A 100th Birthday Wish That Came True

Driver Ernie Nagamatsu gives Ken Lyon his 100th birthday wish with a lap of honor at Pacific Raceways in the famous 1959 Old Yeller II. (Photo by Patrick Krohn)

Kent, WA—Washington state resident Ken Lyon began volunteering at the races in Southern California in 1953, in the beginning doing crowd control at the gate and inside the track and pits. He worked his way up helping with tech inspection, during the years when tech was often done in the town where the races were held. Later he became a member of the observer group, where phones were usually in place at every corner station. If a flagger was absent he would fill in, and he served motorsport for decades as a course worker and official.

Ken Lyon gets his lap of honor birthday wish in the 1959 Old Yeller II. (Photo by Patrick Krohn)

Mr. Lyon is tuning 100 on July 31, and his favorite car from all those years of working the races was the famous Max Balchowsky Old Yeller II, now cared for by vintage racer Ernie Nagamatsu.

Built by Balchowsky and his wife Ina, Old Yeller II was a composite of their newest racing ideas. The Buick nailhead V8-powered car was famous, with its junkyard dog looks, for beating the high-end sports cars of the era like Ferraris and Maseratis.

Ken Lyon gets the double checkers for his 100th birthday celebration in Old Yeller II with Ernie Nagamatsu at the wheel. (Photo by Patrick Krohn)

Since Nagamatsu was entering Old Yeller II for the SOVREN Pacific Northwest Historics and bringing the car up from California, Lyon told Ernie his birthday wish was to be able to sit in Old Yeller II.

They did him better than that. On Friday, July 2, Lyon got the VIP treatment, with Ernie giving him a lap of honor as he rode shotgun, corner workers giving him the international flag wave and the starter giving him double checkers at the start/finish line. And then everyone sang him Happy Birthday!

What could be more special for a man who gave so much of his time to motorsport?

Happy birthday, Ken Lyon!