In 1978, Bobby Byars, who was raised in Wasco and now resides outside of Fossil, purchased the 1948 Anglia, which was an English model of Ford, from a couple of guys in Portland.
“They found it sitting in a field,” Byars says of the car. “It was basically rusting away.”
The car was advertised in the Oregonian classified section and Byars went to take a look.
“I was looking for a van to buy and saw the ad. I was drawn to it as soon as I saw the car.”
Byars worked on the car and souped it up. Working odd jobs, Byars spent his earnings to improve the car. He dropped the engine from his 1966 Corvette into the Anglia and pushed the English model Ford to 600 horsepower. Byars removed the back seats to make room for the engine and firewall.
Soon Bobby had it ready to race at the drag events in Woodburn.
It was 1979 and arriving in Woodburn to race the first time, Byars was told that he couldn’t compete because he didn’t have a helmet or fireproof suit. “I had a motorcycle helmet and a leather jacket and they said that was good enough,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t know anything about this fireproof stuff.”
Initially, Bobby says that people at the track were skeptical about the car. It did not fit the mold of a racecar. Those skeptics went quiet after watching Hot Licks race. The vehicle soon became a crowd favorite.
Later in 1979, Bobby and Hot Licks were pitted against a dragster that was winning every race. Byars said that he beat the dragster and that the crowd went nuts. Soon, Hot Licks was the car to beat and had a cult following. “I beat everybody,” Byars says as he flips through newspaper clips in a scrapbook.
Bobby became a fixture at the Woodburn drag strip and Hot Licks was the top gas racer for several years. Bobby joined the Woodburn Thrifty Auto Drag Team.
Soon, Byars began to look for even faster cars. He gravitated towards so-called “funny cars” that have fiberglass bodies and run on alcohol. He decided to sell Hot Licks and to upgrade to a funny car in 1984. Byars took Hot Licks to San Francisco and sold her to a friend of a friend.
After doing so, he began to regret it. So began a 36 year quest to find Hot Licks and to bring her home.
Occasionally, he would hear rumors. There were only 800 models of the Anglia manufactured and so it was very unique. Also, the name “Hot Licks” that was painted on the side of the vehicle in gold leaf paint endured and people knew of the car. Still, he didn’t know where it had ended up.
Beginning in the mid-90s, Byars says that he began an earnest search for Hot Licks with a dream of owning it again. He heard that it was in Arizona. With help from his daughter, he found the owner but was unable to pay the asking amount. Byars told the owner that if he was ever thinking of selling it, to give him a call. The owner never did so and sold the car.
Byars again lost track of the car and again searched for Hot Licks by scouring internet classifieds and racing websites.
Finally, Bobby tracked the car down. It was in Pennsylvania. The new owner had done additional upgrades to the car, including a new frame. But again, the car was sold before Bobby could get to it. Byars learned that the new owner was in Boca Raton, Florida and that he too had made additional upgrades to the vehicle. The car was then sold again in 2005 but Bobby couldn’t find it for several years.
One day, Bobby was poking around the internet “just having fun and looking at old cars.” Bobby says that he had saved some money up and was thinking of buying a hotrod. “And then, there was Hot Licks, for sale in New York.”
Bobby made contact with the owner, a man named Doug who lives in upstate New York. “He had been looking for me after he did research on Hot Licks,” Bobby said, clearly touched by this gesture. “He had spelled my name wrong – with an “E” in Byars. He found an obituary and thought I was dead.”
Doug and Bobby began talking on the phone and earlier this year, Bobby went to New York to get Hot Licks. Doug was happy that the car was back with its original owner after 36 years. The car was shipped to Bobby and arrived just before Thanksgiving.
Byars says that the car has been significantly upgraded since he first purchased it. “Each owner did something to improve it,” he says.
The car still has the 454 Chevy engine but also has a 671 blower. With 800 horsepower, it may struggle to idle in a parade.
When asked if he will hotrod it again, Bobby says that he is looking forward to having the car in car shows, but with a coy smile he adds “it does like to go.”
Byars, who says he has “always been a hotrodder,” was raised in the culture of fast cars. “My dad had a ’62 Ferrari,” he says with a wide smile. “He took me everywhere and did road races. I got to see Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney and all of those guys.”
1962 is an important year for Byars, and not just for the nostalgia of his father’s Ferrari. It was also in 1962 that he met Theresa. “She was my first crush,” Byars says. But soon after meeting, Theresa moved with her family to Montana.
Theresa later returned to Wasco and finished high school there. Bobby and Theresa would see each other at class reunions and soon, Bobby’s sister began tugging on Theresa’s sleeve. The couple was married three years ago.
The couple plans to spend their retirement travelling around to see their grandkids and great-grandkids, and to take them to car shows with Hot Licks.
“It was a miracle that we got together. It’s been one miracle after another,” Byars says.
The Times-Journal is a weekly newspaper that has been in publication since 1886. To learn more, visit us online at timesjournal1886.com or email us at email@example.com
Stephen Allen, Editor of The Times-Journal in Condon, Oregon
Supermodifieds have always been the most unique short track cars around. They are front engine, rear engine, side engine, with 2 wd or 4 wd. You name it, and it has been tried. The car built by Ken Reece was completely different. Ken is a great welder, builder and fabricator. He is also a dreamer. Ken has always had a love for circle track racing, go-carts, midgets, sprints, supers and Indy cars.
Ken wanted to build a car that would run on the outside groove of a pavement oval. With all the other supers hugging the bottom groove his car could go right around them on the outside, like a sprint car riding the rim.
In 1979 Ken started building his car. Three wheels on the outside, the front and back tires for steering and the center one for power. The opposite side was where the tire on the inside was also for power. The engine was a 494 cubic inch ZL-1 aluminum Chevy out of an old McLaren Can Am car. With fuel injection the engine produced 850 hp. The power train from the engine is direct drive to a quick change rear end sending power to the two center tires.
The frame was hand built out of aluminum and aircraft tubing. Ken built the frame without any blueprints or drawings. The car was built to be the lightest weight possible. The total weight of the car was a little over 1,300 pounds.
