Forward by Don Ewald: The older we get the better we understand
the Circle of Life. We don't like it but we know that's just
how things work. Another downside of aging is the older you get
the more family and friends you lose. Some of those losses, especially
family, cut deep and then there are those who are part of our
extended family - in our case, drag racing.
With that thought in mind, the
passing of James Warren left a huge hole in our family... it
cut deep. The most common response on hearing the news was, "I'm
stunned". That was certainly my first thought. We knew he
had a medical condition but did not know how bad it really was.
Like someone said after his passing, "Roger has the car
ready and needs his driver". I would like to think that
There is one common thread when it comes
to The Ridge Route Terrors - everyone who ever met them, raced
them or read about them will say they were a "class act".
I not only had the pleasure of
knowing Roger and James but racing them as well. When you staged
with James you knew two things... he did not play games and more
often than not beat you. He was as level as it gets. If he won
or lost, at the end of the day he was the same guy.
Neither James or Roger wasted
words. Both were soft spoken and not much for idle chatter. Thanks
in part to the third "terror", Marvin Miller, these
guys did their talking on the track. The team of Warren-Coburn-Miller
have left the building but as long as drag racing history is
maintained and carried on they will never be forgotten.
Some History: WCM was comprised
of driver James Warren, tuner Roger Coburn, and later sponsor
and partner Marvin Miller. In the mid-60s Miller, vice-president
of the irrigation company, "Rain for Rent", made the
decision to become involved in drag racing after he made a few
trips to the famed Famoso track. He was bitten by the drag racing
bug and started his search for a way to become involved. It didnt
take long for him to come to the decision that where better to
invest his money than with fellow Bakersfield racers Warren and
Coburn. So the Warren, Coburn and Miller team was born with ever
familiar "Ran for Rent" sponsorship painted on their
great looking dragsters.
They all hailed from Bakersfield,
and had to make a three-hour tow over the San Gabriel Mountains
on Highway 99 -- the famed Ridge Route -- to reach the mecca
of Southern California dragstrips, which earned them the nickname
"The Ridge Route Terrors." There are stories of other
teams having spotters stationed at the end of the route to see
which freeway the Terrors would take and what their destination
might be so that the other teams could quickly head off to a
different track, as far away from them as possible. No joke.
Warren originally had been a
dirt track racer, and initially met the drag racing-oriented
Coburn through Coburn's brother, with whom he had served in the
armed forces, and in 1958 they had partnered and switched to
the dragstrip with a twin-engine gas dragster. They ran in Top
Fuel from 1964 through 1980, always with Coburn on wrenches,
first with supercharged small-block Chevy engines then early
Hemis and finally late-model Hemis. Miller owned the irrigation
company Rain For Rent, which supplied Bakersfield farmers with
portable water solutions, and became the team's major sponsor
Warren, who was voted No. 38
on NHRA's list of Top 50 racers in 2001, was quick to credit
his partner's role in his many successes. "I had a good
car. We were a team for so many years that we knew what to do
for each other. I knew what I needed, and Roger knew how to tune
the car the way I liked to drive it. It just seemed like there
was a combination there."
After a runner-up at the 1967 Nationals
-- to Don Garlits, who famously shaved off his beard after winning
the team won their first of two NHRA national events the
1968 Winternationals, and also set low e.t. and top speed, 6.86
at 230 mph, in the first round. They also finished second that
year in the Professional Dragster Association series behind Garlits.
Warren and Coburn were Division
7 Top Fuel champion five straight years, 1972 to 1976, and the
Ridge Route Terrors were never tougher than at their hometrack,
where they won the famed U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships three
straight years, 1975-1977. The 1976 season was among their best.
They opened with a runner-up at the Winternationals, won the
Phoenix Winter Classic as one of only two cars in the fives,
won an East/West race at Orange County Int'l Raceway, the U.S.
Fuel and Gas title, and the Gatornationals, and finished fifth
in NHRA points.
By 1979 James had grown tired
of the constant thrash and expense to stay competitive as well
as all the travel involved. So, along with the loss of Marvin
Millers financial backing, James called it quits. This move was
not only regretted by their many Bakersfield fans but by fans
across California and the nation.
