Road Kings

This is what dreams are made of: A car club that has a race car (you fill in what it is) that every club member gets to race at the track in competition. If you were a member of the Road Kings that’s exactly what happened. The Road Kings was a drag racing club that at one point had 36 members actively racing during the ’50s.

“Tom and I were in a car club in Van Nuys called the Chancellors. They were more of a cruising car club. We got to know this guy in town who was real popular, Skip Togerson, who was a part-time actor. (Ivo and Togerson met on the set of a movie called A Boy with a Knife. Togerson got Ivo into the Road Kings.) He had a motorcycle called a Mustang and I had a Mustang. That bike was the first thing I had that had a motor in it. His bike was really cool, it was black and had flames on it. We rode around Van Nuys together a lot. Skip was in the Road Kings. He said, ‘Why don’t you and Tom come to a meeting? I think I can get you into the Road Kings.’ Skip said, ‘We got this guy Tom Ivo and he’s got a dragster and we go to drag races at San Fernando.’ I didn’t know diddly about drag racing. They’d go out to the San Fernando Drag Strip with a club car they raced. They were the Burbank Bob’s; guys like Kenny Safford were in the club.”

Bob Muravez of Burbank and Don came into the Road Kings at the same time. Muravez later became known as the engineer (get it?) of the Freight Train, a twin-engine Chevy dragster that became the number one Top Gas dragster in the country and the first to go over 200 in the quarter at Lions in 1967. You might know Muravez by his code name, Floyd Lippencott Jr., because he didn’t want his dad to know he continued drag racing after he was told to quit.

First Muravez and Don had to pass the Road Kings initiation, which took place (where else?) at Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake. “Prudhomme was in diapers and I was dressed as a woman,” Muravez laughs. One of the members of the club, Tom Jandt’s father, was in Japan during the war and brought home a rickshaw. Prudhomme pulled the rickshaw through Bob’s with me riding in the rickshaw. Prudhomme didn’t think anything about it because he was a Van Nuys guy … nobody knew him at that Bob’s,” Muravez says. (But he wasn’t off the hook because Don had to do the same thing at the Van Nuys Bob’s.) “Ivo met us there and had a baby bottle that he tied around Prudhomme’s neck.”

Once in the club, drag racing became a way of life: “We used to get off work Friday night,” Muravez continues, “and drive from Burbank to Taft (southwest of Bakersfield), which had a landing strip … Famoso (Bakersfield) never ran Friday nights. The only light at the strip was a World War II searchlight on the start line facing down the track that lit up the strip. The car cast a shadow, so the further down the strip away from the light you went, the longer the shadow. It was like driving into this big black hole. We’d race until 1 in the morning, then head to Half Moon Bay Drag Strip, which was another airport strip, and race there the next night till 1 in the morning (20 miles from San Francisco). Then we’d head home and race San Fernando Sunday.” (Calling in sick Monday morning was not an option.)

“When I got into the Road Kings I wanted to have a roadster,” Don adds. “Skip Togerson told me about a roadster for sale and I bought a ’32 Ford roadster body and chassis. It was a roller; it didn’t have an engine in it. It took every dime I had to get it. I got a Buick engine from Ivo and put it in the roadster. I put portawalls (fake whitewalls) on it. I later took the Buick out of the roadster and put it into the club dragster, which was a B/Gas dragster (so much for cruising).”

Determination to go racing took precedence over having the hot rod of his dreams on the road. “There was no turning back! I sold my Deuce roadster before it was even done and bought the dragster from Ivo.”

Tom McCourry was a cruiser, like Don, when he joined the Road Kings but he too became a professional drag racer with a following. McCourry took Ivo’s four-engine monster after Ivo parked it and turned it into a graduated Buick Riviera station wagon called the “Wagon Master”, complete with a stock roof rack to boot, and went on tour.

The Pond

Harry Hibler not only managed the San Fernando Drag Strip, more importantly, Hibler drove Fuel Cars, so he knew the drill, especially when it came to young, inexperienced drivers. Hibler knew how to keep drivers safe while in a learning curve and remembers Don at the strip: “Don was 16 or 17 years old when I first met him. Don was just wiping tires for Ivo then. San Fernando, aka ‘the Pond’, was the first place Prudhomme drove a dragster. Between Ivo and me, we suggested to Don what to do and how to do it but Don was good at it.

“From the very beginning I was impressed with Don. He listened, he observed, and he studied. When Don drove the club dragster he handled it very well. I observed that guys with good-looking cars wouldn’t run as hard as necessary to win. When Don drove a dragster as beautiful as, say, the Greer-Black car he drove it as hard as necessary to win.”