The brake system was disc brakes with drilled rotors with aluminum hubs. The cooling system was a triangular shaped radiator that was almost horizontal. Fresh air for the radiator came through fins in the nose of the car.
Steering was from the front and rear tires. They would turn in opposite directions when you turned the steering wheel. For example, with power steering when you turned left, the front wheel would turn left and the rear wheel would turn right.
Traction was provided by Goodyear racing tires that are 20 inches wide. To top it all off, the body was hand made out of .020 inch thickness aluminum. Hand formed with a fin coming off the rear of the car. The car had no spoilers or wings.
Now came the necessary testing. Ken asked his good friend, Tim Richmond, to give it a go. Tim was an excellent driver both in NASCAR and Indy cars. First testing was at Honda TRC testing facilities. Here there is a track that is a half mile circle with no straights. The car was so fast that the G forces loosened the strap on Tim’s helmet. The car ran very smoothly. Another part of the testing facilities is a 7 and half mile oval. After changing the gears in the quick change Tim hit the big track. After 4 laps and not going over 7,000 rpm the car was clocked at over 200 mph. Back in 1979 that was rare, only a couple of Indy and NASCAR cars that went that fast.
The next stop was Sandusky Speedway, a half mile high banked oval. With very few adjustments Tim took the car out and broke the track record. It is still an unofficial record even to this day. Ken and Tim were ready to tackle Oswego Speedway, but word got out about how fast Ken’s car was and before the start of the racing season the governing body changed the rules to be a little more specific: no rear engine cars, and “the supermodified must have four wheels- left front, right front, left rear, right rear”.
There are men that are geniuses who build cars that are better than others. Then they race and are so much faster than their competitors and for some reason they get banned. Ken dismantled his 3-1 car using what parts he could for a sprint car and crushed the original car. I wish Ken could have raced his creation, but, to be banned before it is even raced is just not right.
As we near press time, we are awaiting a February snowstorm. Even more exciting, we are awaiting a reopening of restaurants from this pandemic deep freeze. Finally, again weary travelers will have places where they can come in off the road for a hot meal. You be sure and let me know how that all worked out, okay?
We are also awaiting speed weeks at Daytona. NASCAR will be starting their 2021 season anew. Will they have packed grandstands this year? Here is something else interesting, eNASCAR will be starting their second season of iRacing. The 2021, 10 race season will feature a fresh new look. Maybe more sanitized? Perhaps keeping the drivers more PC in their outbursts while in the heat of competition?
In some gentler news from Daytona, we see that three women are being nominated this year to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. In related news we will be seeing the introduction of an all women team to the NTT Indycar Series this year. Always good to see this kind of representation from the female persuasion. Next, in the face of all this excitement, we must report the demise of a couple more speedways. Concord Speedway in North Carolina and Texas World Speedway are being torn down for better things.
With that being said, during this time of such intense political turmoil in our nation – here is to an exciting and covid-free 2021 roddin’ and racin’ season in the Northwest and everywhere else.
Nuff said. Chuck Fasst. #GearHeadsWorld
This writing business gets my brain going at odd times. My mind is racing with a story from my long lost youth. Oh, yeah, I am up at 3AM anyway but that is for another reason. Before, I would go back to sleep right away. Now my brain has other ideas. And Hemingway did not have to contend with a typewriter that insists on changing his words as he typed!
So here I am at 3:30 am deep in the fuzzy backroads of the early 1960s. My first car, the ’50 Merc, is old hat and gone already. Hey! That was last year’s thing. An ominous portend of my life to be. My shiny, new-to-me, ’53 Ford, a sexy CONVERTIBLE no less, has my attention now. Well, to be honest, it is a faded, rusted, OLD Ford with a leaky semi-rotted cloth top. How could it be so rusted and rotted so soon? Iowa road salt, that’s how, and cars just did that back then.
Thank goodness for JC Whitney, my then lifeline to automotive possibilities. A quick order, wait two or three weeks, and, like magic, I have a quart of black goopy top dressing to make the top like new again. Nice idea but at least it does not leak, as much, and is blacker. A cheap fix.
Some previous owner has jazzed the car up with ’56 Ford Victoria chrome trim along the sides swooping up over the top of the front fenders. I thought it was cool (we didn’t use that word back then but it WAS cool). After some rust control (body filler), this led to an episode in a narrow dark, single car garage, with me, a bandana tied around my mouth, a trouble light in one hand, and a paint sprayer in the other. Once I recovered from the fumes, the paint job did not look too bad — if you didn’t get too close. Hey, it was my first time.
The swoopy (is that a word?) chrome trim, had screamed for a two-tone paint job. Why did I pick black and white? Why did I put black on the bottom and white down the middle? No clue but I do know that one day, driving along, the realization hit my brain like a lightning bolt — I had painted my sexy Ford convertible in the motif of a skunk! I tried but just could not get that image out of my mind. That must be the reason girls were not flagging me down wanting a ride! No, I did not think that – just a bit of writer-induced drama. But it is true I could not get the skunk idea out of my head. I scanned people along the road to see if they were pointing and laughing. That is true. Anyway, I gotta get moving here – the car ended up RED, soon enough as you will see later.
The next order of business was power. Like all teenage boys, and the old car guys they became, I needed, NEEDED, more power. Besides, the oil smoke smelled bad. I had no sources of information in those days. Little Iowa farm town, no role models, no slicked-back-hair guys with cigarette packs rolled up in their sleeves roaring around in “hopped” up cars. Another funny old word. However, an Olds OHV engine, 303.7 cubic inches of raw power,135 horses no less, donated by a willing old semi-retired 49 Olds 4 door beckoned. After spending some time on the shop floor ( I can’t work down there anymore!) for a cheap “overhaul” (remember “nuralized” pistons?), the engine ended up in the Ford with the attached HydraMatic tranny. Shoehorned in is a better word because convertibles havé big X shaped cross members in the frame to make up for the missing top. Boy that caused problems! Took awhile to find ALL the problems, turned out.
