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SOCIETY OF LAND SPEED RACING HISTORIANS
NEWSLETTER 197 - March 24, 2011
Editor: Richard Parks [email protected]
President's Corner: By Jim Miller (1-818-846-5139)
Photographic Editor of the Society: Roger Rohrdanz, [email protected]
Northern California Reporter: Spencer Simon

Click On All Images / Link For more Info / Images

Some Names To Look For In This Newsletter:
 President's Corner, Editorials, Your editorial 03-18-2011 says Mojave Timing Association (MTA) was pre-war MTA was started in 1946, On 09-28-08 in your www.hotrodhotline.com article on Karl & Veda Orr you mentioned CT NEWS (California Timing News) - Do you know anyone that has copies of this publication?, The Main Street Malt Shop and Santa Ana Airport Drag Strip Reunion is set for Saturday May 7 2011 in Santiago Park, Chenowth / Shoemaker Dragster, The Lou Bingham’s land speed record car, HARRISBURG, N.C. -- All good things come to an end and so is the case for America's Motorsports Authority National Speed Sport News, Art Evans has a new book out on Carroll Shelby called The Shelby American Story, The Choppers Hot Rod Association of Cleveland Ohio was started by a group of teenage hot rodders back in 1956, The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011, Editor’s Notes: Here is a continuation of the interviews conducted by Sam Hawley for his book, Speed Duel.

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President's Corner:  
   A few weeks back at the Wally Parks NHRA Museum there was a little get together of a few old timers who were members of the Low Flyers club. One of them was Stu Hilborn. Before WWII Stu was a working chemist and was talking about fuels for race cars. He brought up the fact that most everything used back then was oil based and was automatically put on the ration list for the war effort so you just couldn't go down to the corner and get mixers to hop up fuels with. That also applied to solvents. He said one day a gentleman came to his office and showed him a new product called nitromethane that was used in the dry cleaning process. It wasn't on the “can't use solvents” list so he took a look at this new fluid. Long story short, a new fuel was found for racecars.  Along those same lines pre-war were the stories about the model aircraft, boat and cars guys using doped fuels for their toys. The story goes that some of the real midget racers went over to a little hobby shop on Pico Boulevard to get the skinny on this "secret" stuff. Pretty soon some of this toy fuel started showing up in their cars. To hide the strange odor of the new "go juice" they adding rose petals at first and then later castor oil to sweeten the smell. Naturally some of the stories don't jive so a little digging was in order to figure it all out.
   Floyd Clymer was publishing books in this country originally done in England. Among these were Power and Speed, Speed And How To Obtain It and Motor Racing with Mercedes Benz. I remember somewhere in one of his books there was a formula that the German Grand Prix Teams were using that gave percentages of the different liquids used to make their super fuel. Our old pal Bob Rufi used the exact same formula down to a pinch of acetone that the Germans used in his little Chevy 4-banger when he set the S.C.T.A. speed record back in 1940. That covered the real cars but what about the model fuels. With that I dug out a copy of Model Gasoline Engines published back in 1941 to have a look. The model guys called the fuel mixes "Soup" back then and said the brave ones were mixing up to 40% alcohol with methal. On the gas end of things they were adding Butane, Ether or Benzole. Paraffins, Napthenes, Aromatics and Alcohols are the stuff they played with in the good old days so it looks like the nitro came later. One of the early mixers at the lakes was a guy called Richard Tregelis. His playing around with the go juice resulted in one of his concoctions putting a man on the moon.  Since we’re on the toy cars I guess we should also put them in the land speed world even though they are small. About 40 years ago I picked up some magazines from the '40's called The Model Craftsman so it was time to dig them out and get a firsthand look at the little critters. Our first image (Click for Image JMC_2011) shows the cover of the August '40 issue featuring George Busch launching his car. The picture was taken at the New York World’s Fair so these puppies must have been popular all over the country. From the Model Gas Engine book is a drawing of a mini-car made mostly out of wood (Click for Image JMC_2011) and from the magazine again is an 1/8 scale version of another car (Click for Images JMC_2010). Maybe these will get you thinking about building one based on your idea of what a LSR car should look like.
   Up in Santa Barbara, CA in '40 Bill Stribling set the World's Speed record within his toy in a half mile event at 71.571 mph. If you multiplied times eight to get an actual size car, Bill's ride would have cruised through the four mile at Bonneville at 572 mph. Not too shabby.  If you think these guys were just for kids chew on this for a moment. One Mr. Alexander who made heads for Model A/B's manufactured the little cars in his Inglewood, California shop. Lou Senter worked there as a teenager. Another heavyweight player was Roy Richter, later owner of Bell Auto Parts whose cars won the first four places in the '40 National Rail Track Championships. Another player in the car world back then was a little rubber company that made wheels and tires for the racers named Voit. They went on to make millions of basketballs among other things. And yes we can't leave out Hollywood. Actor Reginald Denny was right in the middle of the action as seen in (Click for Image JMC_2012). Since our high desert racetrack is still covered with water maybe everyone should run out and get a model crackerbox, hydro or ski boat, put some "Soup" in it. Then we could have races at Lake El Mirage.

