By SEMA Editors
SEMA Hall of Famer Nick Arias Jr. passed away the morning of January 2, 2017.
Born in Los Angeles in 1929, Arias grew up as a mechanic and hot rodder. In high school, he formed a car club with his neighborhood friends Joe Pisano and Kenny Bigelow called the Photons. In 1949, Arias was a part of the first organized drag race in Goleta, California. From 1950–1952, he served overseas in the Korean War, and when he returned, he spent time racing on the El Mirage dry lakebeds.
After the war, in tribute to his friend Bigelow, Arias purchased a ’37 Chevy coupe in a partnership with fellow veteran Bob Toros. As a team, the two salvaged the GMC engine from the wreck, transplanted it into another ’37 and ultimately used it to power their way to a championship as Russetta Timing Association’s most successful Class A and B Coupe. The two also advanced the existing record from 136 mph to 148 mph unblown on alcohol, winning the Kenny Bigelow trophy two years in a row.
With the success of the ’37 Chevy Coupe, Arias joined the Screwdrivers car club of Culver City, alongside members that included Craig Breedlove, Don Rackeman, Joe Pisano and Lou Baney. During the buildup of the GMC block, Arias was also offered a job at Wayne Manufacturing—purveyor of high-performance inline six-cylinder engine parts. This proved to be an ideal location, because Frank Venolia was making pistons next door and selling them to Arias’ boss, Harry Warner. Arias thereby had the chance to learn everything he could about designing heads and pistons at the same time.
A few years later, Arias was introduced to Louis Senter via fellow Screwdriver member Rackeman, who was working next door to Senter’s Ansen Automotive. It was rumored that Ansen’s piston division needed an overhaul, and knowing that there was a huge market potential for that type of performance part, Arias suggested that Senter sell him the piston business, including the machinery. One month later, Arias bought out the business from Senter, and he opened Arias Pistons in 1969.
Arias became a legend not just for his forged pistons, but also for his ’72 Hemi-head conversions for big-block Chevys that were known as “Hemi-Chevys,” as well as his complete 10L engine that dominated tractor pulls and drag boat races, an 8.3L powerplant for Top Fuel and Alcohol drag racing, the Arias four-cylinder for USAC midget circuits, the Arias V6 Hemi, A/R Boss 429, Howard 12-Port GMC and more.
He is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Carmen, five children and 13 grandchildren.