Things were different when I was growing up. We never went out to eat. We didn’t go to movies. We didn’t stay in hotels. We traveled by car. My aeronautical engineer Dad worked for NASA which was a government job with a civil servant’s salary. A trade off for working in a field you always dreamed of.
My Dad only had two weeks of vacation for a lot of the years I was growing up, so it was well spent visiting family in Oregon. We divided our time between both sides of the families, with a special visit to Johnny and Alma’s.
Johnny and Alma were like second parents to my Dad. They were on his paper route. This was the olden days when the paper boy wrapped the newspapers in a rubber band, rode his bicycle, tossed the newspapers on to the front porch, and had to collect the subscription fee every month. It was a lot of work, but it was also a way for a young person to make money. My Dad delivered his papers before school every morning.
What really caught my Dad’s attention were Johnny’s midget race cars! Johnny and Alma soon “adopted” my Dad and his lifelong interest in auto racing was launched. He met all the racers of the day and, when possible, worked as part of the pit crew. The picture is of my Dad when he was about 15 or 16 in one of Johnny’s cars.
Johnny and Alma would gather all of the old racing crews and drivers and throw a huge party every summer when we’d come up. All of Alma’s scrapbooks would come out, the bar would open, and the stories would go on all night! My sister, brother, and I were the only kids there but, since we were Vic’s kids, we were treated like royalty. Inevitably we get paired off against a seasoned driver for slot car races.
Johnny’s garage was cleaner than most people’s houses. His impeccable vintage Nomad station wagon lived in the garage which also housed his slot car track that lowered from the ceiling. It was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen and was I ever competitive! I wanted to survive all of the heats so I’d be eligible for the championships! My only competitive advantage was I was too young to drink so my reflexes weren’t impaired (smile).
When Johnny and Alma would come visit us in California, we’d always go to a midget car race at the San Jose Speedway. Sometimes they’d time their visit in conjunction with the Indianapolis 500 and the four adults would go somewhere in San Jose to watch the race over closed-circuit television. (Talk about the olden days!) I grew up listening to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio because it wasn’t broadcast over network TV and there were no cable networks.
Now my Dad has me also interested in NASCAR! Who knew?!? I watch online and we email back and forth throughout the race. Race season officially starts this week, so I’m getting up to speed on team changes.
Johnny and Alma are no longer with us, but their legacy lives on in so many ways. My Dad tracked down Johnny’s midget car, #77, to a racing family in New Mexico. He was able to fill in bits and pieces of the car’s history, providing pictures from the early years. It’s still a thing of beauty, almost seventy years later!