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Editorial:   
   A reader asked recently if I knew anything about the advertisements that always show up on my emails to people. These are spam ads that my server, Juno, puts on the bottom of my emails without my permission. They probably have some contractual clause when a person signs up with their service that gives them this right to spam people. If I send out too many emails Juno, AOL, CS.com and many other servers will consider that spam and refuse to let my email messages through. I even pay Juno for the right to send out their ads. There is no justice on the internet it seems. I don't know anything about the spam junk that my server places on the bottom of my emails.  It shows up regularly, advertising things that I am not in agreement with and giving people the idea that I support these businesses.  Most people have the same problem and we tend to just ignore what is there knowing that the sender had nothing to do with the advertisement.  A few people though become offended thinking that I added it to my email and then they ask to be removed from my address book.  I'm waiting to see when Juno puts a Viagra, condom ad or something worse on my emails someday. 
   I want to reassure the readers of the SLSRH that we do not accept ads in our emails or in the newsletter. We will, however, take a “news item” from our members that tell us about their product or the history of it. At this point such notices are newsy and we do not receive revenue from them. Case in point is when Ugo Fadini sends us an email with photographs showing his latest model race car. He includes history along with an address to send for more information. If you like what he has to sell that is an option between the two of you. Are we happy to do this and to see artists make a living off of their work? Yes, we are. Do we stand to make any money doing this courtesy? No, we have no interest in having a commercial site, at least not at the present time. There is no shame in taking ad revenue for work that we do and we do put in long hours. It’s just that at the present time we are not profiting from our work and research and have not approached the website owner. We also take PR releases and run them in the newsletter, but often they are edited down. Press releases are often very redundant and full of extraneous wording and inane graphics that take time to remove. So keep sending in your “announcements,” but make sure that they don’t read like ads.

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Your editorial 03-18-2011 says Mojave Timing Association (MTA) was pre-war. MTA was started in 1946.  Jim “GRUMPY” Donoho (Bungholer)
     Jim: Thank you for the correction.  I may have confused Mojave with Muroc as I use the initials MTA for both of them.  Please send us your biography and I will help you edit it.  We need all the first hand reports and stories that we can get.

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On 09-28-08, in your www.hotrodhotline.com article on Karl & Veda Orr you mentioned CT NEWS (California Timing News). Do you know anyone that has copies of this publication? I saw one up for auction on a site called WORTHPOINT. In the description of this 1946 November issue of CT NEWS, Volume 1, Number 7, it says there is an ad for Jerauld's Mufflers in San Diego. The auction was over and there were no photos, but the description is still there. I'm doing research on Al Jerauld and George Barber and their early speed shop in National City, California (San Diego area) and the belly tank car, salt car and other cars they ran at Bonneville, Muroc and El Mirage back in the day. Do you know anyone that might have copies of this publication? It would be cool to own one, but I would be more than happy just to see the JERAULD'S MUFFLER ad. Attached are a few photos of Al and George and some of the cars they ran on the lakes and salt. Also there is a photo of a Y manifold Al Jerauld made and sold in the late 1940's; there were approximately 50 of these manifold’s made. I'm lucky enough to own the one in the photo. Charles Chenowth
619-994-8187,
[email protected]
   Charles: I always ask permission first before putting contact information into the newsletter. You might try contacting Jim Miller to see if he has a copy that he is willing to make a copy of. These copies do exist and from time to time they come up on eBay or other sites. Jim's phone number is listed on the newsletter letterhead. I made some copies of originals in the Jack Underwood collection, but the earliest
CT News that I have is 1948. You may have already contacted some of the websites, but if you haven't then you should send as much info as you have to them and to me. I will publish what you send me and the more that is posted the more it jogs the memories of our readers. You didn't say whether the research that you are doing is exclusive or open to the public. We don't want to get in the way of anyone else and the only reason that I mention this is that the more you send in the better the chances are that some fact will draw a response. I will publish the photos and your request and see if any of our members can help you. We have had excellent results provided by The Rodder's Journal and I would suggest that you also google their address and contact them. Their researchers are some of the best and they keep excellent archives. But in the event that no one does contact you I would suggest that you start a phone tree going. Start with Miller and then ask him for five more people that you could call. I've found this very successful since there are two outcomes; one, you'll eventually uncover some leads and two, the hot rodding community will know that someone is looking and casting the net as far as you can always seems to work. I published statements on the Orr’s that I believed to be true that have since proven to be wrong, so a major story and revision will be coming out in the near future on them. They were central figures in early dry lakes and oval track racing.

Barber-Roadster

1952 Motorama

1954 1

Mainfold 1

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The belly tank and Jerauld’s speeds shop are my buddy Jacob Bagnell thing and I help him every chance I get. My addiction is CHENOWTH RACE CARS, not the dune buggies. I doing research on the cars that came out of San Diego Steel Products (SDSP); SDSP Chenowth Indy Roadster, Lou Bingham’s LSR Roadster, Jesse Vandeventer's B/MR, and Chuck Chenowth's Model T Drag car raced at Paradise Mesa. That is my father, Terry Chenowth, in the model T drag car. (Click for Image) I have most of the info and I know where the first 3 cars are at today. It is the Model T Drag car I have little to no info on and I do not know where it is today. Right now that car is my HOLY GRAIL. Charles Chenowth
   Charles: I publish all emails that I receive, so if any correspondence is personal please notify me of that. I would suggest that you send me periodic updates so that I can get your message out to the approximately 700 members who take the Society of Land Speed Racing Historians Newsletter. In many cases there will be no response directly from our members, but they do pass the newsletter around and sometimes they evoke a response from people who know the answers to the questions that you are raising. We have a large number of people in the SLSRH who will look to their friends to see if they can find the answers you need. You can also call them. We are an eclectic group and we want to learn more about the history and heritage of our sport. I encourage you to write often and to tell us all that you know. We impose no limit on research and stories and the more you provide the greater the chance that you will jog someone's memory. 

