Where is the line between bravery and stupidity? Between pushing and pushing too far, let alone too fast? And just how close can you get to the limits of the laws of physics before simply dangerous becomes disastrous?
Those were among the thoughts that came to mind recently as I walked through the various galleries of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California.
Oh, and one more: Someone went that fast in that!
That being a now ancient- and often amazingly flimsy-looking “vehicle” with two or four wheels that someone designed and built and then climbed into or onto to see how fast they could go within a specific distance. For National Hot Rod Association drag racers, a quarter-mile was the standard. For those racing on the dry lakes of Southern California and northern Utah, the distance between the timing traps was one mile.
But regardless of the distance and the number of wheels, their efforts are remembered and honored in a 28,500-square-foot museum on the grounds of the Fairplex, the official name of the vast (487 acres) grounds of the Los Angeles County Fair Association, grounds that also include some 350,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space; a 10,000-seat, 5/8-mile horse-racing track; a 40,000-seat drag racing strip; parks and picnic areas; carnival grounds; and even a campground.
In the late 1990s, a Fairplex building erected by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the depressed 1930s was refurbished to become the NHRA museum, which is named for the drag racing group’s founder, Wally Parks, who also was the first editor of Hot Rod magazine and the driving force for getting hot-rodders off the streets and onto safe (well, as safe as can be considering the speeds involved) and sanctioned drag strips.
Drag racers and those who challenged the alkaline surfaces of the dry lakes are celebrated in the museum, along with hot rodders and other racers.
The museum is on the edge of the Fairplex, some 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. but is closed on major holidays, and it also changes its schedule during the two NHRA race weekends at Pomona and during the LA County Fair. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and juniors, and free for children less than 5 years of age.
Photos by Larry Edsall