A Visit with Doug King

A Visit with Doug King
By

profilepic: 

 

A Visit with Doug King
Story by Doug King, Editors Richard Parks & Spencer Simon
Photos by: Doug King, Photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

03-02-11

In 1937 I was the first-born of a Hayward, California (suburb of Oakland) farmer and his wife. When I was about 14 my Dad gave me a 1936 Ford pickup that his workers had run until it blew and was declared junk. He also gave me a small metal fishing tackle box with a few hand tools that I have to this date. Shortly thereafter it was towed to a spot behind our home and I spent the summer of 1950 pulling and replacing the heads and intake manifold, never bothering to get under the truck and discover the holes in the oil pan caused by a couple of broken connecting rods. A friend and I then towed it up and down our street and got it to start, accompanied by the noise one would expect from an engine with no oil and a broken connecting rod or two. After selling the pickup I bought a running 1930 Model A Ford coupe that I drove through high school. In about 1954 I bought the remains of a 1933 Ford 3-window coupe that was essentially a body and frame. My plan was to build a “stroker” Flatty with a 3 3/8” X 4” engine. In those days there weren’t many 4” stroke Merc cranks available in the wrecking yards, but I managed to find one. A friend from high school had a mostly complete but derelict 1934 Ford 5-window coupe out behind the barn on his parent’s property and allowed me to scavenge the parts off of it to make my 1933 useable as a “runner.”

By my senior year I had built my “stroker” motor and turned 86 MPH with it in B/Gas at Kingdon Drags in Lodi, California. About that time the Al Hubbard dragster out of the Vic Hubbard Speed Shop in Hayward came up for sale. Al had pretty much had his way at Kingdon since the early 1950’s until the Scott Brothers from Oakland built the first slingshot in the area and promptly “trailered” Al the first time the two cars raced. Al and Lee Scott promptly combined the more powerful Hubbard Flatty with the quicker Scott chassis and created one of the fastest and quickest dragsters in Northern California. The old Hubbard dragster was then surplus and I bought it in 1955 for $100 and installed my “stroker” gas Flatty in it. As it turned out I never made a pass down the ¼ mile in the car. In the Fall of 1955 I started college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and took my dragster with me. If my son’s had found out about that 35 years later any college study habits I might have ingrained in them would have gone by the wayside. Before I could run the car at either Santa Maria or San Luis Obispo I trailered it home for a meet at Kingdon. As was often the procedure in the 1950’s, to warm the motor I pushed the car down to the shutoff end of the return road, fired it, and launched back toward the starting line. When the revs peaked I shifted and the Auburn clutch promptly exploded, wiping off the entire 59-A bell-housing portion of the block. Luckily, the scatter-shield was sitting in position but not bolted down. To make matters worse I had burned a hole in a piston in my 1949 Ford tow-car on the way from my home to the drag strip.

During the summer of 1956 college break I built a real slingshot chassis and sold the old Hubbard car to Dick Beith, founder of ET Wheels, for $100. Don Jensen, local master welder, had cast-iron welded a scavenged bell housing onto my 59-A block and I was back in business. I obtained a set of Stromberg 97 carbs converted for nitro and was ready to run fuel class. Between the Fall of 1956 and early 1958 I raced at both Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo drag strips, winning a couple of Top Eliminator trophy’s and finally exploding the Flatty. My best time was 126 MPH with an ET somewhere in the 10’s. I sold the remains of the engine, including the fuel carbs, Merc crank, Potvin 400 cam, and an H&C mag for $100. In the meantime I had sold the 1933 3-window B/Gas coupe for $25. Included were 4 Kelsey-Hayes spoke wheels. After exploding the Flatty, plus one belonging to fellow Cal Poly student Don Scoville of Sherman Oaks, California, I installed a 283 ci SBC belonging to my roommate Bill Lindsay. It had an Isky E-3 cam, Vertex mag, and a 6-carb Crower U-Fab log manifold that he bought as a kit and welded together. Needless to say, no two carbs were on the same plane. We cobbled-up a progressive linkage made from welding rods and coat hangers. Due to the material used the linkage had to operate completely “in-tension.” In other words, “all pull, and no push.” It was a mechanics nightmare but it worked. The engine had no low-end whatsoever. We ran 5.12:1 gears in the quick change, launching in second gear and making the 2-3 shift at about half-track. Our class was C/Open Gas, a class that the Flatty powered T-Buckets and converted sand rails ended up in. To make the class weight-to-power ratio we had a horizontal 1” bar on the push bar that we added barbell weights to as needed. On a typical day the Flatty powered T would get the jump on us and lead until he made his 2-3 shift. About that time the SBC would get into its “happy” RPM range in second gear and fly past the Flatty like a freight train passing a tramp train. With the SBC installed the car would typically turn 125 mph in the 11’s.