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The Main Street Malt Shop and Santa Ana Airport Drag Strip Reunion is set for Saturday, May 7, 2011 in Santiago Park.  The event will start at 10 AM and end around 3 PM.  The park is located on the border of Santa Ana and the City of Orange.  Directions: From Main Street, go east on East Memory Lane for two street lights, or about 1000 feet.  At the second light, turn to your right and go down into the paved parking lot at the bottom of the creek.  The reunion is next to the parking lot in plain sight.  The reunion and parking are free.  This reunion celebrates the early drag racers and hot rodders who raced at the Santa Ana Airport drag strip in the 1950's.  Photographs and scrapbooks will be available to look at.  From Leslie Long

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CHENOWTH/SHOEMAKER DRAGSTER; (CLICK FOR IMAGE) Built for Jack McLenachen in 1958/1959 in my dad’s little one car garage in Imperial Beach California. It was built by Terry Chenowth and Ronny Shoemaker raced it at Paradise Mesa drag strip prior to when Jesse Van Deventer got the car in 1960. Jesse took the little blower off and put 6 Stromberg’s on it and started kicking rear-ends in NHRA B/MR class during the fuel ban. Around 1961 or ‘62 Jesse put fuel injection on the motor and it kept winning.   Jesse won 3 NHRA B/MR Championships in 1960, 1961 and 1962. Jesse won NHRA best engineered car in 1961. That trophy should have had my dad’s name on it.  This car is sitting in a field on the east coast right now; the folks that own it will not sell it because they have dreams of restoring the car.  Jesse Van Deventer made a lot of claims back in the day that he built this car. I have photographs of this car being built in my dad’s garage; the car had a straight 6 GMC in it that was quickly replaced with the blown SB Chevy. If you can find photos of this car that show the cockpit, look at the gas pedal. That is the shape of my father’s shoe with C S drilled into it.  That stood for Chenowth Shoemaker.  They always joked that it meant CHICKEN SHIT RACING. The number 502 was picked because that was California penal code number for driving under the influence of alcohol. Ronny Shoemaker lives in the Denver, Colorado area and Jack McLenachen lives in Imperial Beach, California. My father, Terry Chenowth passed away a few years ago.     Charles Chenowth

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The Lou Bingham’s land speed record car. (CLICK FOR IMAGE) Chassis was built by San Diego Steel Products in the late 1960's and it ran an injected Olds V8 back then. This car is still being raced today; it is called the SPIRIT OF SAN DIEGO. Lou Bingham lives close to me here in San Diego. Lou helped build the SDSP Chenowth Indy roadster. One thing I must say and I haven't mentioned him much; My Uncle Chuck Chenowth was the owner of San Diego Steel Products. If it wasn't for Chuck, some of these cars would have never been built. Most of the frames were done by my father Terry Chenowth and my uncle Roger Sanders. They were helped by many talented craftsmen back in the day and I don't know their names. Eddy Kuzma built the body for the Indy car. Raymond Alcaraz and my uncle Earl Chenowth helped also. Well if you need more info, let me know. Charles Chenowth, [email protected] or [email protected]
   Charles: As per your email I am including your email addresses and hope that you find out more information. I knew Alcaraz; he put on those Racers of Balboa Stadium Reunions and I used to drive down there with Rodger Ward, Danny Oakes and Ralph Foster. They’re all gone now and so is the reunion, but the memories still linger on.

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HARRISBURG, N.C. -- All good things come to an end.  And so is the case for America's Motorsports Authority, National Speed Sport News. After more than 76 years, the publication, which was first published as National Auto Racing News on Aug. 16, 1934, has printed its last issue, dated - March 23, 2011.  While hundreds of other newspapers came and went during the past three-quarters of a century, NSSN continued to ride the support of its readers and advertisers in producing the most thorough weekly racing publication on the market. But economic times have been tight and the newspaper business has suffered at the hands of high production costs and modern technology, which provides information to readers instantly.  "This is one of the saddest days of my life," said National Speed Sport News Publisher Corinne Economaki. "The sluggish economy has made it too difficult to continue publication and no matter how I try to make the numbers work - and believe me I have tried - it is just not feasible to keep the business going.   "For 76 years, since August 1934 when my father Chris sold copies of the first issue at Ho-Ho-Kus Speedway in northern New Jersey, to today, as I oversee the very last copy printed, this paper has been an integral part of my family," Corinne Economaki said.  Through the years National Speed Sport News was the industry leader in covering motorsports, much of it thanks to Chris Economaki, 90, who sold the first issue of NSSN at Ho-Ho-Kus Speedway in New  Jersey, and began writing for the publication soon after that and became editor in 1950.  Economaki saw the publication through its glory days, launching a career on television and taking his newspaper into thousands of homes across America. At a time when there was no Internet and very little racing was on television or radio; National Speed Sport News thrived.   When National Speed Sport News began its run, there were no seat belts, drivers wore leather helmets and the flathead Ford V8 was one of the most common racing engines. Today, safety is the utmost concern and HANS and other safety devices are all the rage.  Fuel-injected engines are everywhere.  Not only has technology changed what fans see at the race track, it changed how NSSN gathered the news. In the early years most news arrived at the NSSN office by mail or telephone. Later the telecopier and the fax machine played key roles. Both were replaced by the computer modem and later by e-mail.  NSSN was printed by linotype, but later changed to phototypesetting and finally went completely digital in 2002.  But after enduring all these changes, a familiar friend will no longer appear at the mailboxes of its loyal readers.  NationalSpeedSportNews.com, the online version of the newspaper, will continue to be updated with daily news, giving Internet savvy readers the opportunity to keep up with some of the same news they enjoyed every week.  But as far as the newspaper goes, it's the end of an era.  Received from Bob Falcon and Pattie Frost