Surprisingly, cops were noise sensitive in Iowa at the time. Of course, I just HAD to include muﬄer bypasses while building the dual exhaust. A gas tank filler tube and cap welded into the pipes just behind each front wheel did the trick. Remove the caps, and let the noise begin.
As soon as I got it running, I was hit with a starting problem. 6 Volt just did not cut it for reliable starting. Best solution: convert the whole car to 12V but that took some bucks. My solution: install a 2nd 6V battery and rig up a nest of solenoids and dash switches so I could switch the batteries between series and parallel hook ups. 12V for the starter then switch back to parallel for battery charging. It worked and I had little problem remembering to run the switches as needed. I did get some smelly wires if I forgot. This part of the project is when I discovered the engine had to come out to replace the starter. Fortunately, a friendly starter repair guy advised me that the 6V starter would work just fine on 12V and it did. This and the starter removal situation would come back to bite me later, however.
That automatic tranny worked just fine and I left it alone for awhile. Probably quicker to 60 than with me shifting. BUT, it just was not cool. It had to go. It took a while because, as it turned out, manual trannies in Olds back then were rare. At least in the one junkyard I had to pick from. But I finally found almost all the Olds parts for the conversion to a 3 speed manual. At least the Ford had a clutch pedal already. Problem was, it was winter. I was in Iowa. They had lots of snow back then. I had no garage. I had no concrete pad. However, being young and dumb, I had a solution. Jacked up on a gravel driveway, tarps around the edges, and an electric heater under the car on an extension cord did the trick. It was a lot of fun to wiggle through the canvas, on the gravel, wet from dripping water, and work on a dead cold car in the dark with only a trouble light. Man, those things never stay shining in the right place. The thought of working that way just overwhelms my brain now. Anyway, I got the conversion done with one little problem. The gear shifter. My Ford had 3 on the tree but—and it was a big but. The Olds tranny was a “selector” type. One lever and the selector mechanism INSIDE the tranny rather than 2 levers and the selector in the shift column linkage as with most cars. You had to move the tranny lever in and out as well as back and forth and that just did not work with the 3 on the tree I had. Finding a shifter for that transmission was not easy. I was anxious to get the car going and young and dumb enough to be willing to shift the darn thing by bending over, reaching through a hole in the floor, and moving it by hand. Very handy. But, puddles could be an issue. Luckily I did not run over someone while shifting! Eventually, somehow, I found a floor shifter (even better) that would work.
Lots of work and eﬀort for 25HP!. Looking back, I would have done MUCH better with the flathead and some “hop up” goodies like 3-2s, headers, aluminum heads, etc. The wisdom of age.
During this project, I had started college about 90 miles from where the Ford was. I needed wheels and had bought a 48 Chevy coupe to tide me over. The Chevy was Not Cool back then. I very much wanted my sexy red Ford back. And quick.
Once the tranny shifter was in place and working, I parked the Chevy, collected some riders, and headed back to college on a cold snowy winter day. Having arrived in the correct city, I was in the process of dropping my riders oﬀ in a hilly part of town when I encountered: A. a hill: B. a ’54 Ford coming down the hill toward me: and C. a lady driving the ’54 with her front wheels turned to the right but locked, and sliding right toward me on the icy street. I had presence of mind enough to pull over to the curb and stop. I sat there staring at the sliding ‘54 with horror as I could see the crown of the road was directing her my way and it was becoming obvious she was frozen at the wheel and the brakes.
She hit me on the left front fender, hard enough to crunch the fender and wrench the entire front clip. I watched the hood buckle and the front of her car stop right next to me, antifreeze pouring out onto the snow. I could see the lady holding her head but at that moment all I felt was anger at having my pride and joy and so much work smashed. Besides, I could not get out my door.
Fortunately, I still had the 48 Chevy not-cool coupe. Then an interesting oﬀer popped up. A friend had a 53 Mercury 4 door that had been in a wreck and the engine/tranny poached for another car. However, the front clip was good. After some measurement, I concluded I could put the Merc front clip on the Ford. So I did. The center of the wheel wells were a tad forward of the center of the wheels but not very noticeable. So, I ended up with a Ferc, Mord, whatever you want to call it — a suitable odd ball! And it looked cool. I painted the entire car RED! After recovering from the fumes, no more skunk images to haunt me,
This should be the end of the story, but it is not. Unfortunately, at some point, I discovered that a Cadillac engine would interchange with the Olds – it would fit up to the transmission anyway. So it had to be. A Caddy engine was installed. How could I do otherwise? Who could pass up an extra 27.3 cubes? Not to mention the 160 HP rating.
So, in the end, over about 1 1/2 years, the Ford convert had 2 paint jobs, 2 engine swaps, 2 tranny swaps, and a front clip swap. My thing. Despite all the work, I lost interest in the Ford within a few months and went on to other cars. The next 60 years were pretty much like this foolishness.
Sporty car racing began on the Monterey Peninsula in 1950. The Pebble Beach road races ran on the Del Monte Forest Course for five years. The event was enormously popular and by 1955, the crowd of spectators had grown too large for the picturesque venue. A group of local businessmen calling themselves “SCRAMP” (Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula) negotiated a lease with the Department of Defense to use a portion of Ford Ord’s vast property. A nine turn, 1.9 mile permanent course was constructed and operational by 1957. Only amateur races were held initially but when the venue turned professional, luring the biggest names in the sport, enthusiasts showed up in droves.
San Josean Gene Burgess was a sporty car guy and in 1965 he grabbed his eldest son, “Duff” and endeavored to spend a day at the races. Their outing was so successful that the following October, Gene chauffeured all three of his sons and their friends (ranging in age from nine to thirteen) to the inaugural Canadian American Challenge Cup races at Laguna Seca Raceway. I was lucky enough to be included and the experience changed my life.
I don’t remember too many specifics from 1966. We watched the action from a hillside in the infield and were a pretty good distance from the track. I do remember watching the two white, high-winged Chaparrals pace the field (It was the only time that ever happened). I remember a lime green car owned by Dan Blocker of Hoss Cartwright fame. I remember a yellow car sponsored by Ronald Reagan for Governor! I remember a woman on horseback dressed like Lady Godiva (promoting…something) working the crowd. I remember taking a bath when I got home because I was filthy! As I lay in the bathtub, my ears were still ringing! And I was in love with auto racing.
