Long Beach doesn’t boast a particularly numerous Croatian community, despite the fact that it has a population of nearly half a million people. The famous American football player Bob Petrić was born in Long Beach, and Gary Gabelich lived here as well.

Gabelich was born in San Pedro, in 1940. His parents came from Split, and were originally from the island of Hvar. He was already in love with car racing in high school, and had several achievements to his name.

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Gary Gabelich in his early days (all photos courtesy of Rae Gabelich).


With his rocket-powered car, the Blue Flame, he set a land speed record of 1001.259 kilometers per hour, at the Bonnieville Salt Flats in the state of Utah, in 1970. The 58,000 horsepower engine in his car was powered by natural gas, which was considered the fuel of the future at the time.


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Gabelich held the record for thirteen years, and earned himself the nickname Rocketman thanks to this. He had intended to beat his own record, but passed away before he could attempt this. He died in a traffic accident in 1984, leaving his wife Rae and his son Guy behind.


Gary i Rae                            Gary i Guy

Rae and Gary Gabelich                                                         Gary and his son, Guy.


Considering the fact that Gabelich spent most of his life in Long Beach, the city dedicated a section of the Los Cerritos Park to him the following year, and placed a wooden memorial marker there. Gabelich’s memory never faded, so in 2001 the City Council of Long Beach, without a vote, decided to erect a stone monument with a copper plate recalling Gabelich’s life in the park. There were suggestions that the park should be renamed in his honor, but the idea was ultimately dropped, and the park kept the name Los Cerritos, but is now entirely dedicated to Gary Gabelich.


Long Beach, Los Cerritos Park, memorial of Gary Gabelich.


Rae Gabelich, Council Woman in Long Beach, established two awards in Gabelich’s name. One of them is the Gary Gabelich Scholarship, and the other is the Gary Gabelich Rocketman Award, which is awarded to individuals who show a great degree of sportsmanship.