Sema Show & Tell: My Five Favorites

The first car I ever owned was a ’61 Beetle.

I’ve owned three more in my lifetime as well as couple VW powered race cars. I’d never owned a VW bus but I always liked the way they looked…then I had to drive one for work. If I was going to describe any vehicle I’ve driven as a “death trap”, it would be that bus. For one thing, you sat with your face dangerously close to the windshield. For another, it was grossly underpowered for the amount of weight it was trying to push. There wasn’t a gear in the gearbox low enough for driving uphill. And it was noisy.

This bus however, is really fun. The builder took the design elements I always liked and exaggerated them. It’s like a cartoon drawing brought to life. If I had to drive it for work, I might not like it either. As a creative piece of automotive art though, it rocks. This (nearly) scratch-built bus was manufactured in Utah by Ron Berry Creations.

Supercharged-VW-Bus

Looking like an extra from the Speed Racer movie, this DeTomaso P70 Barchetta was actually built to compete in the Can-Am series. In 1965 Carroll Shelby ordered a half dozen of the Ford powered sports racers from Italian coachbuilder Alejandro DeTomaso. Unfortunately by the time the prototype was complete, changes to the engine rules had made it obsolete. Shelby canceled his order and DeTomaso was livid. He responded by creating the Mangusta (Mongoose) to sick on Shelby’s Cobras, a prophecy that went unfulfilled. DeTomaso’s Pantera introduced in’71 did however enjoy moderate success with over 7,000 units sold in its twenty year production run.

The Barchetta represent classic European mid-sixties styling and it is a wonder that it survived it’s tumultuous past. It was raced only once then used as a show vehicle briefly before being rolled into the corner of a warehouse in Modena where it languished for decades.

DeTomaso-Barchetta

I’m a sucker for any race car I was lucky enough to watch compete when I was a kid. Ronnie Kaplan’s 1969 AMC Javelin fit the bill at SEMA this year. The factory supported Javelin team had raised many an eyebrow in the Trans-Am’s maiden season. They hadn’t won any races but had placed second six times, briefly led Ford in the point standings and finished every lap of every race they participated in. For ’69 Kaplan ramped up his engine program and the AMC’s took on a musclebound appearance. Over the winter the Javelins had grown massive fender flares and a huge hump in the hood. Unfortunately with their tweaking, the team had sacrificed reliability and now they couldn’t finish races. (I think we witnessed this car’s best performance which was a seventh at Laguna Seca.) Still, I was a huge fan. The red, white and blue livery made it look like a frozen confection and it seemed particularly threatening as it barreled around the course. The fact that Indy car regular Jerry Grant was behind the wheel, wasn’t lost on me either. I certainly knew that name from the Memorial Day broadcasts.

What I didn’t know was that Roger Penske was probably already in negotiations with the folks at AMC. For 1970 the cars were painted red, white and Sunoco Blue and the incomparable Mark Donohue was lead driver. Under Penske’s management the Javelins became winners but they lost me as a fan. Seeing Kaplan’s/Grant car was like a three dimensional snap shot for me. I got misty.

Kaplin-1969-Javelin

I have to credit my new car buddy Jim Estes for my next selection which was the 1963 Corvette split window. Estes had just finished reading a feature about it in the current issue of Hot Rod and apparently commit most of the article to memory. The race car was significant for several reasons; numero uno was it had featured the first appearance of Chevrolet’s 427 big block. Next was the list of automotive icons that had been involved in the project: Zora Arkus-Duntov (the father of the Corvette) had given it his blessing. Mickey Thompson had prepped it for racing and Smokey Yunick had built the engine.