Coburn continued to race the
car with Mark Prudhomme in the seat but the magic that existed
between him and James wasnt there and he was never again
successful, and by 1983 he too retired from racing.
Both James Warren and Roger Coburn
have been inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of
Fame in Ocala, FL in recent years in recognition of their many
accomplishments. James was inducted in 1992 as part of the first
group of inductees and Roger followed a couple years later. As
always the Bakersfield clan was there to back then up with a
large group of them making the trip across the country to be
on hand for the induction. They have also both been honorees
at the California Hot Rod Reunion as well.
Photos new and old by Jere
Alhadeff, Jim Kelly, Jim Phillipson, John Ewald, Bob Brown, Larry
Solger, Barry Wiggins, Dave Kommel, Gary Edwards, Steve Gibbs,
Jon Asher and Doug Peterson
Honoring James is easy. Choosing
a few of photos to depict his career is not. There are well over
100 WCM shots on WDIFL.com alone. So here's my attempt to share
at least a short view, in photos, of a fabled career. Many thanks
to the photographers who supplied them - you know who you are.
Warren & Coburn 1st dragster
in 1960. James, with his superb driving abilities and Roger with
his outstanding mechanical abilities had been a team to reckon
with since teaming up on a twin engine dragster in 1958. The
car, sponsored by Bobs Muffler in Bakersfield ran the unusual
combo of one Chrysler and one Chevy with an aluminum chassis.
They relied on gasoline to push it down the ¼ mile and
were a consistent threat to win anywhere they ran. It was RU
at the March Meet in either 59 or 60.
James at Santa Maria in 1963.
After the twin, the team started out using single small block
chevies for power.
In late 1964 James and Roger
teamed up with Chuck Holloway, it was then on to a 327 Chevy
powered fueler, known to everyone as the Blue Car"
that quite often out ran the big Chryslers. At the first UDRA
Championship Top Fuel Show held at Lions Dragway on February
1, 1964 they qualified #16 at 8.01 @ 185.18. On Sunday, February
2, the second day of the event, they qualified #5 running 8.17
@ 182.03 and went to the finals against Gary Gabelich but a broken
rocker arm cost them the win.
at Pomona in 1964.
The 1964 Warren-Coburn-Warren
(Ken) car also had the little chevy for power to start but went
to hemi power in 1965
A picture outside of
Doris Herbert's "Drag News", August 1965.
L to R: J.T. May, Roger Coburn, Dale Jones and James Warren
1968 Winternationals - Warren
(sans nose piece) wins a tight one over "Crossley &
Beebe" 6.87 at 230.76.
This is a great staged shot of
arguably the winningest fuel dragster team of the 1960's. From
left to right the late Roger Coburn, the late Marvin Miller and
super-shoe -- the late James Warren. This was taken in front
of the then state-of-the-art tower of Orange County International
Raceway in 1968.
James at Lions in early 1969.
The WCM guys loved "The Beach" and their many wins
there were no surprise.
Later in 1969 Miller wanted to
put a nose piece on the car and so it was seen here at Lions.
James being push started down
the Dallas fire-up road in 1969. Roger was always driving the
The complete history,
including the restoration of the "orange car" is at:
The first Warren & Coburn
RED in 1972. This Woody car was no beauty but fit right into
their budget. Soon after Marv Miller infused them and the full
body was added.
Roger, James and the
late Steve Evans in the mid 70s.
James under cloudy skies
at the 1973 Winternationals.
James at the 1973 U.S.
Nationals at Indy.
They did have a problem
or three along the way like this fireball at Tulsa.
Bakersfield 1975 - the
first of 3 back-to-back March Meet wins.
NHRA Winternationals 1976. The
car would maintain this paint scheme until James retired in 1979.
Englishtown, New Jersey
Arguably the most famous photo
of Warren & Coburn was this jewel shot by Jon Asher in 1975.
Taken in Roger's garage where the team was based their whole
caree. This says volumes about how down to earth these guys were.
There is a huge blow-up of this on the wall at the NHRA Motorsporst
After retirement James stayed
somewhat under the radar but with the advent of nostalgia events
like the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion he finally came out
to play... and we're so glad he did.
Wayne King, James and
Tom Jobe at the 2009 CHRR.