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Art Evans has a new book out on Carroll Shelby called The Shelby American Story. It is 8 by 11 inches, with 126 pages in a limited edition. The hard bound book is $39.95. Evans is an excellent writer and photographer and I have reviewed his books in the past.

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    The Choppers Hot Rod Association of Cleveland, Ohio was started by a group of teenage hot rodders back in 1956. The club has met weekly ever since. Known previously as the Road Phantoms, the name was changed to "Choppers." This was less offensive to the masses in a time when hot rodders were perceived to be a public nuisance. Many city leaders wanted to pass legislation that prevented hot rodding. To help improve this negative image, the original members created a club constitution. This constitution dictated that they conduct themselves in a manner above and beyond that of a typical law abiding citizen. With sponsorship from the Cleveland Police Department, they hosted and started the first Cleveland Autorama. Countless stranded motorists were helped by these young hot rodders and were given a "courtesy card" stating that they had just been assisted by a member of the Choppers Hot Rod Association. In time, these actions that were being carried out by car clubs all over the country would help preserve the "hot rod lifestyle" and make hot rodding what it is today. By the late 50's, the Choppers had a number of top notch rods and customs, but drag racing was quickly becoming the direction of the club. Because they had their own club house, equipped with stalls and a machine shop for working on their cars, a few of the members built dragsters.  Many of the members raced regularly at drag strips across the country. Some still do today. Members have won countless trophies and awards over the years, not only for racing, but for shows and workmanship as well. Choppers' cars have continuously filled the pages of hot rod related magazines over the decades. The club still hosts an indoor car show each spring, bringing in the finest rods and customs found. Some members of the club have been in since the 50's and 60's making it a very diverse group with ages ranging from 30 to 70+. The cars also have quite a range - from the Model A to the most modern 6 second dragster. The Choppers Hot Rod Association emerged during an historical era and continues to contribute to the preservation and lifestyle of a time gone by as well as firmly establish themselves in the future of hot rodding.  From the Choppers website, sent in by Michael Kacsala.

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   The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2011. At each track, the NHRA plays host to a drag racing legend who serves as grand marshal and participates in autograph sessions. The Strip at LVMS has hit the jackpot with its 60th-anniversary ambassador: legendary car owner-builder Roland Leong of “Hawaiian” Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Car fame. Perhaps Hot Rod Magazine’s Cole Coonce described him best. “A shy drag racer from Oahu who came to California, raced ruthlessly, refused to suffer fools gladly, and dominated the competition until the operating capital disappeared unexpectedly. Even then, he found a couple of ways to jump back in the fray.” Roland’s glory days began in the mid-‘60s when most race cars had names like Ramchargers, Rambunctious, Chi-Town Hustler and Brutus. Fans flocked by the thousands to their local drag strips to see the big names like Jungle Jim (Lieberman), Snake (Don Prudhomme) and Big Daddy (Don Garlits). With less than a handful of NHRA national events to compete in, Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster drivers earned extra cash by barnstorming in pairs or quartets, match-racing at tracks from Maine to California. It was big news when The Hawaiian came to your town.
   It all began in the mid-‘60s when Leong decided to build his own dragster and race it. His maiden voyage down the quarter-mile in the front-engine 200-mph machine did not go as planned. The car left the track, crossed some railroad tracks and wound up in the weeds. Dazed but unhurt, Leong decided to take on the role of car builder and owner and tapped Don “The Snake” Prudhomme for the driving chores. Prudhomme, driving Leong’s Keith Black-powered Hawaiian dragster, dominated the 1965 NHRA Winternationals (Pomona, California)  and U.S. Nationals (Indianapolis). Leong did it again in 1966, winning the Winternationals and U.S Nationals, this time with ace Mike Snively behind the wheel. Now, instead of having to call the drag strip operators for match-race bookings, track managers began calling him to secure the Hawaiian. Roland and his drivers supported themselves match-racing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and weekends from Carlsbad to Canada. Over the years, his roster of drivers included Gordie Bonin, Larry Reyes, Butch Maas, Pat Foster and Ron Colson. Bonin was the only driver to race for Leong twice, in 1973 and 1993.
   Revell and MPC released several scale model kits of The Hawaiian and the infamous Charger graced the pages of just about every drag racing and hot rod magazine. He was the first to take a Funny Car to a wind tunnel to improve the body’s aerodynamics. In 1990, the Hawaiian set national records five times and was the first to break the 290-mph barrier. And then everything ground to a halt. A three-year sponsorship deal went up in smoke and there was no money for racing in a now-expensive sport. The famed Hawaiian was sold and the shop doors were locked. Roles reversed as Leong went to work for his former driver, Don Prudhomme, as team manager in 1998. The pair dominated the circuit and nearly won the national championship. Leong restored one the original Hawaiian Funny Cars – the Charger that Reyes drove to victory at the Winternationals in 1970 – and it will be on display at LVMS April 1-3. Reyes also plans to come to the event. Roland will sign autographs at the track each day, will serve as grand marshal on race day and also will lead the Speedway Children’s Charities track walk. His cars – the restored Hawaiian Charger and a replica of the Top Fuel Dragster – will participate in the pre-race parade.  From John Bisci

