John Shoemaker 1942-2008
Celebration of Life
John Shoemaker realized in his
early teen years that he was more interested in hot rods than
baseball (his older brother Bob was signed by the Detroit Tigers
as a pitcher at 17 years old and his dad played semi-pro baseball
for many years).
John and his high school friends
all had cool hot rods. John had a '32 three-window coupe that
he used to play "ditchem" with the CHP after school.
(There were five exits at El Camino High School.) They cruised
Mel's Drive In with cars like John's, and Ted Holden's blown
Willy's coupe, and challenged the guys in their dads' new '59
Impalas to race out on El Centro Road for $10.00 beer money (always
The first dragster chassis John
ever built (at 23 years old) had a full body with a swoopy tail
section painted beautiful purple metal flake with wood grained
panels on the sides of the tail (similar to the Hawaiian). It
was show quality and was featured in a 2-page layout in the September
1968 Rodder and Super Stock magazine. John would have been the
first to tell you, however, that the chassis was made out of
one inch mild steel tubing, and although very nice looking, tended
to droop in the middle after only a few runs. That's how you
learn! John built a second stronger chassis and sold it to a
friend before he ever completed it for competition.
continued building race car chassis from 1966 to 1984 building
over 125 cars, including one front engine and one rear engine
dragster for the late Gary Ormsby, 1989 World Champion. John's
chassis shop would have as many as four cars at a time in various
stages of completion. He also built chassis for many other local
top fuel racers in the mid '60s and 70's including Ron Welty,
Shorty Leventon, Gene Winther and Bill Stammerjohan. He built
two top fuelers for Frank Martinez, the self-proclaimed "World's
Fastest Mexican" and the Trillo brothers out of the bay
area. John also drove both the front engine and rear engine top
fuel dragsters he built for Bill Stammerjohan. John built a rear-engined
junior fuel dragster called the Outcast Jr. with Vaughn Raviart
long before Garlits' accident and subsequent building of his
first rear engine dragster. (The idea was conceived after a few
beers at a party one night.) Shoemaker actually built cars for
racers all over the west coast.
Every car was custom made for
the owner and driver from start to finish and John says it would
have been boring any other way. Every car he ever built from
day one also had a deep four-point cage even before they were
required. John did all of his original work in his large shop
attached to his home where he hand fit all of the tubing and
did all of his welding. John also did some of his own bodies
while Jack Hagemann, Sr. did most of them, with Ron Covell and
even Hanna doing a few. The usual mode of transportation for
John was to take the chassis to Hagemann's shop 1 1/2 hours away
was on the roof rack of a '64 Chrysler wagon! Randy Ayres of
Sacramento also built several bodies for John's creations in
John was also one of the pioneers
in blown alcohol racing, with the first-ever six-second run in
the then Pro Comp field at Irwindale's Grand Premiere in January
1975 driving one of his creations, Gene Gilmore's Renegade blown
alcohol dragster. John was runner-up at the Winternationals and
also set the national record that year with runs of 6.78 and
6.87 at NHRA's championship series event at Sacramento Raceway
all in Gilmore's Renegade.
drove the Shoemaker Clan rear engine '34 Ford B-fuel coupe to
a win at the 1964 Bakersfield Fuel & Gas Championships. Twenty
years later in 1984 he won the Fuel & Gas Championships in
his blown alcohol dragster. That same year John, with his wife
Judee began campaigning their own Shoemaker dragster throughout
the west. John finished 2nd that year in the then combined NHRA
Divisions 6 and 7, with two wins, two runner-ups and two semi-final
finishes. John began his commitment to the northwest at that
time, finishing 2nd in 1987 and 1988, winning the Division 6
Championship in 1989 and was runner-up again in 1990.
Shoemaker's began 1992 with a
new 275-inch Shoemaker dragster, and inspired by the Persian
Gulf war, became the "American Eagle" with John holding
up the American flag as he backed up from each burnout, with
the tradition continuing today.
1994 began with the most exciting
and prestigious win for the "American Eagle", the Winternationals
at Pomona in February. Shoemakers continued to compete through
1998 with much success both divisionally and nationally with
a second national event win at the Autolite Nationals, Sears
Point Raceway, Sonoma in July 1998 (their home national event
a short retirement to concentrate on his chassis business Shoemaker
returned to the drivers seat in 2001 with the advent of the Nostalgia
Top Fuel class. For several years he was a "hired gun"
driving cars owned by Bill Schwartz, Arnold Birky and John Blanchard.
