Blackie Gejeian (ga-gee-an) has been traveling the country looking for the crme de la crme for his show held in March since he began in 1958. The man in black personally chooses and invites each and every owner/vehicle to his show in Fresno. It's not just organized, promoted, and run by Blackie-?it is Blackie. And, he keeps it simple; just two primary coveted awards are personally handed out by Blackie: Best Rod and Best Custom.

"There is nobody that does any part of my Autorama show but me. In every year of my show, I have done it all myself," Blackie said. "I pick the cars, I set up the cars; nobody works with me because I'm very particular on what I do. I want to make sure it's right. I have nobody to blame if something goes wrong. I want everything I do to be 100 percent, not 90 percent.

"There's not a major car show in California from street shows to parking lot shows that I have not covered," he continued. "I've walked the Oakland Roadster Show floor since 1949, and now the Grand National Roadster Show every year."

Blackie has been contributing to the progress, development, and growth of everything he has undertaken in life, but his Autorama is only a part of his successes.

When Blackie speaks, listen carefully, because his words come at you at the speed of a Fueler. Age be damned, his passion and enthusiasm are as intense now as they were when he built his roadster after the war. There is no way to do justice to this incredible hot rodder's accomplishments in the limited space of this story, but here goes:


The Blackie Gejeian Story
"I used to wear solid black," began Mike "Blackie" Gejeian. "I used to wear black leathers and I painted 'Blackie' in gold letters on the side of my car. Nobody knew my name was Mike ... I mean nobody. The only one who called me Mike was my mother.

"I still farm 40 acres of vineyards in Fresno (the 'Raisin Capitol of the World'). Nobody touches my vineyards. This is my 63rd year of farming my place. Nobody beat me on the tonnage per acre or the quality of my raisins.

"The property went from my grandfather to my dad to myself. The family got there in 1909. All of us kids were born on the property. I remember all we had was a horse and buggy in order to go into town to get groceries. It took all day."

Blackie, born in 1926, started driving his father's Model A at the age of 12. At 14, he locked the rearend. "I learned to drive that car better than anything on the dirt roads. I learned to drive it like (daredevil stunt driver) Joie Chitwood."

With a World War raging, Blackie joined the Navy just out of high school. After being discharged in 1946, he wanted to build a hot rod-a fast hot rod.

"In order to do that," said Blackie, "I had to make the car as light as possible, and take everything apart. All I had was a '34 Ford frame, a seat, four wheels, and a motor in front of me. I made a modified roadster. It wasn't an original-bodied car; it was bits and pieces, and all the rest was handbuilt with a fuel tank in the back.

"Every pound you could take off the car made it faster. All the fenders, the running boards, even the upholstery came off. That's how the serape blanket came in. I used my Navy blanket; I came home with it from the service and used it for my seat cover."


The Street
"Thank God (C.J.) 'Pappy' Hart (who opened the first commercial dragstrip, Santa Ana, in 1950) and Wally Parks started promoting organized drag racing," Blackie said. "They got guys like me off the streets, because I was one of the top street drag racers there ever was. I challenged everybody from Bakersfield, Southern California, and Northern California.

"We used to drag race on the road that goes to the Famosa Drag Strip. The dragstrip was at the airport, but the road to it is what we used to drag race on. We used to block it off every Saturday and drag race all day long."

The similarities between Gene "Windy" Winfield and Blackie are remarkable. Both lived in Central California and achieved fame because of the show circuit. Gene was as much a serious street and circle-track racer as Blackie, and both ran the lakes.

Gene lived 100 miles north of Blackie in Modesto, and "I wanted to race Blackie on the street with my '27 T roadster but never did," he said. "Blackie claimed to have the fastest Flathead in the San Joaquin Valley, I think I had the fastest one. Blackie had a much bigger engine than I did, but he was geared lower.

"Every time I wanted to race him, he had his engine torn down. Every time he wanted to race me, I had my engine torn down," laughed Gene, "so we'll never know."


The Lakes
"We were going to El Mirage in 1947 when a '32 Ford hit one of my friend's cars who was traveling with us. The suicide front end snapped off; it went up into the air and killed him instantly. I was following behind him, and I had a locked rearend in my car, so I stood on it like a race car and threw it into a broad slide to avoid hitting him."

Blackie returned to El Mirage in 1948, only to be T-boned by a racer re-entering the pits. "I was going out to make my first run when a car that had already gone through the flying mile developed a miss coming back. He decided he didn't want the time recorded and pulled out of the line. He came behind the pits full-bore. I had a Japanese war helmet and goggles on. I didn't see him, so I pulled into the path of the car. He hit me at the passenger side, right at the cowling. The frame of my roadster was a '34 Ford frame, which was strong, but he still cut my car into two pieces.

"There was no ambulance on hand. They put a sheet of plyboard on the back of a '41 Ford convertible and took me to Lancaster to the hospital. They thought I had a broken back. After leaving the hospital, I learned one of my other buddies was killed at the lakes. I've never been back to the lakes since. I lost two of my close friends. I got T-boned and I said to myself, you don't belong here."


Showtime
Blackie then turned his attention to restoring his old lakes car into a show car. "When I started building the car back, the big gobs of chewing gum welds were ground out, and I completely leaded the body down to the frame. I leaded all of the cowling in. I made a show car out of it. That was all of 1948 and the first part of 1949.

"In the early days, nobody paid any attention to the undercarriage. Mine was the first undercarriage that was ever chrome-plated. That's why at first we didn't know how to show it at the Oakland Roadster Show. So every hour on the hour, we'd pick it up and turn it on its side so people could walk by and look at it. Who knew how the hell to show the bottom of a car?"

The majority of the spectators walking by Blackie's roadster probably thought he owned a chrome shop. Close! "My buddy, (the late) Bob Martin, started a chrome shop in Fresno. The first pieces that ever came out of that chrome shop were for my roadster," he said. "He had never plated anything before and didn't know how to grind on a piece of metal. Bob asked me if I had anything he could practice with, and I had my rearend apart, so the first piece he ever plated was my rearend. Bob asked if I had anymore stuff, so I took him the backing plates and the center housing. He asked what else I had, and I said, 'Hell, the whole front end is apart.' He told me to bring the axle over. Then the springs. I just kept taking him parts, because it was experience for Bob. He became the best chrome shop in the country.

"Bob did my roadster and the Ala Kart for free in exchange for the publicity. Every show I entered, I put a sign showing Fresno Chrome Plating on the car. Bob never charged me a dime."