You’d think a car with those credentials would be unbeatable from the get go but that turned out not to be the case. Stock car ace Junior Johnson was the assigned driver for the Corvette’s Daytona debut and stuck it on the pole. He wasn’t comfortable in the car however, stating that it was probably capable of qualifying twenty miles per hour faster with the proper set up. Johnson climbed out after morning practice and was replaced by road racer Bill Krause in the 250 mile contest. Krause braved rainy conditions to bring the evil handling machine home third. After Daytona Chevrolet withdrew their support, Yunick took back his engine and Thompson sold the car into private hands. The new owner installed a 327 small block and raced it out on the west coast. Eventually it was parked, went into storage for a few years, even lived outside for a while. Finally, it received some much needed TLC in preparation for the Monterey Historics. Once there, it was swarmed by Corvette enthusiasts which led to the rediscovery of the race car’s colorful origins.

Now it has been restored to its former glory with the inclusion of the Yunick big block. It isn’t flashy… it’s all business. It’s a thoroughbred. And when you think about the people that came together to build it… Man!

Thompson-Yunick-Stingray-Corvette

Making my fifth and final choice was difficult but as I scrolled through my photos, something became glaringly apparent. I take a picture of every late 40’s/early 50’s C.O.E. I see… and I don’t mean just at SEMA. I’ve taken a photo of every C.O.E. I’ve seen everywhere, for years. I have a collection of about twenty of them. I like them all dolled up and I like them rusted out. I like the Fords as well as the GMC’s and Chevies. I just like ‘em all- I think someday I’d like to own one.
Of the four trucks I took pictures of at SEMA, this was my favorite. It was constructed by Dan Hogan of Hogie Shine—a paint and body shop in Phoenix, Arizona. And of course it didn’t hurt to have a bad ass, Bonneville inspired, 1930 Model A riding piggy back. The cab of the truck is ’53 Ford C750 but it’s mounted on a Dodge chassis. Beneath that bulging bonnet was the biggest surprise of all- a Cummins twelve valve! The same engine that powers my dually.  Never a shortage of grunt with that Cummins.

If that ol’ VW bus is at one end of the power spectrum, my ’98 Dodge 3500 is at the other.

Ford-C.O.E.

Once a Racer. . .

Bob-Bondurant-2015

Former Formula 1 racer Bob Bondurant is still quick.

I glimpsed his profile in passing and had to chase him back to his booth at SEMA. He was there to promote his school of high performance driving and though I respect his business savvy, I’m more interested in his previous career— that of a professional race car driver.

Is it common knowledge that Bondurant drove a Ferrari to ninth in the U.S. Grand Prix of 1965? (He was fourth the following year at Monaco in a BRM.) Do people know that he was hand-picked by Carroll Shelby to drive the original Ford Cobra? And that partnered with Dan Gurney, he finished first in class at Le Mans in ’64? These achievements were accomplished just prior to my introduction to road racing. Fortunately, I did witness Bondurant contest the 1970 Can Am series and that was what I chose to talk with him about.

Can Am historians will tell you that Team McLaren dominated the series from its inception through 1971, but they did face formidable competition. Bondurant choose the series to promote his fledgling driving school business and to showcase his driving ability. Under the banner of Smith-Oeser Racing, a two year old Lola T160 was prepared for the challenge. It was lightened and heavily modified with swoopy coachwork. Giving up little in the horsepower department, they installed a fuel injected 427ci Chevy for propulsion.

Bondurant took the controls one race into the season at St. Jovite (Canada). He struggled with engine problems in qualifying and fell out of the race with less than half the distance covered. Two weeks later when the tour made its first appearance stateside (Watkins Glen), Bondurant soldiered home fourteenth. This is a better performance than it seems as the field swelled with an influx of closed cockpit, enduro cars that compete in their own race the day before. Then it was back to Edmonton, Canada where the team put forth a solid qualifying effort. Bondurant started the contest from the eighth slot and ran well…until his engine expired with twenty laps to go. Mid-Ohio was nothing to write home about; twentieth in qualifying and an early retirement, this time due to electrical woes.

