racing lost another longtime friend when pioneer C.J. "Pappy"
Hart passed away June 26, 2004 at age 93. In 1950,
he and his late wife and partner, Peggy were
the founders of the Santa Ana Drags (1950 to 1959) on an unused
runway at the Orange County Airport (where John Wayne Airport
is now located), in Orange County, California. Although Goleta
was the first dragstrip of record, it was C.J. Hart who created
the very first professional dragstrip that charged admission.
Young people from all over the country
heard about this unique form of racing and came out to California
to watch how the races were organized. Within months of the first
dragraces at the old airbase, timing associations had sprung
up all over the nation, and organized drag racing on safe and
sanctioned dragstrips was born. His legend and indelible imprint
on our sport grew from there including overseeing and constantly
improving the most famous drag strip of all time - Lions in Long
Beach, CA. "Pappy" was known to legions of drag racing
fans as the one of the grand old men of the sport. In his later
years, Hart was a member of the NHRA Safety Safari, traveling
the country and greeting well wishers at every stop.
This is the earliest known shot
of CJ and Peggy Hart circa 1950. Married in 1934, the two were
virtual inseparable until Peggy's death in 1980. Had it not been
for drag racing in general and close friends at NHRA (i.e. Steve
Gibbs) in particular, self admittedly Pappy would not have been
far behind her.
Pappy taking 5 in the
middle of the track at Santa Ana.
A rare shot of Pappy without
a hat. This was at Santa Ana when CJ and Peggy were everything
from ticket takers to the flag starters.
When it came to actually racing,
that was all Peggy. When asked, CJ would tell you that she could
drive anything ... and damn good.
Peggy Hart in 1951 wheeling
Pappy's 29-T at Santa Ana.
Like we said, Peggy could
drive anything. Hemi power at Santa Ana.
Peggy in her Cadillac powered
dragster circa 1953. Check out the radiator set up - so she could
drive the car home. If you ever knew her, nothing she did would
surprise you. When they ran Lions it was common knowledge that
CJ would often let you slide when you screwed up but you didn't
Peggy sporting her straw
hat crash helmet.
One can only imagine what all
these guys were thinking when a woman had one of the fastest
cars around. Keep in mind this was the early 50's and drag racing
was not only a baby but it was a man's baby.
Santa Ana flag start circa 1952.
No idea why they are so close together or how the starter avoided
Being basically an airport, Santa
Ana didn't have permanent facilities like a timing tower so everything
was done from a car. Here is the announcer and time keeper at
Nice overhead shot of
Santa Ana circa 1955.
Pappy flag starts a pair
of stocker in 1959.
Santa Ana, 1959 TV Tommy Ivo
in his first dragster - Pappy on the right with his patented
Creighton Hunter (Pappy's
partner) at Santa Ana.
When Santa Ana closed in 1959,
Hart helped stage races at a Taft airport facility and later
at Riverside Raceway. In 1963, the Lions Club Board of Directors
hired Hart to succeed Mickey Thompson as manager of fabled Lions
Dragstrip. Hart later served as a consultant to many tracks,
offering advice on everything from racing surfaces to pit areas.
A very rare virgin sheet of Lions
letterhead paper. CJ and Peggy took over the management of LADS
in 1963 and stayed right up to the Last Drag Race in 1972.
Peggy, Pappy and Wally
Classic Pappy overseeing the
pits out the back door of Lions crossover bridge tower.
A typical Pappy story was this
incident in 1965 with Sneaky Pete's "Tinker Toy" A/D.
That's Pete in the red shirt. Check out the chute. At the time
Pete didn't believe in using a chute - extra weight and claimed
his car stopped fine without one. But Pappy told Pete he would
either put a cute on his car or put it in the box and go back
to Georgia. Pete went and got the smallest lightest chute Simpson
could make. Needless to say, CJ wasn't completely satisfied but
Pete had done what he told him to do.
CJ starts George Bolthoff in
Billy Martin's '400 Jr.'. Over the years Pappy had some of the
best starters in the business, most notably Larry Sutton. There
were several others including Bill Keys, Tim "Weed"
Kraushaar, "Big John" and even a kid named Don Ewald.
