Inseparable

“McCourry was 16 and I was 15 when he had a ’36 Ford that was a beater. It had primer spots on it and that was cool. We waxed the primer,” Don laughs, “before we went to Bob’s Big Boy Drive-In.”

The San Fernando Valley income level in the ’50s was above the national average. Don’s friends, at the time, either had money like Tommy Ivo, or their parents had money, like Kent Fuller and Tom McCourry. That never bothered Don or his friends. “My best friend until the day that he died was Tom McCourry. His dad owned a motel called the San Fernando Valley Motel. Broderick Crawford stayed at the motel and we got to watch them filming Highway Patrol.

“It was all about cars: The cool thing was, Tom’s dad would get some old cars ready for the junkyard and park them in the back of the motel property. Tom and I would race them around the motel parking lot. Later Tom and I would go to the Rainbow Roller Rink then he’d drop me off at my house.

“We got jobs together, like mowing lawns, delivering newspapers. The Valley had a lot of chicken farms and we’d get jobs picking the eggs and feeding the chickens. We were like a couple of day laborers that you’d find at Home Depot; we’d look for any kind of job. There was this old guy, Mr. Brooks. He had like a gardening business. He didn’t have a pickup truck like landscapers have today, he had an old LaSalle. Tom and I would mow lawns for him. He’d strap the lawn mowers on his running boards and he’d drop us off on the jobs. We had to sit in the back seat. Tom and I were at the age where we didn’t want our buddies to see us because he’d take us right down Van Nuys Boulevard so we slouched way down in the seat.”

Seat Time

“I worked at General Motors and so did McCourry. I worked there part time while I was painting cars. I painted cars during the day and worked at GM at night. I was a line-guy … a laborer. I worked a gun that squirted dum-dum (a non-hardening rope caulking used by GM in the ’50s to fill seams) into the cars as they went by.”

Don’s dragstrip seat time borders on the immeasurable, but keeping up with the assembly line as the cars rolled by was his immediate concern at the plant. “I started putting seats in the cars as they went by. I lied about my age to get the job. I was probably 17.”

Raked Skates

“Tom and I were 14 or 15 when we started going to the Rainbow Roller Rink in Van Nuys. The Burbank guys didn’t go to the Rainbow, just us Valley guys. That’s where I got the passion for speed. We got into Push Races. McCourry was a bigger, stronger guy than me so Tom would push me. There’d be like 10 of us lined up and they’d blow the whistle. I’d be crouched down sitting on my skates, he was behind me on his toe stops and we’d go into the first corner and I’d lean and he pushed me into the corner. He pushed me the whole race. We didn’t have polyurethane wheels like today, we had wooden wheels. I had little bitty wheels in the front and big wheels on the back. So I had racked skates that were cool. They were detachables; you’d take the wheels off, or trucks they were called. They were at a 45-degree angle. We called them ‘45 trucks’. A lot of times I’d slide and hit the wall and the wheels would explode. The smoother the wheels, the faster you’d go. We were serious about skating. We didn’t go there just to pick up girls, we were serious racers.”

Double-Deck Cheeseburger Place

Rainbow Roller Rink = Bob’s Big Boy = Road Kings = drag racing. It was that combination that landed Don behind the wheel of a dragster. Most, if not all, of the Road Kings hung out at the Toluca Lake Bob’s, not the Van Nuys Bob’s where Don and McCourry practically lived. They made the mistake of going to the Toluca Lake Bob’s once. “Did you ever hear of a guy named Fat Jack Bynum?” Don asked. “He was a badass who would stand there at Bob’s and pick fights all the time. We were scared to death of him. We were like nobody. He stuck his head in the car and said, “What are you tamale gobblers doing here?” He felt we were in the wrong neighborhood. We weren’t part of that rivalry. We weren’t punks … but close. (Get the picture that this was more than a burger/fry joint?)

“We’d go from Carl’s Drive-In on one end of Van Nuys to Bob’s Big Boy on the other end of Van Nuys, then back and forth pretty much the entire night till we’d go off and street race. We weren’t worried about getting robbed or beat up. That era was the best time of our lives.”