At the 2010 CHRR James took a
trip down memory lane in the restored "Orange Car"
belonging to Mike Abby.
James was on hand for
the 50th Winternationals in 2010.
It was the last time
he ever did a push start and the fans loved it.
James and long time friend
Mousie Marcellis, Don Garlits,
James, Tony Waters and Tim Marshall. There is a ton of drag racing
history in this shot!
On May 21st James was laid to
rest at at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Bakersfield. . It would
go without saying that the turn out for the service was loaded
with family and drag racing friends. Without any ado, here are
Bob Muravez signing the
guest register with Steve Gibbs next.
LtoR - Tom Jobe, Harry Hibler,
John Ewald, Roland Leong, Marvin Graham, Suzy Sue, Ed Pink, Bob
Muravez, Gordy Gibbs.
The restored Warren, Coburn &
Miller RED, owned by Frank Hinmon was on display along with some
current WCM tribute cars.
Harry Hibler, Ed Pink,
Gordy Gibbs and Bob Muravez
Suzy Sue, Marvin Graham,
Harry Hibler, Steve Gibbs, Ed Pink and Roland Leong.
Danny Broussard, John
Edmunds, Don Prieto
Dale "Baby Huey" Jones
who was part of the WCM team for many years.
The legendary Tony Waters
- another Bakersfield hero.
Original Smoker Hut Watkins
with Dorothy Mooneyham
Jeff and Mike Miller
- sons of Marvin Miller
Mike Griffith - Writer for Bakersfield
Californian daily newspaper - A great friend to drag racers.
Every city should be so lucky to have a supporting sportswriter.
Warren, Coburn & Miller FED
poised at the curb just down from the grace site with John Ewald,
Gary Ritter, and Marvin Graham.
Mike Aaby who now owns
the restored WCM car.
As the service came to
an end the WCM car was ready to fire up.
Gary Ritter lit 'er up and then
all the guys just walked away letting the engine run until it
ran out of fuel.
The car became the focal
point of many after the service ended.
Needless to say, this tribute
could go on for pages as thats the photos and stories about
the Ridge Route Terrors could be made into a book and that job
is too big for me. So, with his permission, I'll share some thoughts
from Phil Burgess and friends that appeared on his NHRA National Dragster Blog. Other fans are
welcome to share
their thoughts and feeling here where they will stay for
a very long time.
Posted by: Phil Burgess
As expected, the news of the
passing of Top Fuel hero James Warren brought forth a sea of
sorrow and a wave of nostalgia as fans and friends remembered
the West Coast giant and mourned his passing.
A few times over the last couple
of months, my sorrow and frustration at these losses and the
ones that are sure to come keeps bubbling over and expressing
itself in weird ways, as in the ending to Tuesday's column: "This
sucks," I less than eloquently wrote.
Thank goodness then for readers
like Charles Arford, who more beautifully stated what I think
is on the minds and in the hearts of many of us and why it's
so hard to see these legends leave us.
To Phil Burgess from Charles
Arford, "I havent
written to you in a while, but with the news I read today, I
feel compelled because this has been on the back of my mind for
quite some time now," he wrote. "Were seeing
a changing of the guard happening right before our eyes. I think
we all knew these days would come, but I think we all just dont
want to admit it to ourselves that these days are here. Yes it
is sad, but what a treat it was to have been at places like OCIR,
Irwindale, Bakersfield, and Lions, to just name a few tracks,
and watch these guys not only run but change the face of drag
racing forever and set the standard for which all racers to come
would have to live up to.
"It was a great time in
our sport. No big corporate sponsors. No huge budgets. No multicar
teams with crew chiefs and tons of guys to do the work for the
drivers. We just knew the cars by their drivers or names on the
side of the cars like Rain for Rent, Blue Max, Jungle Jim, Rambunctious,
Brute Force, Stardust, and so on. All of these guys were their
own crew chiefs, mechanics, and drivers, but more importantly,
they were innovators, trying new and different things, and thats
why not every car looked the same. It was a great time to be
here in SoCal, and sometimes I daydream and wish I could turn
back the clock to watch these guys make one more run. Yeah, it
Mark Watkins offered a simpler take and posed an interesting
question: "You have to wonder if a fuel team that had WCM's
charisma and racer-to-the-core mentality could be successful
today. I am dying to be a fan of a team of bare-knuckle racers
As hard as it may be to believe,
I never even met James Warren. He was out of the cockpit before
I became an insider, and I never caught up with him at the reunion
or the March Meet to thank him for the memories, but a lot of
you definitely knew or had met the man, and the impression he
left upon you is about what I'd imagine.