CJ (STP jacket) was big on "Drivers
Meetings". Here's a typical one on any given Saturday. In
the middle is Ronnie Hampshire, Dave Condit (yawning) and Frank
Like any drag strip, Lions had
its share of accidents. However, the Harts made sure they had
the best safety crew and equipment available at the time. Case
in point was this Saturday night incident involving Larry Dixon
Sr. and his crankshaft which exited the engine in the lights.
The resulting crash was one of the worst I ever saw - really
thought LD was a goner. But here he is being lifted onto a stretcher
by Bill Keys and John Ewald. Virtually no injuries and he had
a new car on the track three weeks later.
Nobody can remember whose car
this was or what happened. Not a good sign since I'm in the picture
(Mickey Mouse shirt) along with Larry Sutton (cowboy hat), Bill
Keys (asst. starter) and of course, C.J. Hart backed by his ever
present Honda scooter. Pappy cared deeply about "his racers"
and would take any accident lightly.
Brother John had literally thousands
of these Lions Tech Card in his hands over the years. Pappy would
give them to him at the end on the night so he had the information
on his photos. Well, all but about 75 found their way to a trash
can. Here's one that was saved. All ya gotta do is read it.
Pappy congratulates James Warren
after one of his many AA/FD wins at Lions. This looks to be 1966
or so and that would be the personable Bernie Mather (who was
probably announcing the event) between them.
Just one of Pappy's legacies
was the very popular Jr. Fuel dragster class that he set up in
1966. These light weight 301" Chevy's on 98% were a staple
at "The Beach". It was a really fun class that let
many get their start in fuel racing.
Another first attributed to Hart
was the roller starters. Later most all the other tracks used
roller starters but they were powered by auto engines, the Lions
version (which was the very first) was electric. Needless to
say, the huge load on the motor often resulted in a power outage
or at the very least a dead roller. This was very cool because
then we got to go back to push starts!
During Pappy's reign at "The
Beach", Lions consistently featured the best shows in the
country. The pits were very large which afforded room for hundreds
of cars. This if from 1967.
In 1972 Pappy and Peggy hung
it up when the city of Long Beach forced the closure of Lions
Drag Strip. As a "retirement" present all the employees
at the track pitched in and bought the couple this lounge that
was presented right on the track. Something tells me it never
got a lot of use as the Hart's were not ones to stay inactive.
I believe this is one of the last public photos of Peggy.
Not sure of the time frame on
this shot but the image is familiar... Pappy on a scooter. After
Peggy's death, Pappy missed the sport and was convinced by then
NHRA Competition Director Steve Gibbs to join the Safety Safari.
For many years he hauled the jet track dryer from stop to stop
and help keep his fellow Safari workers refreshed by bringing
them beverages and ice. By all accounts his participation with
NHRA added many years to his life.
Garlits & Pappy in
In 2001 at Fallon's Top Gun Dragway
these historic photos were taken with CJ Hart front row center.
The prerequisite for being in the shot was 20+ years of drag
racing involvement. The names are too numerous to list (or even
remember). But that's Shirley next to Pappy - Garlits next to
her. Steve Gibbs is on CJ right.
"Diamond Jim" Annin
and Pappy share some time together at the NHRA Wally Parks Motorsports
Museum... could have been Steve Gibbs retirement party.
Steve Wallace (who worked for
Lions in the mid 60's), Pappy and Jack Williams.
Pappy wasn't a religious man,
but life was never the same for him after Peggy died in 1980.
Shortly before he died, he told a friend, "I've waited 24
years. I'm going to see Peggy."
Pappy's last public appearance
was a fun one. On Saturday, April 17, 2004, the staff of the
Wally Parks Motorsports Museum put together one of the most interesting
and historical group of men ever. The operators of the major
So. Cal drag strips. This panel consisted of Blackie Gejeian,
Fresno: Steve Gibbs, Irwindale; Chuck Griffith, Pomona; C.J.
"Pappy" Hart, Santa Ana and Lions; Harry Hibler,
San Fernando; Mike Jones, OCIR; Don Rackemann, Saugus, Fontana
& Riverside; and Louie Senter, Saugus. Moderator of the event
was Dave "Big Mac" McCelland who also operated the
Dallas Int'l Motor Speedway....yep, you get it...one of the most
notorious group of characters ever assembled! Now there is one
less "character" and God knows we will miss him dearly.