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Editor’s Notes: Here is a continuation of the interviews conducted by Sam Hawley for his book, Speed Duel. I am only printing half of the interviews so that you will have to go to Sam’s website www.samuelhawley.com to read the rest of it. I am doing it this way because Hawley’s website is worth visiting. For you history buffs who love more than cars you should see what Sam has written on. He has a very sharp and incisive mind and he is one of the best interviewers that I have read.
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FLYING CADUCEUS: ALAN BRADSHAW INTERVIEW

Alan Bradshaw was the only full-time paid employee on Nathan Ostich's "Flying Caduceus" project. I interviewed him over the phone at his home in Hackensack, Minnesota on May 9, 2009.

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The start of all this [Nathan Ostich’s "Flying Caduceus" project] was the hub of friends surrounding Ak Miller’s garage in Whittier, California. I met Doc when I worked for Ak Miller. Ak was the old hot rodder from many, many years ago, one of the founding fathers of the Southern California Timing Association and that whole group of Bonneville and dry lake racers. Ak had a garage on Whittier Boulevard in West Whittier, in the outskirts there. And there was always a large group of hangers-on that circulated in and out. They had no security. People went in and out, they’d watch you work. They were just a jolly bunch of guys that hung around there. I went to work for Ak in 1957. Doc at the time was a good friend of Ak and all the players there. And Doc had a Chrysler 300C. And I being a Chrysler-background guy did practically all of Doc’s work on his 300. So that’s how Doc and I got (to know) each other. I was only 23 years old, so I was the junior bird man of the group. We had a lot of comers and goers, but they were all very serious hot rodders too. Doc was a very independent hot rodder. He was one of these guys who was dedicated to his sport, and he considered it a sport. He wasn’t particularly wealthy. He wasn’t particularly ostentatious in his manner. He was just one of the guys. He was very independent. Some might have said he was pretty hard-headed.

One of his first projects was kind of crazy, because, like around 1956, he decided to go for a speed run at Bonneville in an old Henry J. Kaiser, about as weird a little car as you could get. They were sold by the Sears Roebuck catalog, of all things. So they put a Chrysler 300 engine in it. Ak Miller was one of the guys who was always trying to push the envelope with something weird. So I don’t know if it was Ak’s idea or Doc idea, but they decided to put this big Chrysler blown engine in this Henry J. and go for a record at Bonneville—I don’t even know what record it was—and they decided to run the blower on top of the engine with a Harley Davidson motorcycle engine. So this put this crazy thing together and they went to Bonneville, and they weren’t very successful. At any rate there was a big uproar at Bonneville. They didn’t have a category, because they decided there were two engines because of the Harley. So they disclaimed any responsibility or sponsorship. We used to call it the Green Thing. It was filled with Bondo to smooth it out aerodynamically and it must have weighed about a ton and a half, I suppose. It wasn’t really successful, but Doc kind of cut his teeth on that.

After that he came back, and he started talking about going for the land speed record. Now here’s a physician in East Los Angeles who is not overly mechanically capable and he’s talking about setting the world land speed record with, of all things, a jet car. (laughs) He started jabbering about that, and the naysayers came out of the woodwork from all directions. Because he hadn’t been overly successful with his Henry J., and everybody thought he was really out in left field. First thing they said was, “Doc’s nuts.” The second thing was it would be uncontrollable, the goofy car would go in circles, again Doc was nuts, he’ll never get it built, it’s an impossible task. And then, to top it off, the FIA, the French timing association, they would never recognize a record by a jet car because it was different. They didn’t have a class for it. And therefore they wouldn’t time it either. I think all those things cemented Doc’s desire to do it. I think it inspired him. Again, maybe he was stubborn. On the other hand, he had a vision and he was going to pursue it.

Was that what you all called Nathan Ostich, “Doc”?

Yeah. We called him Doc. [Laughs] And Ray Brock and Joanne Brock used to call him Dr. Quack. And that was common. “Hey Quack, what’re you doing?”

They’d call him that right to his face?

Oh sure. It all started when Joanne Brock was pregnant with one of the girls, and she told her sister-in-law that she had this Dr. Ostich. And her sister-in-law was concerned about these racers who had MDs after their name. She said, “Joanne, I’ve looked him up in the directory, the physicians directory, and there is no Dr. Ostrich in the book.” So that’s how it got started. We used to call him Doc, and Ray and Joanne called him Quack, or Quackenbush.

 

You mentioned that Ostich didn’t know a whole lot about cars. So he wasn’t really on a par with Art Arfons, Craig Breedlove, in terms of being a mechanical genius, building and designing these things.

