Photo by John Gilhooley
Photo by John Gilhooley

Art Chrisman

High speeds require concentration; this may explain why Art Chrisman, who has focused his life on building fast cars and driving them, is a man of uncomplicated tastes. Not for him a season pass to Disneyland or a monogrammed wine locker at Morton's Steakhouse. Chrisman was the first man to hit 140 in the quarter mile ("Santa Ana, 1953") and then, a few years later, the first to top 180. He's never been to Disneyland.

Photos from the period show a burly man with a big smile, who seems to know his life is timed to play out over a series of measured distances. It did, and the Chrismans, who moved from Compton to Cypress in 1964, still live in that same house. Art, who'll be 77 by the time you read this, still owns and operates CARS (Chrisman's Auto Rod Specialties) in Santa Ana. He gets to work most weekdays before 7 a.m. and spends hours tenderly tightening cylinder head bolts, fastening down valve covers and testing his new creations on the dyno. And several times a year he takes 'em out to the track, where it all began.

Westminster Avenue between Valley View Avenue and Los Alamitos Boulevard. The best place to test a car. "It's still wide open. It's a straight stretch of road, and we used to drag race up and down that stretch. It's still there and it's four lanes. There was a place we called the Divide, on Artesia Boulevard between Central [Avenue] and Avalon [Boulevard]. We used to drag along there every Wednesday night. It became the 91 freeway."

Pacific Coast Highway south to Balboa Island."My favorite drive in OC. My wife's a beach person. We like to walk around down there."

Donut Derelicts.An Orange County hot rodder's Saturday morning breakfast stop since the late '80s. Now you'll see everything from Japanese guys in '59 Cadillacs who don't speak English to art cars to Art Chrisman. "It's not a car show—it's just a place where guys come out and show off their cars." Adams Avenue Donuts, 9015 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 962-8921; Saturdays, 6-9 a.m.

Long Beach Hi-Performance Swapmeet."We usually go down there before Christmas with all the parts we've taken off people's cars. We can't use them but they're too good to throw away, so we sell them. We practically give them away. Then we take that money and give it to the grandkids for Christmas." Veterans Memorial Stadium parking lot, 5000 E. Lew Davis St., Long Beach, (800) 762-9785; Second Sunday of each month. $8.

Los Alamitos Race Course. "I have a friend who has a couple of horses there and we go watch them run." 4961 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (714) 820-2800;

Knott's Berry Farm. "Sometimes my wife and I go. They have a good chicken dinner there. I've never been to Disneyland. My wife and my grandkids go." Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, Knott's Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 220-5055;

Gourmet Pie & Pastry Co. "My favorite is the French apple." 4139 Ball Rd., Cypress, (714) 995-8930.

The Little Onion. "The best Mexican food in Orange County. We [at CARS] eat lunch there every Wednesday—no less than five people and sometimes more than 10. I usually get a combination between a taco and an enchilada and rice and beans, and corn tortillas." 110 W. MacArthur Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 979-1144.


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