Clark Gable's Son Blazing His Own Trail Off-Road
Author: Shav Glick
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA), June 2, 2000 pD-6.
Clark Gable was the bigger-than-life prototype of the rugged individual
when he was a motion picture icon more than four decades ago.
John Clark Gable, his son, hopes some of that rugged demeanor will
carry over this week--not on the silver screen but on the rough and dusty trails
that make up the Baja 500 off-road race. He and another son-of-a-famous-personality, Dodd Darin, son of singer Bobby Darin and
actress Sandra Dee, will drive a Ford-150 Trophy Truck in the feature class of
the 31st Tecate SCORE race Saturday in Baja California.
It is no coincidence, says John Clark, that his favorite movie
involving his father is "To Please a Lady," in which Clark Gable played a race car
"My father died [in 1960] four months before I was born," said John
Clark, 39, "but I think my father's love of auto racing, which I learned about
from my mother, has been a special bond with his memory. My mom [the former Kay
Spreckels] tried to discourage me from racing but I just knew it was in
my blood. She even hid all my dad's racing memorabilia from me."
A yellow racing helmet belonging to the late Ayrton Senna is the
centerpiece on the living room mantle of Gable's ranch-style home in Malibu.
"Did you ever see him race?" John asks a guest, his eyes gleaming as he recalls his own memories of the great Brazilian Formula One driver. "He
was the greatest, the absolute greatest."
On either side of the helmet are trophies from Gable's past successes,
first place in the CRC Hare and Hound Christmas Grand Prix motorcycle race,
second place in the Tecate Baja 1000 in 1992, and an assortment of lesser
"I drove the 1000 solo in a Ford Ranger," he says proudly. "All 22 1/2
His garage is a collection of racing equipment, mostly motorcycles that
he and his 11-year-old son, Clark, ride in District 37 desert races as members
of the famous Viewfinders MC.
"I've been riding motorcycles since I was seven when my godmother,
Winnie Lee, bought me a Honda 50 mini trail bike, much against my mother's wishes.
She told me that my dad used to ride his Triumph in the dirt back before
there was such a thing as a dirt bike. I used to ride all over my family's ranch
The 22-acre ranch became John's personal practice track. When he was
11, he had an offer from Yamaha to ride factory mini-bikes, but his mother
turned it down. Later, he raced motocross until he was into his 20s, when he
switched to race trucks.
"I'll never forget, when I was 23, I rode in my first truck race, the
1983 Barstow Classic and when I lined up, I looked at the truck next to me
was Parnelli Jones. That was very exciting, to say the least."
Gable was SCORE rookie of the year in 1984. When Gable was in kindergarten, his best friend was Dodd Darin, and
remained close through the years.
"My mother used to get real upset when I spent all my time hanging out
with John because she knew I'd be riding one of his bikes most of the time,"
Darin said, "but she always knew where to find me because I was usually over
at the Gable ranch."
Darin, 38, has raced Formula Fords and other open-wheel cars, but has
never driven in a desert off-road race.
"When John started planning to drive the Baja race this year, he asked
me if I'd like to go along and do a little driving," said Darin. "I'd never
anything like that, but I said, 'Let's do it.' We've been testing in
Baja and pre-running on dirt bikes. I'm looking forward to the experience."
Darin's father died in 1973 after an illustrious singing career. Dodd
"It's ironic," Darin said. "My father was a huge Clark Gable fan but
never had the chance to work with him. Now, I get to co-star with a Gable."
Darin plans a return to open-wheel racing next year and is trying to
talk Gable into joining him.
"We are both going to driving school and we have a bet that whoever is quickest on the last day gets his four days of school paid for," said
"Make that a year of racing," Gable challenged.
The trophy truck was built by Curt LeDuc, a longtime Baja and off-road
racing veteran, in his shop in Beaumont.
"Curt builds the best, it's a state-of-the-art truck," said Gable. "It
will look distinctive too. My wife, Lexe, designed the paint job in keeping
with our sponsor, ArtoftheStars.com."
ArtoftheStars.com is an on-line gallery that features art work done by
and of celebrities. Among them are ceramics created by Gable and his Gablex
"John should do well in the race," said LeDuc, whose regular crew will
tend to Gable's truck while LeDuc co-drives in the mini-truck class. "The truck
will get up to 115 mph and that's all you need on the roads in Baja. Speed
is not as important as handling.
"John has been racing in the desert for the past 10 years and that will
help him. He knows how to read the desert now better than he did when he
raced trucks years ago, and this will be the best equipment he's ever had.
I'd say his chances of getting a top-three finish are pretty good."
Trophy truck favorites include Larry Ragland, Ricky Johnson and series
points leader Tim Herbst, who will be attempting to win his third consecutive
race in his Terrible Herbst Motorsports Ford F-150.
The bone-jarring 440-mile race, which should take a little more than
nine hours, will start at 7 a.m. in Ensenada.