During the 1960’s I found myself living history and, as most come to learn, at the time I didn’t know it. I was a seven or eight year old boy and my dad, who worked in the transmission lab in Chrysler’s Central Engineering Department, became a member of the Golden Commandos. The Golden Commandos were a group of Chrysler mechanics who together fielded one of the most popular and potent Super Stocks in drag racing history. Starting late in the 1962 season with a 1963 Plymouth, the Golden Commandos, named after Plymouth 361 and 383 engines (never campaigned in a Golden Commando car) set super stock records almost every time it rolled off the trailer. The accomplishments of the Golden Commandos over the six years they raced together are extensive and well documented, so we’ll fast forward 50 years.
On February 2013, I received a letter from The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame indicating that my dad, Gene Carrico who passed away in 2009, and the rest of his Golden Commando teammates were going to be inducted into the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame. This was very, very exciting news for us as well as the other Commando families, the Golden Commandos were finally receiving the recognition they so richly deserved. While some of the other factory supported teams of the 1960’s, gained national recognition, the Golden Commando’s kept their focus in a singular direction. The Commando’s mission was straight forward, find ways to make the Mopar’s faster and share the information they learned with the other factory teams of the day.
On Thursday October 17, my sister, brother-in-law and I headed out for the eleven hour trip to the Hall of Fame Shag and Shine car show and Hall of Fame induction in Henderson, NC. We did however commit a little well-intended sacrilege as we decorated our minivan in the white and gold graphics of the Golden Commandos 1964 cars. We arrived in Henderson Friday afternoon and it didn’t take long before we began to get a taste of what we were about to experience. We pulled our Golden Commando minivan (sorry dad) into the hotel parking lot, road weary and glad to be at our destination. We were just stepping out of the minivan, grabbing a couple items as we were heading toward the hotel’s entrance to check in when a slender, very distinguished looking older gentleman made his way toward us. He introduced himself as “Tommy” and asked “is one of the Commando cars gonna be here?” I looked at him, looked down at his name tag and back up to his face – holy smokes we were talking to Tommy Grove the driver of the Melrose Missile and he came up to us!!!? He introduced us to his wife and we stood outside the hotel enjoying their company for almost a half hour listening to amazing and hilarious racing stories. Finally realizing we hadn’t even been inside yet Tommy excused himself while graciously saying we’ll talk later, which we did.
After checking in, we brought the first load of stuff up to the rooms and I went back down to the Golden Commando minivan to grab some odds and ends when Marco DeCesaris from Lothian, Md. Spotted the Commando decals, came up to me and introduced himself. Marco is a collector and owner of many original super stocks and early funny cars including the 1964 Melrose Missile Plymouth piloted by Tommy Grove, 73 Pro Stock Dodge Dart Sport which was the final Mopar that the late Dick Landy campaigned and Bob Glidden’s world championship-winning Ford Fairmont that would be one of the feature cars at this year’s Shag and Shine car show. What a collection of cool cars, and what a delightful person to talk with; Marco is an absolute wealth of car knowledge. Having extended conversations with all these great people we were beginning to feel like a rock stars. But truthfully all we ever did back in the day was get in the way while dad and the rest of the Golden Commandos’ were busy making racing history.
In 1965 the Golden Commandos went small block racing by campaigning a factory stock (F stock) Plymouth Barracuda alongside their over-the-top Hemi powered, altered wheel base, factory experimental race car. The F stock car was called Goldfish; this car was always a favorite among the Commandos, the Commando kids and fans alike, we had not seen this car since we were children and were very excited to have the opportunity to see it once again. It had been found in a junk yard several years ago and had just under gone a complete restoration. The owner of the Goldfish, Bruce Lindstrom went to extraordinary lengths to finish the car in time for this event and get it to Henderson, NC. Over the past year I had been receiving periodic updates from Ray Kobe, the President of the Golden Commandos’, about the progress of the restoration. The restoration project was on the ragged edge of being completed but the last word I had heard was that the Goldfish was going to be done and at the show. The Golden Commandos in attendance were very excited about seeing one of their cars again. In addition, the Goldfish was featured in much of the marketing material used for this event, it was important that the Goldfish be in Henderson.
Back up in our rooms and getting ready for the evenings reception I received a phone call from Ray Kobe, he learned that Bruce had back spasms while on the way from Nebraska with the Goldfish and was forced to stop. Nobody had heard from Bruce for 24 hours and Ray didn’t know if Bruce and the Goldfish would make it or not. We were very disappointed, but we knew we were going to have fun, the car may or may not make it but our memories of it will live on.
