up and make a statement for our country?

At press time something else is going on in our capitol. We will see how that all sorts out by the time you read this. I must add that censorship has gone way off the hook in this country. There appears to be no such thing as free press anymore, especially on the social platforms. The silencing is being done to second tier news channels as well as all kinds of content creators. This is outrageous, extremely troubling and un-American. Fcu

Let me just close with my new definition of a vacuum: When big money begets big corruption and big communism comes rushing in.
’nuff said.

The Mirage Catcher

Call it fate, but on the day that Kirk Alston set his record at El Mirage, he disappeared. I kind of know what happened. Even though a lot of people witnessed it, they still refuse to believe.
But I do.

My name is Andy “Pops” Gilbert. I am part of the Safety Crew for the SCTA. I’ve been a member since ’39 and have driven the ambulance since ’53. Although I’m in my upper seventies, I’m still pretty sharp. No sight loss, hearings a little off (due to a lot of years working on uncapped engines), a bit overweight but I am agile and my mind is alert, so I know my story holds weight. It all began the Sunday prior to the opening of racing season.

Kirk was an interesting kid and he had a lot going or him. He kind of reminded me of a cross between Vic Edelbrock, Sr. and Barney Navarro, a real master of wringing horsepower out of anything. Nowadays, kids tend to play with Camaros and Mustangs for V-8 thrills, or worse yet, Japanese crap boxes with thundering stereos. Kirk leaned more toward the older engines: Flathead Fords, Hudson sixes, old Hemis, Rocket Olds engines and so fourth. Hell, he even had a literature collection that would make the archives at Peterson Publishing jealous!

Kirk always wore a fresh flattop haircut a T-shirt with jeans or a set of old coveralls. A nice kid really, anyway….

He was really working hard on his roadster, preparing the 296 inch Flathead for the spring meet. I didn’t see the boy much during this time. Most of his preparations he did himself and he rarely called except to give me a hard time about Dale Jarrett losing a race.

Things are hectic the night before racing season takes off and sometimes-peculiar things happen. Well, I had just finished watching NASCAR Tonight when the phone rang. Somehow, I knew it would be Kirk. Jarrett had taken third behind a smarmy Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin had won, so I did not expect to have Kirk give me to hard of a time. “Hello?” I said, and then Kirk was there, as if speaking from far away it seemed. “Pops? This is Kirk, Can…Can ya come by my place?” I spoke, “Sure son, what’s the—” But he cut me off in mid-sentence, “Just come by.” He then hung up on me.

My mind raced. He surely didn’t need mechanical help. Hell, even the guys who’d been around for awhile went to him for odd questions. So, nothing mechanical, so maybe it was his family? That had always been a mystery to me. His mother had died while giving birth and his father had fallen into the bottle shortly after. He bounced from Uncle to Aunt and then finally ended up in foster care till he was 18. Then he set out on his own, living off of a trust fund his grandparents had set aside for him when he was just born, thus, money wasn’t a worry for him. I felt bad for the kid, really. He did not associate that much with kids his age, so us older guys invited him to shows and such to give him a social life of some kind at least.

As I drove toward his house, I thought about how much of a whiz he was with an engine. A natural, really. A strong confident fellow and that is why the call bothered me. He did not sound sure of himself.

I pulled up his driveway, things looked normal. There sat his ’49 Olds 88, a ’34 Ford truck cab sat waiting the finishing touches on the chop he had started and a set of Deuce rails were leaned up against side of the garage. A light spilled out of the crack beneath the garage door and bled across the concrete.

He called for me to come into the garage. As I entered I saw his ’27 “T” Lakester on jack stands. He was sitting on the workbench against the far side of the garage, looking like the cat that had just caught the canary.

“Pops, how ya doing old man?” His voice was sprite and mischievous. I remember Stu Hilborn talking to me the same way on the day he unveiled his fuel injection set up way back when. Cautiously I prodded Kirk, “What, you discover a speed secret to top them all, Kirk boy?” His eyes narrowed and his grin broadened. “That’s only the surface, Pops.” He scooted off of the bench and motioned to me to follow him to the engine stand that sat at the front of his Lakester.

The mill itself was under a grease stained canvas tarp. Kirk smiled and whipped the tarp off of the engine. The engine was obviously the 59 L block I had given him awhile back, but the heads were something else. They looked like a set of Ardun’s, but had an exotic look like that of anything running at Le Mans today. Closer examination answered one question, but raised many more.

The heads were a dual overhead cam design and the induction system was similar to Hilborn’s idea, except this was a reverse firing engine and had electronics involved! A dual coil ignition setup was evident and there were two plugs per cylinder. Amazing and very impressive. Then I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. Pop riveted to the back of one of the immense valve covers was a brass SCTA timing plaque, which read as follows:
This certifies that Kirk “Allspeed” Alston went 207.156 MPH at El Mirage Dry Lake, April 17th, 1953.