Finally in the sixth race of the season, Elkart Lake (Wisconsin) the team put it all together. Bondurant tied Team McLaren driver Peter Gethin with fifth fastest time and ran up front all afternoon. When the checkered flag fell, Bondurant was second, only one lap down to Gethin. On this Sunday he’d held nothing back and defeated among others, Peter Revson in the Lola factory entry. For the remainder of the 1970 campaign, Bondurant continued to qualify well (seventh fast at Road Atlanta, sixth at Laguna Seca and twelfth at Riverside) but his fragile Lola could not go the distance. It was easy to surmise that Bondurant was capable of running with the best and even capable of winning. If only he had the car…

For 1971 Bondurant teamed with privateer Lothar Motschenbacher and his chances for a positive result improved dramatically. Motschenbacher was a wealthy car dealer/professional racer who purchased Team McLaren’s cars at the conclusion of each season. Other than a fully tested factory effort, there were simply no better cars available. The new team underlined this point by qualifying fifth and sixth at the season opener in Mosport (Canada), and finishing the race in third and fourth place respectively. At the second outing at St. Jovite Bondurant was a tick slower than Motschenbacher, starting ninth but failed to finish the seventy five lap contest. At the third round they returned to winning form, again claiming side by side starting berths in the third row and again Motchenbacher finished on the podium. This time however, Bondurant lost oil pressure and retired at twenty laps. Spirits were sagging by the fourth round where the team could manage no better than seventh and thirteenth starting spots. It got worse in the race as Motschenbacher crashed out on lap seven. Bondurant actually finished the race in sixteenth position, a full nine laps off the winning pace. Before the fifth race of the season, the racing partnership had dissolved and only one Motschenbacher entry appeared on the grid at Mid-Ohio. It was very likely the McLaren Bondurant had driven in his last outing.

Bondurant did not return to the Can Am but continued to race professionally for another decade. When reminded of the Can Am days, a smile spreads across his face and a gleam appears in his eye. “Those cars were fun,” he asserts.
Once a racer, always a racer.

Bob-Bondurant-racer

 

Cool Briz

Mark-Brislawn-garage

Rarely did I receive Gregory’s undivided attention. He was four years my senior and in all honesty, a closer friend to my older siblings. From birth until I was ten or so, he lived right next door to us. Gregory was smart, creative and extremely motivated.  And he could build stuff. I mean; he could build anything it seemed to me when I was a kid, from robots to rocket ships. His parents forbad him from removing the engine from their lawnmower so he simply incorporated the whole mower in his design! He was building crazy bicycles by the time we moved away but customizing cars was in his future.

I think Mark Brislawn had to have been a kid like Gregory. He bought his first vehicle when he was fifteen—a 1930 Model A pick-up. Fifty years later, he’s still at it. Smart, creative and also extremely motived, I doubt that there is a project or build that Brislawn would shy away from. Everything is “do-able.”

The Vancouver, WA native was able to parlay his knowledge of all things mechanical into a career with a company called Precision Equipment. Brislawn spent twenty years as an estimator and sales manager for the outfit that specializes in hydraulic and mechanical repair.
But of course the founding of Briz Bumpers in 1985 is what most people identify with Brislawn. “I picked up a set of 1937 DeSoto bumpers at a swap meet in Chehalis (WA),” he relates. “Before I left, I had three guys trying to buy them from me!” So the demand was pre-existing. Next Brislawn took the beveled bumpers to one of his fab shop customers to find out how difficult they would be to duplicate. He was told: “No problem.”

Brislawn decided to have a few sets made up. “Initially, I just wanted to make my investment back,” he explains. But when hot rod guys saw them, they went nuts! Clearly he had a hot commodity on his hands. Brislawn chose a marketing expert as his business partner and they were off and running. They set up a table or booth at all of the relevant swap meets, cruise-ins and car shows throughout the Northwest. They utilized print advertising extensively to reach potential customers outside of their area (Remember that the internet would not be viable for another decade or so). Soon Briz Bumpers were being sold internationally. Over the years other products were introduced but the original DeSoto knock off remains the cornerstone of their business to this day. In 2002 Brislawn sold his share of the company to his partner. In 2015 Briz Bumpers is a one man operation, providing a second income for the ex-partner’s son. Meanwhile, Brislawn has moved on.