By the time late 1958 came around Bill Lindsay had graduated and moved back to Los Angeles, I had married, and the chassis was on loan to Gary Boerman and Jerry Adams of San Luis Obispo, owners of a 4 X 4 Cad and a blown Olds engine. They ran the car for a year or so before moving to a better chassis. Gary went on to finish college and retired as the head of metallurgy at Ford Motor Company (FMC). I eventually sold the car and have no knowledge of where it went or what happened to it. By 1962 I was an outside salesman for Valvoline Oil Company and getting the itch to get involved in cars again. I was going through a divorce and needed a project. Valvoline had hired a new salesman for the San Francisco territory and assigned me to ride with him for a couple of weeks to learn the product line. It was about this time that Valvoline had taken out a full-page ad in the AACA (Antique Auto Club of America) magazine and sent one of the club magazines to each salesman. I read every article about members dragging cars out of old barns and restoring them. By some twist of fate the new salesman I was training was an antique car enthusiast. At his suggestion I attended a local meeting of another antique car club, the Horseless Carriage Club of America. Three members of the regional branch of the HCCA, the Bay Area Horseless Carriage Club, happened to be airline pilots. I had somewhat of an interest in flying since my Dad bought a small 2-place plane and learned to fly in the mid 1940’s. I was constantly questioning them about flying and they responded by suggesting that I learn to fly. Since the airlines had started their expansion to jets in the late 1950’s there were not enough military pilots to accommodate the demand, and they were hiring light aircraft pilots to fill the gap. I just passed the idea off as wishful thinking until 1965 when I finally listened to them.

Back to the antique car hobby. In early 1963 I found the makings of a 1914 Ford roadster “project car” that a fellow club member had brought home from the mid west piled up on the back of a pickup truck. Typically these projects pass through several hands before being restored completely. The president of our local club was a body man and offered to help me by doing the metal finishing and assembly. This proved to be the diversion I needed, and 6 months later the pile of parts was a nicely restored Model T. I went on many club outings in the car and thoroughly enjoyed the hobby. In early 1965 I met and married my wife Mary Lou and decided to get serious about a flying career. Seniority is everything in the airline business and I had already procrastinated for nearly three years regards learning to fly. My first flying lesson was on my birthday in May of 1965. On April 11, 1966 I was in TWA’s Flight Engineer training school in Kansas City. Between 1966 and 1986 I flew out of San Francisco as Flight Engineer and First Officer (Co-pilot) on the Boeing 707 and Lockheed 1011, and Captain on the Lockheed 1011. By 1972 our family had expanded to two sons, Scott and Brian. The 1914 Model T Roadster could carry two comfortably and three in a pinch (a small child sitting on a stool between Mary Lou’s feet), but four was impossible. I then decided to return to my roots, old engines with aluminum heads and manifolds.

When I was a “wannabe” teenage racer the big guys were running Flattys, GMC’s, 3-port Cads & Olds’s, and the fabled Ardun OHV conversion for the Flatty Ford V-8. Looking through my picture collections from the 1950’s I see that I photographed every Ardun I saw at the races. I had put out the word locally that I would like to get an Ardun. Later in 1980 a local antique car guy who had moved to Iowa called me and told me of a set of Ardun heads advertised in his local paper. I called the seller and based on his description ended up sending him a check. I was scheduled for TWA training in Kansas City a couple of months later and following that training I would fly to Chicago, rent a car, and drive to Iowa City to inspect my new toy. When I got there he opened the door and handed me a roll of $100 bills, my purchase money. He told me to inspect the Ardun heads, pick which set I wanted (he had an early set and a late set) and, if I liked them I would give him back the money. Boy, talk about honest! Several weeks later the freight company delivered a box containing what would turn out to be a 30 year love affair with Zora Arkus-Duntov’s creation. For 6 years the Ardun heads resided on a setup block in my home shop while I scrounged up a Vertex magneto, a set of Hilborn injectors, and enough innards to build the engine. During that time I met a highly recommended street rod chassis builder in the San Jose area named Frank Schonig and started him working on a “minds-eye” 1927 Ford track roadster that could be used on the street as well as the Dry Lakes and Bonneville. The car was to look like the circle-track roadsters of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s with torsion bars on all 4 corners, wire knock-off wheels, Auburn dash, fabricated rear end with a quick change rear end, 1937 Ford tube front axle, center steering with a Bell 4-spoke steering wheel, suicide front end, old Houdiale (sic) shock absorbers, Cad-LaSalle transmission, and many other goodies that would make the car look like it had been retired to the street from a circle track career.