Cindy Gibbs, who grew up around the heroes of our
sport, was among the first to write. "I know these losses
are never easy, but this one truly breaks my heart. I loved James so much; he was
so sweet and kind and such a dear, dear friend. Watching him
deteriorate this past year was so hard; I spoke with him a few
months ago, and at first, he didn't even know me. After a few
seconds, he 'woke up,' and I knew he was present. He and I used
to sit and talk for hours; I loved his mild manner and was always
struck by the fact that this was by far one of the most bad-ass
Top Fuel drivers EVER, and yet his demeanor would never, ever
tell you that. When Roger [Coburn] died, I was afraid James would
be not far behind. At least they are back together now."
Cindy's dad, Steve, known far
and wide to everyone who reads this column, also weighed in.
"At a time when the passing of old friends has become frequent,
I have become more and more accepting -- and hardened to the
reality - that this is simply the way it is. When I heard of
James death, however, it floored me. It has been my good
fortune to have been involved with the greatest names in drag
racing for over 50 years, and I can honestly say that James Warren
was as good as there ever was
both personally and professionally.
I will miss him immensely
as I do Roger and Marvin. The
Ridge Route Terrors have left us with a legacy and a treasury
of memories, for which I will be forever grateful."
Pat "Ma" Green, SoCal drag racing's well-loved "den
mother," knew Warren well from her time helping run some
of SoCal's great strips. "When I think of James, I think
of a classy, humble man who never changed over the years,"
she said. "When I was doing credentials at Irwindale in
the '70s, he and Roger would come up and let me know their wives
would be coming later, and could they BUY some extra tickets
-- they NEVER asked for freebies; I always GAVE them the extra
tickets. They were the ONLY racers who ever did that! They are
both sorely missed."
Vic Morse, who became better known later in his
career as the driver of the Mister T Corvette Funny Car, was
one of many Top Fuel drivers who feared the orange machine and
shared this humorous tale. "In 1968 at the Fremont PDA meet,
I was driving for Specialty Automotive out of Eugene, Ore.,"
he recalled. "We made it through the first round due to
Bill Dunlap crashing and drew Warren and Coburn in the second
round. As I was making the turnaround after push-start, the main
steering tie rod end snapped. We had to shut off. Thank goodness,
I avoided the humiliation of getting my ass whipped by the ironic
James Warren. There is no replacement for these supermen of drag
I wasn't at all surprised to
hear from Cliff Morgan, one of SoCal's veteran racegoers
and a regular column contributor. "I was saddened by the
death of James Warren," he wrote. "I have a lot of
memories of that team.
One that sticks out was at Irwindale
in the early '70s, at one of the Division 7 points races (when
they used to run Top Fuel and Funny Car). They had qualified
well as usual, and James was lying on top of the trailer and
watching qualifying from the pits. It was like 'Who is gonna
be runner-up to these guys?' They won the race, and James ran
a 5.99 to win, which was a big deal at the time, especially at
Irwindale. I also remember that James drove a real short small-block
Chevy rear-engine car in the late '50s that didn't go too straight.
Sigh. RIP, James."
Talk about a brush with greatness.
Few stories could top this one from reader Marc Holmes:
"When I was a youngster, I used to hitchhike from Pomona
with my friends Mickey and Tim to Irwindale to see the races.