As I was heading out of my room to attend an evening reception the hotel was providing for us, I happened to look out of the window in my room and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was suddenly thrust back fifty years as I saw the Goldfish, sitting on a trailer shinning in the parking lot lights with a group of people around it – just like the old days at Detroit Dragway as it went rounds into the evening. It gave me the warmest, happiest feeling to once again see that car under the lights, the Goldfish made it!
My sister, brother-in-law and I rushed down to take a closer look, it was at this point we ran into many old friends and new ones too, standing around the car. We spend an hour or two admiring the car and sharing memories with the Golden Commando’s, Commando kids (who now have adult kids of their own) and all the other racers enjoying the evening with us. The whole evening was a blast, at the reception we got to hear some great stories and a few old tricks were divulged too!
Saturday was the Shag and Shine car show; unfortunately it was raining in the morning but as the day worn on the weather and attendee spirits improved. The City of Henderson closes Garnett Street, the city’s main drag for the car show. As far as you can see, classic street and race cars line Garnett Street, the customs cars and street cars at one end and the race cars at the other. The racing end of the Garnett was filled with super stocks, gassers, factory stocks, dragsters, funny cars and a jet car, what an amazing collection of classic racers!
In the Golden Commandos booth, the team members spent the day catching up with each other and other racers while signing autographs for the fans. As luck would have it, Linda Vaughn, the famous Golden Hurst Shifter girl, was stationed in a booth next to the Commandos’; Linda looked as great as ever and could not have been nicer as she took time with each person to sign autographs and take pictures.
Next to the Golden Commandos booth and the Goldfish were the Blue Angles race team and their recently restored twin engine dragster. The Blue Angles were fellow class of 2013 inductees into the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame. We had a great time talking with them as they are true racers and a great group of gentlemen. The Blue Angles started racing together in the 1952 as a group of like-minded young and middle aged men dedicated to building race cars and setting the example of racing safely at the track, and never on the street.
On Sunday morning, the day of the Hall of Fame Induction, the Golden Commandos were invited to do some good old fashion bench racing as they hosted a question an answer period for about an hour and a half. Golden Commandos’ Ray Kobe, Forest Pitcock, Warren Anderson, Carl Anderson, Jim Hall, Evan Ericson, and Troy Simonsen all told stories, experiences and answered questions about their racing days to a packed standing room only crowd of people who thoroughly enjoyed the event. Golden Commando engine builder Walter Ulrich who was unable to travel to NC even called in to say hello to the group. They could have gone on much longer but the Hall of Fame induction was scheduled to begin so we moved into the main hall where the event was to be held.
While they were inducted as individuals, The Blue Angels and the Golden Commandos’ each went up on stage as a team to receive their awards. My sister, Kitty and I were very humbled to be there with the team representing our dad, Gene. I know that Ken and Donna Dallafior representing their father John and Jerry Meyer representing his father Gene who very recently passed away, felt as honored as we did.
Hearing each individual racer and team introduction, listening to the racers tell their stories, and to a person remaining so humble after each had achieved so much greatness reinforced to me once again what we all know. Racers are some of the finest people you will ever meet.
Also inducted into the 2013 class of the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame:
Bob Harrop driver and owner of the Flying Carpet Mopars
Al Hanna began racing in 1966. Al raced everything from Super Stock Fords, to the Phantom Cuda and Charger funny cars, Eastern Raider match race and top fuel cars. But, none of these cars fully cured Al’s need for speed as he raced Jet funny cars from 1981 through 1997 running in the low 5’s at 300 MPH!
Carroll Carter, Racer and engine builder. 1965 was a big year in drag racing, in addition to the AFX “funny cars” it was the year Carol started racing in the “Mr. C”, a 427 powered 1957 Fairlane. He drove Fords, Chevy’s and Mopars through the ‘80’s and ‘90’s before opening C & C Automotive specializing in Ford engines and components.
Gene Cromer has built and raced all his cars. From a Ford powered Willis coup called the Moonlighter all the way up to a Pro Stock Maverick and just about everything in between. Gene says he never really retired, he put racing on the back burner for a while and it just kind of stayed there – who knows…?
Tom and Wendy Hemphill, proof that the family that races together, stays together. Tom drives and Wendy is crew chief for their IHRA top Sportsman class cars running up and down the east coast.
Ray Price, known as the “Father of the Funny Bike,” Ray began racing in motorcycles in 1967, in 1995 he set the IHRA nitro-fuel record at 224.21 MPH!
Robert Sarkisian, as owner and driver of Hellacious, competing at over 30 tracks Robert has won just about every type of nostalgia event over the last 23 years.
Congratulations to all of you, thanks for the memories!