Wally Park's story of his involvement in British Drag Racing - Part 5

As told exclusively to

Throughout his long career developing hot rodding and drag racing in the United States, Wally Parks kept a detailed journal relating to his candid thoughts at the time. That journal was obtained and edited by his son Richard who has kindly given permission to us to publish extracts from it relating to the period when British Drag Racing was being founded on Eurodragster.com. The opinions are those of Wally, who is referred to by Richard as "Parks" or, occasionally as "my father".

This year is the 60th anniversary of the First British International Drag Festival and this part includes the letters Wally wrote to his wife Barbara... I’m sure you’ll flip over this place – it’s too much! This coming weekend up at Southport is supposed to be the real cold one. I bought some pajamas so I can wear the bottoms under my pants, if it’s really that cold. Last night I had dinner with the Allard’s at their home. Mrs Allard is a really nice person and had cooked us a meal that I expected was typically English. We had roast beef, oven-brown potatoes, carrots, green beans, some sherry, apple pie with cream and coffee in another room. It was delicious and the company was most enjoyable. I seem to be getting a lot of wrinkles over here. Don’t know what it is, but this country must age a person more rapidly. We are really making history over here...

The story was produced by Richard Parks, photos, images chosen by Nick Pettitt and John Hunt and published by editor of Eurodragster.com Simon Groves. We all thank Jim Miller of the American Hot Rod Foundation for scanning the photos and adding captions.

Wally and Barbara Parks

14 September 1964: Dad writes to Barbara Parks from London.

The American Drag Racing Team has also been called the American Invasion of England; but its correct title was the British Drag Racing Festival and we were just invited guests. It was much more than that to my father; as far back as the 1930’s he dreamed about returning to the hallowed grounds of early land speed and endurance racing. The sands of Pendine, the course at Brooklands, the road course racing in the United Kingdom and the Brighton Beach Hill Climb and other nostalgic racing events were of great interest to him.

An American team had gone to England in 1963 and caused great interest and the organizers asked my father to put together a team for 1964 and race the English drag racers. Barbara chose to remain in New York City to visit with her family. My father wrote from Mount Royal Hotel, in Marble Arch, London to my stepmother in New York on her birthday, September 14th.

“Dear Darling – Happy Birthday baby! Just got up – it’s cloudy here – and I wish I could be with you on your birthday. Next year – you and me, red! I hope we can come over here together. I’m sure you’ll flip over this place – it’s too much! Am waiting for Duce to come and pick me up, and we’ll be at Allard’s all day getting things ready. We will meet the boat tomorrow and I’m looking forward to getting all the cars together.

"Hope you’re having a great time in New York, and are feeling well. Will call before you get this, as I miss you so. Harvey and Greg send their best too. Love, Wally.” Allard was Sydney Allard (founder of the Allard Car Company) who was helping to coordinate and sponsor the Festival. The American drag cars came by ocean liner and the men flew to England.

Dad wired Barbara at the Essex House in New York City where she was staying on September 18th , “Harvey and Mel no help over here could surely use Walter right now. Hope all is well with George. I am sure we can beat Great Bend and perhaps the event Zara. Love, Wally.” Great Bend refers to the US Nationals in 1955, but Zara is not known to me. Harvey and Mel are probably not real persons, but a reference to the stuffed animals that Barbara named; Walter is also a stuffed animal.

Wally on Luzon during WWII.

Wally in his Model A Roadster.

He wrote to Barbara again from the Mount Royal Hotel to Barbara on September 22nd , “Darling Barbara: I can’t tell you how much your phone call meant to me yesterday. In spite of how well things were going here and the importance of it all, I guess I had been feeling sorry for myself because it wasn’t me who was in New York when you were there. I’m ok now.

"Am awfully glad you got to spend some time with Jorie and Leila and I think it meant a lot to them, too. If I had been there it wouldn’t have been the same, so it worked out fine for you. I may not have time to stop over in NY on my return. Can’t leave before the 6th or 7th , and if we are going to make that Amarillo meet (it’s important) I’ll have to hustle. We’ll see.

"This coming weekend up at Southport is supposed to be the real cold one. I bought some pajamas so I can wear the bottoms under my pants, if it’s really that cold. Have some sweaters, too, that I bought, so I will take them.