One time in the pits, and this was back when you literally could
reach out and touch your heroes, Mr. Warren was doing something
on the car and turned around quickly and accidentally hit me
in the head with his elbow. I stumbled back, knowing I was at
fault for being in his way. He looked down at me for a second
(both he and Roger Coburn seemed like they were 8 feet tall),
saw the terror in my eyes, and then asked me if I wanted to sit
in the Rain for Rent dragster. Few events in my life have matched
Another great photo veteran,
Jere Alhadeff, "Both
James and Roger were good people," he wrote. "I remember
being at Lions one Saturday afternoon, and they announced over
the PA that Warren and Coburn had been stuck for several hours
while the old Grapevine was closed due to snow. However, they
had just called, and the road was now open, and they should be
there in a couple of hours, which was after qualifying should
be over. C.J. [Hart, track operator] told them that they could
unload the car as soon as they got there and make one late qualifying
Naturally, everyone in the stands
cheered, and they did qualify when they got there. Attached are
a couple of my favorite Warren and Coburn photos. The front-engined
car I believe was the one that originally had a Chevrolet engine
and was taken at Stardust in Las Vegas. The rear-engined Woody
car is from our beloved OCIR." I really dig the OCIR photo,
with the pipes cackling white-hot, the starburst effect on the
night lighting ... lots of memories there.
Jon Asher shared, "I witnessed their three-in-a-row
wins at the March Meet in '75-77, and each time, it seemed like
all of Bakersfield was there to cheer the orange car home. The
huge roar that accompanied them each time they pushed down from
the top end got louder by each of the five rounds. The poster
you showed when Roger died of the two of them in their garage
is a true classic; it said it all. Please run it again. Ironic
but sad that the two died within six months of each other, but
James Warren driving the Rain for Rent Special and the Ridge
Route Terrors will live forever in the annals of drag racing.
Rest in peace, James." At right is that famous Jon Asher
photo of Roger and James in the garage, and heres a link
to the tale of that photo that Asher shared here
earlier this year.
J. D. Culbertson wrote, "My dad and I used to follow
WCM in the 1960s. I was just a kid, 10 to 15 years of age. My
dad talked and got along with both James and Roger and once appeared
in Drag News sitting with Roger on the tailgate of their station
wagon at the Hot Rod magazine meet in Riverside. I was a shy
kid and was afraid to talk to my idol James. That ended a few
years ago at Pomona when I mustered up the courage to talk to
him; it was a very special moment for me. My fondest memory was
at the U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships in Bakersfield (where
else?) on Sunday. Before the final round, they had to borrow
an engine (I think from Warren and Crowe), and then went out
and won the 32-car field. After that final round, they once again
had to borrow an engine to face the Surfers for the overall championship.
They lost the overall championship, but the chaos between rounds
and help they received from fellow racers was a tribute to the
family atmosphere that is so much a part of drag racing. I will
miss them both. The memories will always be near as that great
photo, from their garage, sits framed above the desk in my office."
Bill Gathings added, "I was so sorry to read
about James; he remains my favorite all-time. I saw him occasionally
at Famoso but didn't get much of a chance to talk to him. Oddly,
the last time we saw him was at the Dragfest last year; he seemed
really eager to talk and get to know us a bit. My best memory
of W&C was at the 1976 division meet at OCIR; they were in
the final against the Battleborn car. At the time, they were
locked in a tight race for the Winston championship that year
and really needed the points from the win to stay in the lead.
It was a packed house, with everyone on their feet for the final.
After the burnouts, his opponent [Gary Cornwell] couldn't get
their car to back up. Despite badly needing the win, Warren chose
to only pre-stage and waited and waited as long as possible for
his opponent's crew, who were trying everything to get it fixed.
Only when they finally gave up and waved him on, he then took
a thundering single down the track. It was a great display of
sportsmanship, the kind that made him a favorite of so many people."
Barrie Windell shared this great story of the early
James Warren. "It was in a little motel in Tacoma, Wash.,
summer 1965. Clark Marshall had a booked-in Top Fuel north/south
show at Puyallup; me and 'the 'Goose,' maybe two of the only
guys left out of that trip. I was there with [John] Mulligan,
in the Adams & Wayre car. James won the program. It was way
after dark on Sunday night, sitting around the motel room, dry
county, and James was actually pissed that he had won $1,500
and couldn't even buy a beer. No worries; promoter came up with
a few cases of beer. Fun guys, James and Roger."
