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Come take a ride with me
July 22, 2023
Hello, there. Let's continuing my adventure into the wonderful world of auto racing.
As I got older it wasn't just auto racing that interested me. Having been born into an aircraft family, I was also interested in high performance aircraft. I had the unique opportunity to help my dad maintain an F4U-7 Corsair.
This WW2 vintage aircraft was also an air racer. We went with this airplane to the Reno air races for several years in a row. It was quite an exhilarating experience being around, and working on this very unique aircraft. My duties included the necessary maintenance for air racing, changing the oil, 20 gallons of it, changing plugs, all 36 of them, and keeping the fuel level full, 150 gallons. I was also expected to keep the airplane clean and looking good.
Being in the second half of my teenage years, I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of the situation I was in and that I was getting to do things that grown men would have given their left arms to do. It was truly exciting to climb into the cockpit of this majestic beast and start the engine, put the wings down and do an engine run. Just running it up to 2,500 RPM made it seem like you had all the horsepower in the world in your left hand, and it wasn't even at take-off power yet. It was very impressive!
Being involved with such an aircraft in the late seventies and early eighties, when the Reno Air Races were still fun and no so over-run with commercialization, was really a treat. We stayed in a motor home at the edge of the ramp and we were able to be a part of all the festivities and excitement in the pits after the days events were over. Getting to walk around in the early evening and watching the other crews working on their respective airplanes and doing engine runs. Witnessing the sounds and seeing the fire coming out of the exhaust stacks of a P-51 Mustang as the sun is going down is quite an experience.
By the mid 1980s, I had developed a real affection for NASCAR and with a new channel on TV named TNN, I was able to enjoy all of the televised races. Back when I was younger, the only races that were on TV were the big ones; Daytona 500, Coca Cola 500 in Atlanta, Darlington, or Charlotte. I had no idea that there were races every weekend at places named Hickory North Carolina, Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, North Wilksboro North Carolina, and Dover, Delaware, just to name a few. I was severely hooked and began laying plans to make a trip back to North Carolina, which was the hub of the entire sport, in an attempt to get a position on a race team.
I made a trip to Charlotte North Carolina, and traveled to several of the shops of major racing teams. One of the best experiences was the shop for Cale Yarborough. The entire facility was spotless and very professional. They built the entire car at this shop. It started as a pile of square and round tubing, then the parts were cut, placed on a surface table and welded together. All the steel bodies were hand formed using an English wheel and planashing hammers. Eventually the other components were added and a brand new car was ready for the track. I also visited the shops of Neil Bonnett and Davey Allison. I also met Waddell Wilson, who was one of the most famous crew chiefs in the sport.
Unfortunately, this was way before the acceptance of being from California came to be normal in the sport, and I wasn't able to land a position on a race team. I did come away with a new appreciation for the sport and just how tightly knit the people were. It would be like going up the street in your neighborhood, knocking on someone's door, and asking to be a part of their family.
I tried my own hand at racing a stock car by running a 1966 Chevelle. It was just a rolling chassis, but it had been campaigned as a sportsman car at Saugus Speedway back in the early 70s, so it had a good roll cage, adjustable suspension and was a good car for what I needed.
I ended up putting in a 396 ci Chevy engine which was probably too heavy, but I knew it would have plenty of power and it sounded great! I worked on it day and night, and since I was working second-shift at Rockwell, it afforded me the time to do it. I put a paint job on it and off I went. I was still single and had nothing else to do but work on my race car.
I ran it on dirt tracks around the Antelope Valley and learned a lot about suspension setups and drifting. Much of what I had learned racing quarter midgets came rushing back to me and I did quite well. The one thing that remained consistent was the constant need for money, and being a single guy with a new house and a new car, I ended up choosing having a better life instead of trying to have a race car.
Until next time, thanks for going on this adventure with me.
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