Due to popular demand, Gene escorted us again in 1967 but this time we attended on Saturday rather than Sunday (race day). My buddy Drew thinks we drove down in the family wagon- a powder blue early sixties Plymouth Valiant. I remember that we parked inside turn two which was the fastest part of the course and only a flimsy green cyclone fence obscured our view of the action. I remember the early morning practice session when Jim Hall crested the hill in his Chaparral. My brother Scott (Duff’s guest) called it out and in unison we all turned to look. It was so iconic, elegant, beautiful and my brother’s favorite. I fell in love with the new entry of New Zealander Bruce McLaren, a more aerodynamic, wedge-shaped racer painted a brilliant yellow orange. McLaren’s car was quick too; he qualified fastest and won his first Can-Am the next day- leading Hall by a country mile.
I968 was last year Gene provided transport for the crew- it had been an amazing run for which I will forever be grateful. We again attended on Saturday which was the smart choice as it rained from flag to flag on Sunday. ’68 was the year Canadian John Cannon won in an upset (I told that story in the Dec. ’20 issue of R&RNW entitled: One for the Little Guys). I was oblivious to Cannon’s effort watching the practice and qualifying sessions that year however as by now, I was a devoted Bruce McLaren fan. He didn’t disappoint either putting his latest creation on the pole. I distinctly remember watching the final session from the famous “Corkscrew” that year as forty big bore machines jousted to improve their starting berth or simply earn a spot in the field. The racing was frenetic, wheels slipping off course kicking up plumes of dust, and the engines twisted into submission. When the checkered flag fell, we panted our approval. Heady stuff!
A new kid named “Mike” moved onto my street about this time and he too was a race fan. His father was a member of the Mustang club and they attended the pony car races (Trans-Am series) at Laguna as well as Sears Point. I received an invite to my first race at Sears Point in September of 1969 but they declined to include me in their plans to attend the Can-Am at Laguna three weekends later. Naturally I was devastated but Mike was thoughtful enough to buy me the official program. 1969 was a year of total domination by Team McLaren. They won all eleven races that year and Laguna was no exception.
I vowed not to miss another Monterey Grand Prix and began working on my own father in 1970. As he had no interest in racing, it was an uphill battle. I’m sure guilt played a big role in my strategy and I think my mom actually helped my cause in the end. Ultimately my dad agreed to take Drew and I down. I think we took his Olds 442 and parked inside turn two- not a bad spot if you’re stuck in one place. Not only did my dad refuse to walk around but he sat in the car all day! He read the program, dozed, whatever, we didn’t care. We were happy just to be there. Dad read an article in the program about Jim Hall’s “sucker car” and predicted it would win. It probably would have but it blew its engine in the final warm up session and spun off course right in front of us. My hero Bruce McLaren had died testing their new car in the off season and that left the team in the capable hands of fellow kiwi Denny Hulme. He won the race that day but was chased all afternoon by Brit Jackie Oliver in the Ti22- a lightweight new entry built largely of titanium.
In 1971 my brother Scotty and I endeavored to make the trip. We stuffed my Kawasaki mini bike in the trunk and headed south. What transpired that day has become my favorite childhood memory of my late brother and me. We stopped to have breakfast at a restaurant on the peninsula and just happened to choose the same spot as the Ti22 Team. Their racer was on an open trailer out front and I couldn’t get over how small it was- like the coolest toy ever! When we arrived at the track we unloaded the mini bike and away we went. We went everywhere that day, exploring each vantage point and nobody said “Boo!” to us. That year Peter Revson began driving for McLaren and crossed the finish line trailing smoke. Jackie Stewart gave chase in the factory Lola.
1972 was the year Roger Penske’s Porsche 917 team came to the fore. They were the first cars to topple the McLaren dynasty and I wasn’t happy about it. Painted in the L&M cigarette livery, I didn’t like those cars and didn’t push to attend that year (I regret it now). As predicted, the Porsches finished first and second while both Team McLaren cars failed to go the distance. Somehow I still acquired a program.
By 1973 I was a sophomore in high school and finally could drive myself to Laguna Seca! So Drew and I piled into my 1961 Beetle with two other pals and we were off to the races. Making the journey was a rite of passage, really. For the first time there was no factory McLaren team to root for. Penske returned with a new Porsche 917, “the 30T” and painted in Sunoco colors, it was the most beautiful racecar I’d ever seen. Beautiful and dominate, with Mark Donohue behind the wheel, nobody could run with him. We had a great day- Little did we know we were watching the end of an era. The Can-Am series fell apart the following season and didn’t return to Laguna Seca.
Again I thank Gene Burgess for the indoctrination and my late father and brother for enabling me. The original Can-Am series has become legend and over the years I have met few that can claim to have seen it with their own eyes.
How I got the car: In the mid 1960s, I answered an ad in the Nickel Classified Ads that said “old, rusty cars for sale – need rent money.” The lady who answered my call said her husband had died in a bar brawl, and she had a “bunch of rusty cars in the barn.”
When I visited her house in Chiloquin, I learned that she was $200 behind on rent and I could have everything in the barn for that amount. In the barn I found four 1932 three-window coupes, a 1932 two-door sedan, 20 grill shells and various other Ford parts. All were formerly Klamath County, Oregon, police cars.
I paid her, then called my friends in Klamath Falls, Oregon, to get out here with their trailers and pick-ups because I’d stumbled on the classic Ford find of the century.
My friends helped me get them to my parents’ farm, where I stored them for several years. I started on my first hot rod from the five in the 1970s, finishing it in 1980 or 1981 . I sold it in 1983. During the 1980s I also sold two as I’d found them for $20,000 each. Selling those, plus the one I hot rodded, gave me the finances I needed to start on the fourth one in the early 1990s.
My goal from the start was to make this 1932 three-window Ford coupe d iffer from what I saw at car shows. It seemed to me that you’d always see a string of them, all fairly similar sitting in a row, and I wanted to be totally different.
