Car show icon, five-time NASCAR dirt-track champion and hot-rod enthusiast Mike “Blackie” Gejeian passed away Friday, September 2, at the age of 90. In 1958, he started the Fresno Autorama—one of the largest custom auto shows in North America—featuring hot rods, motorcycles and Hollywood vehicles. He ran the show for 51 years until he retired it due to his health.
Gejeian grew up in a family of Armenian genocide survivors on a farm in Easton, California, where he began racing on dirt roads. After high school, he enlisted in the Navy and served in World War II. When he returned in 1945, he built a roadster, painted it black and wore black leathers, giving rise to his moniker “Blackie.” Shortly after, Gejeian crashed the roadster, which nearly killed him. He spent the next 10 years rebuilding it, and in 1955, the Oakland Grand National Roadster Show named it the World’s Most Beautiful Roadster. That same year, he won the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award with the ’27 Ford he called the Shish-Kebab Special.
Blackie was close friends with the late George Barris, with whom he built a custom roadster pickup named Ala Kart that won hundreds of awards and was twice chosen as America’s Most Beautiful Roadster by the Grand National Roadster Show.
In addition to racing hardtops in the ’50s, Gejeian produced races in Clovis, Madera and Raisin City from the early ’60s to mid-’80s. He was a promoter at Clovis Speedway until it closed in 1976.
At his 90th birthday party at the Fresno County Historical Museum, Fresno city leaders celebrated Gejeian with a bust in his likeness.