In his shop there are several projects at varied states of completion. Brislawn gets to choose what he works on next. “My grandson is really into this show called Forged in Fire,” he tells me. “The other day he turned to me and asked why don’t we make a knife?” Predictably Grandpa didn’t have to be asked twice. Within a few hours Brislawn had roughed out the blade and his grandson was grinding on the wooden handle. Regardless of the outcome, it’s the process that’s important. This is quality time together creating something from an idea. It is an experience that his grandson will probably always remember. Mark Brislawn is his “Gregory.” He’s a lucky kid.


RIP Radkes

radkes

I could always tell when Merlin was there. He would park his faded Astro Van directly in front of the entrance, half on the curb, half in the parking lot. I would say my hellos and get started. Merlin would totter over, grinning. He was always dressed the same, baggy shorts and a threadbare t-shirt. His glasses up on the top of his head. We talked about different products we sold, his visits to the doctor, his failing health. The last time I saw him he was lucid and in good spirits.
Pam would run me a stock order but I still took a physical inventory. That was how my predecessor did it and that was what they liked. Generally I was there for a of couple hours, every other Tuesday for the last year they were in business.

Used to be that when you wanted to hot rod your car, you paid a visit to the local speed shop. In the late seventies a national chain called Super Shops sprung from southern California. With 165 locations, they were able to buy Edelbrock by the boxcar, making it difficult for the independents to compete. Next came the mail order catalogs, another old concept but tailored specifically for the performance shopper. Soon guys were carrying their Summit, Jegs or Speedway catalogs with them, right into the speed shop! Everyone knew (about) what things should sell for and anyone could buy for less than retail. Finally, the internet drove the nails into the coffin. Now anyone with rudimentary computer skills had all the information at their fingertips. Everyone became “an expert” and the brick and mortar speed shops were doomed.

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Radkes had a humble beginning, starting out as a Gilmore gas station in 1933. Merlin’s father Julius was mechanically inclined and attended tech school to fine tune his skills. Soon a three bay garage was built in which to perform repairs and eventually a parts store was added to further facilitate the expansion. Merlin returned from the Korean War a twenty one year old high on hot rodding. He began to buy performance parts from the manufacturers in multiples, one for sale and two for stock. Initially this was kept a secret from his parents who regarded hot rodding with skepticism, fearing it was a passing fad. Merlin became entrenched in the local racing scene and advertised extensively all over the Pacific Northwest. Soon word got around that Radkes had “the goods” and customers came from as far away as Canada to buy them. The speed shop segment of the business grew to the point where they had to build a larger store right behind their existing one. By the mid-sixties, Radkes employed four men full time just to accommodate their performance customers. Another growing, family owned auto parts chain by the name of Baxter initially bought all of their performance accessories from Radkes.  An estimated 6,000 patrons attended their first parking lot sale.

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While the performance market was still ascending, Radkes opened additional stores but ultimately these satellite locations failed to get a foothold. The decision was made to pull back and refocus on the original St. John’s location and for many years, business thrived.

Radkes never stopped caring about performance parts or being able to sell them at a competitive price. What changed was the way in which their customers shopped for them.

If there is a Roddin’ and Racin’ Northwest Hall of Fame, Merlin Radke certainly deserves inclusion. Vaya con dios, old friend.

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Spanaway Speedway Reunion

spanaway-speedway

Former Stock Car racer Don Hall hosted this event in 2014 and outdid himself this year. It is a day set aside to remember the now defunct ¼ mile paved oval, once located near Tacoma, WA. Built by the Boness family in 1956, the facility was in continuous operation for almost fifty years. 1990 Daytona 500 champion Derrike Cope and Tom Sneva (an Indy winner in ‘83) had both been regular competitors there. In fact, NASCAR and USAC (now IndyCar) had sanctioned races at the venue for decades. Today a housing development is built on the former site and all that remains of the speedway are memories. Hall helps facilitate those memories with his impressive collection of memorabilia. There are also dozens of photos albums laid out and accessible to all. And then there’s the racers themselves who are always happy to share a story or two. Even Dick Boness, the man that built the facility and was there to the bitter end, attends this annual celebration.