"Next week Mr Allard wants to take us all on an overnight tour of the west England areas. We’ll go by bus, on Thursday, stop overnight at a hotel or inn, or pub, then proceed to our October 3 event site on Friday the 2nd . Should be interesting and fun, with our bunch.

"One thing I’ve become more and more aware of is the fact that I don’t get anywhere near the enjoyment out of being places and seeing things without having you there to share them. I’m kind of a loner when you aren’t with me, and it seems you’re the only one I care to share the good things with. Perhaps, if you feel the same way, we can try to plan our lives better and take in a few more pleasure jaunts. It isn’t that I don’t like other people – I just happen to adore you. This trip would have been a hectic one for you, with all the business problems, but I do think we need to travel more and should take advantage of every worthwhile opportunity to do so.

Wally at the Grand National Roadster Show in 1950.

Wally and Ak Miller far right.

"Last night I had dinner with the Allard’s at their home. Mrs Allard is a really nice person and had cooked us a meal that I expected was typically English. We had roast beef, oven-brown potatoes, carrots, green beans, some sherry, apple pie with cream and coffee in another room. It was delicious and the company was most enjoyable. Also there was Allan Allard, their grown son whom I like, and their daughter Pat, who’s nice. I know you’d have been right at home.

"Tonight I have a dinner appointment at London’s Steering Wheel Club, a place where the elite of auto racing gather, with Mr Len Cole who is working out the details of our proposed record runs which we hope to produce under RAC sanction, October 5th. If it works out, we will be running for England’s National ¼ mile records, but not for international recognition. It will be another foot in the FIA door, and should help establish NHRA more.

"I’ll have to hurry to make it back in time for the Amarillo meet, which I feel is important, since it is our 1964 World Points final event. Hope you will want to go too, as I don’t like being places without you. Am anxious to get back again and see Capri, George, Herm, Walter, House (also Gregory, Harvey and Mel) and all those good things. Needless to say, I’m kinda looking forward to seeing you too, honey, as a month is a long time to be away from someone as important to me as you. Still ‘You and Me, Red?’ I love you, HIM.”

Barbara was home in Sherman Oaks when Dad wrote to her. The names Capri, George, Herm, Walter, House, Gregory, Harvey, Mel and others names in THIS context refers to Barbara’s stuffed animals which she considered were her children. She imbued a “life force” into objects, naming cars, furniture, toy animals and just about any inanimate thing with a personality. When they passed down an old car to us it came with a name; Rusty, Garfield, Tex, etc and we had to refer to the car by its name, not by its manufacturer.

1962 Autolite Trophy, Ed Stroh, Wally Parks, Fran Hernandez.

Wally and Barbara with California governor Earl Warren. NHRA pic.

Dad wrote to Barbara from the Mount Royal Hotel on September 23rd, “Dear Babbie: Spent today out at Duxford, an old Air Force Base, checking the runway for our prospective record runs, September 5th (he meant October 5th ). The day was beautiful – I went out there with Mr Jack Terry and his delightful wife and their 16 year old son. Have a hard time understanding Jack’s cockney, and can’t understand the kid, but Mrs Terry and I hit it off real well, and you would just love her.

"Also stopped by George Brown’s cycle shop, in a small town (he’s the National Champ) but he was away today. Went in and visited his wife, who is both lovely and delightful, in their upstairs apartment over the shop – all of which is located in a 14th Century building. If you come over next year, you’ll have to meet these people. They are really entertaining to be around!

"Things are going along ok, with a minimum of problems. I plan to check out of here Friday, 25th and don’t know where I’ll be staying after – have to go north for this weekend’s meets. Maybe you won’t like me when I get back – I seem to be getting a lot of wrinkles over here. Don’t know what it is, but this country must age a person more rapidly.

"Have been feeling ok, besides the fact that I miss you so, but I will be glad when the job’s done and I can come back home again. Heard you were in Detroit Tuesday and hope to hear from you. I love you so much. Wally (Greg, Harvey and Mel).” Then he wrote in big red letters across the pages, “We all miss you the boys.”

Wally at the NHRA Winternationals.

He sent another letter from London on September 28th to Barbara, “Darling Barb – Back in London after a tremendously successful weekend. Yesterday’s meet was our best yet, and Saturday was very good too, with a brief noon rain intermission. Am staying in the same hotel as the team (Sandringham Hotel in Hyde Park) tonight, but not sure about later on.

