You’re probably looking at the above photo and mumbling to yourself, “What the heck is THIS about?” Well, it’s now a matter of multiple coincidences.
Let’s start with the photo. I did. When the idea of doing these columns–and showing photos from my thick files that had never been seen before–started to gel, this is one of the first I thought of. I had it hanging on the wall of one of my offices for some time, but I’m quite sure it’s never seen print. That’s pretty surprising, given that everyone in the photo had ready access to print. On the other hand, everyone in the photo could make sure it didn’t get printed. I have a strong hunch that’s more the case.
But I’m not proud, and I figure this is a great place to run this crusty rare image. It was in my “To Do” stack. But just after the first column ran a few weeks ago, one of the messages I got on my GMail line was from Jim McGill from Minnesota, who said he loved it, then quipped, “I was even the referee for a basketball game you played in at the first NSRA Nats held in St. Paul.” Wow, that was big coincidence number one. I of course was quite curious, and replied, asking how that came to be. He said he was (and still is) a member of the Twin Cities Roadsters of Minneapolis, and his club manned the Information Booth near the entrance to the fairgrounds. Then he said Tom Medley came by the booth and somehow got him to volunteer to referee some basketball games that were going to take place.
I know that’s a bit nebulous, but that’s how he explained it. He also mentioned that he was there in his ’27 T roadster, and sent along the photo you see here. He also sent a couple of shots of fellow Roadsters club members, lined up next to the booth. Yes, this was St. Paul ’74, and these cars epitomize that early resto-rod era with spare tires, cowl lights, greyhounds, wire wheels, and of course wide ovals protruding from rear fenders. This was the second coincidence, since we were just showing cars cruising the St. Paul fairgrounds in the ’70s. Here’s more.
But wait a minute! What basketball games? Who are these sweaty, bedraggled, relatively young guys in the first photo?
Well, this was all Tom Medley’s idea. Most of you didn’t know he was a basketball fanatic. A pretty good player, too, back in the two-hand set-shot era. In fact, that’s what brought him from Oregon down to SoCal in the first place, to play ball for Fullerton College. But all his life he was a basketball nut. Sooo, speaking of games we played at rod runs (yes, coincidence No. 3), Tom came up with this nutty idea that, instead of volleyball, the new sport of the Nats should be a car club basketball tournament.
There wasn’t much advance publicity, but serendipitously the St. Paul fairgrounds did include an indoor gymnasium with a nice wood-floor basketball court. I don’t remember how many teams assembled–maybe six, maybe four. And I certainly don’t remember how in the world he talked us into creating an “Editors Team.” I’m pretty sure he had his eye on me. What he didn’t realize was that being 6’8″ doesn’t automatically make you a good basketball player. And being magazine editors has absolutely no correlation with playing basketball, or being good at any other sport.
So just who, exactly, is this motley crew? The guy on the left you should recognize from his boots, buckle, and hat as the late LeRoi “Tex” Smith, who–in perfect Tex Smith fashion–got himself named coach or manager, so he wouldn’t have to actually play and get sweaty. Between him and long-haired me is a young and also a bit more hair-embellished Brian “Brave” Brennan, then editor of Rod Action. On my other side, the stoic guy is my Street Rodder cohort, Jim Clark, who actually ran the McMullen mags. Next with the blond frizz and black stash was L.A. Roadsters member and mag contributor Jack Stewart. On the end, looking decidedly ’70s, is Leonard Emanuelson, then staffer at Popular Hot Rodding, later to be Hot Rod’s editor (who hired me). Below Lenny in the front row is Lee Kelly, then PHR editor and later HRM editor and ultimately Petersen VP. Middle front is Cec Draney, editor of NSRA’s StreetScene, then a fledgling newspaper. And the “old man” with the glasses was of course instigator Tom Medley, who could still pot them in with two hands from the top of the key (even though there were no 3-pointers in those days).
So why do most of us look so beat? Because that’s what we literally were. While Medley might have thought we’d walk away with this (we maybe won one or two games, I really can’t remember), the “finals” was us against the Indiana Street Rod Association. Not only was this a state-wide group with plenty of ringers to choose from, but this was Indiana, as in “Hoosiers.” Yeah. That kind of Hoosiers. They whipped us good. We didn’t have a chance.
And basketball never became the new rod run sport.