A Visit with Barry 'Burly' Burlile
Biography by Barry Burlile and Richard Parks
photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

richardparks roger

   Barry "Burly" Burlile was born in Los Angeles, California and raised in Norwalk, California.  He attended Excelsior Union High School and graduated in 1962.  My current journalistic focus for the past fifteen years has been researching and recording both the written and visual history of all Volkswagen based land speed racing vehicles, both past and present at venues around the world. I would ask, that any fellow LSR historians reading this who may have information, documentation or photographic files of VW based land speed racing vehicles they would be willing to share to

Richard & Roger

Burly  001a

Tom Medlock (left), Burly Burlile (right).

contact me at [email protected].  My background in the sport began in the mid-fifties, reading Bonneville Speed Trial stories by Tex Smith and Eric Rickman in the popular rod and custom publications of the day. I was the proverbial southern California car nut, working at a gas station, taking autoshop and automotive art classes in high school and even meeting my bride of forty-one years, Pat, cruising Bellflower Boulevard. The movie American Graffiti is my story, only the names have been changed to protect Pat and I.  In 1962, on a cruise around the west after graduating high school, my childhood buddy, Tom Medlock and I stopped by Bonneville to see the action.  Medlock is the co-founder of TCI Street Rod Components and Specialty Cars and a former Bonneville and El Mirage record holder.  

It was a typical Bonneville and as spectators in those days, there was no action and the following day we prepared to leave the salt and continue our cruise.  On our last pass through the pits we ran into two racers I was acquainted with from my gas station job at Five Points Self Serve in Norwalk.  Jim Seabridge and Jack Stewart, who belonged to the Wheelers and were long time dry lakes and salt flat participants.  The normal salt flats welcome was extended to Tom and I and we ended up staying the week with them on the salt and at the Patio Motel as newby pit crew members.  We were hooked! The following year, 1963, I was a regular member of the team and rode the 720 miles from Norwalk to the salt in the back of Jack's 1956 Ford pick-up along with fifty cases of beer, towing their C/Gas Hemi powered roadster.  The six drinking members of the crew consumed all the beer by Wednesday and another 22 cases were acquisitioned from the old Wendover Market!  Since then I have returned to the salt in 1964, '65, and again in '72 to watch Tom and his crew set records with their Captain America slant six powered 1962 Plymouth Valiant, probably the most unaerodynamic car to ever grace the salt, much less set numerous long standing records.  In 1978, I became a freelance photo-journalist and began documenting events at the salt for Hot VW's, Street Rodder and Street Rod Action magazines and have returned each year to date to at least one land speed event.

    In 1981, in an effort to encourage participation from Utah based rodders in these internationally recognized speed trials, I started the Bonneville Nationals Cruise-In to bring the locals out to spectate. Although the locals for the most part stayed home, the booming street rod community around the nation used the gathering of a Bonneville Nationals Cruise-In dash plaque as an excuse to finally come out and see these land speed racers they had always read about. For the next ten years, the Cruise-In, and the draw of the ever popular Cruise-In Panoramic photo shoot by Dave Taylor, helped increase in a small way the spectator count. In addition, expansion of the racing to two courses by the B.N.I. made the event more enjoyable for the cruisers and spectators and today, the course is lined from timing tower to pits to startline with land speed racing spectator enthusiasts. Many of todays racers are former Cruise-In participants who contacted severe cases of salt fever and returned to pursue their dreams of not just spectating, but racing across the Bonneville Salt Flats.

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 Pat Burlile (left), Ginnie Edmon (middle), Gary Edmon (right).

In 1991 I passed the Cruise-In responsibilities onto other rodders and came to the salt with my first race car, a 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle(although a street rodder at heart, my choice of vehicles has always been the humble Beetle). The goal was to build the fastest production bodied Volkswagen Bug in the world. Researching the speed information for our challenge is what began my quest for the history of Volkswagen racers in land speed racing. Although my partners Kerry Hart, Mike Manghelli and I missed the goal by only one mile per hour (our top speed was 131.296 miles per hour), the satisfaction of now

competing on the salt after so many years as a gofer, pit crew member, etc, was totally rewarding.  In 2005 I began a quest to bring antique Volkswagens to land speed racing in an effort to beat records set with the Volkswagens original 36 horsepower engines in 1960, 1961 and 1963 (by Dick Beith) and 1962 (by Mel Ellis), much as the Vintage classes in LSR do today for  old flatheads, sixes and Offies. With the encouragement and support of both the USFRA and ECTA and the low speed classes offered in "130 Club" type events, we are slowly building support for four specific 36hp classes. The class guidelines are formulated and refined by the National 36hp Land Speed Challenge and recognized by Volkswagen publications in the United States, Europe and Austrailia.

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