"There is a big Motor Show opening here, for the trade, and in-town reservations are scarce. Honey, I’m very much concerned about you and your being so tired. Is it a lack of shots – too much travel going – or what? Sure do want to come home and look after you. Nothing else, to me, is important – just you.

"Please pardon this scrawl. No desk in my room – just a low chest and a droopy chair. Floor squeaks, the bathroom is down the hall – all very typical here. I’ve met lots of wonderful people here, not the least of whom are on our US Team. It’s a good group, and we are really making history over here.

Wally talks to Dante Duce with Tommy Ivo's dragster. Jim Miller AHRF pic

"The Royal Auto Club (England’s big stick organization) has invited us to be their guests at a special party at RAC this Wednesday nite. They have admittedly learned more and changed more of their traditional thinking as a result of these meets than anything else in countless years.

"Drag racing, I can guarantee, has been established in Merrie Olde England. We are planning to hold National record runs on Monday 5th (October), if all goes well and the weather permits. After that, I’ll catch the earliest possible plane home. Will call before then. Please take care of yourself – because you’re everything there is. Love, HIM.” Then he added, “We love you! Mel, Harvey, Gregory, Him.”

The last letter from England was written on September 29th to Barbara, “Dear Darling – Well, I’ve moved again – this time around the corner to a better hotel (Century Hotel in Craven Hill Gardens). Still no private bath and no shower, but very modern by London standards. It’s ok. By the time this arrives I will probably be home.

"We cancelled our record run plans today, and since the job here has already been accomplished, I’ve decided to come home this Friday, rather than stay over and return via Amarillo. I’m pretty thrashed, and the lack of anything important to do is starting to get to me.

"The team is fine. They have made their mark here in England and now have only to make two runs each at the final two meets, then load the cars on the boat. They won’t sail until the 13th , so some are going over to France, Italy, etc. I’m scheduled on TWA’s flight 701 that arrives in Los Angeles at 9:45 or so Friday night. Fog here held up today’s departures, so I hope I’ll have better luck.

"We are attending the RAC cocktail party tomorrow evening, then going out for dinner at the ‘Talk of the Town,’ where Lena Horne is on! (If she likes me, I may just stay). Anyway, I wanted to let you know my plans. Saw ‘Instant Marriage,’ a stage show, last night. Just great! Would love to have you here to see things with me – a real interesting place, with someone to help appreciate it. Love, Wally.” Then he added, “We all miss you! Harv, Mel, Greg, Him,” and then, “Talked to you since this, but I am sending it anyway!”

Ontario 1976. Alan Earman photo.

Wally at Sanair 1971 presenting the Wally trophy to Jim Miller.

NHRA pic.

1 SEPTEMBER 1965 BRITISH DRAG RACING magazine The official magazine of the British Drag Racing Association (BDRA) originated in early 1965 and sold for 2 Shillings 6 pence per copy. There were nine issues as of September indicating that the magazine began in January. It was 8x11 inches in size and 26 pages on high-quality bond photographic paper; it covered a wide ranging subject matter on drag racing.

The following staff members were noted in the masthead; Roland Green (Editor), Jill Harwood (Features Editor), Colin Underhill (Photographic Editor), Alan Kirkpatrick (Art Editor), Laurence McGinlay (Business Manager), Ann Gottelier (Subscriptions), Lynn Wineland and Allen Friedrich (US Editors), Gerry Belton, Graham Forsdyke, David Kipling and Robert Hart (Contributing Editors). Writers included Tony Bayley, Vic Outen, Tom Lush and members of the staff.

Articles included Dragfest ’65, Entry of the Dragsters into Europe, Way Down South, How to Build Your Own Dragster Part 4, Outen’s Guide to Customising, Background to the Festival Part I, and The Biggest Dragster Yet (Summers Brothers Goldenrod). Overall it was a fine drag racing magazine with the potential for growth.

25 SEPTEMBER 1965 British Drag Racing Festival

The 1963 British Invitational between Sydney Allard, actually his son Alan, and that of Dante Duce, Dean Moon and Mickey Thompson had whetted the British appetite for American style drag racing. The 1964 British Drag Racing Festival that had been augmented by ten American drag racing vehicles had been a racing success even if it had not been a financial one. Therefore it was assumed that the 1965 British Drag Racing Festival would continue the successes of the earlier two years even though fewer cars were returning and Don Garlits was not among the US Team.

