Legends collide: Don Garlits and Ed Iskendarian

: You got your money’s worth! You’re a California native, right?

EI: Yeah. I was born in the grapevine country up near Fresno.

: Can you think of another part of the country that’s had as much racing development as southern California?

EI: Well big car racing and midget racing.... The weather was so good out here that you could run so often with hot rods and gow jobs, but that caught on back east too, once they found out about it. I remember one time we heard about Sheffler. He had an Offenhauser race car and he was going to go race it back east. He would rebuild it during the winter months here in Los Angeles. And boy were we excited to check it out when he fired it back up again. We wanted to be there and hear it run. And then we found out he was already gone. We asked if he’d tried it. “Oh no, he don’t have to start it up. That’s an Offenhauser racing engine.” So he didn’t even start it up out here, he just took it racing. It was a professional piece of equipment. We thought he’d have to try it out, make sure everything was okay first, but he went east and raced out there all summer long.

: Did you ever get a chance to see it?

EI: No, just in the garage where he would rebuild it each year.

: You were one of the founders of SEMA. Is that organization the way you envisioned it today?

EI: You know, the toy company over in Venice… Mattel. They called us all in one time, all of us speed equipment manufacturers, and said, “Are you guys organized?” I said, “What do you mean organized?” “Well,” he says, “you know we’re in business making these plastic toys, and we all chip in to have a lawyer, all of us in the toy business. That way, if there’s any legislation against us, he represents all of us and stops it right now.
It seems like if someone, some congressman, wants to get old cars off the street”, it’ll go through because there’s no opposition. ‘Well, yeah, that sounds like a good idea.’ But there’s another lawyer there who says, ‘Don’t you know what you’re doing here, this is a million dollar business, restoring cars, and people like to see these old cars in parades and things like that and in Museums… and they’ll stop it.” So that’s what he said. He said that in their case, they’d tried to get them to stop putting the glue in the kits because kids would sniff the glue and get high or something. And they put a stop to that with our attorney.

So we did start that Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association, and they found out it could be bigger if they changed it to ‘Specialty Equipment’. No, first ‘Manufacturing’ came off and it became ‘Merchandisers’. That meant a lot more people joined up and paid dues. And then ‘Speed’ became ‘Specialty’, and that made it bigger yet too.