In 1985 my neighbor Tony Lloyd had bought a vintage slingshot that had been run with a Model B engine at the Antique Nationals in Palmdale, California. It was a direct drive high-gear only car with a 3.54:1 gear in the rear end. Tony proceeded to install his gas Flatty in the car and run it at the Fremont Drag Strip antique meets. He soon came up with a proposition I couldn’t refuse, that I would furnish the parts, he would furnish the labor, and we would run my Ardun in his dragster at the 1987 Fremont meet. We proceeded to finish the Ardun engine, get it running, build some exhaust headers, shoehorn the assembly into his car, and make a few trial runs on “Test-N-Tune days. The high-gear only setup with the 3.54:1 gears made it a real dog out of the hole but it really sounded good in the lights. The ET’s were in the 12’s but the speed was in the 130’s. I had been going to Bonneville off and on as a spectator a couple of times beginning in the late 1960’s or early ‘70’s when I flew Dick Beith and three of his friends to Speed Week when he was running a Corvette there. In 1980 or 1981 my family and I took our motor home to Speed Week and, being that I had the Ardun heads by then I was interested in anybody running them at that time. We returned again in 1986. I was hanging around the pit of Jim Lattin and Elmo Gillette, owners of the Red Head streamliner and powered by a gas burning Ardun. The class record at that time was about 190 mph and they were making runs in the 175-180 range, struggling to qualify due to their engine pulling studs and leaking compression.

Back to the Tony Lloyd dragster powered by my Ardun. In the spring of 1987 Tony and I took the car to the Fremont, California antique drags and competed with the same results. The direct-drive car was embarrassingly slow off of the line but really got going at the finish line. I didn’t know it but Lattin and Gillette were competing that weekend at a vintage circle track event adjacent to the drag strip finish line at the same raceway. From their vantage point they could see and hear the Ardun pulling like crazy through the lights. The next thing I knew Lattin and Gillette were in our pit looking very closely at my engine and offering me a ride in the Red Head if I would allow them to install it in their car for Speed Week 1987. My agreement with Tony Lloyd was for the 1987 antique drags only, so when we removed the Ardun from the rail I delivered it to Jim and Elmo in Pomona, California. I presume that the first thing they did was disassemble the engine to see what made it “tick.” Jim’s son Bill was trying to get into the Bonneville 200 MPH Club, so our agreement was that if the Ardun had the horsepower Bill would qualify the car at a little over 200 MPH one day and back it up the next day. Those were the days when the crew and driver qualified the car one day, left it in impound that night, then ran two ways over the same real estate the next morning.

If the two-way average exceeded the existing record the car and driver owned the record. Lattin & Gillette further agreed that after Bill set the record I would license in the car and, using all the horsepower available, qualify it again, hopefully breaking the record again and earning myself a spot in the 200 MPH Club. On his first pass Bill “put the hammer down” and qualified at 212 MPH. The next morning he ran a 2-way average of a little over 212 MPH. Now, it was my turn, but Bill had set the bar a little higher than I had anticipated. I made several progressive licensing runs beginning at 140 MPH followed by a maximum effort pass a little over 211 MPH. By then the Ardun was starting to get a little “tired,” so we terminated the effort. It would be 13 years before I earned my red 200 MPH hat. I had previously intended to build the 1927 Track Roadster as a street machine that could that could be converted to do double-duty as a Land Speed vehicle. Frank Schonig completed his part of the ‘27 just in time for Bonneville Speed Week 1988. I had never worked on an Ardun, had no idea how to set up and tune ignition timing and fuel injectors, and was surrounded by a crew that didn’t know any more that I did. Luke Balogh came down from Canada to help, Ed Weldon, whom I had met at Bonneville and became good friends with, came from Los Gatos, California, and my wife Mary Lou went along to help where she could. The existing Vintage Street Roadster was 137 MPH, held by a GMC powered car. We came off of the trailer at about 125 MPH and over the course of the event moved it up to 143 MPH. Success at last. I was hooked on Land Speed Racing and we were on our way.