The first difference was the engine. At car shows about 90 percent of them sported Chevy engines. so I got a hold of an engine from a 1940s World War II tank – maybe a Sherman – but I’m not positive of that. It was a flathead V-8, manufactured by GM ‘s Cadillac division. lt seemed like a good idea at the time – but l questioned that many times over the four years it took to rebuild it!
The first engine challenge was that I didn’t have all the parts, and they weren’t easy to find. What got me going was pure luck. I was driving i n Arizona on old Route 66 and stopped at an abandoned auto junkyard. In a lean-to under a Chevy hood. I stumbled on a set of Edmond’s aluminum finned heads, a dual carb high rise intake manifold and a Mallory dual point distributor. I was off and running.
But the distributor was broken. I called Mallory, who informed me that they no longer made parts for it. They put me in touch with their engineer, however, who dug through the Mallory blueprint archive, found the blueprints and, based on them, built me a new electronic distributor. Of course, before he did, I wanted to know the price of doing something custom like this. He said that because it was cool and different, he”d do it for the cost of the parts. The distributor cost me just under $200 – less than a new modern one off the shelf.
Meanwhile, I was dealing with the challenge of getting a cam shaft built. It took me a year just to find a company that wouId even talk to me about building a full-race cam. As fortune would have it, the phone at Delta Cams in Seattle, Washington was answered by Delta’s founder, who was actually retired and just visiting (his son now ran the cornpany). The founder said he’d check the facility’s attic and see if he had any blank cams. A call the next day confirmed that they had two. After finding out I wanted full -race grind, he said they’d grind it for me. Bracing for sticker shock, I asked how, much. He said that because I was “rescuing him from boredom,” he’d do it for the freight cost of $35. I said I’d take both.
The engine needed major work for the rebuild – not stuff your local shop does. But I found a machine shop in Springfield, Oregon that specialized in military engine overhauls. They did machining, porting and relieving, and installed Manley sodium-filled valves.
Now I needed custom hydraulic lifters. My search took me to Detroit to an outfit that used to make them years ago. On these, I got no bargain, but I got them. Lastly, I needed to make custom-built exhaust headers to use the dual carbs and redo the engine front to install an alternator. The engine was ready to assemble – about a week’s work – and now I needed a transmission that would go with it.
This turned out lo be a big problem. We had to use the bell housing that came with the engine because the starter mounted to it. That presented another problem – it needed an input shaft 1 7/8 inch longer than the shaft of a standard GM transmission. It turned out that the solution to putting a Cad llac engine in Ford was a Chrysler four speed (rock crusher) transmission that had the required input shaft.
With the engine in shape, the rest of the build was fairly straightforward, though required attention to detail. I left the rear of the body on top of the original frame with the original gas tank. At the firewall, I channeled the body 2.5 inches to give i t a raked look. I chopped the top as well; the rear was 2.5 inches and the front was 2 7/8 inches. It took three days to build the custom flame cut-outs at the front. Because the top of the exhaust system passed so close to the firewall I installed three firewalls with insulation between all of them. Throughout the car there are four types of insulation (two are aircraft insulation) to keep it cool even in the hottest weather – despite a black finish. The body work took about two and a half years.
I finished i n January 2010, about 18 or 19 years after I started. Obviously, some of those years weren’t put into working on the car, but into finding engine parts and fabricators – if I’d had all the parts I needed at once, the actual work would have taken about eight years.
Was i t worth it? Since January 2010, I’ve put my Little Deuce Coupe into four cruise-in type car shows and taken Best of Show at each. I think so, and apparently so do a lot of other people.
He and his brother Richard began racing at San Jose Speedway in 1956- the same year I was born. The Hardtops were before my time. The guys were racing Super Modifieds when I first visited the Speedway in 1968.
Yarimie was driving the “Triple Deuce”, a car that had local history and had been raced competitively by Al Toland, Ken Shirley and Kenny Van Blargen. It was the first race car I’d ever seen with a three digit number and had playing cards painted on the airfoil. I thought that was cool and he became a favorite right away. He was a good guy to root for because he typically qualified well and rarely crashed. He would win a heat race from time to time and usually made the Feature.
1970 found Yarimie piloting #56 (the ex-Steve Chambers #8). This was a cool little hot rod and a step up to a more competitive mount for Larry. He ended the season with no less than five heat race wins, two Semi Mains, one Trophy Dash and four “A” Main top fives. Traditionally Yarimie wasn’t a points chaser but this would prove to be his most consistent season, garnering a twelfth in the overall standings. Sadly, ’71 would prove much more challenging.
While Yarimie struggled just to make the program, fellow veteran Ed Hopper and racing partner Dick Cinelli introduced a lightweight new Super that was competitive right out of the box. The new #54 had a unique rounded off coupe body that included little triangular windows on either side of the cockpit. (It was so popular in fact, that the Speedway used line art of the racer in their weekly display ads.) The car elevated Hopper to a potential winner and he finished out the season second in points. When Yarimie and his team had the opportunity to purchase the car, they jumped on it.
In 1972 a replica of the San Jose Speedway was constructed in the central valley. The new Madera raceway was the same length as San Jose (1/3 mile) but had less banking. Yarimie and his crew participate with their new racer (christened the Eaton Bros. Chevy) in the Copper Classic then held in Salt Lake City and drove all night to make Madera’s Sunday Opener. Yarimie arrived just in time to qualify but easily made it into the program. In front of five thousand enthusiastic fans, Yarimie ran down local favorite Lloyd Beard, taking the lead on the sixth canto. On June 25th 1972, after fourteen years of competition, Yarimie claimed his first victory and $465 in prize money. He would finish second the following weekend at the same venue.
Opening day 1973 back in San Jose found Yarimie in Tony Casho’s potent #44. He finished second behind legendary Howard Kaeding in his heat, placed third in the Trophy Dash, fifth in the Final heat and won the Feature outright. It was a satisfying win for Casho as well as Yarimie and paid $610. Unfortunately, the accomplishment was overshadowed by a last lap spectacular involving Kaeding and Nick Ringo-neither driver was injured. Most that were in attendance that day recall the smash up (captured by numerous photographers) rather than Yarimie’s second career win.
