Ed “Isky” Iskendarian has celebrated his 100th birthday, and we can report that Isky is still frisky as a centenarian.
He earned his nickname as “Camfather” after developing better valve lifters and drop-in-self-locking roller lifters (suitable for high-rev use) to serve the flourishing new supercharged fuel dragsters of the 1950s. Under a gentleman’s agreement with a young racer named Don Garlits, he created the first corporate sponsorship deal in drag racing, and the newly christened Don’s Speedshop/Ed Iskendarian dragster turned a record 8.36 second/180 mph pass with Garlits at the wheel.
But Isky’s story goes way back to the 1940s when he went racing at Muroc Dry Lake, a bombing range for the Army Air Corps at Edwards Air Force Base in California enlisted himself in the US Army Air Corps for World War II, flying supply missions in the Pacific theater.
Living a century is maybe to some of us a dream but most don’t make it that far. Isky did and as sharp as a tack.
I made the almost three-hour drive to the middle of nowhere, to LTR Racing Engines in Onyx, California, which is owned and operated by noted engine builder Lanny Trefz. He has hosted Isky’s birthday for many years and recently Isky said, “Hey, pal, when are we gong to have another party, I’ve been waiting almost 100 years for this one.”
Isky-sponsored ‘push vehicle’ was used by Garlits for many years
Vintage advertisement for early drag racing sponsorship
So on July 10, 2021, promoter Crafty Kate and Lanny Trefz attracted hundreds of friends, business acquaintances and fans to celebrate Isky’s centennial milestone with a nostalgic car show featuring the “Car Guy of the Century” and the “Camfather.”
Steve Gibbs, former NHRA director of competition and original director of the Wally Parks NHRA Museum in Pomona, California, organized and supervised a small “cackle” presentation event with some outstanding Nitro-burning dragsters including Garltis’ Swamp Rat III slingshot dragster and “TV Tommy” Ivo’s first front-engine gas dragster powered by a 425cid Buick “Nailhead” engine. The sweet smell of Nitro during the “cackle” was as good as the BBQ lunch aroma to all the old timers.
Even though the temp was hovering close to 120 degrees, Isky seemed ready and willing and able to tell me of his most significant event in his 100 years on the planet, and how it gave him the success he achieved.
Isky takes part in a cackle fest at this birthday party | Dave Kommel/Photoshelter.com photo
Swamp Rat III
TV Tommy dragster
Hot rods at the party
“I was 18 or 19 years old and went to buy a cam from Ed Winfield and showed these cylinder heads and he showed me his cam grinder and I was fascinated by that grinder,” Isky said.
“So that’s the way it’s done and I thought ‘gee, I’m just an apprentice in a machine shop and I think I could build one of those, too’.
“I was working on my Model T Roadster but the war interrupted my plans. After the war I made my first fast-action cam and I sold it to a kid for $20. Later, when he came to visit me with it in his flathead roadster it sounded loud and great and was very fast.
Isky, 100, and Howard Koby, not quite there yet, have known each other for years as Howard has covered drag racing through the decades
“I had something I thought. That led to NASCAR calling and using the cam in race cars and that’s what started this 100-year journey to this “Isky Cams” phenomenon.
“I’ve been very fortunate to get into something that I like and I was interested in and I’m still interested to this day!”
I’m happy to report all funds raised by the sale of T-shirts, the BBQ lunch, parking and memorabilia went to local charities.
I’m also happy to report that plans for 101-year birthday celebration are in the works.