Alex Xydias, original hot rod hero, founder of the SoCal Speed Shop, one of the first record-holders at Bonneville, pioneer in motorsports broadcasting, one of the founders of SEMA, B-17 and B-24 gunner and engineer, and founding member of The Greatest Generation, has turned 95.
But you wouldn't know it from how totally cool he still is.
Xydias celebrated his birthday with a couple hundred of his closest friends June 17 at the Alex Xydias Center for the Automotive Arts, a trade and technical school he started in Pomona to teach skills like welding, fabricating and all the stuff we older citizens learned in shop class in high school. There are generally no more shop classes in high schools, of course, so without places like the AXC the skills necessary to build things like hot rods, lead sleds and Krazy Kustoms would have long ago faded into memory and the art lost forever. So the school is important, as well as being a fitting legacy.
Xydias was quick to thank all of the donors who funded the school, many of whom were present for his birthday. A whopping $500,000 donation followed by a $1 million endowment came in from the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Foundation. Among his many roles in life was a publisher at Petersen Publications.
But Xydias didn't want to draw attention to himself, he wanted to see the AXC succeed.
"We wanted you to see the school and all the new stuff," he said to the assembled friends and supporters.
The school is in the 7000-square-foot Robert E. Petersen Garage only a thrown rod away from the NHRA drag strip on the Fairplex grounds in Pomona, Calif. There's a 1000-square-foot paint booth, 1400-square-foot classroom and a bunch of garage space. The school is soon to open the Pete Chapouris Welding and Fabrication wing, named after Xydias' late friend and partner at the SoCal Speed Shop, who passed away only a couple months ago. (The school is now known as the Alex Xydias and Pete Chapouris Center for the Automotive Arts.) It offers a two-year, hands-on, career and technical education program that allows high school students to receive credit while gaining the skills necessary to enter the automotive industry.
There is perhaps no more fitting legacy to a life so well lived.
But there was one more thing the great man wanted to point out while he still had the microphone.
"The Social Security Administration thought I was going to go away at 72," he said. "So I've been living off their money for 23 years."
In addition to being an inspiration to generations, Alex Xydias always leaves 'em laughing. Happy Birthday Alex!