Three years ago, Lowrider Magazine established the Lowrider Hall of Fame (LHoF) to recognize and honor on an annual basis, individuals who have made a difference in the Lowrider Movement. All LHoF inductees are chosen for their individual achievement and/or a positive role in the lowrider lifestyle, sport and culture throughout history. The LHoF only acknowledges individuals with a minimum of 20 years involvement in some aspect of the Lowrider Movement.
Previously the LHoF has honored one individual each year in the following three categories:
Leadership Honor - A car club founder/leader who has directly affected the course, actions, contributions and positive influence of a recognized and organized group and/or car club.
Craftsmanship Honor - Designer, builder or artist in creating original and outstanding vehicles. Also, exhibiting these vehicles for a consistent period of time.
Lifetime Contributor Honor - A community leader and/or activist dedicating time, resources and heart in contributing and/or investing directly back into the lowrider community. This category may include car show promoters, who produce lowrider events that promote, educate and entertain the lowrider community.
This year marks the addition of an important new category: the Lowrider Hall of Fame Memorial Honor, a lifetime achievement award, presented posthumously, to honor individuals in the Lowrider Movement who have passed. The first recipient of the Memorial Award is Joey Abeyta, Jr., who was the president of Groupe-ELA Car Club for 14 years before his untimely death. Joey is generally recognized as the person responsible for organizing Groupe into one of lowriding's most active and popular lowrider clubs, committed to quality cars and community involvement.
Prior to Joey joining, Groupe had never stressed the importance of show-quality cars, although the club was almost always represented at major Los Angeles events. Cars simply had to be clean and lowered, members had to attend meetings regularly and stay out of the personal conflicts that plagued those times. Their numbers grew to epic proportions throughout the early part of the decade, inspiring other clubs to keep cruising.
Then, in 1973, Groupe pulled a stunt that shook East Los Angeles' cruising culture at its foundation. "We earned an unofficial world record for having the longest continuous line of cruisers that belonged to the same club ever," remembers Groupe-ELA founder Ed Flores (now UCLA Financial Aid department member).
"We met at Selesian High School, and we had drivers cruising completely around the city block bumper to bumper, with another row double-parked and even more members looking to get in line. Then, we began to cruise down Whittier Boulevard slowly, hundreds of cars, all members of Groupe. The line went from Brooklyn Avenue [now Cesar Chavez Avenue] all of the way past Eastern Avenue and even further than that. Later on, people put the number of cars that participated that day in the hundreds. All I know for sure is, on that day, Groupe became part of the folklore of East Los Angeles."
After that, "many of the clubs that had dwindled to only a handful of active members began to communicate and grow," according to Paige R. Penland, author of Lowrider: History, Pride, Culture (Motorbooks International, 2003). "Former officers contacted homeboys who had returned from Vietnam, or who had wanted to get away from the violence that had plagued the boulevard. They talked about Groupe's triumphant cruise, about placas sparkling beneath the lights of Whittier Boulevard." The historical event also caught Joey's attention.
Former Groupe-ELA vice president and long-time friend, Dr. Steve Alvarez-Mott (now a pediatrician), remembers meeting Joey in 1974 in an oceanography class at ELA College. "He was the only guy in the class who I could relate to; he had a car and I was into cars so we started talking. I told Joey that I was in Groupe and he said that he was considering getting into a club, and I said, 'hey, you should join Groupe.' He said that he knew some of the Groupe guys including Paul Valera, so after several months he got in."
"Joey wasn't the world's greatest member when he first got in the club," Steve recalls. "He missed a lot of meetings. He really liked to party a lot. He was an impeccable dresser, he had a nice car, always went out with a lot of girls, but most of the time he didn't come to the meetings because he was out doing something with one of his girlfriends."