I read the plaque again and again trying to figure it out. Then I stepped back and let my eyes take in the engine that was before me. It was a bastard really. A mixture of old and new. It was so scary to look at that I kept rubbing the green engine to assure me that it was real. I looked at Kirk and I could tell by his facial expression that the novelty of his phantom engine had worn off and he was looking for real answers. Answers that I knew I could not provide.

I spoke, “How can it be?” He cleared his throat. He had been staring at the engine but then tore his eyes from the thing and looked me straight in the eye, then spoke; “Since the beginning of last week, I have been having some pretty realistic dreams. I have been living another life in my sleep, building this engine with the likes of Duntov, Bill Kenz, Stuart Hilborn, Vic Senior and others.

We’ve tested and combined ideas from today’s technology and yesterdays. And, well, this is the final product. Dean Moon wanted me to run it in his ’32 Sedan, but I told him I wanted it for my “T”. So, last night they all gave me that plaque as a gift of sorts to put onto the engine and they told me Kenny Howard would have a surprise painted for me on the nose of the “T”. Sure enough, this morning I went out and across the front of the car was this.”

I walked up and saw with my own eyes, a pinstriped and lettered nosepiece by the master himself, Von Dutch. It read The Mirage Catcher. I looked at the bright red striping and lettering on the steel blue colored lakester. It looked sharp, really sharp! It was probably the cleanest machine I have seen since the Pierson brothers unveiled their ’34 coupe years ago.

He was trembling, and again looked at me for answers. So, I spoke. “Ya know, Kirk, there are a might bit of strange things that happen in this world, and a lot of others, like yourself, look for answers that cannot be found. I say this, if it feels right then why worry. There’s a plan for you and this here creation you have here. Godspeed, Kirk. And no worries.”

He smiled back at me. I nodded and made for the door. It was late and I didn’t want to get in his way as he lowered the engine into his roadster. He again thanked me and went to work. He worked best alone he had always told me. So I walked out to my pick up and headed home. As I drove home, I thought about that phantom engine again. Could it be true? Did all of my friends from long ago reach across time and help a lonely hot rodder in building something that was both new and old? A cool chill ran up my spine. Maybe so……

Next day at the lakes was dry and hot. The sky was a steel blue color with no clouds at all. I sat at my post and watched the cars all run. It was smooth sailing all day long with no incidents at all. As I watched I smiled to myself and thought how wonderful this all was. The teamwork, the camaraderie, the cars. Being here beneath a sunny sky and watching guys who have put their souls into a piece of tin, attempt a personal glory: nothing has changed.

Be it a Riley four port or a computerized Rat big block motor, the same drive to obtain higher speeds with a given design has always been there. I closed my eyes and listened as a “B” class roadster blazed passed. I then determined that when I would die, that here, right here in the high desert of California, I would have my ashes strewn.

This is all about hot rods you see. I love them. Always have, always will. At about 1:05 it was Kirk’s turn. My radio popped to life and a voice squawked “Hey Andy, this is your boy, ain’t it?” I smiled and hit the button. “Just close your eyes and let your senses tell you what is going on.” was my reply.

The Lakester began to wind up as he took it through the gears. The strange hybrid motor growled and sang. It seemed to hypnotize everyone present as it resonated throughout the valley. Kirk entered the traps kicking up a huge rooster tale of silt as he sent his car sailing.

Inside the timing booth a buzz was growing into a roar. The kid was going to set an incredible record! Across my two-way radio I listened as excited voices shot back and forth. He really was going to do it!

Then I saw it. A mirage began to spread across the desert floor. It was almost alive as it seemed to spread like a cloud’s shadow across the desert floor. Wavering and silver in appearance, it seemed to coil like a snake waiting for its prey. The whole valley was nothing but sound now. Radios, the distant murmur of the spectators and the roar of that amazing engine.

The mirage then leapt off of the desert floor and wavered in front of Kirk. A person could see into it, actually. It was clearer. The sky seemed bluer. The haze of today’s modern California sky, one has grown accustomed to was not there.

The mirage was fast too. I watched with horrendous fascination as It raced alongside of Kirk’s Lakester and open even wider. Without slowing Kirk entered the mirage. Full bore. Then Kirk, the car and its amazing engine disappeared.

As the rooster tail dissipated, the seriousness of the situation became clear.   Where were the driver and the car?