In the years that followed, Yarimie continued to campaign the ex-Hopper car with varying success. The livery changed (from blue with flames over the nose to gold) and the numbers changed (from #92 to #5 to #4) but Yarimie never won another Feature.
By 1978 the Speedway had closed and Super Modified racing moved to the dirt track at the fairgrounds. Like many, Yarimie did his best to convert his asphalt car for dirt competition. At the biggest race of the season, the Johnny Key (8/5/78), Yarimie transferred out of the Semi Main to start at the back of the Feature. In the one hundred lap grind, he strong-armed his straight axle car to a respectable seventh. He was paid $310 for his night’s work and at the end of the season was crowned Semi Main Champion. As far as I can tell, at forty four years of age he retired from racing. I wouldn’t meet Larry face to face for another sixteen years.
In 1994 I was strolling through a small automotive swap meet in Auburn, CA. On one of the tables among the auto parts was a wooden planter made to look like a Sprint Car. I remembered the planters being sold at the Fairgrounds Speedway. “You get this down in San Jose?” I asked. The crusty older gentleman smiled and pushed the straw cowboy hat back on his forehead. “Yeah, I used to race in San Jose,” he replied quietly. “What’s your name,” I inquired. “Larry Yarimie,” he said offering his hand.
Within the blink of an eye I reverted back to my childhood. I became a ten-year-old “fan-boy” standing in front of one of my idols. I wanted to tell him that he’d won many races in the Hot Wheels I’d assigned to him…but I refrained. I did run home to retrieve my album of Super Modified photos. He spent twenty minutes or so going through it page by page, commenting. It was awesome. He was totally humble but I think he could tell that he had been (and still was) a hero to me.
After I’d moved to Oregon I met another former San Josean who had crewed for many of the “old guard.” He had known Yarimie and shared with me what he remembered. He said he thought Larry had been a truck driver by profession and wasn’t a wealthy man by any means. He thought he was a better racer than the stats would suggest. He thought Larry had lost a son in some sort of accident, he was shot. He didn’t know what the circumstances were, but the death had devastated Larry. “He never was the same after that,” he said.
I had sensed a profound sadness about Yarimie when I met him. Today I wish I’d told him about all the races he’d won on my bedroom carpet. I think it would have put a smile on his weary face.
NOTE — Most of the photographs for this article were provided by Loel Burt—a lifelong fan and friend of Larry Yarimie
Greetings GearHeads. By the time you are reading this, another year has passed. How did you like the last one? Dare I ask? At press time, a lot was going on in the country. Maybe some of you may have received a shot in the arm by now? Maybe this year, Motorsports will receive the shot in the arm it needs?
2020 was definitely the lamest year of all time when it comes to hot rodding. There were a number of races that went off around the place but hot rod cruises were damned few.
There will, however be less racing out in the world for VW this year. They are pulling out of Motorsports racing completely to focus on EV production cars. Next we see that Audi is pulling out of formula E competition followed by BMW who will be concentrating solely on EV production cars. The EVs are coming to the streets boys… And lots of them!
It looks like Atlanta dragway has gone up for sale. We were sorry to hear of the death of Dan-O. He was an OG Motorsports photographer in the LA area who got mowed down in an LA street race.
“… They were cruising against Communism.”
When it comes to car cruises in 2020. There was something worth mentioning that took place October 10th 2020. It was referred to as a car caravan by the Miami Herald. This car caravan consisted of primarily Cuban Americans and numbered at about 20K, they are saying!
They were cruising against Communism. Many of these participants were exiles who have experienced the evil and destruction of Communism firsthand in their countries. They see this coming to America and stand up against it.
Unfortunately, the influence of communism is shot through and through this country from shore to shore at levels most Americans would not even believe. And this is coming straight out of CCP. Yes the Communist Chinese badly want to rule the world. This should come as a surprise to none of us. Levels of communist corruption today are infected throughout Wall Street, politics CTC and public education in this country.
There is no question that many more Americans need to become vastly more informed on this subject. This writer is one who never likes to mix politics with hot rodding. But the CCP stands on its own as the premier threat of all time, to the United States.
Us Hot Rodders are pretty much long in the tooth. We are like the OG’s of the old school Hot Rodding started here in America in the last century. We are the last generation. It gets harder and harder for most of us to muster up what it takes to put on any kind of a cruise in these days. It makes me wonder what we might have left, if and when the time comes for us to stand up and make a statement for our country?
At press time something else is going on in our capitol. We will see how that all sorts out by the time you read this. I must add that censorship has gone way off the hook in this country. There appears to be no such thing as free press anymore, especially on the social platforms. The silencing is being done to second tier news channels as well as all kinds of content creators. This is outrageous, extremely troubling and un-American. Fcu
Let me just close with my new definition of a vacuum: When big money begets big corruption and big communism comes rushing in.
Call it fate, but on the day that Kirk Alston set his record at El Mirage, he disappeared. I kind of know what happened. Even though a lot of people witnessed it, they still refuse to believe.
But I do.
My name is Andy “Pops” Gilbert. I am part of the Safety Crew for the SCTA. I’ve been a member since ’39 and have driven the ambulance since ’53. Although I’m in my upper seventies, I’m still pretty sharp. No sight loss, hearings a little off (due to a lot of years working on uncapped engines), a bit overweight but I am agile and my mind is alert, so I know my story holds weight. It all began the Sunday prior to the opening of racing season.
Kirk was an interesting kid and he had a lot going or him. He kind of reminded me of a cross between Vic Edelbrock, Sr. and Barney Navarro, a real master of wringing horsepower out of anything. Nowadays, kids tend to play with Camaros and Mustangs for V-8 thrills, or worse yet, Japanese crap boxes with thundering stereos. Kirk leaned more toward the older engines: Flathead Fords, Hudson sixes, old Hemis, Rocket Olds engines and so fourth. Hell, he even had a literature collection that would make the archives at Peterson Publishing jealous!
Kirk always wore a fresh flattop haircut a T-shirt with jeans or a set of old coveralls. A nice kid really, anyway….