A bonus to this scribe was the appearance of a surprisingly large turnout of midgets– vintage and contemporary. Lastly, Dave Craver and Darrel Hedman unveiled their new Jerry Day built retro-roadster. This Ranger aircraft engined monster is without question one coolest vehicles I have ever had the pleasure to inspect.


It was a great day with lunch and dessert provided pot-luck style. All indications are that Hall will host again next summer so make plans now to attend.

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Rose City Round Up

Rose-City-Round-Up

June’s Rose City Round Up held at Jubitz Truck Stop is the kind of event that you half expect to see John Milner at. You know, the guy that drove the yellow ’32 in American Graffiti? It’s easy to tell that most of the attendees live the hot rod lifestyle as opposed to “dressing up” for the occasion. This isn’t the poodle skirt set, it’s more the Bettie Page crowd—Great for people watching. But of course, the real stars of this gathering are the cars themselves. It’s an eclectic mix of showroom classics, rat rods, gassers, low riders and kustoms. Friday night’s special attractions were the flame throwers and a “Cacklefest” featuring about a half dozen of the gassers- cool beans. Saturday’s main event was the awards presentation in which all of the attending car clubs passed out handmade trophies to their favorite vehicles on display. Kurt West’s ’32 Ford was the big winner of the weekend, capturing multiple prizes but “J.P.’s” ’51 Chevy garnered Best in Show. Joyce Johnson (aka The Hot Rod Lady) recognized other women that share her passion, “The ones with grease under their fingernails and work on their own stuff.” Her son “Bub” who chaired this year’s meet was raised around hot rods and is now teaching his son about hot rod culture. “It is so much more than a car show,” explained Bub. “It is family.” On top of all else, it’s for a good cause. Each year the Round Up donates their proceeds to a local charity. This year they selected The Ronald McDonald house. So mark your calendar for next year’s event. And if you happen to run into John Milner there, tell him that Bob Falfa’s looking for him!

Girl Power

Group-1

Lyn St. James is a late bloomer in terms of being a professional race car driver. At the age of twenty seven she strapped into her converted street car (a Ford Pinto) for the first time at an obscure road course in south Florida. All was going well until the leader approached to lap her. “It was like someone had jumped out of a dark closet and yelled: Boo!” she recalls in her book. She jumped and lost control, spinning her racer off course and into a swamp. Fortunately she had the presence of mind to bail out… because almost immediately, the Pinto began to take on water. By the time her race had ended, the Pinto had completely disappeared from view.
A rather inauspicious debut. Who would have guessed that in eighteen years, this same woman would make her debut at Indianapolis? When the leaders approached on that day she held her line because by then, she was a seasoned professional. She soldiered on to an eleventh place finish and garnered Rookie of the Year honors. She is the only woman in history to do so.

Most people know Lyn St. James as the second woman to qualify for the Indy 500 but in her life she has accomplished so much more. All tolled she qualified and raced in seven Indy 500’s, finally hanging up her helmet at age fifty four. What most people don’t realize is that she was a winner in world class endurance racing. Teamed with other professionals, St. James won races at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road America. Additionally she holds thirty one national and international closed course speed records. What she is most proud of however, is the work she has done to promote other women in motorsports.

Today she is acting as Grand Marshall of the historic car races at Portland International Raceway. She still races on occasion and was supposed to have a ride in the Trans Am class, unfortunately that deal fell apart. This is better for us because now we have her undivided attention. I am here today with my daughter and our friend Ariel Biggs. Both of these twenty year olds are pursuing careers in motorsports; my daughter on the marketing/management side of things, Biggs as a driver and eventual team owner. They are giddy about the prospect of sitting down with a racing legend. Best of all, St. James seems equally enthusiastic about talking with them.

