On Wednesday, February 16, 2022, Bob Joehnck pulled the braking parachute lever, tapped gently on the foot brake, switched off the ignition and glided smoothly across the finish line one last time.
Bob had the good fortune to walk the earth for a little over 97 years, almost all of it in Santa Barbara. He was born to Detlef Fredrick Joehnck and Lola Marion Powers on December 22, 1924, in Las Animas, Colorado after which the family moved to Oxnard, California before finally settling in Santa Barbara in 1932. He attended Peabody Elementary, La Cumbre Junior High and graduated from Santa Barbara High School. He and his friends were known as the local hot rodders and everybody knew Bobby Joehnck had one of the fastest cars in town. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943, and was stationed in England during WWII as an aircraft mechanic. Later in life he enjoyed telling his nephews that upon graduations his sister was sent to business college and he was sent to war.
Shortly after his return from service he married Shirley Dixon and in time they welcomed a daughter and son, Cynthia and Fred. He owned and operated a two-pump Texaco gas station on the corner of Mission and De La Vina where McConnell’s Ice Cream stands today. Bob’s love of fast cars continued and he was soon setting up the first drag racing track in California at the Santa Barbara Airport with the assistance of the airport manager, Mr. Swain. Bob and his buddies formed the Santa Barbara Acceleration Association and got an insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London in order to operate legal drag racing at the airport with the blessing of even the California Highway Patrol. Several books that have been written about early drag racing history point out, “It was the birth of quarter-mile drag racing and Bob Joehnck was the Founding Father.
In 1959, Bob opened Bob Joehnck Automotive on the corner of De La Vina and Figueroa. Out of that shop Bob supplied high performance racing engines for boats and automobiles of all types, including circle track, sprint cars, and all manner of road racing cars. Speedsters of all types racing at the land speed events at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah created the canvas of his life’s work. Bob attended the Annual Speed Week at Bonneville for over 50 years. His cars still hold records to this day. He got a D-class roadster with open wheels to go 270 MPH using aspirated (carburetor, not blower) gas. In 1965, Bob convinced Vic Edlebrock to make a high-rise intake manifold. They developed the C-4B manifold which led to a whole new line of performance products. He partnered with Shelly Washburn of Washburn Chevrolet and raced the wheels off of the Chevy Corvette Sting Ray #614 piloted by the eventually famous Bob Bondurant throughout the ’60s and ’70s. The shop still operates today as a Joehnck family business.
Bob remarried in 1976, to June Mayberry. They enjoyed life at their Mission Canyon home hosting family gatherings and attending races all over the country. Bob Joehnck was a mentor to thousands of racing enthusiasts over the years. Usually they did all the talking and he did the listening. He had what you would call an internal Hubble Telescope that could detect BS from several light years away. He went to work every day into his early 90s. He championed all the small business owners of Santa Barbara. He couldn’t tell a joke to save his life, but he really enjoyed hearing a good one. He loved going to the movies, going out to dinner and never met a bowl of popcorn he didn’t like.
Bob is survived by his wife June, children Cynthia and Fred, grandchildren Douglas, Lance, Traver, and Erika and great-grandchildren Christian and Sydney, as well as stepchildren Jack, John and Trish and their children Laura, Kevin, Jenny, Eric and Shelle. His rascal nephews Geoffrey, Chris and Rob also survive him. We can hardly believe he’s gone. We just thought he’d live forever.