He was really working hard on his roadster, preparing the 296 inch Flathead for the spring meet. I didn’t see the boy much during this time. Most of his preparations he did himself and he rarely called except to give me a hard time about Dale Jarrett losing a race.
Things are hectic the night before racing season takes off and sometimes-peculiar things happen. Well, I had just finished watching NASCAR Tonight when the phone rang. Somehow, I knew it would be Kirk. Jarrett had taken third behind a smarmy Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin had won, so I did not expect to have Kirk give me to hard of a time. “Hello?” I said, and then Kirk was there, as if speaking from far away it seemed. “Pops? This is Kirk, Can…Can ya come by my place?” I spoke, “Sure son, what’s the—” But he cut me off in mid-sentence, “Just come by.” He then hung up on me.
My mind raced. He surely didn’t need mechanical help. Hell, even the guys who’d been around for awhile went to him for odd questions. So, nothing mechanical, so maybe it was his family? That had always been a mystery to me. His mother had died while giving birth and his father had fallen into the bottle shortly after. He bounced from Uncle to Aunt and then finally ended up in foster care till he was 18. Then he set out on his own, living off of a trust fund his grandparents had set aside for him when he was just born, thus, money wasn’t a worry for him. I felt bad for the kid, really. He did not associate that much with kids his age, so us older guys invited him to shows and such to give him a social life of some kind at least.
As I drove toward his house, I thought about how much of a whiz he was with an engine. A natural, really. A strong confident fellow and that is why the call bothered me. He did not sound sure of himself.
I pulled up his driveway, things looked normal. There sat his ’49 Olds 88, a ’34 Ford truck cab sat waiting the finishing touches on the chop he had started and a set of Deuce rails were leaned up against side of the garage. A light spilled out of the crack beneath the garage door and bled across the concrete.
He called for me to come into the garage. As I entered I saw his ’27 “T” Lakester on jack stands. He was sitting on the workbench against the far side of the garage, looking like the cat that had just caught the canary.
“Pops, how ya doing old man?” His voice was sprite and mischievous. I remember Stu Hilborn talking to me the same way on the day he unveiled his fuel injection set up way back when. Cautiously I prodded Kirk, “What, you discover a speed secret to top them all, Kirk boy?” His eyes narrowed and his grin broadened. “That’s only the surface, Pops.” He scooted off of the bench and motioned to me to follow him to the engine stand that sat at the front of his Lakester.
The mill itself was under a grease stained canvas tarp. Kirk smiled and whipped the tarp off of the engine. The engine was obviously the 59 L block I had given him awhile back, but the heads were something else. They looked like a set of Ardun’s, but had an exotic look like that of anything running at Le Mans today. Closer examination answered one question, but raised many more.
The heads were a dual overhead cam design and the induction system was similar to Hilborn’s idea, except this was a reverse firing engine and had electronics involved! A dual coil ignition setup was evident and there were two plugs per cylinder. Amazing and very impressive. Then I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. Pop riveted to the back of one of the immense valve covers was a brass SCTA timing plaque, which read as follows:
This certifies that Kirk “Allspeed” Alston went 207.156 MPH at El Mirage Dry Lake, April 17th, 1953.
I read the plaque again and again trying to figure it out. Then I stepped back and let my eyes take in the engine that was before me. It was a bastard really. A mixture of old and new. It was so scary to look at that I kept rubbing the green engine to assure me that it was real. I looked at Kirk and I could tell by his facial expression that the novelty of his phantom engine had worn off and he was looking for real answers. Answers that I knew I could not provide.
I spoke, “How can it be?” He cleared his throat. He had been staring at the engine but then tore his eyes from the thing and looked me straight in the eye, then spoke; “Since the beginning of last week, I have been having some pretty realistic dreams. I have been living another life in my sleep, building this engine with the likes of Duntov, Bill Kenz, Stuart Hilborn, Vic Senior and others.
We’ve tested and combined ideas from today’s technology and yesterdays. And, well, this is the final product. Dean Moon wanted me to run it in his ’32 Sedan, but I told him I wanted it for my “T”. So, last night they all gave me that plaque as a gift of sorts to put onto the engine and they told me Kenny Howard would have a surprise painted for me on the nose of the “T”. Sure enough, this morning I went out and across the front of the car was this.”
I walked up and saw with my own eyes, a pinstriped and lettered nosepiece by the master himself, Von Dutch. It read The Mirage Catcher. I looked at the bright red striping and lettering on the steel blue colored lakester. It looked sharp, really sharp! It was probably the cleanest machine I have seen since the Pierson brothers unveiled their ’34 coupe years ago.
He was trembling, and again looked at me for answers. So, I spoke. “Ya know, Kirk, there are a might bit of strange things that happen in this world, and a lot of others, like yourself, look for answers that cannot be found. I say this, if it feels right then why worry. There’s a plan for you and this here creation you have here. Godspeed, Kirk. And no worries.”
He smiled back at me. I nodded and made for the door. It was late and I didn’t want to get in his way as he lowered the engine into his roadster. He again thanked me and went to work. He worked best alone he had always told me. So I walked out to my pick up and headed home. As I drove home, I thought about that phantom engine again. Could it be true? Did all of my friends from long ago reach across time and help a lonely hot rodder in building something that was both new and old? A cool chill ran up my spine. Maybe so……
Next day at the lakes was dry and hot. The sky was a steel blue color with no clouds at all. I sat at my post and watched the cars all run. It was smooth sailing all day long with no incidents at all. As I watched I smiled to myself and thought how wonderful this all was. The teamwork, the camaraderie, the cars. Being here beneath a sunny sky and watching guys who have put their souls into a piece of tin, attempt a personal glory: nothing has changed.
Be it a Riley four port or a computerized Rat big block motor, the same drive to obtain higher speeds with a given design has always been there. I closed my eyes and listened as a “B” class roadster blazed passed. I then determined that when I would die, that here, right here in the high desert of California, I would have my ashes strewn.
This is all about hot rods you see. I love them. Always have, always will. At about 1:05 it was Kirk’s turn. My radio popped to life and a voice squawked “Hey Andy, this is your boy, ain’t it?” I smiled and hit the button. “Just close your eyes and let your senses tell you what is going on.” was my reply.