The girls discussed routes to success in what is still a male dominated industry. How to change the existing demographics? St. James suggested that it all begins with parents exposing their daughters to motorsports at a young age; just as readily as they would their sons.
They talked about finding and securing sponsorships. St. James reminded them that it’s not about you and why you need financial backing. It’s about what you’re going to do to promote a sponsor’s product or service.

They talked about the mechanical aspects of the sport. St. James admitted that she isn’t a mechanic but learned enough about race cars to be able to communicate with her crew. You need to speak the same language. The fact that Biggs does her own setups and likes working on the race car, puts her ahead of the curve.

They discussed the importance of staying fit and St. James even demonstrated part of her stretching regiment.
Finally, St. James reminded the girls not to become discouraged. They need to be diligent in pursuit of their goals. If they fall off the horse, they need to climb right back on. Even if their horse ends up in the bottom of a swamp, they can’t give up.

Flashing back to her debut, St. James and her husband had to wait until all of the races had concluded before they could retrieve their Pinto from the swamp. They hauled it home and stayed up all night cleaning and drying. St. James was especially motivated to get her Pinto back on the road. She needed to drive it to work on Monday.

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I Dreamed of Genie

I dreamed of owning the Genie, to be specific. No, I’m not talking about Barbara Eden. I’m talking about a small block powered sports racer, built in 1964 by San Franciscan Joe Huffaker.

There was a time in my life (the late 70’s) when I loved sporty cars so much, I’d drive to Sears Point just to watch club racing. It was during those outings that I became enamored with the nimble little racecar, then owned by a gutsy, talented driver named Terry Herman. Only a handful of unlimited, Can Am-style cars would typically show up for these meets so Herman would have to start scratch in a mixed field of big bore Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs and such. It was always entertaining watching him slice and dice his way to the front. And when someone did turn up with a swoopy, late model McLaren or Lola, Herman could usually whup on them too. He had that circuit dialed and rode that Genie like a spirited thoroughbred. What a cool little racecar.

I didn’t know it at the time but it turned out that I’d seen the Genie race before. When I attended my first race at Laguna Seca in 1966, the car was there. My program lists Huffaker as the entrant and the driver as “Unannounced.” I don’t remember it but I’ve seen a photo from that weekend showing Bob Bondurant at the wheel. This was kind of a big deal as Bondurant was racing Formula One at the time. Unfortunately, they are listed as a nonstarter that weekend so evidently there were issues of some kind or another. Bondurant went on to found one of the first competition driving schools two years later and for that, he is probably best known.

The Genie was then sold to accomplished privateer Merle Brennan of Reno who raced it in the Can Am series exclusively at Laguna through 1970. In gawd awful heat he finished 9th in ’67 (a full twelve laps behind the leader) and was paid $1,100   for the day’s work. In 1968’s driving rain he paddled to 11th, he stayed home in ’69 but returned in ’70 to place 13th earning $900. These may not sound like great numbers but you have to consider the competition. Brennan was competing against the best drivers in the world. Factory teams, corporate sponsors, guys with the best of everything. By 1970 he was driving one of the few small blocks on the grid.

Brennan sold the Genie to Herman when he procured a wrecked formula car he planned to rebuild as a sports racer. For some reason unknown, Herman painted the car pea green and went racing. I described his exploits earlier… finally he repainted the car red for what was likely his last ride. Tossing it around with typical abandon, he lost the right rear wheel. Fortunately damage was minimal but that was the last time I saw the car…

Fast forward about fifteen years. The Can Am thirty year reunion is coming up and I’ve got all my old photos out. Wouldn’t it be cool to dig up that old Genie and take it to the reunion? I’d be willing to sell my elderly sprint car and all my roundy-round stuff to raise the money. How much could they want for the old carcass? I’m thinking six grand, maybe? Possibly ten? I had no idea. Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Turns out Herman sold the car to a guy named Tom Hanes who continued to race the Genie into the 1980’s. Hanes was injured in the car while driving it on the street. Complications stemming from those injuries ultimately killed him and his widow sold the Genie to Mike Brown in 1985.