The loss of Warren certainly
transcends California and even this nation. British reader Neil
Marks commented, "Although I never saw him in action,
he is at least partly responsible for my 32 -year addiction to
drag racing. As a teenager, I had a huge poster of an early-'70s
version of the Rain for Rent special on my bedroom wall. It was
a terrific burnout shot, all smoke and red-orange hues, and that
image burned itself so deeply into my 15-year-old brain that
I knew one day I would have to make my first visit to a dragstrip.
It took another two or three years before I managed that but
haven't missed a year since 1979. I hope Mr. Warren's family
can take some solace from the fact that he must have inspired
many people, both inside and outside of his own country, to get
involved in the sport he loved."
I'm still stunned by James's
passing, it almost seems impossible that our hero is gone. Roger's
passing hit me the same way. Warren and Coburn raced from the
1950's into the 1980's, and they must have made a ton of runs
during those thirty years. A few years ago I asked James about
the amount of runs he had made over the years, and he just laughed.
I was thinking about what a treat it was to race James and Roger
in the 1960's.
There was never any BS when you
raced those guys, you lined up with them and you either won or
you lost. They also raced two days a week if they could, so we
got lots of chances to race against them. They were running the
"Blue car" with the blown Chevy when we started running
our dragster in late 1963, and it seems like they beat up on
us regularly. By the time we could give them a good race, they
switched to a blown Chrysler, and we had more work to do.
We are all honored to have had
James and Roger in our lives and in our sport.
Warren-Coburn-Miller was the
quintessence of California top fuel teams. They stayed together
longer than just about any other team, and they ran hard at every
meet they entered. What kind of sportsmen were they? At the epic
'67 Nationals, W-C-M helped Garlits set up his slipper clutch
before Big ran down James Warren in the first dual six-second
God be with, Roger.
Losing such a giant within our
sport certainly takes the edge off Thanksgiving, yet I'm thankful
I got to see James and Roger, and Marvin, and the rest of the
Bakersfield team race...and to have them as friends. Roger...you
were as good as it gets. Vaya con Dios mi Amigo. Steve Gibbs
Well, It gets harder each year.
Has we keep losing family. Roger and his gang. James, Marvin.
From Bakersfield, Were very hard racers. Won a bunch of races
and make a lot of us racers look bad. These guys were so kick
back at the races. you wound never believe, That they won kick
ass, God Bless, God speed, To another super guy. R.I.P.
I've probably made 100 trips
to California to see Top Fuel races, and one car I always enjoyed
seeing (and cheered for) was W-C-M. My best love to Roger's family.
Having moved here from Oregon
in nov. 73 i started going to OCIR, Irwindale, Pomona, OMS early
74, I saw every one of the 6 straight James won between OCIR
and the Dale I think it was '75? I'll never forget him pumping
the handle for the 2 speed as he was backing up and clearing
the throttle after he lit the 1st light, header fire to the wing
and as cool as they get Coburn standing off to the side, these
guys are my heroes, I have one of Asher's photos hanging in front
of me right now. I never talked to Mr. Coburn but I was honored
to chat with James at the corral during the winters (50th Winternationals)
for about 20 minutes. This one made me cry, God bless all whom
was close to this legend.
With deepest respects Steve Morse
The first time I really ever
met James and Roger was in 1973 at the WCS race at Sacramento.
I was 17 just hanging around watching them ready their car for
the race and Roger ask what I was doing
I thought I was doing something
wrong and he said no that he needed some help they were there
to race just the 2 of them so Roger need help to push the car
back WOW what an experience
they had to chase me out that
night, last to leave and may of been the first there the next
day ,they made to the final were the motor broke in the burn
out I think we were to run Larry Dixon in the Don Steele car
.This experience led me to work for Raynor and Herbert and Gary
Ormsby. I think the best tribute to Roger and James is that in
my racing days nobody ever said any think bad about them everybody
like them and respected them, may not of like how fast they ran
but they still like Roger and James . Great people, great racers
and great ambassadors to our sport.
R I P James and Roger
I recall several yers ago when
Garlits was going to drive Gary Clapshaws car at Pomona. Gar
was seated at an autograph session and there was a long line
of autograph seekers, so gar would sign a photo or a handout
or whatever and barely glance up and sign the next one etc.
Well James and I were visiting
and I said lets rib Gar a little so I picked up a hot dog wrapper
that had mustard all over it and James got in line. When he got
to Gar he dropped the wrapper in front of him and Gar looked
up wondering who the hell is this nut and when he saw James we
all busted up!
