Part 3: Getting in step with law enforcement
California, and Parks, of course, was at the forefront. He was asked to represent NHRA at the Governor's Safety Conference in Sacramento, Calif., where, through a series of meetings at the two-day affair, he was able to present the "true picture" of the hot rodding sport. As a result of those presentations, high-ranking law enforcement and safety officials praised police chiefs, officials, and judges for their help in promoting safe hot rodding asked them to continue their progressive activities.
Of course, not all law-enforcement agencies leapt on the bandwagon, though it wasn't for the lack of support. Pomona (Calif.) Police Chief Ralph Parker, who was instrumental in getting NHRA permission to compete – as it still does – at the L.A. County Fairgrounds, even authored an article in the December 1951 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, which is distributed to law-enforcement groups throughout the United States. HRM urged any clubs having such problems to point their local police department to the bulletin.
The importance of the aid contributed by Chief Parker and the Pomona police department cannot be overstated, as it was he and officer Bud Coons who first got the Pomona Choppers onto the Fontana airstrip to compete and then were instrumental in convincing the city council to pave an asphalt strip, eight-tenths of a mile long and 70 feet wide, down the western side of the Fairgrounds. The city paid for the paving out of its own pocket, with the agreement that the Choppers would repay the city out of the net profits realized by the operation of the strip. The strip began to run weekly events, drawing the likes of the fabled "Bean Bandit" machine of Joaquin Arnett and Bob Rounthwaite's heavily-stripped "Thingie." By season's end, nearly 200 entries jammed the Pomona strip each weekend.
Also key to NHRA's early acceptance was the support provided by Clifford Peterson, Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol, one of NHRA's most enthusiastic supporters. Peterson organized a special section of the CHP to develop organization and safety among hot rod and motorcycle groups and wrote letters of endorsement on behalf of the sport. He was granted honorary membership as NHRA's 7,000th member. Sadly, Peterson passed away the following year.
NHRA also moved quickly and worked aggressively at the behest of regions that were trouble spots, such as the early 1952 trip to San Francisco, which had begun a campaign against juvenile drivers after a series of spectacular accidents caused by teenagers in jalopies who were indiscriminately referred to as "hot rodders" by the press. More than 500 enthusiasts gathered to lend their support as NHRA met with civic groups. These meetings led to a series of articles in newspapers and radio and television programs as hot rodders explained the differences between themselves and irresponsible juveniles.
Any historian will tell you that the 1950s also was a turbulent era for racial equality, but NHRA officers made it very clear up front and early that its organization welcomed membership to anyone, regardless of race, religion, or nationality. "Representing a sport against which there has been much unfair criticism and unwarranted prejudice, the NHRA is itself a kind of minority group," they wrote. "It is unthinkable, therefore, that it would permit racial discrimination, religious bigotry, or prejudice to influence, in any way, its principles and ideals."