Retro Rumblings – ISKY Nuggets
Instead of telling Ed Iskenderian’s life story and his rich hot rodding history, which we’ve done previously in the Legends of Hot Rodding column, I wanted to write this this month about a few Isky nuggets you might not know about, as well as some funny Isky anecdotes we’ve experienced over the years.
You might be surprised to learn Iskenderian is still living and will turn 101 years old this July. There is a reason they call men from his era The Greatest Generation. They fought in WWII, they built empires upon returning stateside, and have left unrivaled legacies. Nobody has had a more decorated hot rod history than the Camfather. But what draws us to Ed from our personal experience is just how hard he has cracked us up through the years.
In August 2005, we honored Tom McEwen and Dave McLelland together as “Hot Rod Heroes” in Pomona. We held full-scale vintage drags on the Pomona Fairplex drag strip for several years at the height of our West Coast Championship series. Naturally, Isky was there to see his old friends ’Goose and Big Mac, and to watch some drags. And naturally, Isky found his way to the press room where we were serving lunch. Isky has a nose for complimentary spreads.
About halfway through lunch, everyone in the room got a horrified look on their face and started running out of the room. Press, friends, racers – anyone who was within close range bailed. Turns out, Isky “let one go” that was so toxic the fire department should have been called. The only two men left standing were Isky and Rich Guasco. Guasco was howling laughing and Isky had a classic smirk on his face. And Isky never left the room the rest of the day. Just sat there as if nothing had happened watching the races in comfort. It was a good 20 minutes before the room was fully aerated.
Del Mar Doozie
At the 2012 Del Mar Nationals it was Isky’s turn to be honored as a Hot Rod Hero. We coupled him with Ed Pink as the weekend dignitaries. Our program back then was to fill a room with friends and fans and do a Q&A with the heroes. About five minutes into his share, Isky starts talking about the early days in Los Angeles and his affiliation with the “Bungholers” car club. The second he said Bungholers the room erupted in laughter. Some thought he was just being funny. But it was true. That was the club’s name and there is much history available on them through a simple online search.
Isky was sharp as a tack when it came to marketing and advertising. He understood the core business philosophy of spending money to make money. Long before he started running his legendary “Cam Wars” ads in Drag News, he started another movement which thrives to this day.
In 1949, a local Bonneville race team came to him for help – whatever they could get to offset the cost of a trip from Southern California to the Salt Flats. He obliged in a unique way. He agreed to supply them with a hot cam in exchange for some marketing. He gave them all plain white T-shirts which he had screen printed with his Isky Racing Cams logo. To this day, he is credited for being the first to stamp a logo on a tee shirt. Think about that for a minute. Sales from screen-printed T-shirts have to be in the tens of billions. Making this more amazing is the fact he made these shirts in 1949!
Isky is also credited as being the first manufacturer to enter a corporate racing sponsorship agreement. In the late-’50s, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits “inked” Iskenderian Cams to a deal, setting the table for corporate America’s involvement in high performance racing.
Suck it up Buttercup
Anyone who has been to the SEMA Show in Las Vegas knows just how hard it is on your feet. If you’re not wearing proper footwear, you’re gonna suffer. Your feet, your knees, and your back will be barking.
I came ill prepared for SEMA one year even though I thought I had bought some trick shoes. On about day three I was dying and whining like a four-year-old. I was hobbling back to my room to get off my feet and here comes Isky. He’s just ambling along in those old school leather shop shoes he always has on. The guy was in his mid 90s back then and he walked the entire show floor for five straight days like a boss.
Talk about perspective. If a mid 90s man with goofy shoes can walk SEMA, I sure as hell could forge ahead and take some pain. Thanks for the motivation, Camfather!
A Legacy to Last
Another note on Isky related to SEMA. Did you know he was SEMA’s first-ever president? He is the only surviving member of the original group of SEMA founders. He undoubtedly got the gig due to his business success coupled with his wit. He was one of the first to understand that the speed industry would someday be a billion-dollar baby if we stuck together.
Isky is a gift to not only hot rodding but America itself. Here’s a man who has weathered every possible storm professionally and personally. He’s a visionary, and a manufacturer who makes all parts right here on American soil. His 75,000 sq. ft. facility employs hundreds of American workers. Nothing is outsourced.
On top of all that, Isky’s levity and sense of humor is unrivaled. We’re lucky to have him.