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Hot-rodder ‘Big John’ dies at 80

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LOS ANGELES — Big John Mazmanian, a racer and car builder who towered over the "gasser wars" era of Southern California drag racing, has died at age 80.

Mazmanian died July 21 at a Mission Viejo hospital, granddaughter Jackie Sukiasian told The Associated Press. The cause of death was complications from leukemia.

In the 1960s and '70s, Mazmanian's name was practically a household word throughout Southern California, thanks to what seemed like nonstop radio advertising promoting the "gasser" and "funny car" competitions that were a fixture every weekend at the region's drag strips.

In "Billy The Mountain," a song filled with in-joke references to Southern California, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention refer to a Mazmanian funny car competition at the Irwindale Speedway.

Although best known in Southern California, Mazmanian also raced throughout the country. The 6-feet-5 Mazmanian, who towered over most of his fellow drivers, was inducted into the National Hot Road Association's Hall of Fame in 1989.

In addition to his granddaughter and son, Mazmanian is survived by his wife, Alice, a daughter, Cathy Sukiasian, another granddaughter and three grandsons.

Services were held Thursday.