The late Wally Parks was quite a visionary. As most motorsports enthusiasts know, the founder of the National Hot Rod Association devoted his adult life to hot rodding and drag racing, promoting safe, organized competition and reaching out to the community to spread the gospel. Today, the edifice that bears his name, the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, continues with that vision. It should also be noted that the Automobile Club of Southern California has long supported Wally’s dream and is the presenting sponsor of the museum and the California Hot Rod Reunion.
With the help of many, including the late John Zendejas, Steve Gibbs, Wayne Phillips and longtime Curator Greg Sharp, Wally’s dream was realized. After many years of planning and acquiring important vehicles (a number of which were on loan) that played a role in hot rodding’s growth, the then Historical Services Division of the NHRA first opened in a small industrial unit adjacent to the famed Auto Club Pomona Raceway. Then, in April of 1998, the museum formally opened its doors with nearly 50 cars and a sizeable collection of memorabilia at its current location.
Now, nearly 20 years later, the 28,500-sq-ft facility located at 1101 W. McKinley Avenue in Pomona, California (access at Gate 1 in the southeast corner of the Los Angeles County Fairplex) has grown its collection, been remodeled and embarked on a number of programs designed to introduce American hot rodding to the public—especially young people.
Located in the southeast corner of the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds (Fairplex), the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum does an admirable job of telling the story of hot rodding and drag racing.
Today, visitors to the museum are greeted by the Chrisman, Brinker Gallery of Speed (debuted mid-2014), which incorporates interactive displays, sculptures and other important items to help tell the story of American hot rodding. Actually, strategic planning for the “new” Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum started about five years ago, and many components (the Chrisman, Brinker Gallery among them) are being fulfilled. The museum has essentially been organized into sections that tell the story of hot rodding’s origins, street rods, lakes racing and, of course, drag racing.
The museum’s success starts with the passion and leadership that comes from the museum’s board of directors, many of whom are hot-rodding legends themselves. The museum’s comprehensive collection and the stories these vehicles can tell have been nurtured by curator extraordinaire Greg Sharp (unquestionably the nation’s most qualified keeper of hot-rodding history and the subject of a previous “Behind the Scenes” column), but there’s a new kid on the block who’s been instrumental in the implementation of many programs: Larry Fisher, executive director of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.
Fisher, who came aboard in August of 2012, is not only a car guy, he also brings to the position 20-plus years of experience working in the museum and exhibition field. He was the CEO and executive director of the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame in Bristol, Rhode Island, and has been a consultant to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. Fisher also worked for Walt Disney’s Imagineering Group, world-renowned for creating themed displays, and was president and executive director of the Barnum and Circus World museums.
The Pasadena, California, native has racing in his blood. His father raced sports cars with the SCCA, and his mother did some drag racing as a teenager. Fisher spent a number of years out of school working as a machinist and fabricator for the late Dick Guldstrand, a hot rodder who became one of the world’s foremost Corvette and Camaro road racers.
The entire museum staff, including Rose Dickinson, director of marketing and operations, has been an essential component in maintaining its momentum.
Among Fisher and the museum’s goals are to get young people excited about motorsports technology and the many related career opportunities. The museum is planning a science and technology gallery, and developing student programs with Cal Poly Pomona and the Fremont Academy of Engineering & Design, which is a public high/middle school (grades 7-12) that focuses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. There’s a huge need to get kids to have tools in their hands instead of a smart phone.
… visiting the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is a must for any drag racer or car guy/gal.
How can we help the museum achieve its goals? First and foremost by becoming a member of the organization. Membership comes with a variety of benefits and special event opportunities. An important part of the museum’s funding comes from the California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, California, and the Holley National Hot Rod Reunion in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Participation and attendance at these seminal events also helps pay the bills. You can purchase 1320 Club plaques in the name of any individual or family (they’re 5×12-inch silver and maroon plaques displayed in the museum). Donations to the non-profit 501(C)(3) organization are always welcome.
It goes without saying that visiting the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is a must for any drag racer or car guy/gal. And there’s a gift shop that has a plethora of really cool stuff. Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., plus special events and cruise nights. Check everything out at NHRAmuseum.org. When you visit the museum, try to bring along a young person or two.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2017 print issue of the Drive Magazine.