By 1995 vintage road racing is in full bloom. I contacted the Historic Can Am Association and inquired about the car. As luck would have it, not only were they familiar with it, but it was for sale! I called Mike Brown and confirmed that it is the Genie of my dreams. He of course, knows the car’s full history and by now has completely restored it to its original glory. This is bad news to me because I was hoping for a basket case- Maybe I could afford a basket case. The price has now gone up considerably. Nonetheless, I ask him to send me a package…

The photos of the car are stunning. By all indications, it is a first class restoration. Asking price? $70,000.
When I saw the price I literally laughed out loud and not because it was funny. I think it was more like shock. I mean, it’s a cool little racecar but… that’s about it. It has a modest racing history. People have heard of Bondurant perhaps but Brennan? Herman? It’s a rare Genie after all, not a rare Ferrari.

So that was that until about a month ago. Fast forward another twenty years. I open a copy of my new vintage racing magazine and there’s a classified ad for the Genie. It looks exactly as it did in 1966 and again in 1996. It couldn’t be in any better condition… New asking price? $175,000. This time I’m not laughing.

Legends & ’68 Camaros

Ya gotta admire the guys that set the trends rather than just following along. The fearless “free thinkers”. The guys that march to a different tune. The guys that really don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. Smokey Yunick and Duff Burgess were two guys like that. Yunick you may have heard of, Burgess is my best friend Drew’s older brother. Both became legends among their peers. Oh, and both built race cars out of ’68 Camaros.

Yunick survived fifty plus raids piloting a B-17 in World War II. After coming home he set up shop in Daytona Beach Florida where a fledgling racing club called NASCAR was just getting started. His first winner was a Hudson Hornet but it didn’t take long to draw the attention of the big wigs from Chevrolet. When the small block V-8 was introduced in 1955, Yunick was in charge of research and development. His race cars were always competitive. Over the years Yunick became better known for his ingenuity (and creative interpretation of the rulebook) than winning races. Some of the stories about his escapades became part of racing folklore. The most famous of which involves a rigorous inspection wherein the officials required Yunick to remove his racecar’s fuel cell. Certain that the car was somehow carrying more than the legal amount, the tank was confiscated pending further inspection. Outraged, Yunick reportedly jumped into his racer, fired it and drove off, leaving the officials gas tank in hand. Another tale involved a 1966 Chevelle that supposedly was constructed at 7/8 scale. It turns out that Yunick had moved the body back on the chassis to improve the center of gravity and for that reason, it failed to fit NASCAR’s template.

It is known that Yunick was provided with at least three ’67-’68 Camaros from the factory to rebuild as racecars, only one of those cars exists today. That car was stripped to the bare bones and rebuilt on a rotisserie so that Yunick could get at it from any angle. The body panels were all acid dipped to reduce weight. The windshield was laid back and composed of a thinner safety glass. All bolt-on components were either shaved down or rebuilt in lighter versions. Knowing that he couldn’t get away with altering the stock engine location, Yunick instead Z-cut and lowered the chassis around the motor giving the Camaro the lowest profile possible. As sleek and slippery as the finished racer looked, it was just as aerodynamic underneath.
Yunick set off for Bonneville but when he heard that the factory Cougar team was testing at Riverside (CA), he couldn’t resist taking a detour. With slicks mounted all around and Indy car driver Lloyd Ruby at the controls, the Camaro promptly shattered the track record. Yunick loaded back up and continued on to Utah leaving the Mercury boys in an uproar.

 At Bonneville the car broke several FIA records but Yunick refused to dumb it down enough to pass road race tech. The Camaro was sold to fellow racer Don Yenko who made the required changes and won races in the car including the Daytona GT race in 1969. The car remained a competitive SCCA club racer (still in Yenko’s stable) for another ten years until it was literally falling apart. A decade after that, historian David Tom found the Camaro and restored it to its former glory. Today the Edelbrock family owns and races the car in vintage events throughout the country.

