|Findlay Automotive Group President Cliff Findlay, right, introduces long-time friend and fellow former drag racer Ken Black during the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.
More than 30 years before Las Vegas Motor Speedway was built in the northeast valley, Ken Black with his Chevy II drag race car and the off-road racing Herbst family were competing in motor sports events in the southwest valley.
Black was a kingpin at the old Stardust International Raceway while the Herbst family and its friends were running and gunning in off-road events when the western edge of town was Decatur Boulevard during the 1960s.
Both – along with motorcycle motocross extreme rider Carey Hart -- were recognized Friday during the 17th annual Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame ceremonies May 30 at the Orleans Arena.
Interestingly, in each case auto racing careers led to business ventures and lifelong accomplishments.
While the 68 year-old Black spent his racing career following a paved straight line during embryonic years of drag racing, the Herbst family and Hart marched to their stellar records surviving the bumps in the roads, double-flips and the rest.
In each case, you might say that motorsports strengthened each of them for the road ahead where winning has been based on a wide-open, get-after-it philosophy.
In the case of racing and business, the weak don’t survive. Black, Hart and the Herbst family have not only survived, but they have also prospered at the same time.
Black, who was introduced by his long-time friend and fellow former drag racer Cliff Findlay of Findlay Automotive Group, has gone from champion drag racer at the old Stardust to a top-notch National Hot Rod Association team owner.
“I won my first race and really didn’t know what I was doing,” Black said of the victory in 1964 before going on to win the NHRA Winternationals in 1969. “It was the greatest day of my life.”
Findlay was also a fierce competitor driving an Oldsmobile 442 entitled “Life in the Fast Lane” and like Black – who also owned Vegas General Construction –Findlay became a highly-respected member of the community spearheading Findlay Automotive Group.
Findlay called his long-time friend “one heckuva drag racer” while also saluting Black for fighting back after a life-threatening stroke suffered in 2010.
“It’s a real honor to present Ken Black,” Findlay said. “We all loved to drag race over the years and Ken was hooked on the sport. His racing career is unparalleled."
The courageous Black pulled himself up from his wheelchair to address the large crowd that gathered to witness one of his most memorable moments. He thanked several people including his wife, Judy, who has offered support during her husband’s challenging times.
“It’s been a long road getting here and I really appreciate all of this,” the personable Black said. “I can’t believe it’s been 50 years ago that I was running my ’64 Chevy II at the Stardust.”
In 40 years, the Herbst family has gone on to become the winningest off-road team in Baja history while also gaining huge notoriety with its Terrible Herbst businesses.
Jerry Herbst once told the story of how the name “Terrible” was added to the company name when he said, “Back in Chicago, every time my dad would open a new service station, the competition would say “Here comes that terrible Herbst.”
Tim Herbst recalled the old days of off-road racing while remembering that his family used to bring out the buggies to play in the desert not far from their home in Rancho Circle. He recalled that the sport of off-road racing produced long-time friendships with follow businessmen such as Mart and Al Collins, who went on to become two of the most recognized homebuilders in Southern Nevada.
Others inducted were UNLV baseball coach Tim Chambers and UNLV golfer Chris Riley.
Monies raised for the non-profit Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame this year produced scholarships to five local high school student athletes including Michael Spada (Palo Verde), Nick Werner (Palo Verde), Katelyn Faulk (Spring Valley), Meredith Hall (Northwest Career and Technical Academy) and Trina Whiteside (Advanced Technologies Academy).
In addition, middle school student athletes will be hosted at athletic camps sponsored by the hall during the summer months.
Further information can be found by visiting www.sportshalloffame.net.