Long Beach doesn’t boast a particularly
numerous Croatian community, despite the fact that it has a population of
nearly half a million people. The famous American football player Bob
Petrić was born in Long Beach, and Gary Gabelich lived here as well.
Gabelich was born in San Pedro, in 1940.
His parents came from Split, and were originally from the island of Hvar. He was already in love with car racing in high school,
and had several achievements to his name.
Gary Gabelich in his early days (all photos courtesy of Rae Gabelich).
With his rocket-powered car, the Blue Flame, he set a land speed record of 1001.259 kilometers per hour, at the Bonnieville Salt Flats in the state of Utah, in 1970. The 58,000
horsepower engine in his car was powered by natural gas, which was considered
the fuel of the future at the time.
Gabelich held the record for thirteen
years, and earned himself the nickname Rocketman
thanks to this. He had intended to beat his own record, but passed away before
he could attempt this. He died in a traffic accident in 1984, leaving his wife Rae and his son Guy
Rae and Gary Gabelich
Gary and his son, Guy.
Considering the fact that Gabelich spent
most of his life in Long Beach, the city dedicated a section of the Los Cerritos Park to him the following year, and placed a wooden memorial marker there. Gabelich’s memory
never faded, so in 2001 the City Council of Long Beach, without a vote, decided
to erect a stone monument with a copper plate recalling
Gabelich’s life in the park. There were suggestions that the park should be renamed in his honor, but the idea was
ultimately dropped, and the park kept the name Los Cerritos, but is now entirely dedicated to Gary
Long Beach, Los Cerritos Park, memorial of Gary Gabelich.
Rae Gabelich, Council Woman in Long Beach, established two awards in Gabelich’s name.
One of them is the Gary Gabelich Scholarship, and the other is the Gary Gabelich Rocketman Award, which is awarded to individuals who
show a great degree of sportsmanship.