Rick Lorenzen, Who Loved and Celebrated SoCal Drag Racing Culture, Has Died

lions automobilia foundation museum
Lions Automobilia Founder Rick Lorenzen Has DiedLions Automobilia Foundation

Rick Lorenzen had such a good time growing up as a hot rodder in Southern California that he re-created it all in a museum.

Lorenzen passed away June 16 at 82, but the Lions Automobilia Foundation and Museum he started—and the car culture it celebrates—will live on in his memory.

Lorenzen grew up in Southern California at a time when there were drag strips, race tracks, and speed shops everywhere, with custom cars crawling the streets.

rick lorenzen founder of lions automobilia foundation museum
Rick Lorenzen.Lions Automobilia Foundation

He bought his first hot rod, a Willys Coupe, for $65 and soon built it into one of the fastest cars in his native Wilmington, Calif.

He went to races at the many drag strips in SoCal and met many of his hot rodding heroes in a youth so complete he just had to recreate it somewhere.


That somewhere became the Lions Automobilia Foundation and Museum, one of the most complete takes on Southern California car culture ever assembled.

Lorenzen himself never raced, but he loved racing. He grew up in the best racing environment that may have ever existed.

Just looking at drag strips alone, at its peak California played host to as many as 60 drag strips, some of which only lasted a couple weeks, others that ran for decades.

a white car parked in a showroom
The Muscle Car Gallery.Lions Automobilia Foundation

In Southern California there was San Gabriel (“Where the smog meets the rocks,” a twist on the snooty Del Mar horse racing track’s “Where the surf meets the turf”), Irwindale, Pomona, San Fernando, Orange County, Fontana Drag City, Santa Ana, Goleta, and Paradise Mesa to name a few. But you could argue the best of all of them was Lorenzen’s home track, Lions.

Lorenzen founded the Lions Automobilia Foundation and Museum in December 2019 as a tribute to the Lions of his youth, the facility that closed in 1972.

The Automobilia Foundation is housed in a nearly 100,000-square-foot facility that includes galleries featuring Southern California’s car culture and motorsports history, in Rancho Dominguez, just a mile or so from the original Lions track.

“He wanted to bring back that history for people to enjoy now,” his daughter, Tami Lorenzen-Fanselow, told the local paper, the Daily Breeze. “The times were a little simpler, and he was all about history.”

The museum has seven galleries, each celebrating a specific part of the hot rod culture Lorenzen so enjoyed.

a car with a large engine
Resto shop project.Lions Automobilia Foundation

“It’s a very eclectic collection of hot rods, muscle cars, funny cars, dragsters, motorcycles, and drag boats that raced at old Long Beach Marine Stadium,” said Darr Hawthorne, drag racing journalist and marketing coordinator and docent at the foundation.

“There are tributes to Ascot, Muroc Dry Lakes, Off Roading, Riverside, and Lions. There’s a speed shop, a Foster’s Freeze, a ‘50s diner, and a Texaco station just like his father owned. It’s an environment that shows off the race history of Southern California.”

The most impressive of the galleries may be the remarkably accurate recreation of the starting line at Lions, complete with two cars launching down the strip: the Stone, Woods & Cook Swindler II, and Big John Mazmanian’s Willys.

But that’s not all.

“There’s a full restoration shop in back operating full time,” said Hawthorne. “They’ve restored over 50 Willys. The latest is a conversion of a ‘41 Willys to alternate fuel."

As a 501(c)3 charity, the foundation also has an educational outreach and works with a Society of Automotive Engineers program to help train young students in the mechanical arts.

lions automobilia foundation museum
More muscle in the museum.Lions Automobilia Foundation

They also support a team in the annual Hot Rodders of Tomorrow program. The operation is run by Museum Director Lana Chrisman, a second generation So Cal racer, whose father Jack raced and set records at Lions.

All of that will continue despite the loss of Lorenzen.

“The foundation and the museum will continue to thrive under the direction of Rick’s daughter, Tami Lorenzen-Fanselow and the Lions Board of Directors, who are dedicated to moving forward,” the foundation said in a statement announcing the passing of Lorenzen.

“In fact, one of Rick’s dreams was to reinstate the Long Beach West Lions Club, and plans are in motion to make this dream a reality! One of the original clubs that helped fund the Lions Drag Strip, this is an important part of preserving the automotive history of SoCal motorsports.”

Daughter Tami is fully committed to seeing her father’s dream live on.

“As we navigate this challenging period, please know that I am committed to continuing my father’s vision and values,” she said. “My leadership and dedication will ensure that we remain strong and unified, honoring his legacy with every step we take.”