No. That’s correct. He was intelligent. He was smart. He was dedicated. He worked on the car. But he was not in any way, shape or form a true craftsman or mechanically inclined.

Was Doc talking about using a jet right from the start, when he began talking of going after the LSR?

As far as I know, yes.

Any idea where this notion came from, to use a jet?

No I don’t. Except that he had a friend, I can’t remember his name, Jack something or other, was in the air surplus business. I don’t know what the connection between he and Jack was, but Jack bought the engines for Doc.

You were going to tell me about some of the problems about Bonneville.

Bonneville was really unique from the standpoint that the challenges are many. For instance, in those days, just accommodations in Wendover, you had a choice of one motel, the Stateline Hotel, and then there was a motel, I can’t remember what the name of it was. So as a result just getting there and getting a crew organized and being there alone was a challenge. When you got there, communications on the Salt were nearly impossible. There were no good radio telephones. The only telephones we had were land lines that we strung miles, ten miles of braided wire across the top of the salt. Of course when the salt water comes up in the hot of the day would submerge some of these wires and of course that’s conductive, so you can imagine the telephone system we had, almost non-existent. We had somebody stationed about every mile down the salt, on a bunch of army surplus field telephones that seldom worked. Now, the weather is formidable. It’s hot. It’s windy. Every night the wind blows, and the salt water comes up in the heat of the day, so the ability to run is almost always early in the morning. So you get up at three in the morning, you chow down and you get everybody ready. You fuel up all your cars because it was easy to run out of gas out there, running up and down the salt. And you get out there about daybreak, and you get all set up to run, and of course sometimes you ran and sometimes you’d be disappointed. The wind would come up, the weather would be bad, the quality of the salt, I’m sure you read there were years we couldn’t run at all because of the roughness of the salt.

Continuing on a little bit about the group of friends that put this thing together for Doc. They were a jolly bunch. Everybody who hung around Ak Miller’s, everybody thoroughly believed in having a good time. They were dedicated racers and had done some pretty outstanding things on a pretty limited budget. They were the poor man’s hot rodders. But on the other hand they were always having a good time.

As far as the car was concerned, the main leader, without a doubt, was Ray Brock. Ray was a smart guy, a great person, and he also was probably one of the closest, if not the closest, friend that Doc had. He was kind of the leader of the band. Worked right in there on the car every day, every night, with me. Ak was very active, but sporadic in his attendance. And then I was in there someplace probably as third. But the whole crew, probably ten people who were in the inner circle, that were really dedicated, were all volunteers. A really close-knit circle of people. I was the only paid employee. Doc hired me full-time about six months into the project.

Did you do the work right there at Doc’s house? I’ve read that he housed the car below his living quarters in a two-story dwelling.

That’s correct. He bought a storefront building in East Los Angeles and he lived upstairs in a nice apartment. It had a storefront on the boulevard and it had an alley access with big overhead doors in the back lower level. He bought that building specifically to build that car in.

There was no store on the lower level?

The store was closed. We used that front store building, we blacked out the windows, whited out the windows, and we used it for storage for spare parts and all of our stuff, and [laughs] it also had room for Doc’s ping-pong table.

He liked ping-pong?

He loved tennis and ping-pong. Doc loved his ping-pong, and he wasn’t above challenging anybody who came by to a game of ping-pong. And he would play ping-pong, with you for instance, he’d give you a paddle and he’d play with a Coke bottle. And he’d probably beat you.

I’ve seen reference elsewhere by you that Craig Breedlove was hanging around the shop in those early years.

We had a lot of hangers-on. Craig at that time must have been in the sixteen-year-old range. Those guys came and went. I can’t say how much time he spent at Ak’s. He never came by the shop where we built the car. He came by Ak Miller’s shop. That was actually before we started the car.

Like I was saying, there were about ten volunteers involved in the construction. They worked at night. I worked during the day. To my knowledge, nobody ever backed out, and this was a three- or four-year project. They weren’t there every day or every night, but there was always a group there who were willing to work. It was truly a hot rodders co-op project. Doc would come and go as he needed to. He would swing by when I was working during the day, and I’d see him maybe in the afternoon when he was on his way to the hospital for his patient visits. They all came and went, but they never gave up, and they went to Bonneville with us. I think that in itself spoke quite highly of the respect they had for Doc and for the project. That inner circle was behind him 100 percent. And then there was the outside circle of people who volunteered to help. Those were the guys at Aerojet General [?] and Northup Technology. Those guys provided wind tunnel tests and technical information and information on the jet engine.

Doc practiced medicine in East Los Angeles, in a private practice. He was an ex-military doctor, he was single. He had never married up to that point. He had two gals who worked for him in the office, Gladys and Helen. A lot of times I’d go over there and we’d meet for lunch and discuss what was going on. Actually, before we started on the car, when I was working on his 300s, I had a two-year-old son who was undergoing perpetual ear infections and sickness, and Doc said, “Well, bring him over to the office.” I kind of hesitated, because you don’t get a hot rodder doctor for your personal physician. But at any rate, he said, “Bring him over to the office and we’ll check him over.” And so I did. And he started treating Ron and taking care of him and doing good things for us as a family. And that grew and grew and grew, and it ended up being the best health plan I ever had. He took care of my family, he took care of Ann, he delivered two kids, he did tonsillectomies, he did hernia surgery. He would submit the bill to Blue Cross, to my insurance, and he’d give me the check when it came. That tells you the kind of guy he was. He was stern. He was one of these people who bark, and you would think he was a grouchy old fool. But he had a heart of gold. And he did the same thing for Ray. I know he delivered all of Ray’s kids, all the girls, he took care of our families at no charge. It was an amazing relationship, really.

