by Bobby Kimbrough on March 22, 2011
Perris Auto Speedway recently opened their racing season with the Sokola Shootout. When you look at the track’s racing schedule, there are a couple of other races that are named after people. It struck me that these races were honoring our dirt track heritage those that came before us and left a mark on the sport. At the same time I remembered that one of the publications covering NASCAR did an informal poll on the current crop of racers in “the Cup” series. According to the poll, very few of the drivers knew who Rex White was.
Rex White driving a Modified Sportsman race in 1958. White was NASCAR's Grand National Champion in 1960.
For the record, White was the 1960 NASCAR Champion with an impressive resume of accomplishments to boot. From 1959 through 1963, Rex White won more races than any other driver, including Lee and Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett, “Fireball” Roberts, Junior Johnson, Joe Weatherly, Curtis Turner, and Buck Baker.
This is the dirt track at Willowsprings named after Walt James, sprint car racer and President of the CRA for 21 years.
Dirt track racers and fans seem to be a lot more aware of the past history of the sport than our counterparts on asphalt. I can’t explain why we are so unwilling to let our heroes go into the sunset to be forgotten by all. Whatever it is that keeps us clinging on to our past, I can say that it’s a blessing and not a curse.
So many times our other sports tend to sell out to commercial interests. I can pretty much say that our local dirt track racers will not have to endure the humiliation of having their memorial races renamed with corporate brand names taking center stage. I pray that the day advertising has priority over remembering our legends never arrives.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for advertising and brand placement, many of these companies do great things for the sport and they deserve credit for what they do. However, I am violently opposed to selling our legends to the highest bidder. It seemed appropriate to take a closer look at some of these heroes of the past. This is exactly the sort of thing that separates our brand of motorsport from any of the other motorsports.
Gary Sokola grew up as an avid racing fan and after a two year stint in the Navy, Sokola became the Director of Racing and Marketing for the California Racing Association (CRA). Sokola became the President of the CRA in 1978 and immediately began to institute new safety measures. Sokola required that safety innovations like tire rules and padded roll cages were mandatory in the CRA. His work on setting the engine size to 410ci maximum for races was adopted as the National limit. Sokola ruled with a heavy hand and was often referred to as “Ayatollah Sokola”.
Sokola left the CRA when the USAC Competition Director, Roger McCluskey, hired him to become the Assistant Director of Competition and Sprint Car Series Supervisor on December 1, 1987.
Sokola passed away on November 13, 2000 at age 59. The SCRA began holding an annual race in Sokola’s honor beginning in 2001. Gary’s son Mark, who was CRA’s “Most Improved Driver” in 1986, passed away in 2003. The annual memorial race began to pay tribute to both Gary and Mark in 2004.
Jimmy Oskie drove the JFK sprint car of Jack Kindoll to three CRA Championships.
Jack Kindoll, along with his wife Wilda, were longtime California sprint car owners and supporters. The Kindoll’s were three time CRA car owner champions and supported a number of drivers over the years and the blue JFK sprint car won 47 CRA main events. Jack Kindoll was a former CRA Vice President and a race starter with the association while wife Wilda scored CRA events at the old Carrell Speedway. The Kindoll’s continued to support sprint car racing in Southern California and it was a passion for Jack Kindoll right up till he passed away in October of 1996. Wilda Kindoll worked to organize the Jack Kindoll Classic from the inaugural event in 1997 until her death last November.
Wilda Kindoll (right) and Evelyn Pratt (left), have worked for the series and drivers as a labor of love for more than 60 years. (Photo from Lance Jennings of SCRAFAN.com)
Glen Howard was always willing to lend a hand. (Photo from Ken Wagner of wagtimes.com)
Glenn Howard started as a driver in the original CRA, then went on to operate his own speed shop supply named SoCal Race Products. Howard was already well known to all the racers as a “go to” guy for parts and advice when the CRA Sprint Car series found itself in their darkest hour.
When the CRA suspended racing indefinitely after four races into the 1994 season, it was Howard that stepped up to become the first president of the new association. Glenn had long been known to the sprint car drivers as a man that would do anything to help a car get out on the track.
Perris promoter Don Kazarian said. “He was one of the most respected people in the sport. It did not matter if it was a driver with a question about set ups or a promoter with a question about business, we all went to Glenn for advice.” Howard passed away in 2007. The Glenn Howard Memorial race started in 2008.
What Really Sets Us Apart
These are just a sample of the memorial events that take place at every dirt track during the year. Events like the Tiny Lund Memorial and Danny Simkins Memorial honor true heroes of the sport. Everytime we go to a track for an event that is a memorial race, we do a little research to discover the true meaning of the event. We search to find the person behind the name, and encourage others to do the same. What ends up happening is we learn to love this sport all over again, what that never ending and unconditional love. Least we forget, that’s what sets dirt track racers apart.