I also remember back in the 70s
that the knob on the B&J shifter on the Rain For Rent car
was missing and after each run Roger had to use pliers to pull
the shaft back out. James always had bruised knuckles from punching
One time Gar and I were pitted
next to WCM at OCIR and Roger came over to ask if we had any
welding gear because his frame was cracked behind the engine.
All we had was an acetylene welding set and Roger said that was
ok, but he didnt have time and asked me to weld up his frame.
Well we didn't have any welding rod so I used a coat hanger!
Sadly those were really the best days of drag racing and I am
so fortunate to have been a part of it. James and Roger were
the salt of the earth. Sonny Messner
The reality of how short time
we all have here. I have started this tribute more than once
and walked away. Growing up in Bakersfield in the middle of the
Valley, Drag Racing every weekend. The Friendship of the Bakersfield's
own Warren and Coburn. Very evident at both their Memorials.
Losing my two friends Roger and James in such a short period
of time. Very hard to deal with for me. I first met James and
Roger back in the 50s. Same James that we saw at the Reunions
every year and at Races in Pomona. James was as friendly in business
as he was as a Racer. The many miles we have rode together in
some old tow rig on the Drag Race trail. The stories that rush
through my mind a I write this. WOW!!! The Old Racers from Bakersfield
have always gathered for a Lunch the following Monday after the
Reunion. Our group has been getting smaller every year. James
always was ready to go to the lunch. I will miss his wit and
his big smile. He will be missed by all who ever knew him. In
my opinion and many others think James Warren was the best ever
as a Top Fuel Dragster Driver.
I Will Miss You My Friend ..............Rest
I first met James and Roger in
the spring of 1973. I was only 16. I had recently moved with
my mother to the San Joaquin Valley from Salt Lake City where
my own immediate family had been involved in the top fuel business
for the prior three years. Our driver was my oldest brother,
Gene Wahlstrom (7706). Sadly for me, though, our racing operation
remained behind in Utah.. so I now found myself essentially a
stranger in the midst of the local arena.. a young teen who had
been suddenly removed from the love of his life and was sorely
missing daily contact with a sport that had become no less a
part of him than his own blood. I had to sniff out the locals.
We had raced against the WCM team in the past, but I was young
and didn't really "know" them. On the night before
the March Meet was to begin, a friend and I drove his old clunker
into Bakersfield and we flagged down a Bakersfield cop to ask
if he may know where the WCM team was headquartered. He knew
who they were, but he didn't know where.. so he actually called
on his police radio to another cop who he thought might.. and
we received directions from him to Roger's house (ah.. the good
ol' valley days of people helping people). So there it was. The
garage.. oh, man.. the garage. Exactly the same as it is pictured
on this website.. and very much like ours was back home.. salt-of-the-earth
racing at its best. Both Roger and James were working on the
car in preparation for the following day's race. We were just
kids. They could have told us to go away.. but no. They were
absolute gentlemen. Kind, honest, straight forward and genuine.
We introduced ourselves and I told them of the family team I
belonged to in Utah. Both of them immediately made the "Division
7 connection" and accepted my visit like a member of the
family. My friend and I told them that we had planned to camp
at the March Meet pits but had stopped by first to meet them
and to see if we could help out. So as the evening progressed
they put us to work and fed us. As well, our camp ended up being
a couple of sleeping bags tossed on the back yard patio. We were
up most of the night and stuck with them all weekend. Once again,
finally, I was warmly feeling at home with drag racing. For that
gracious and welcoming acceptance I will forever be grateful.
My story is already too long-winded, so I will just say that
for the future I was always welcomed in their circle. Even years
later when we would be on the road with our own Utah team, I
would still feel equally at place in their pit. For those who
never knew them, you truly missed out. And for those of us who
did, we were very fortunate to reap a value that, decades later,
obviously, still remains. Thanks, guys. May your souls rest in
peace and may we again meet in Heaven's bleach box.
If you would like to share your
thoughts about Roger send them to: James Warren Remembered and I will add it
to this page.
More from Phil Burgess at: Final Fairwell to a Legend
Route Terror Tails