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Part 3: Wally Parks was the For­rest Gump of 1956.

One face kept com­ing into view while re­search­ing 1956’s mag­a­zines, movies, tele­vi­sion pro­grams, and dig­i­tized black-and­white neg­a­tives in the Petersen Pub­lish­ing Co. photo ar­chive. Like a re­verse Clark Kent who ducks into a phone booth and comes out wear­ing busi­ness at­tire, Wally Parks made it his mis­sion to stand up for truth, jus­tice, and the Amer­i­can way of re­cy­cling cast-off frames, bod­ies, and en­gines into loud, low, men­ac­ing con­trap­tions that scared the crap out of de­cent cit­i­zens. “Early hot rod­ders were per­ceived as the gang bangers of their time,” he’d ex­plain in later decades.

Mere months af­ter Hol­ly­wood in­tro­duces John and Jane Q. Pub­lic to knife-wield­ing, sui­ci­dal hot rod­ders driv­ing off cliffs, the real-life Jim Stark is re­ally dead. What lit­tle is left of James Dean’s tin-foil Porsche-fac­tory race car is be­ing re­pur­posed for the show cir­cuit, ac­com­pa­nied by scary sig­nage in­ac­cu­rately blam­ing ex­ces­sive speed (in­stead of Don­ald Tur­nupseed’s lane-cross­ing ’50 Ford mild cus­tom). Hot on the heels of Rebel With­out a Cause, Hol­ly­wood hur­ries teen-ex­ploita­tion films such as Hot Rod Girl (“Teenage Ter­ror­ists Tear­ing up the Streets!”). Politi­cians world­wide are seiz­ing on the pre­vi­ous Septem­ber’s mass de­cap­i­ta­tion of France’s sports-car fans and a rash of U.S. stock-car deaths as a no-lose campaign is­sue, de­mo­niz­ing auto rac­ing as an un­nec­es­sary evil threat­en­ing con­stituents’ safety. The In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Po­lice Chiefs is lob­by­ing lo­cal law en­force­ment and gov­ern­ments to shut down dragstrips, preach­ing that or­ga­nized com­pe­ti­tion only en­cour­ages and in­creases rac­ing in the streets. Cal­i­for­ni­ans’ out­cry in the wake of Ernie Mcafee’s fa­tal crash ends the Peb­ble Beach road race.

As if such in­tense op­po­si­tion wasn’t chal­lenge enough for any­one charged with run­ning the Na­tional Hot Rod As­so­ci­a­tion or HOT ROD mag­a­zine, Wally was both of those guys. There he is on net­work tele­vi­sion, con­grat­u­lat­ing Chester A. Ri­ley for help­ing clean-cut hot rod­ders get their own dragstrip (to be Nhra-sanc­tioned, nat­u­rally). Here’s an­other of his HRM

edi­to­ri­als rip­ping shame­less politi­cians, short­sighted cops, or un­eth­i­cal pro­mot­ers for re­in­forc­ing un­fair mis­con­cep­tions. The Mo­bil Oil–fi­nanced Safety Safari is an­other brain­storm to be man­aged: Wally’s car­load of Johnny Ap­ple­seeds, criss­cross­ing the coun­try all sum­mer on a shoe­string bud­get. There’s also his Na­tional Drag Cham­pi­onships in Kansas City, now liv­ing up to its name by draw­ing en­trants all the way from Hawaii Ter­ri­tory. One night later, the event’s founder and di­rec­tor is back in­side of that con­ser­va­tive suit, on stage, amidst the classi­est tro­phy pre­sen­ta­tion ever as­so­ci­ated with Amer­ica’s youngest form of auto rac­ing.

Per­haps never be­fore or since the mid-’50s has our hobby faced truly ex­is­ten­tial threats on so many fronts. Be­tween crises, there was also a lit­tle pub­li­ca­tion called HOT ROD to put to­gether each month. Parks must’ve been re­lieved to see this sea­son end, but he’d soon be tested as never be­fore by two po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions: an in­dus­try­wide agree­ment to end cor­po­rate rac­ing spon­sor­ship, and Wally’s own ban of fu­els other than pump gaso­line. The next round of ar­chive images will bring us be­hind the scenes to places and peo­ple pho­tographed in 1957, but sel­dom or never seen in print.

PICS: AL PALOCZY

> Con­trary to the episode ti­tle “Ju­ve­nile Delin­quent,” hot rods and young hot rod­ders were pos­i­tively pre­sented in a 1955 episode of The­life­ofri­ley, the pop­u­lar sit­com star­ring Wil­liam Bendix and Wesley Mor­gan as fa­ther and son. To our knowl­edge, this...

• WORDS: DAVE WAL­LACE • PICS: PETERSEN PUB­LISH­ING CO. AR­CHIVE • RE­SEARCH HELP: AMER­I­CAN HOT ROD FOUN­DA­TION, DRAG RAC­ERS INC. & GREG SHARP

> None of our L.A. sources was able to name this guy, but the search un­ex­pect­edly pro­duced his­tory worth men­tion­ing about North Hol­ly­wood’s C-T Au­to­mo­tive (be­hind pho­tog­ra­pher), the crankshaft com­pany’s sprint car, even the roller rink beyond. Amer­i­can...

> Na­tional Road­ster Show founder Al Slon­aker’s spir­ited signs im­me­di­ately iden­tify the Oak­land Ex­po­si­tion Build­ing. Though the Petersen month­lies rarely de­voted much space to the event it­self, count­less car fea­tures were shot be­fore and af­ter in the...

> It’s easy to see why Lee Woods, a Trend Inc.-petersen Pub­lish­ing Co. switch­board op­er­a­tor, of­ten dou­bled as a model for pho­to­graphic di­rec­tor Bob D’olivo. She’d be in her mid-to-late eight­ies to­day.

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