Looking back, Duff Burgess wondered if he’d had A.D.D. as a kid (“hyperactivity” they called it in my day). I’d known him as long as I’d known Drew and we’d struck up a friendship in kindergarten. I don’t remember anything unusual about Duff’s behavior. In fact in my opinion, Duff was cool. He was upbeat and funny. He was always goin’ but it wasn’t “willy-nilly”, Duff always had a plan. If we were drawing, he might sit down and draw with us. Or he might plop down in front of the upright piano and hammer out a little boogie woogie. Usually though, he was building something. I was a night owl but there were nights when I could hear Duff in the next room toiling away into the wee hours.

 Drew and I were H.O. slot car nuts and one morning Duff emerged from his bedroom, his latest creation cupped in his hand. It was a Camaro stripped of all chrome and windows and painted a deep metallic purple. The most impressive feature was its rake- nose to the ground, tail way up. On the rear were mounted the largest sponge slicks I’d ever seen…Ever. Like, wrong scale to be honest but when you’re twelve years old, you don’t argue. Duff casually planted the well lubricated machine on the track and grabbed a pistol gripped controller. What Drew and I witnessed next was unprecedented. Whereas our best racers skittered around the track, chattering like little locomotives, Duff’s Camaro flat git! Effortlessly, almost silently, it glided. It was easily the fastest slot car we’d ever seen. Duff laid down a couple quick ones then put down the controller.

Drew and I were just coming to grips with the reality that we were never going to win a race again…when fate intervened. As he plucked the oily Camaro from the track, it slipped from his fingertips and did a full gainer into a poorly placed bowl of decal water.
Turns out, Drew and I had nothing to worry about because the Camaro never ran again. In all likelihood it was taken back to the bedroom and disassembled and Duff moved on to something else. Why wouldn’t he? He had nothing more to prove. Like Yunick at Riverside, he’d shown us who was fastest without even racing us. That’s how legends roll…

Salem Roadster Show

Dan & Karen Fitch's 1936 Pontiac, slant back sedan, '61 389 Tri-Power engine, "Slim Jim" auto trans, 51K original miles.

Dan & Karen Fitch’s 1936 Pontiac, slant back sedan, ’61 389 Tri-Power engine, “Slim Jim” auto trans, 51K original miles.

I’d been telling people I’d never been to the Salem Roadster Show. Then my wife overheard me and reminded me that we had. “Remember when we got to meet Paul Le Mat from American Graffiti?” she asked. “They had a replica of his yellow hot rod and the black Chevy that Harrison Ford drove.” She was right again, of course. Wives are great for remembering stuff like that. Man, how many years ago was that? Did Le Mat actually work more than one show?

Well, this year the cars were the stars but the venue was unchanged. What used to be called the Jackman Long building is now the Americraft Center. Like before it was jam packed with an eclectic mix of vehicles. Old and new (thanks to sponsors Weston Kia and Withnell Dodge), from trailer queens to race cars. At one end of the spectrum had to be Don and Teresa Lulay’s Vanderbeck built ’41 Willy’s- truly a show stopper. At the other end, track fresh racers. A NAPA Late Model rental car provided by the GASS series, a mind blowing, front engined Corvair gasser and a ’28 Ford track roadster…cool stuff.

Around the perimeter of the building were a couple dozen vendors representing everything from a local bank to a transmission shop. So if you had a question, there was likely someone on hand who could answer it.

Admission prices were reasonable for the quality of show presented (It is an invitational by the way) and it was refreshing not to be charged for parking! And how about this to get the younger enthusiasts to come out? FREE ADMISSION up to age 17! Good thinking.
Okay, it had been a while since I’d been to Salem. I can tell you it won’t be long before I return.

Photos by Cora Veltman