Charlie Erickson is the man who helped bring racing to the people with the 1972 founding of The First Association of Independent Racers (F.A.I.R) which is the oldest and largest private support team for independent racers.
Although born in Kansas City, Missouri on May 28th, 1928 Erickson became a California resident not six months into his life. He grew up in the Los Angeles area. Just as most young men of the time did, on his seventeenth birthday he enlisted in the U.S. Marines to do his part in World War II. Soon after he enlisted the war came to a close however Erickson remained enlisted for the next twelve and a half years.
He served around the globe with the majority of his military career centered around the operation of flame thrower tanks. The Marines first stationed him in Tsingtao, China, the official mission was to help escort the former Japanese occupying force out of the country. He returned stateside to Barstow, California in 1949 and became the Marines specialist in flame thrower tanks. In Barstow he refurbished five Sherman tanks back into fighting condition. In 1950 as testing of the tanks wrapped up, Erickson and the tanks were shipped off to the Korean War. He served fourteen months in Korea, two back to back tours. He completed his required recruiting duty around the U.S. The Marines then sent him to Okinawa and where he spent six months there away from his family. In 1951 he received a message from the Red Cross informing him that his wife was gravely ill. Upon returning home he requested a discharge so that he could spend more time with his family. He reached the rank of Tech Sergeant by the time of his departure.
Erickson began his second career in 1951. His brother-in-law Jay Botello worked as the fleet manager for the downtown Los Angeles Ford Dealership. Erickson worked for Botello as a salesman. He always strove to learn as much as he could about the vehicles he sold. Soon Erickson moved on to be the Fleet Manger at the La Puente Ford Dealership. While working at the La Puente Dealership he saw his first Ford Bronco in 1966. He viewed the Bronco as a well designed vehicle that had great marketability. One day that same year he met a four-wheeling enthusiast by the name of James Bond while working at the dealership. Bond encouraged Erickson to attend on of the Wygoers Bronco-Jeep Club meeting and to try his hand at one of the club runs. Erickson attended and found himself hooked. He, his wife and two young daughters became regular members of the club going for weekend runs around the state.
During one of the weekend runs with at Mantachie Meadows, Erickson met Ed Pearlman and they struck up a lasting friendship. The two men would spend hours discussing different ideas they had to help the new sport of four-wheeling grow. Erickson supported Pearlman’s concept for a race across the Baja by volunteering to help officiate the first two races. At the 1967 NORAA Mexican 1000 Rally he and his wife officiated at check point one, documenting each racer as they came through the line. In 1968 he served as a race steward and judged competitors complaints at the finish line. 1968 proved to be a busy year for Erickson. His friend James Bond had passed the reigns of hosting and organizing the annual, Labor Day weekend, Pismo Beach Rally. Over 165,000 people attended the event over the course of the weekend making it the largest one during its history. 350 volunteers oversaw events such as hill climbing, drag racing and obstacle courses. Local officials and police commended Erickson for organizing such a large event with out any altercations or trouble.
While the Pismo Beach Rally reached out to a large number of four wheel enthusiasts, Erickson’s next endeavor would truly bring the ability to race to the people. Racing off-road vehicles can be an expensive experience especially with out industry sponsorships and race day mechanical assistance. This point was brought home to Erickson by a young suitor of his 16 year old daughter. The young man found the idea of racing interesting but saw no fincically feasible way of participating and suggested the idea of a race day assistance “co-op.” Erickson saw the logic behind the young mans idea and quickly made it a reality. Within a few days and the placement of two phone calls he hosted a meeting of 34 individuals at his home to discuss the formation of such a group. The name FAIR arose, the First Association of Independent Racers.
Erickson stayed involved with FAIR for the next eleven years. The association stood by its mission to be “fair” and helped any racer in need of assistance regardless of their membership or not. During the early years the club only charged an $18 membership fee which covered the cost of feeding the volunteers in the pit crews. The group incorporated as non-for-profit in 1972. It has a very active membership today and a successful race record for its membership. The organization still sticks to its guidelines of treating others fairy and with respect. The objective of the club is for race teams to pool resources and form one large support organization that provides full pit support for individual teams.
Sources: Interview with Charlie Erickson, May 2006