Tommy Ivo talks about his life from his childhood acting career and drag racing over the Burbank border as a teenager to 30 years racing and building dragsters for a living. He and the Road Kings are celebrating 60 years of rodding and racing with the 23rd annual Picnic in the Park and Charity Car Show from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Johnny Carson Park.
By Joyce Rudolph
Drag-racing icon Tommy Ivo says he’s had all three wishes granted at the wishing well.
The 76-year-old Burbank resident was a childhood actor, then became famous in the drag racing community and after surviving several injuries has lived to look back on his 60 years since he started racing.
He chatted comfortably while standing on his “home turf” ~ the parking lot of Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake ~ talking about his life and being one of the original members of the Road Kings, Burbank’s car club also celebrating its 60th anniversary at a car show on Sunday.
He is known as TV Tommy because of some 200 TV shows to his credit, including a running part on the 1961-’62 sitcom “Margie” and roles on “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Donna Reed Show.”
After his weekday commitment on the set, Ivo would head to the drag strip on the weekends and race cars at 200 miles an hour.
He then built a hot rod and used to park it in the prime spot on the end of the car hop station at Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake, he said.
“They all had to drive around that spot and you could talk to everybody as they were waiting,” Ivo said.
Ivo was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2005, joining such prestigious company as Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt and fellow Road Kings member Don Prudhomme.
It has been 30 years since Ivo has sat behind the wheel of a race car, he said. When he first started racing he had a lead sled, a car lowered to the ground with all the chrome taken off.
“But you had to own a hot rod to be in the Road Kings, so I built my very first little Model T Roadster just to get into the club,” he said. “I took it to the drag strip and it never got beat and it set the record everywhere it went in its class of street roadster. It hooked me and I ended up quitting the movies to go to the drag races,” he said.
No one was happier than TV Tommy when the “Margie” series ended its run. He had built a car with four motors on it and when the producer saw it, he stopped Ivo from racing, Ivo said.
“When the series was over, everybody was walking around with doggie eyes, ‘we lost the show’ and they hear all this commotion in the dressing room and I’m doing a handstand saying oh boy o boy I can go back to drag racing,” Ivo said.
Being a part of the Road Kings, he and his friends “lived American Graffiti.”
Ivo was amused, he said, watching the present manager of Bob’s, Leo Matias, all smiles, chumming around with Road Kings members during a club dinner on June 2.
“Boy the manager of Bob’s back in 1960 wasn’t happy to see us here,” Ivo said. “We’d get in here and it started as a simple thing as someone would be taking the wrapper off the straw and blow it across the table at the other guy and then the food fight was on. When we’d leave, there would be a half-eaten Big Boy sliding down the plate-glass window.”
Ivo preferred the catsup bottle, he said, because it worked real well as a machine gun. He would stand up on a chair and hit the bottom of the bottle with one hand and aim it at his friends with the other, going around the table.
Then it would come time to race. A couple guys would choose each other off or brag their car was faster than the other’s and they would take off over the flood channel bridge to Forest Lawn Drive in Los Angeles because there were no houses and police didn’t patrol it regularly, he said.
“A big long line of cars would follow them out to Forest Lawn Drive, just like in the movie ‘American Graffiti,’ and after the race, we’d come back to Bob’s,” he said.
Another famous drag racer Don “The Snake” Prudhomme joined the Road Kings because he was one of Ivo’s crew guys, Ivo said, adding that they had some wild ideas to initiate new members.
Prudhomme lived in Van Nuys, so his friends would hang out at the Van Nuys Bob’s, Ivo said. For his initiation, they dressed him in nothing but a diaper and he had to go from table to table inside Bob’s asking for milk to fill his bottle.
“He was mortified!” Ivo said.
The Road Kings will celebrate their 60th anniversary in town during the 23rd annual Picnic in the Park and Charity Car Show from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Johnny Carson Park. For more information, visit www.burbankroadkings.com.