WILLCOX — The Rex Allen Museum’s 15th annual car show brought in a variety of classic cars on Saturday. Behind each car was a proud owner or owners.
Among them was a man seen sitting around talking to another man in their lawn chairs placed alongside historic Railroad Avenue, each with a special story to tell about how they came to be the owner of their chosen classic car.
Duane Larkey of Safford emerged from his lawn chair behind his 1941 Willys Coupe gasser, a black classic with white, purple and yellow flames painted on the front.
“I’ve had this car right here for 25 years. I built it. The frame, everything,” Larkey said.
When asked about what inspired the flames themselves, Larkey referenced “the old gassers.”
“I built it to be an old gasser,” he said. “Just got a little bit out of hand with things. I put the tail on the back of it. When I slow(ed) down, going 160 miles an hour.
“About 140 the back end starts shaking. Swaying. I put the tail swoop on the back when I was running a 600-inch engine. Just changed everything.
“Got better midrange and stopping was terrific then.
Now I’ve still got a five (500 cubic inch engine), seven in the back. So it will still run about 145 miles per hour now legitimately. It’s really exciting,” Larkey said.
Larkey has had the same interior and kept the gasser as he originally built it for 25 years, although he changed the paint job to its current glittery, color-changing (in the sun) flames pattern.
“The only thing that has changed on it, I had to change the framework,” Larkey said. “I wrecked it one time. It bent the frame.
“So I put another frame on it. I changed the front end out. (The) front end is 10 inches longer than a standard one would be, so what it was I could glue the wheel base.
“Got a bigger, longer wheelbase, Longer wheelbase than most people would do. You’d never know unless you had a stock racer sitting next to it. It goes from a 100-inch wheel base to 110.”
Larkey has raced his gasser all over Arizona and elsewhere.
“I’ve done Tucson, Phoenix, Deming, El Paso, Las Vegas and Bakersfield. I tried doing a circuit one time and (it cost) too much money,” Larkey said.
Larkey said environments outside the Arizona desert don’t differ, but “it just depends on how they prepare their track.”
“You go to New Mexico. Deming. They do the first about the first 60 feet. From there on you know be ready for something to happen.
“You go to Tucson or Firebird (in Phoenix), they spray the whole track. It’s like a glue. A track like that you can run the car a whole lot harder and you feel a whole lot safer because of the track you’re on.”
A wreck in Tucson inspired Larkey to remove the driver-side door and add more safety features to his gasser.
“I wrecked (my gasser) in Tucson,” he said. “I was going too fast in (the) entry. Probably 140 miles per hour. I was trying to get it off the starting line and then a little ways.
“I got into some transmission system. They’d built a transmission line and it was carved for me. So nobody knew about it. He forgot to tell anybody.
“So (I) hit too much off the throttle, back coming around sideways. (My gasser) did one complete flip in the air and landed back on its wheels. When it did the complete flip in the air it threw the doors off.”
Larkey said that his fascination with hot rods started in high school when he owned his first hot rod.
Since 2008, Michelle Mullins, former board of supervisors member for the Rex Allen Museum, has run the car show with Gail Martin; Revonda Laws, the wife of Willcox Mayor Mike Laws; and other volunteers. This year the event organizers were thrilled to see more than 75 participants enter the show and their variety of vehicles.
Before 3 p.m. on Saturday the judges, including Mullins’ husband, Moon, had decided their winners.
Dennis Adams and his wife, Kay, of Safford, took home the top spot out of 20 winners with their bright red 1933 Factory 5 Ford Coupe, while another Safford man, Sony Finch, came in fourth with his lime green and white 1946 Chevy Panel.
Grace Bojorquez of Willcox took home the Best in Show prize for her low-riding maroon 1964 Ford F100.
TJ Ward, 13, a recent Willcox Middle School graduate and the 2019 Junior Dragster Champion, took home the Youthful Appearance award. Ward’s father is drag racer Trevor Ward.
A 1969 Ford Torino GT and 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge were among the more classic sports cars adoring Railroad Avenue.
Willcox Councilman Paul Sheats was a participant as he showed off his old school baby blue BMW motorcycle with a sidecar attachment.
Scooby-Doo popped up in the driver’s seat of a 1959 Chevy Delivery Sedan version of the iconic “Mystery Machine” from the cartoon series.
D.C. Carriers had a semi-truck with a moving Memorial Day message painted on it and a hybrid tractor and dragster combo on display.
All of the proceeds from the car show entry fees go directly to the Rex Allen Museum’s continued preservation of cowboy and Old West historical artifacts as well as the maintenance/upkeep of the museum.