A Rough Year To Remember
It was a pretty mundane Friday evening for me on September 28, 2007, when my BlackBerry went off-an e-mail from Freiburger, subject Wally Parks-and inside it released the news that Wally had passed away within the hour. I sat stoic for the next couple of minutes, thinking about what a year it's been with the loss of two major icons. Robert E. Petersen, who passed away six months earlier, founded the largest special-interest publishing company, including Hot Rod, Car Craft, and Chevy High Performance. And now, Wally Parks, the founder of the NHRA and the father of drag racing, passes away at 94.
I can't say I knew either of them personally, but I can say both of them created segments that were very influential to me and have become an integral part of my life. As a kid, I grew up reading these magazines, and it was from these very pages I learned the fundamentals of our hobby and culture. They spurred ideas and fantasies for the hot rods I wanted to one day build and hopefully own. Looking back, at 13 I already knew that as soon as the law said I could drive, I would, and did make it a point to head up to the dragstrip.
When it came to drag racing, there hasn't been a bigger influence than Wally Parks, forming the NHRA in 1951, whose original purpose was to help car clubs across the country to be safe at speeds. However, with the ever increasing popularity of drag racing, the NHRA also formed the Safety Safari, where members well versed in drag racing taught others to be safe and even helped to organize a structured event. Since then, the NHRA has evolved into what it is today, showcasing the fastest side-by-side drag racing action and packing the stands with a huge fan base. I have to agree with and quote NHRA President Tom Compton: "Words simply can't describe the immeasurable impact Wally has had on the sport he created and the millions of people's lives he touched along the way. The name Wally Parks is synonymous with drag racing."
Without Wally being proactive in the '50s, I have to ask, where would we be today? I'm sure people would still be racing, but I don't feel organized drag racing would have risen to the level it's currently at. One thing is certain: Wally helped evolve the safety standards implemented today. Everyone involved in our Motorsports should thank the man who had this vision. Rest in peace, good sir, and thank you for your incredible contribution.
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