But in 2006 John decided to build his own Top Fuel car and it
was a beauty. After shaking it down with no paint, John and Judee
thought long and hard about a color/graphic scheme. Their "American
Eagle" debuted its new stunning paint job at the 2007 March
Meet. Sadly the car never got a chance to reach its potential.
On March 8th 2008 the drag racing
world lost one of its finest in John Shoemaker. Under sunny skies
and nearly perfect racing weather the second session of Top Fuel
qualifying for the March Meet opened with Jim Murphy and John
Shoemaker. Both cars left good but Murphy experienced engine
problems at the 900' mark and shut off - Shoemaker ran right
down the groove to a 6.111 at 249.93 (a career best speed) but
it was instantly apparent that something was very wrong as the
car continued to accelerate with no sign of any attempt to stop
it ... no chutes, breaks or fuel shut off. Going an estimated
300 mph the engine finally ran out of fuel and banged the blower
but by then Shoemaker was very rapidly approaching the very end
of the asphalt track. The car went off the end of the track,
through the dirt field, into a berm and then into an orchard.
The entire facility held its collective breath but those who
have been around this sport for a long time knew this was not
going to end good... and it did not. The 65 year old veteran
Top Fuel driver apparently suffered a coronary event (lost consciousness)
near the end of the quarter mile and never had the facilities
to react to something that would normally come naturally to him.
The drag racing fraternity lost
a great racer, Judee lost her husband, many lost a great friend
and legions of fans lost a hero. John Shoemaker had been a drag
racer for his entire adult life. He was a superior chassis builder,
quality driver and ace mechanic. He will be sorely missed.
On March 15th a celebration of
John's life was held at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento.
For an event put together in less than a week the turnout was
incredible. The large tent was filled with friends and family.
There were tears, laughs, touching stories and humorous tributes.
John and Judee's friend and drag racing photographer Steve Wallace
was on hand to take pictures so the event could be shared with
all of us who couldn't make it to Sac on short notice.
Most of the photos below speak
for themself but Judee Shoemaker was able to add her commentary
and guest IDs to many of them.
These banners and throughout
the pictures on the walls were all done by students at Garfield
Elementary school in Carmichael. I worked there for 25 years
and retired last June. After the outdoor assembly John had the
car on display and all of the classes got to come out and see
the car and talk to him, so they all knew who he was. On Friday,
March 14th they had their outdoor flag salute as a tribute to
John. It was a very special moment for myself and the crew.
Jim Shoemaker and Donna
Wade Nelson was the master of
ceremonies. He is a longtime friend of our son Jim and a family
Steve Glucoft was the first speaker.
He is a special friend and crew member.
Dave Smith, the owner
of Sacramento Raceway and longtime friend.
Merrill Leslie, John's
Wade Bozarth, former
racer and friend.
Mendy Fry, Top fuel driver. We
have known her since the 1975 Renegade days when she used to
back John up from his burnouts.
Margie Cassie, family friend.
They own the Night Train NE3 Shoemaker chassis front engine dragster
built in the 60's and upgraded for today.
This is Garfield staff singing
a tribute to John & Judee to the tune of Crocodile Rock.
Mike Espinor, special
friend & crew member.
Haley Beedle, 14 year
Bob Santolini, John's best friend,
master machinist and crew chief on the American Eagle.
Racers For Christ pastor
Shirley Alexander Leventon,
Long time friend Jamie
Steve & Corry Glucoft
Joel Gruzen wore his
racing uniform - as did several others.
Cassie, holding one of John's trophies telling a special "Shoemaker"
Fellow Top Fuel driver and long
time friend Brendan Murry and Bud McCoy who helped John build
the American Eagle body.
Judee with some of the
Gary Ormsby, Jr., his
Mom Kathy and fellow racer Dale Carlson.
Gastelum and Sally Martini.
Top Fuel driver Bill
Dunlap and photographer Steve Wallace.
John Cox & Geno
Long time friend and
fellow racer, Bob McClennan (gray jacket).
Ronnie and Jeep Hampshire
The American Eagle crew.
I would like to thank neighbors
Melanie Shanley and Jenny Sabol, longtime friend Carol Siefkin
and the American Eagle crew for orchestrating the entire celebration.
I would also like to thank John & Cheryl Cox, Sacramento
Theatrical Lighting, for all of the incredible picture collages,
and Garfield School students and staff for decorations. Special
thank you to Don Ewald and Steve Wallace for sharing the celebration
and photos with all of you. And a huge thank you to everyone
who attended the event, called, sent cards and emails. It is
truly an incredible racing family.
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