The El Mirage Dry Lake record for our class was an open minimum of 150 MPH. The month following Speed Week we towed the ‘27 to the SCTA El Mirage meet and I proceeded to ventilate the oil pan and cylinder block when a connecting block broke. We learned a hard lesson about using stock Ford connecting rods, crankshafts, and inadequate bearing clearance on the main and rod bearings. Our plans to run the ‘27 on the street as well as in LSR came to a halt when there was a serious El Mirage roadster involving a street roadster with a roll bar instead of a full cage. Prior to that time street roadsters were only required to have roll bars. SCTA promptly changed the rules, requiring that all open cars would in the future be required to have full roll cages. Our car could not have a cage and be converted back to be street driven. By Speed Week 1989 Frank Schonig had completed what was to be a dual-purpose rear engine Land Speed and Drag car. It was a great idea, but I was soon to discover that dual-purpose cars are a compromise on both purposes. It had a 150” wheelbase with the rear axle solidly mounted to the frame for the drags and a bolt-on coil-over rear suspension for Land Speed use. Between 1989 and 1996 this car ran elapsed times in the mid 10’s and times in the mid 130’s at the drags and Land Speed times of between 180 MPH and 194 MPH. A couple of the Land Speed times were records, but the car wasn’t competitive in either venue.

By 1990 I was growing weary of Land Speed Racing and decided to go back to nostalgia drag racing. Harry Hoffman Jr, owner of High Speed Engineering in Hayward California, offered to build me a 120” wheelbase Dragmaster Dart replica from pictures I had. I always admired the Dart, built in the 1960’s by Jim Nelson and Dode Martin in the San Diego area. Harry completed the car in 1992 and we went racing with the normally aspirated gas Ardun. The performance was not spectacular but we did manage speeds in the mid 130’s with ET’s on the mid 10’s. As an aside, Joe Boghosian, legendary 1950’s Ardun engine racer from Fresno, California, cornered me at one of the races we competed at and quite loudly told me, “would you please put some nitro in that engine. It’s a crime to run an Ardun on gas.” Shortly thereafter I switched to methanol and the performance increased to 145 MPH & 9.45 seconds. My next step was nitro. We switched to 60% and the performance improved to 163 MPH & 8.37 seconds. That little hemi really loved nitro and compression. Between 1992 and 2001 Son Brian and I had a great time, beating nearly everyone in the nostalgia drags at least once and getting beat at least once by everybody in the same group. I did most of the driving as the elapsed times improved from the 10’s to the low 9’s. Once the car got into the 8’s it was more of a handful that I was comfortable dealing with, so I turned the driving chores over to Brian.

My reaction times were so slow that the crew urged me to “leave the starting line today, not tomorrow.” We won the Denver Mile-High Nationals once and the Palmdale Nostalgia Drags several times. After accomplishing nearly everything we set out to do in nostalgia drag racing it was time to get back to Land Speed Racing. In 1998 I hooked up with a chassis builder by the name of Rhys Lloyd from Oakdale, California and engaged him to build a Modified Roadster that would be competitive at both Bonneville and El Mirage. I had purchased a 1927 T Roadster project car that the former manager of Baylands Raceway in Fremont started on with the idea of going to Bonneville, later losing interest. Rhys took the project on and by the 1999 SCTA World Finals Bonneville meet we were running. I got the car through tech inspection and made several runs, one at 199 MPH. The Vintage Engine Fuel Modified Roadster record (XXF/FMR) was 203 MPH, set in 1969 by Bill Taylor. Unfortunately we split a cylinder wall, ending the effort. We were, however, very happy and felt that in 2000 we might have a chance. I rebuilt the engine between 1999 & 2000 and was ready for Speed Week 2000. By then my son Brian was out of college and had joined the team, accompanied by Ed Weldon and Elon Ormsby. The engine displaced 294 ci and was built with all the strongest parts I could find. The only stock Ford parts in the motor were the engine block and timing gear cover.