Now the radio was alive. Everyone; barking and yelling trying to get the most information on what had happened.  As a safety crew member I have seen it all. Bloody, bruised, ugh, even death. This was beyond any of that. For there was nothing. No traces of the car or Kirk. Most of the folks out there that day claim that Kirk left. He drove off of the course and just flat out left town. I knew the truth. You see, he had caught a mirage. Simple as that.

That evening, on a whim I looked through my old magazine collection. I grabbed a stack of 1953 Hop Up’s and out of the stack, one fell and hit the floor. I stooped to pick it up and froze as I stared at the cover.

There on the cover was Kirk with his Mirage Catcher. Across the top of the picture was the caption- Mysterious Kirk “Allspeed” Alston and his amazing Mirage Catcher” I stared at the magazine for a long time before putting it away. I did not want to read it.

Around me time was changing. I knew that I would not sleep that night. As I finish writing this, I can hear traffic growing with the rush of the oncoming sunrise and I wonder what things will be like today at El Mirage.

—Written by Mark Karol-Chik September, 1996

MORE AMERICAN GRAFFITI

After my story on the movie American Graffiti, I toyed with the idea of writing a second story—one about the sequel to American Graffiti, More American Graffiti. That movie was good, of course, just not as good as the original. So, where were you in ‘63, ‘64, ‘65, and ‘66? I was in Southern Oregon, not yet old enough to drive.

More American Graffiti was filmed in 1979, the year my son was born. It was not as big of a hit as its predecessor and only grossed 15 million dollars. Other movies that year grossed 10 times that much.

The movie was broken up into several stories. The stories covered drag racing, the Vietnam war and the protests, San Francisco and the hippie movement, and a rock and roll band. Well, let’s get to the story you and I would be most interested in: John Milner, drag racer. Milner’s yellow ‘32 coupe was more of a stage prop throughout the whole movie. The Milner character is a local drag racer with a home built fuel rail dragster. The big New Year’s Eve race is coming up with the “Factory Team” showing up, looking for a new driver. John Milner (Paul LeMat) looks to beat the Factory Team and win the championship and possibly a new driving job. So, here we are at the dragstrip. This was actually a real dragstrip, the Fremont Raceway in Fremont, CA. Now, I can say that I’ve been there. Back in the same time frame of the movie, the mid ‘60s, my Uncle Tom took me to my first drag race. We watched the early flip top body funny cars. It was great. Speaking of the original Fremont Raceway, how about the original starter, Chet Carter, was the starter for Fremont for 30 years. Also, the announcer in the movie was Steve Evans. In real life, he was an announcer and reporter covering the NHRA drag racing for TNN, ABC and NBC.

Now, let’s get down to the cars. Milner’s rail in real life was the Don Long top fuel dragster. The “Factory Team” car was one belonging to Pierre Poncia, who raced until 1971, right there at Fremont. Other cars that were involved were a custom body Corvette, a 1957 Chevy 210, a Willie’s straight front axle dragster, and several period correct slingshot dragsters. There were vintage shots with drivers wearing open face helmets and fire suits with respirators on each side of the face covers.

Almost all the same actors were in this movie except Richard Dreyfuss. Harrison Ford traded his four wheel vehicle, a ‘55 Chevy, for two wheels. He was a motorcycle cop for a quick scene. Oh, yeah, Ron Howard had hair. Speaking of Harrison Ford, that will lead us into trivia and bloopers for both American Graffiti and More American Graffiti. Harrison Ford initially turned down the American Graffiti movie because he was offered $485 a week. This is less than he earned as a carpenter at the time and not enough to support his family. When the offer was upped to $500, he accepted, and the rest is history. More bloopers from American Graffiti: Richard Dreyfuss’ Citroen is a 1972. A red Mustang is parked across from Mel’s Drive-in (in ‘62?). A white Toyota Corolla was at an intersection. A 1973 Olds Cutlass is also seen at an intersection. Toad’s (Charles Martin Smith) crashes his Vespa at Mel’s Drive-in. This was an actual accident that happened and was kept in the film.

More American Graffiti had its share of trivia as well. In the setting during the Vietnam War a protester burned his draft card with a Bic lighter. Bic lighters weren’t made until 1973. An orange Plymouth race car had a Chrysler Direct Connections Logo on the license plate. That logo was not made until 1972. At the track, the radio sign was showing its call letters KYA-FM. Back then it was an AM station. Cars at the track: there was a 1970 yellow Chevy Camaro and a black 1970 Chevy pickup. Also, someone was wearing a tee shirt with a ‘70s Camaro on it.

One thing I thought was interesting was that some of the scenes not at the track were split screen or multiple screens of the same picture, just like the movie Grand Prix.

Overall, the movie was good. I enjoyed the vintage slingshot dragsters and the music from when I was growing up in those years.