Do you know anything about Doc’s Canadian background?

We didn’t get into personal things too much. I know that he had two brothers who were dentists. And his sister lived in East Los Angeles.

You mentioned that he had been a military doctor. Would this have been during the war?

Yes, as far as I know. And he also practiced medicine in what back then I think was called Los Angeles General Hospital. He was a grouchy sort of guy at times, I think because he was busy, and some doctors where they’re busy are a little bit grouchy. He was the kind of doctor I always respected because he told it exactly like it was. He told you what your odds were. He had my wife scared to death. On her first baby she had gained a lot of weight. He started taking care of her on her second and he threatened her with her life if she gained too much weight. I heard him say one day, just to give you a side line, I was sitting in his office, with the examining room right next to the office, you could hear a little bit of what was going on in there, and I’m sitting there waiting to go out to lunch with him, and a lady came in and she was coughing and hacking and wheezing said she had been sick for a couple of weeks and he finally said: “You know, when you’re sick your friends give you all kinds of advice on how to cure yourself. But when they’re sick they go see the doctor.” (laughs) he could be really tough if he needed to be, but he had a heart of gold.

I’ll tell you a little sideline about Doc when Ray’s and our kids were born. Doc liked to joke around. He liked to have fun. So he put our families [Al’s and Ray Brock’s] in a little hospital down on Sudder Street [?], fifteen rooms at the most, and it was run by three or four of the doctors. And they put their friends in there because they could absolutely dictate what kind of care they got. So when Joanne was going to have one of the girls, Doc decided he’d play a little trick on Ray. And Ray, working for a magazine, always had his camera with him, hanging around his neck. Ray wanted to photograph the baby the minute it was born. That was before the days they did that kind of thing. Doc said, “I don’t know if old Nurse Crachet will let us do that, but I’ll see what we can do.” They didn’t actually have a maternity waiting room. You sat in the lobby. You could hear what was going on around you, upstairs. So Joanne’s in labor and Ray’s sitting there waiting, and all at once he hears the nurses starting to talk about twins, and about another bassinette. Ray’s wife was the only one in labor, and so he’s sitting there, taking it all in. And so finally Doc comes out and says, “Congratulations Ray. You’ve got twins. Come on up and you can take a picture of them.” And of course Ray’s just dumbfounded. And so they go up and Doc gets in the nursery and he’s got the nurse holding one baby and Doc goes and gets the other baby, all swaddled in a blanket, and he says, “Are you ready, Ray?” And Ray gets his camera out and he’s looking through the lens and Doc says, “Well, whenever you’re ready, we’ll do it.” Ray says “Okay,” and Doc raises the flap on the blanket and he’s got a stuffed baboon in there. So Ray took a picture of the two kids, and one of them’s a baboon.

Another time, with one of the other kids, Ray came up to take a picture in the nursery, and Doc picked a baby up, supposedly out of the nursery, and he tripped and fell and threw the baby across the room. And when my wife was in there, we had two boys and one of the girls, the third one, and so he said, “We’ve got to get that baby before we go to Bonneville. So I’m going to give you something to take home.” So he gave me a plunger with a blue ribbon tied around the handle and he says, “Press and place and draw [garbled, 31:16] and when baby appears call Doc.” And on the blue ribbon he had a pair of cutting pliers tied on there and he said: “If I stomp two times on the floor, bring it up and we’ll make a girl out of it.”

So that was the attitude when you were around Doc and that whole bunch. We used to get together at somebody’s house and somebody always had some wild thing going on. We had a good time. [Al goes on to tell a story of playing a trick on Ak Miller at Bonneville when he was there with a Cobra doing time trials.]

That first time you all went to Bonneville, in the second week of August in 1960, Athol Graham would have been killed just the week before that. How much was that in your minds?

Very much. And Doc was right in there with us. He was not afraid, I don’t think. But we were concerned about Doc’s safety. This guy was our best friend. So we said right from the get-go, we’re not going to go out and go 200 mph the first day. We’re going to take it easy, work our way up. Everything was untried, untested. You take this whole do-it-yourself package to Bonneville, and you’re going to see if everything works the way it’s supposed to. And so we were concerned.

A couple years later, in 1962, the Deseret News makes a reference to Ostich having nightmares about Athol Graham’s death. Was that true?

I never heard him say that. He was concerned. We were all concerned for his well-being, but I never heard him say anything like that. One of Doc’s brothers, Dr. John, a dentist, went with us. I guess you could say he would have been Doc’s personal valet, he would prepare Doc, when we put him in the cockpit I would dust off his shoes, and Doctor John would be there helping. And I’m sure they shared some private moments in the evening. But that was about as close as it came to getting involved in his personal feelings.

I’ve read with regard to 1960 that Ostich had a radio system in the car, that people were relaying information to him through headphones.

We tried. If you look at the very first photographs you’ll see a little silver dome on top of the cockpit. It was totally unsuccessful.

So you didn’t use it again when you returned in ’62.

We took it off. The car underwent quite a few modifications. That was one of the bad ideas. Everybody was just getting into radios at the time. The quality of the equipment wasn’t good enough.