Shortly after Joey joined Groupe, Ed Flores was forced to back away from his involvement due to increasing family and job commitments and Paul Varela became the president. Under his leadership, Groupe-ELA became one of the most important lowrider clubs in California the early '70s. Clubs like the Imperials had dropped to fewer than a dozen members during that time, while the Duke's had dwindled to include mostly family members and close friends.
Then, disaster struck; Paul Valera was killed when he crashed his car on Whittier Boulevard. "When that happened, a lot of the guys were really depressed and thought that the club wasn't worth continuing; a lot of guys buried their plaques and shirts with Paul in the grave," Steve said. "Everyone was really, really hurt by the loss of Paul," Ed says.
For a period of time after that nothing happened, and people wondered if Groupe was still together. "Then, amazingly enough, Joey decided to get the club back together," says Steve. "He stepped up, took over, and we started having meetings again, getting the guys to pay dues, having parties again, started getting organized." Joey's brother Chris Abeyta adds, "Joey really looked up to Paul Valera. He thought of Paul as his cousin; he idolized him. And it inspired him to become more involved with the club and continue what Paul had started."
"I often wonder whether the club would be in existence today if Joey had not stepped up," said Ed. "He made a huge commitment to keep the club going. He was able to show great leadership when it was needed most. He showed great courage and made sacrifices to keep Groupe going. It was not an easy time for car clubs; there was still a lot of jealousy and envy between clubs. But Joey continued forward to make Groupe-ELA the best that it could be."
"Joey also promoted the idea of having other chapters," says Steve. "That's when Groupe-Orange County came into being; then, Riverside, San Bernardino and South Bay. Now, of course, there are chapters in San Diego, Arizona... it's all over. I give Joey credit for expanding and energizing this club to more than it ever was before. If he hadn't stepped up and gotten the club together, I think the club may have died."
"It certainly was not easy; it takes a huge commitment to run a car club," says Ed. "It's so time consuming and it takes lots of energy. You need to sacrifice family, job and your private life. It's a 24-7 position and if you're not up to the challenge, you will fail. Everyone seems to think that you can just step in and run with it, but you soon discover that you're only as good as your members."
"Joey created the initial force that took this club to greater heights than it could ever have reached without him and ended up making the club have a life of it's own," Steve adds. "Even though he's gone, it keeps going because it has enough momentum with all of the chapters and all of the members that it just keeps going."
Tragically, three generations of Abeytas perished in an auto accident on March 28, 1992 when Joey was only 37. He and his family were returning to Los Angeles on Highway 138 after looking at his new home when a Pontiac Firebird struck their Honda Prelude. Also killed in the accident were Joey's parents, Joseph, Sr. and Dora, along with his oldest son Joey III, age 15.
CHP officers said the Firebird (whose driver was also killed) was racing with a 1990 Ford Escort at speeds of 90 to 100 miles per hour on the mountain highway when it crossed into the opposite lane, smashing head-on into the Abeyta's car. The driver of the Escort called the CHP the next day saying that he witnessed the collision. Then later, feeling remorse, the driver surrendered to the authorities and confessed to his part in the accident.
Ironically, Joey's brother Gabriel Abeyta said that his brother was recovering from a long bout with cancer, caused by a brain tumor. "Joey hadn't worked for several years," Chris said. "But the doctor had recently told him that the cancer had disappeared. He was finally getting back on his feet and getting his life back on track when this happened."
Countless members past and present from a dozen clubs, joined to pay their last respects at Joey's standing-room-only memorial services. It was a true sign of unity for a lowrider that left his mark on the Movement.
"Every time I see a flower, I think, Joey can never smell this again," says Chris. "I appreciate every minute I have. And I would like to say thank you on behalf of my brother for this honor."
Everyone's invited to share in recognizing Joey Abeyta Jr. and all of the selfless and proud 2007 LHoF inductees when they receive their awards at the official Lowrider Hall of Fame Banquet, held this year on October 20 at the Doubletree Hotel in Anaheim, California. (For ticket information go to www.lowridermagazine.com.)