There was a time in the 60's when California was the ultimate in cool. There was the music, beach party movies, Disneyland and something new and fast, drag racing.
The Beach Boys and the likes of Jan and Dean gave the sport a personality and so did Mr. C--in the car above and on the left below.
Mr. C was Gary Cochran, my cousin, my cool California cousin. Much of the Cochrun clan moved to California in the 20's. My father's dad became ill and returned to the mid-west though most of the family stayed out west, and even endured the spelling change because that is how everyone wanted to spell the name. My father had fallen in love with California and stayed in touch with the family.
Gary was a few years older than me, but a family star. After high school and the air force he became one of the early pioneers of the new sport drag racing. In California they ran on old air bases and desert flats and experimented with design and engine power.
Gary ran the exotic top of the class at the time the sport was being organized and specs were being formalized.
There's been a lot written about Gary and this link provides a good overview of his contributions.
It was family lore about how he had been flipped over, on fire and at 200 miles an hour, but he always stayed cool,
Gary and his crew based out of my fathers house and garage when he came to run at the US Nationals in Indianapolis. As a school kid my bothers and I were knocked out by the exotic design of the racer and Gary's unflappable cool. He was ultimate California, always smiling, mellow in his style, wore great T-shirts, and seemed to enjoy life even when working hard and trying to win. Winning was not unimportant, but enjoying the pursuit was at least equal to it.
Gary talked about the change that was coming to his sport, started by hobbyists and guys who built and raced their own designs. He saw the infusion of the factory teams, the big money, the big advertisers, and knew the days of fun had become a business.
Before he finally retired he had taken the arc from pioneer to professional but never lost his sense of humor or cool.
We spent time with Gary and Marie as we made our move to California, completing the family odyssey. Neither one of us were the young men we had been all those years ago, but Gary had that quintessential cool that comes with a life in California, years at the beach, years on the fastest tracks on earth, years on the golf course and enjoying friends.
His health had been failing when I talked to him a couple of months ago. Facing serious challenges he could still laugh at the circumstances in that mellow, laid back California cool style.
We lost Mr. C and that California Cool last week. Gone at 79 and from where I stand, that is entirely too young. His records and his accomplishments and the adoration of his fans will continue, as it does for pioneers and heroes.
We send our love to his Marie and to Dawn and Teri.
See you down the trail.