As far as I know, the other land speed racers, Breedlove and Arfons and the others, didn’t have radios in the cockpit.

No, not to my knowledge. The only thing you had to navigate with, at least in our case, was Howard Dickson painted some four-by-eight sheets of plywood with different colors and put them up on an easel, and they marked the miles by color. In other words, when he entered the speed traps there was a green, and when he exited there was yellow, and then the red...You see, you lose your depth perception. It’s much like being on a big frozen lake. You had very poor depth perception about where you are and how far you’ve gone. And so those were the only navigational markers we had, other than the fact we tried to station people on every mile or two of the course, because you needed weather reports. It could be dead calm at the starting line and you could have 20 mile an hour winds at the other end of the course. And the wind is always a factor.

Did Ostich wear an air mask when he was running?

No.

Was that never an issue, asphyxiation or something like that?

No. Actually, we were concerned about CO2. We installed fire bottles somewhere in there, I think maybe on the second or third run at Bonneville. We were concerned about fire. So we installed CO2 bottles that he could trip, mainly in the chassis area, in the fuel tank area and around the engine. And there was some worry about CO2, but we didn’t get too concerned about it because your choice was CO2 or burn.

A funny thing about volunteers. These bottles were being installed by somebody who had volunteered, I don’t even know what the company was, but these two yard birds were in the shop, and they’re trying to decide how much CO2 they need to flood the given volume of the chassis and the cockpit, how many pounds of CO2 is it going to take. So they’re in this big discussion about how many cubic feet of CO2 is in a pound, in a bottle. In other words, when it expands, how much area is it going to fill. And they’re discussing how much CO2 and free air is a ten-pound bottle, and they’re off and running discussing this. And working on our parachutes in the back was a fellow by the name of Klaus Kanaky. Klaus was in space recovery systems. He built the drogue cute system and installed it for us and showed us how to operate it and check it and pack the chute. He was a German V2 expert. Brilliant. I mean this guy was a walking encyclopedia of technology. And he’s back there working on the chutes as these two guys are arguing about CO2, and they had the wrong numbers according to Klaus, and Klaus finally said, “I hate to interrupt you guys, but I’ve got to tell you you’re wrong.” He says there are so many cubic feet of CO2 in a free state in a pound, and he quoted it off the top of his head, and sure enough he was right.

Speaking of the chutes, I’ve read that Ostich frequently didn’t use the chute because it took so long to repack them.

On the lower speed runs, a 200 mph run and he had plenty of time to stop, he did not deploy the chute.

I’ve also read that the final stage of repacking the chute was to beat it with a bat to make sure it wasn’t packed too tightly. Is that correct?

Right.

Was that standard procedure with these LSR cars?

I don’t know. We learned all about the chute from Klaus. His job was with the Mercury capsules and things. He never went to Bonneville with us, but he set it all up and taught us how to run it. We were kidding him one day. They shot the first Mercury capsule and it went way down field, beyond the recovery area, and dropped in the ocean, and we were always kidding him about it, “What’s the matter, didn’t your chute work?” And we were at lunch one day and he says, “Well, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that. The guy ran out of fuel is the reason he went all the way down there.” And we said, “What do you mean, Klaus? You’re just making excuses.” And he says, “No! I tell you the truth. The guy ran out of fuel. You take that poor devil and you put him in that thing and you fly him butt-first 17,500 mph and what’d he do but he turned around to see where he was going. So he burned up too much fuel and he overshot the landing spot.”

I’ve noticed that Doc wore regular sneakers when he was racing. Was there any reason for that?

Just for comfort. I’d take a brush and brush the salt off his shoes before he stepped into the cockpit. Let’s see where was I here...I made some notes...Doc was dedicated, but he wasn’t obsessed [I had mentioned this word in the questions I sent], but believe me, he was in charge of the project. His desire to succeed I think was only reinforced by the naysayers. This was a true hot rodders’ program, born out of the guy who ran on the dry lakes and the salt flats in converted old Motel Ts, low-budget operations. But we never scrimped on quality. We never scrimped on spending the money if we needed to. We promoted parts. [I think he means they asked companies to donate parts.] Ray Brock promoted all the suspension parts, four-wheel torsion bar, independent suspension, from a truck, turned upside down. It was put together from parts donated by some friend of Ray’s in GMC truck. It didn’t take a lot of parts. I’m sure it cost them hardly anything.

Doc bankrolled everything. Doc was in charge. Doc put the money in, his own personal money. As far as sponsorship was concerned, unless there was something going on behind the scenes that I wasn’t aware of, Firestone donated tires and wheels. That was a total Firestone donation. They tested them on Firestone’s farm in the Midwest and ran them at high speed on the dynamometer they’d built. They may [also] have donated tires and wheels for the trailer we built, but I’m not aware of any monetary help. The same thing went for Mobil. Mobil furnished fuel and people there to handle the fuel, but I’m not aware of any money that changed hands. In fact I can tell you, Castrol at one point offered...I was at the lunch when Castrol made an offer to Doc for sponsorship, and they wanted some strings attached, and he told them to go pedal their wares [?] elsewhere. He wasn’t interested. So he bankrolled it all, right out of his own pocket. He paid for our motel rooms, for all the crew that went to Bonneville those times.

Editor: The rest of the interview can be seen at www.samuelhawley.com.

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