Not a hair out of place, he does not walk into a room, he glides.
I can’t tell you a thing about Gas Ronda’s racing achievements…honestly, I couldn’t care less. He is so much more than that to me and our family, I doubt I can do him justice.
In a world that seems void of all civility and elegance nowadays, Gas embodied those qualities and so much more. Personal fortitude, courage and dignity, he lived in that space.
Many don’t know that he survived polio as a child, enlisted early at 16 and was in Okinawa. Gas returned from the war and became a professional dancer, owning Arthur Murray dance studios … before becoming a professional drag racer. Racing with the likes of Hayden Proffitt, Butch Leal, Phil Bonner and Les Ritchey, then making the transition from A/FX to the new Funny Car class…he was a star. If Gas Ronda was there, it was the place to be. As fate would have it, in January of 1970 at Beeline Dragway, he experienced a career ending fire that burned him over 40% of his body, his scars usually hidden under his impeccable dress…with the exception of his elegant hands.
He told me once about laying there in the burn ward of the hospital that sat next to the freeway. He would listen to the rush of traffic going by, sometimes wishing a wheel would fly off a car and come crashing through the window to kill him, relieving him of his excruciating pain. If you know anything about severe burns and the debridement of the wounds, it’s a barbaric but necessary treatment. We will never truly know what had to endure.
As a small child, he was my favorite. I loved his cars…orange to me, but ‘poppy red’ is the official color. Russ Davis Ford on the side, like me, I’m sure you can visualize it in your head. Now a few years later, still healing from his burns, I can see him standing so tall and regal, in his black mock turtleneck and matching slacks, in the staging lanes at Irwindale Raceway, visiting with my daddy and me. He was wearing white compression gloves on his hands to smooth the scars, I was trying really hard not to stare at them. Kind and soft-spoken, with all the sounds of a race track around us, I don’t hear any of it…I just hear him speaking quietly with a slight grin.
Like a cat, he had another life as a successful nightclub owner, the ‘Gas House’, then onto Palm Desert in his retirement. Until his final years, he still loved to go dancing and work on his golf game, which is how he met his lovely wife Nina. She took such great care of him…he was the love of her life. She and Gas’s entire family are in our hearts and prayers, we can only imagine how proud they must be of him and the man he was.
He was and always will be, a legend in the drag racing world. There are plenty of those around, as I happen to live with one. But as far as the real world goes, as much as we need it, there will never, EVER be another Gas Ronda.