The Lakester began to wind up as he took it through the gears. The strange hybrid motor growled and sang. It seemed to hypnotize everyone present as it resonated throughout the valley. Kirk entered the traps kicking up a huge rooster tale of silt as he sent his car sailing.
Inside the timing booth a buzz was growing into a roar. The kid was going to set an incredible record! Across my two-way radio I listened as excited voices shot back and forth. He really was going to do it!
Then I saw it. A mirage began to spread across the desert floor. It was almost alive as it seemed to spread like a cloud’s shadow across the desert floor. Wavering and silver in appearance, it seemed to coil like a snake waiting for its prey. The whole valley was nothing but sound now. Radios, the distant murmur of the spectators and the roar of that amazing engine.
The mirage then leapt off of the desert floor and wavered in front of Kirk. A person could see into it, actually. It was clearer. The sky seemed bluer. The haze of today’s modern California sky, one has grown accustomed to was not there.
The mirage was fast too. I watched with horrendous fascination as It raced alongside of Kirk’s Lakester and open even wider. Without slowing Kirk entered the mirage. Full bore. Then Kirk, the car and its amazing engine disappeared.
As the rooster tail dissipated, the seriousness of the situation became clear. Where were the driver and the car?
Now the radio was alive. Everyone; barking and yelling trying to get the most information on what had happened. As a safety crew member I have seen it all. Bloody, bruised, ugh, even death. This was beyond any of that. For there was nothing. No traces of the car or Kirk. Most of the folks out there that day claim that Kirk left. He drove off of the course and just flat out left town. I knew the truth. You see, he had caught a mirage. Simple as that.
That evening, on a whim I looked through my old magazine collection. I grabbed a stack of 1953 Hop Up’s and out of the stack, one fell and hit the floor. I stooped to pick it up and froze as I stared at the cover.
There on the cover was Kirk with his Mirage Catcher. Across the top of the picture was the caption- Mysterious Kirk “Allspeed” Alston and his amazing Mirage Catcher” I stared at the magazine for a long time before putting it away. I did not want to read it.
Around me time was changing. I knew that I would not sleep that night. As I finish writing this, I can hear traffic growing with the rush of the oncoming sunrise and I wonder what things will be like today at El Mirage.
—Written by Mark Karol-Chik September, 1996
After my story on the movie American Graffiti, I toyed with the idea of writing a second story—one about the sequel to American Graffiti, More American Graffiti. That movie was good, of course, just not as good as the original. So, where were you in ‘63, ‘64, ‘65, and ‘66? I was in Southern Oregon, not yet old enough to drive.
More American Graffiti was filmed in 1979, the year my son was born. It was not as big of a hit as its predecessor and only grossed 15 million dollars. Other movies that year grossed 10 times that much.
The movie was broken up into several stories. The stories covered drag racing, the Vietnam war and the protests, San Francisco and the hippie movement, and a rock and roll band. Well, let’s get to the story you and I would be most interested in: John Milner, drag racer. Milner’s yellow ‘32 coupe was more of a stage prop throughout the whole movie. The Milner character is a local drag racer with a home built fuel rail dragster. The big New Year’s Eve race is coming up with the “Factory Team” showing up, looking for a new driver. John Milner (Paul LeMat) looks to beat the Factory Team and win the championship and possibly a new driving job. So, here we are at the dragstrip. This was actually a real dragstrip, the Fremont Raceway in Fremont, CA. Now, I can say that I’ve been there. Back in the same time frame of the movie, the mid ‘60s, my Uncle Tom took me to my first drag race. We watched the early flip top body funny cars. It was great. Speaking of the original Fremont Raceway, how about the original starter, Chet Carter, was the starter for Fremont for 30 years. Also, the announcer in the movie was Steve Evans. In real life, he was an announcer and reporter covering the NHRA drag racing for TNN, ABC and NBC.
Now, let’s get down to the cars. Milner’s rail in real life was the Don Long top fuel dragster. The “Factory Team” car was one belonging to Pierre Poncia, who raced until 1971, right there at Fremont. Other cars that were involved were a custom body Corvette, a 1957 Chevy 210, a Willie’s straight front axle dragster, and several period correct slingshot dragsters. There were vintage shots with drivers wearing open face helmets and fire suits with respirators on each side of the face covers.
Almost all the same actors were in this movie except Richard Dreyfuss. Harrison Ford traded his four wheel vehicle, a ‘55 Chevy, for two wheels. He was a motorcycle cop for a quick scene. Oh, yeah, Ron Howard had hair. Speaking of Harrison Ford, that will lead us into trivia and bloopers for both American Graffiti and More American Graffiti. Harrison Ford initially turned down the American Graffiti movie because he was offered $485 a week. This is less than he earned as a carpenter at the time and not enough to support his family. When the offer was upped to $500, he accepted, and the rest is history. More bloopers from American Graffiti: Richard Dreyfuss’ Citroen is a 1972. A red Mustang is parked across from Mel’s Drive-in (in ‘62?). A white Toyota Corolla was at an intersection. A 1973 Olds Cutlass is also seen at an intersection. Toad’s (Charles Martin Smith) crashes his Vespa at Mel’s Drive-in. This was an actual accident that happened and was kept in the film.
More American Graffiti had its share of trivia as well. In the setting during the Vietnam War a protester burned his draft card with a Bic lighter. Bic lighters weren’t made until 1973. An orange Plymouth race car had a Chrysler Direct Connections Logo on the license plate. That logo was not made until 1972. At the track, the radio sign was showing its call letters KYA-FM. Back then it was an AM station. Cars at the track: there was a 1970 yellow Chevy Camaro and a black 1970 Chevy pickup. Also, someone was wearing a tee shirt with a ‘70s Camaro on it.
One thing I thought was interesting was that some of the scenes not at the track were split screen or multiple screens of the same picture, just like the movie Grand Prix.
Overall, the movie was good. I enjoyed the vintage slingshot dragsters and the music from when I was growing up in those years.