Display Is Head and Shoulders Above the Rest
Dick McClung was a typical Southern California hot-rodder in 1948 when he headed for the dry lakes in hopes of going faster and faster than anyone else in a hopped-up roadster.
On April 25, after having qualified speed shop owner Don Blair’s ’27 Model-T roadster at a Southern California Timing Assn. record of 136.36 mph at El Mirage dry lake, he flipped -- 17 times according to observers -- during his return run. Speed records are the combination of two runs, made in opposite directions.
When McClung was pried from the wreckage, he was presumed to be dead. Safety personnel lifted him into the back of a truck and headed for the morgue in San Bernardino.
“Someone heard me moaning and instead of the morgue, they took me to a hospital,” McClung said. “That saved my life, but I still spent 18 days unconscious in the hospital.”
After recovering and returning to racing roadsters, not on the dry lakes but on oval tracks, McClung was asked by a memorabilia collector if he could have the helmet he wore that day.
“I was about to give it to him when my wife said, ‘If it’s valuable, don’t give it to him, keep it for yourself.’ Later she said, ‘Why don’t you collect them?’ ”
The result is the Dick McClung Collection, one of the most popular features in the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum at the Pomona Fairgrounds. Thirty of them are in a wall display along with photographs and biographies of each driver. An additional 42 are museum property, enough to allow for a revolving exhibit.
McClung, who became one of the most successful telephone company yellow page salesmen in the country, recently moved the collection out of his Rancho Mirage offices and donated it to the museum.
There are many helmet collections in the racing community, but McClung’s are different in that they are just the way they came off the driver’s head -- complete with dirt, oil, grease, and sometimes blood.
“You can still see the skid marks on my original one where I kept hitting my head on something while I was flipping,” he said. “There are a couple of others with the blood caked on the side after accidents. A couple of times, guys would offer me their helmet and start to clean it up when I’d say, ‘Don’t touch it, I want it just the way it was.’ ”
Another unusual part of the display is the picture of each driver tracked down by museum curator Greg Sharp.
“These aren’t simply pictures of the drivers,” Sharp said. “Each one is wearing, or holding, the exact helmet that is on display. It took some real digging to find some of them.”
On display are helmets from Indy 500 winners Al and Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Troy Ruttman, and near winners Lloyd Ruby, Peter Revson, Joe Leonard, Tony Bettenhausen and his son, Gary.
“I think the one I’m most proud of is Tony Bettenhausen’s,” McClung said. “He wore it in a midget race at [Chicago’s] Soldier Field when he got upside down. After he was killed in 1961, his wife, Valerie, gave me Tony’s helmet.”
Bettenhausen was killed at Indianapolis while testing a car for friend Paul Russo.
“I have helmets from all the racing Bettenhausens -- Tony, Gary, Merle and Tony Jr., who was killed in a private plane crash in 1991.
“Roger McCluskey’s is special because the day he won the USAC national Indy car championship [in 1973] at Phoenix, he took off his helmet and said to me, ‘I want you to have this.’ ”
Many of the helmets were from racing rivals of McClung’s, who drove in the California Roadster Assn. as a contemporary of Pat Flaherty, Don Freeland, Manuel Ayulo, Jack McGrath and Ruttman at Gilmore Stadium, where he won four main events, and at Saugus, Huntington Beach and Carrell Speedway.
“You look in the record book and find the name ‘Dick Webb’; that was me too,” he said. “After I began working for Pacific Telephone, they didn’t want their employees in such hazardous pursuits, so I raced under a different name.”
Even though it was more than 50 years ago, McClung still vividly recalls his El Mirage accident.
“I think I know what happened. On the return run, I was going between 130 and 135 and there was the slightest dogleg, more like a swerve, just before I hit the timing lights and I think the way I had it wound up, those little narrow wheels couldn’t handle the stress and one of them collapsed.”
Then he added, with a wry grin, “I’m just glad I started moaning.”
A new exhibit, featuring a number of vehicles and other memorabilia from the Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing collection, will open April 27 and run through Aug. 31 at the NHRA museum. One will be a replica of Jones’ 1963 Indy 500 winner, “Old Calhoun.”
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The first Cal-Rods twilight cruise of the year will take place Wednesday from 4-8 p.m. in the museum parking lot. More than 400 pre-1970 vintage cars are expected.
Buoyed by his win in the season-opening Daytona 200, Honda rider Miguel Duhamel has his sights set on next week’s U.S. superbike championship races at California Speedway.
The Yamaha Superbike Challenge will consist of two 28-lap, 100-kilometer races, one Saturday and another Sunday, on the 2.3-mile infield road circuit.
“Fontana last year was not one of our finest moments,” said the French-Canadian rider, who fell in the first race and finished a disappointing seventh in the second.
“I tested at California Speedway last week and we got new data that [will] make it easier. I was right there in lap times, so I’m feeling pretty good about that. It’s going to be a barn burner.”
Duhamel, a former national superbike champion, will also race in Sunday’s 60-kilometer supersport race. He is a five-time supersport champion.
Indy Racing League driver Gil de Ferran will miss the April 13 IRL race in Motegi, Japan, after suffering back and head injuries Sunday when he crashed at Phoenix International Raceway. Alex Barron will replace him in the Penske Racing entry.
Roger Yasukawa, who also suffered a concussion during the Phoenix race, has been released from Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, but the Los Angeles driver has not been cleared to drive.
When the FIA this year designated a world land speed record class for “wheel-driven” vehicles, it put the late Don Vesco in the record books with his 458.481-mph run in the family’s turbine-powered Turbinator on the Bonneville Salt Flats in October 2001. It bettered the record of 403 mph by the late Donald Campbell of England in 1964.
After twice being rained out, the Sprint Car Racing Assn. will return to Perris Auto Speedway for a doubleheader Saturday night. First will be a 30-lap makeup of the postponed March 1 main event. It will be followed by a complete SCRA program and another 30-lapper.
Shawna Robinson, who had a brief stint at Winston Cup racing last year, will be one of the pro drivers in the 27th Toyota Celebrity race April 12, the day before the Grand Prix of Long Beach CART race. Also racing will be seven-time supercross champion Jeremy McGrath and Olympic skier Picabo Street.
The 12th California Racers Reunion will be Sunday, April 6, at the Victorville Fairgrounds. Former Indy 500 winners Rodger Ward and Parnelli Jones head the list of special guests invited by host Hila Paulson Sweet, the first woman licensed by NASCAR to race on the West Coast. The party starts at 10 a.m.
NASCAR WINSTON CUP
When: Today, qualifying (Fox Sports Net, 1 p.m.); Sunday, race (Channel 11, 9:30 a.m.).
Where: Texas Motor Speedway (oval, 1.5 miles, 24 degrees banking in turns), Fort Worth.
Race distance: 501 miles, 334 laps.
2002 winner: Matt Kenseth.
Next race: Aaron’s 499, April 6, Talladega, Ala.
When: Saturday, race (Channel 11, 11 a.m.).
Where: Texas Motor Speedway.
Race distance: 300 miles, 200 laps.
2002 winner: Jeff Purvis.
Next race: Aaron’s 312, April 5, Talladega, Ala.