Speed Week 2000 found us at Bonneville with a fresh Ardun and lots of optimistic enthusiasm. My first pass netted me a speed of 208 MPH, qualifying on the Bill Taylor 203 MPH 1969 record. The next morning my return pass (since the 1990’s the rules had been changed, requiring two passes total instead of the previous three) netted me a speed of 211 MPH for a new two way average record of 210 MPH. The elusive red 200 MPH Club hat was mine. Later that week we switched to gas and Brian raised the record in that class to 180 MPH. In November we trailered the modified roadster to the SCTA El Mirage meet and moved the unblown fuel record (XXR/FMR) record to 202 MPH on the 1 1/3 mile course. This earned me another hat, this one for the “Dirty Two” El Mirage 200 MPH Club. To prepare for running against the supercharged fuel (XXF/BFMR) record in 2000 we had built a 4:71 blown 255 ci Ardun to run on methanol in both the dragster and the modified roadster. Between the 2000 & 2001 seasons we installed the blown Ardun in the dragster and took it to Sacramento Raceway for Test-N-Tune. The performance was spectacular to say the least. On methanol with 25 psi boost the car was capable of times in the low 160’s and ET’s in the mid 8’s. With Brian at the wheel and the supercharged Ardun bolted into the modified roadster for the 2001 Bonneville Speed Week we qualified at 219 MPH on methanol and backed that speed up the following morning with a return run of 215 MPH for a new two way average record of 217 MPH and a red hat for our new Bonneville 200 MPH Club member. Later that day we switched to gas with Kent Walton in the cockpit and qualified at 195 MPH, backing the speed up the following day with a return run of 195 MPH.

In November, 2001 Brian ran 210 MPH in the car at El Mirage Dry Lake for another record and his own “Dirty-Two” Club hat. The record procedure at El Mirage is different in that on the Dry Lake your qualifying run is the record run if you immediately report to Impound and have the car and fuel verified. By 1989 I had accumulated enough seniority to retire from TWA with full benefits and a moderate penalty on my IRA. To fly as Captain on a steady basis I would have to commute to the mid west or east coast from my home on the west coast, and then fly “all-nighters” on the MD-80, a far cry from the wide-body Lockheed L-1011 my seniority would allow me to fly as co-pilot out of San Francisco and Los Angeles. I also had several “project cars” awaiting restoration. Among them were a 1914 Model T Speedster with a RAJO OHV conversion, a 1928 Model A Ford Sedan Delivery with a CRAGAR OHV conversion, a Buick “nail valve” powered 1934 Ford 3-window coupe, a Flatty powered 1941 Ford pickup, and a “nail valve powered 1953 Studebaker Starlight Coupe. In 2005 Brian and I ran the dragster at the Famoso Drag Strip California Hot Rod Reunion. It would turn out to be the last race for our Dragmaster. The NHRA chassis certification sticker was about to expire and SFI had just issued a new spec that we couldn’t meet without a complete “back-half” rebuild of the car. At that meet we made three passes on straight methanol, all in the low 160 MPH range with ET’s around 8.50 seconds. This was a fitting “last meet” for a car that had brought us a lot of fun and allowed one “old racer” the chance to finish a happy childhood. As of this date in the spring of 2011 the Bonneville Modified Roadster, dubbed “King$ Ran$om,” has been turned over to Brian King and is being fitted with a 250 ci DeSoto engine to run in the modern engine normally aspirated fuel class at Bonneville and El Mirage. Brian is being mentored by Charley Markley of the legendary Markley Brothers and Hoffman racing team originating in the 1950’s.

Gone Racin' is at [email protected].

The old Hubbard dragster was then surplus and I bought it in 1955 for $100 and installed my “stroker” gas Flatty in it.
Between the Fall of 1956 and early 1958 I raced at both Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo drag strips, winning a couple of Top Eliminator trophy’s and finally exploding the Flatty.
Lakester 2
Race Den
 I was hanging around the pit of Jim Lattin and Elmo Gillette, owners of the Red Head streamliner and powered by a gas burning Ardun. The class record at that time was about 190 mph and they were making runs in the 175-180 range, struggling to qualify due to their engine pulling studs and leaking compression.