Museum exhibit features Venice airfield hot rod club

Kimberly Kuizon reports

- During the late 1950s and early 1960s, almost every young person in the city of Venice was into one thing: drag racing. 

"Anything that could make us go faster is what we were interested in," recalled Jim Lash. "Of  course I was accused of laying rubber down at Venice traffic light every time I went to it. As did a lot of guys."

Venice was a one traffic light town back then, and hot-rodders like Jim Lash took advantage of it. But safety concerns grew.

"Chief Shockey knew that was going on and he decided we needed to do something to promote safety in the community," said Lash.

But instead of punishing those with the need for speed, Chief John Shockey started an auto racing club, coined the Venice Vagabonds.

"When I got into trouble, he took me aside and said, 'hey, I'm gonna get you into the Vagabonds and I want you to go to work for the Standard Oil gas station down here," he said.

Chief Shockey knew he needed to make the club more exciting than street racing, so he gained access to the Venice airfield and opened it up once a month to drag racing.

"He got everybody behind this and it took off. They didn't realize how much it was gonna take off," said Lash.

From Ft. Myers to Ocala, hundreds would pack into the airfield.

"We were right there. People would pull up their cars and watch the other cars go by," he said.

The races were shut down three years later, after complaints of noise and all of the traffic coming into town. Today, 56-years-later, the bygone era is getting new attention with an exhibit at the Venice Museum.

"I look back fondly because everybody was helping everybody," said Lash.

As for the original Vagabonds, they are still around. They meet on the last Saturday of every month. While they are a little older, they still have a love for speed .

"Since they have put motors on frames, everybody has been trying to go faster," said Lash.

The Venice Museum is open and free to the public year-round on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the first and third Saturdays of each month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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