When Billy Condit, the oldest of the Condit Brothers, passed away earlier this year, John Force lost more than a cousin, he lost someone who, when he was younger, inspired him to follow his dream of a career in drag racing.
That’s why the 13-time NHRA Funny Car Champion dedicated his February victory at Phoenix to Billy, his surviving brothers Stephen and David and their mother, “Aunt Bea” Condit, also known to a whole slew of racers simply as “Ma.”
The Condits finally got the trophy in a private meeting with Force during the SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“I admired and looked up to Billy,” Force said. “He was an individual who, in the early days, inspired me with the stories that he told about driving across the country, following the racing circuit.
“He’d tell me stories about all the race teams out there; how they partied and how they played and that was my early introduction to racing. I knew when they were going back on tour and I knew when they came back in the winter, the stories would start again.
“It was almost like he was a seaman who went off to sea and when he’d come back he’d have all these stories about the places he went and the people he met. Racing was a different world back then and I lived for those stories.”
In the 1970s, the Condit Brothers embodied everything that Force aspired to be. All three, Billy, Stephen and David, were actively involved in racing. Billy and Stephen were accomplished mechanics and Dave Condit, actually, was the first in the family to win an NHRA national event.
Driving the Pleuger and Geiger Ford Funny Car, he won the season-ending 1974 Supernationals at Ontario, Calif., by beating the legendary Ed “the Ace” McCulloch in the final round.
Although they enjoyed considerable success on the match race circuit, both with their own car and those of others, the Condits never won another NHRA national event. Nevertheless, they remained active in the sport into the 80s along with Force’s late uncle, Gene Beaver, who made a name for himself with a series of “L.A. Hooker” Funny Cars, a take off on the “Chi-Town Hustler” name made famous by Force’s current crew chief, Austin Coil.
“Now there’s another trophy to go up on the mantle,” Force said. “(Billy’s death) was a big loss to the whole family especially to my Aunt Bea, my mother’s sister. Everybody used to stay at the house or come by for dinner. (Jim) Dudley and “Honda Doug” (Woiwood), guys who do hospitality for Schumacher now, they used to be over there all the time, just like family. People don’t know how rich the family of racers is.
“Everybody knew Ma and when the racers came to LA, they stayed at the house. She was like a racing institution. Billy Meyer lived at the house one winter. That’s why the Woiwoods and the Dudleys were always there – for a meal and to have a good time.
I said Aunt Bea was like the Ma Barker of racing. Ma Barker took in every outlaw there was. “Pretty Boy” Floyd. “Babyface” Nelson. Well, Aunt Bea housed some of the biggest outlaws in drag racing. That’s our roots.
“Bottom line, it was “Honda Doug” who told me that Billy had a problem. He told me at Phoenix, ‘you’ve got to call Ma right now. They weren’t thinking about the race, about (Gary) Scelzi beating me or something, they were just concerned about Ma. ‘Get the hell out of the race car and call Ma right now’ is what he said. ‘Billy’s sick.’ And within a few weeks, we lost him.
“I remember in the days as kids, when the Condit boys used to take me outside and we’d have some big ol’ free-for-alls and fistfights. It was always me and Stephen fighting David and Bill. It’s just where we came from.
“The Condits, the Forces and the Beavers. It was never about winning championships, it was about surviving,” Force said, “but I remember every year I’d be playing football (at Bell Gardens High School), I’d call Beaver and I’d ask ‘has Billy got home yet?’ ‘Cause I knew Billy would bring back the stories from the east coast about all the feuds and the fights and people like Shirley Muldowney and ‘TV Tommy’ Ivo and Raymond Beadle, the ‘Blue Max.’
“My dream was that one day I would be a part of that.”
Brothers Stephen Condit, left, and Dave Condit, right, accepted the winners' trophy from the 2005 CSK Nationals at Phoenix, Ariz., from Funny Car winner John Force, center, on behalf of their late brother, Billy Condit.