PORT ORCHARD — If you’re a fan of cars, especially those of the hot rod variety, and you live in Kitsap County, it’s likely you know Larry Van Boeyen from the Saints Car Club.
That’s because Larry is the go-to guy for those car monkeys who need technical advice or hands-on assistance in fixing or rebuilding their own cars. His mechanical skills and welding expertise — Larry was a career journeyman welder at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton and later a welding instructor at the shipyard’s nuclear weld school — not only came in handy for his own rebuilds, but for others needing help with their projects.
Van Boeyen’s skills allowed him to build many of his own specialty cars and help other car enthusiasts as a trusted fabricator and mechanic. Whether it was an engine rebuild, shortening rear-ends, welding suspension components or machining numerous car parts, the Port Orchard man was always available to help out, according to Ed Swan, secretary and treasurer of the Handlers Car Club.
Van Boeyen joined the Handlers Racing Association and Car Club, which governs area drag racing, in 1963 and built and drove many cars in a variety of classes.
Those cars included a 1957 Ford in the stock class, a 1954 Ford in the modified production class and three different front-engine dragsters in the gas classes.
While a “Handler,” the car enthusiast served as the club’s vice president for two years and its technical director for 10 years. In his latter role, Van Boeyen was required to know and understand all the governing rules at Bremerton Race Track and ensure all racers were in compliance with the rules.
If he has a favorite category of car racing competition, it’s in the hot rod, or drag racing, realm. Racing these wild top-fueled beasts captured his imagination and competitive spirit in the 1960s. His first vehicle was a C/D dragster that he raced at Seattle International Raceway, where he achieved a top speed of 150 miles per hour on a quarter-mile track.
These uniquely shaped dragsters tapped into his need for speed, the affable Van Boeyen said. Asked why these cars appealed to him, he answered simply: “They’re fast!”
The sport literally took off in the 1960s in California, then spread across the country, spawning top names in the sport such as “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Herm Petersen of Belfair — “The Northwest Terror” — and “TV” Tommy Ivo.
Some of the top fuel racers powered by nitromethane fuel often were able to reach a speed of 330 miles per hour on a 1,000-foot track.
Van Boeyen’s prominence in the car hobbyist field in Kitsap County germinated in 1959 when, at the young age of 15, he fudged his age on an application to join the Saints Car Club. Although he was only a freshman in high school, the organization nonetheless valued his potential and welcomed him as a member.
His first car? Van Boeyen owned a 1942 Ford that he modified and drove to South Kitsap High School prior to graduating in 1962.
The Saints Car Club lay fallow for a number of years until 1993, when he played an instrumental role in reactivating the club. He served as president of the club for 12 years and steered it into taking over the responsibility for promoting and running the CRUZ show on the Port Orchard waterfront.
Van Boeyen’s years as a dragster will culminate next month when he is inducted into the Washington State Hot Rod Hall of Fame for his deep involvement in the sport and the car community in Kitsap County.
“I’m very honored,” he said, patting his chest. “It was a thrill to be selected.”
The soon-to-be honoree has just turned 75, so he’s limited his activities to restoring vintage vehicles in his garage in South Kitsap. Van Boeyen looks back at his time in the hot rod world with fondness, although he concedes the sport has changed. A with many hobbies, the costs to be a part of it have risen exorbitantly.
“It’s gotten so expensive,” he said. “I was asked if you could make a living as a dragster. The answer is, no, not if you needed to live on just winnings. If you could combine sponsorship money and winnings, that’s a different thing. The sponsorship money covers most costs.”
But for today, he’s savoring his new place this year in the Hall of Fame, where he’ll join his close friend Petersen. With his wife Dee and two daughters alongside him, Van Boeyen will have his name placed alongside many of the greats in the sport from Washington state at the induction ceremony Sept. 28 in Lynnwood.
In the Aug. 9 Port Orchard Independent is a special section celebrating the 32nd annual CRUZ Car Show.