"Fast Five" with Hershel "Junior" Conway
Color the Legendary Painter a California Hot Rod Reunion Honoree
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (Sept. 14, 2006) ^S When it comes to color, no one can touch "Junior. The famous auto painter (full name Hershel Conway), who is being honored at the California Hot Rod Reunion, Oct. 6-8, Bakersfield, has been called the "Picasso of the Parking Lot" and the "Raphael of the Road" by none other than Sports Illustrated. As the youngest member of the staff at the legendary Barris Kustom shop in Lynwood, Calif. in the mid- 1950s, he was tagged by George Barris with the nickname "Junior" and it stuck.
He worked on many of the era's most famous custom cars and his own customized '50 Ford was featured on numerous magazine covers. Striking it big on his own, he has operated Junior's House of Color for more than 40 years. He's painted such legendary race cars as two Corvettes for the late "Big John" Mazmanian, dragsters for Adams and Rasmussen, Dean Lowe's street roadster, and the Stone, Woods and Cook Mustang. When the custom car craze began to fade in the late '60s, Junior transferred his know- how and craftsmanship to paintwork on Porsches, Ferraris and other high- end models for customers such as Steve McQueen, Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno.
Occasionally he's given the opportunity to return to his roots and in 1994 he painted Joe MacPherson's Chrisman-built "Infinity Flyer" named America's Most Beautiful Roadster at the Grand National Roadster Show. To Junior, perfection is more than a word: it's a way of life.
1. How does it feel to be named an Honoree at the 15th annual California Hot Rod Reunion?
Junior Conway: I was shocked and surprised to be honored like this. It's amazing to me that people remember so many of the famous cars I was involved with. When you're doing the work you have no idea that 20 or 30 years down the road those cars will be part of hot rodding history. There were a lot of great race car painters out there like George Cerny Jr., Joe Andersen and Bill Carter and its gratifying to receive this honor.
3. Are you surprised that people remember your work?
Conway: As I said before, when you're doing the work you're never looking ahead. When I was a kid working at Barris' I think I knew that the Ala Kart was so far ahead that it would be remembered. But, I painted "Chili" Catallo's '32 coupe and never dreamed that it would be a part of history as "The Little Deuce Coupe" from the Beach Boys album.
3. What are some of your fondest memories from your career?
Conway: I think seeing your work appear on the cover of magazines is a big thrill. When I started winning "Best Paint" awards in major car shows, that was a thrill. It's just like in racing. Winning motivates you and makes you want to do something better and better. You have to be teased by winning once in a while. When I painted "Big John" Mazmanian's Corvette, it was one of the best looking race cars out there and people like Dean Lowe (Winternationals and show-winning '29 roadster pickup) and John Rasmussen brought me their race cars to paint. Tony Nancy (1997 CHRR Honoree) introduced me to Steve McQueen and he had me re-paint his Ferrari that he had painted by someone else and wasn't happy with. So when you start doing work on that caliber of car for that caliber of people it makes you focus on being the best you can be.
4. What does the Reunion mean to you?
Conway: What amazed me about the Reunions, both here and in Kentucky is the enthusiasm shown by the participants and spectators alike. People are doing what they do for the pure love of it and doing it from the heart. It's great seeing people like Ed Pink, Art Chrisman and John Rasmussen that I knew in the early days still enthusiastically part of all this. It's amazing to see cars that you never dreamed still existed on display and in the Cacklefest that are being so beautifully restored. It takes me back to the days when the unique appearance of each car at the drags was as much a part of it as the performance
5. Do you still follow drag racing? What do you think of today's drivers?
Conway: I try to go to the Winternationals and Auto Club Finals with my grandson. The performance levels are beyond belief. And now it's a professional sport that we never dreamed it would become back in the days when two or three guys with decent jobs could team up and build a Top Fuel car. But, I really admire someone like John Force who can manage everything it takes to race at his level and make it all work.
The 15th annual NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, Oct. 6-8 at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif., is a 3-day festival of speed, hot rods and American automotive enthusiasm. Produced by the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum located in Pomona, Calif., the Reunion is part of the museum's "living history" philosophy, which works to bring to life the sights, sounds and people who made history in the early days of drag racing, land speed racing and the golden age of American car culture.
Since its inception in 1992, the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion has offered hot rodders and racers the opportunity to reunite with old friends and reminisce about "the good old days." The Reunion includes competition on the racetrack, a car show, a chance for fans to meet the legends and stars of the sport and the highly popular "Cacklefest," which involves early-days- style front-engine dragsters being push-started, then all gathered together on the drag strip starting line with engines running or 'cackling."
Tickets for the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, are available by calling 800/884- 6472. A full-event credential is $55 for adults and only $10 for those under 16. Credentials include a "goody bag" that features the highly collectible Reunion Annual and a dash plaque. AAA members receive a $5 discount on a full-event credential or $2 off on Saturday or Sunday daily tickets when they show their membership card. Daily ticket prices are: Friday, $15; Saturday, $20; and Sunday, $20. Camping passes are available with credential purchase at $50 and swap meet spaces are just $40 for a 20' x 20' space. Daily tickets may be purchased at the gate of Auto Club Famoso Raceway, north of Bakersfield on Highway 99. For additional Reunion information, call 909/622-8562 or visit museum.nhra.com.
For 12th consecutive year, the Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest affiliate of the AAA, is the presenting sponsor of the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion. The Automobile Club of Southern California has been serving members since 1900. Today, the Auto Club's members benefit by the organization's emergency road service, financial products, travel agency and trip planning services, highway and transportation safety programs, insurance products and services, automotive pricing, buying and financing programs, automotive testing and analysis and legislative advocacy. Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club's web site at www.aaa-calif.com.
Proceeds of the NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, will benefit the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. Named for the founder of the National Hot Rod Association, the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California houses the very roots of hot rodding. Scores of famous vehicles spanning American motorsports history are on display, including winning cars representing 50 years of drag racing, dry lakes and salt-flat racers, oval track challengers and exhibits describing their colorful backgrounds.
One of the best entertainment values in Southern California, the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California, is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Time, with extended hours during NHRA national events. Current NHRA members are admitted free. Admission for non-members is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors 60 and older, $4 for juniors six through 15, and free for children under the age of five. The Museum is also available for private parties, meetings, corporate events, weddings and special group tours. The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is located at Fairplex Gate 1, 1101 W. McKinley Ave. in Pomona. For further information on special exhibits, museum events or directions, call 909/622-2133 or visit museum.nhra.com.