These had been learning lessons in cultural differences between the Europeans and the Americans. We learned how much we had at our disposal and how vast our support system in drag racing really extended. We also learned how difficult it was for the Europeans; crushed after the war and how long it took to reestablish their infrastructure and society. The Socialist State ruled the lives of Great Britons and things that Americans take for granted were simply not available in Europe. We learned how cultured and polite the British could be in the face of want. Facilities were simply not up to our standards, but the grace and poise of the British in the face of hardship taught us a valuable lesson.

My father came back from two Festivals a different and perhaps more patient man; he developed friendships that would last for decades. British born and raised Shirley Bunce would come to work for the NHRA and my father would assign her to show around the guests from the British Isles and Europe to make their stay more pleasant.

Allen Friedrich, an English publicist living in California, wrote to Parks on January 21st and he intended to be in England during the Festival. He explained that the Allard “Dragon” dragster had passed customs and would appear and race at the 1965 Pomona Winternats. Doug Church, who had been in England driving during the 1964 British Festival, would drive the “Dragon.” He was also working with the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) which was similar to our ACCUS; Friedrich was hoping they would remove the ban on advertising decals on the American cars.

The British Drag Racing Association (BDRA) sent out a bulletin to members and the NHRA in January; the association was six months old and boasted 300 members. Sydney Allard was the President of BDRA and the Vice Presidents were Wally Parks (NHRA), George Brown (record setting motorcyclist), and RAF Group Captain S. P. Coulson (RAF Motor Sports Association).

The BDRA was affiliated with the British Hot Rod Association (BHRA) and the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) which gave them FIA backing and International standing. Now that the NHRA was a member of ACCUS, Parks also had International FIA authority.

The Brits were latecomers to drag racing, but in all other racing they were far ahead of us. The BDRA wasn’t waiting for the Americans to show up; they scheduled monthly drag races from March through August, and then the big Festival in September with the Americans.

It was an exciting time for British drag racing; but there was a great deal to be done in preparing the rules, classes and other regulations required. A magazine for members of the BDRA will debut in March with the title British DRAG RACING and dues are one pound, one shilling.

The Allard Dragon dragster being loaded on the plane for California. Allard archives.

At the 1965 NHRA Winternationals in Pomona where it was run by Doug Church and the 'Modern Specialist' team. Allard archives.

It was also entered in the car show at Pomona. Allard archives.

Gerry Belton was the Secretary of the BDRA and had facilitated the US Team in 1964 with his able assistance. He wrote to the BDRA members on February 12th to notify them of an Association meeting and the showing of three American films.

“Ohio” George Montgomery wrote to Parks on February 17 th and asked for four 1964 Festival decals. Parks replied on the 25th and provided what he had available. Would George be going to England again?

C. H. Weller, of Valvoline in England, wrote to the New York headquarters of Ashland Oil (Valvoline brand) on the 24th and asked for information on the 1965 US Team so that he could begin an advertising campaign.

The British Drag Festival Ltd was the legal organization that had taken in payments and paid out expenses during the 1964 Festival. However, they were individually members of the BDRA and an expense report on February 28th showed the BDRA with a net cash balance of 155 Pounds, 10 Shillings and 1 Pence.

Parks wrote to old friend, General Francis H. “Butch” Griswold on March 2nd and gave a description of the recent progress of the NHRA. Then Parks asked if the US Government could help fly the 8 selected dragsters to England for the 1965 British Drag Festival; as a public relations gesture to the British. Parks was hoping he still had that old magic with Generals Griswold and LeMay.

Griswold replied to Parks on March 5th that both he and General Curtis LeMay have retired from the US Air Force and recent complaints from Congressmen have stopped the military from helping people. He suggested working with the local California Congressman to see if the US Information Service or State Department might be willing to undertake the task in the light of foreign affairs.

Son Richard and Wally Parks at the NHRA Museum.

Wally Park's son Richard and grandson Scott at Carroll Shelby Tribute.

Wally Parks full story is available from his son Richard Parks at rnparks1@juno.com.

Feature ©Eurodragster.com

Wally Parks' story - Part 1

Wally Parks' story - Part 2

Wally Parks' story - Part 3

Wally Parks' story - Part 4

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