Richard Peters' Ala Kart"I met Blackie when I was going to Roosevelt High School in Fresno," began Richard Peters. "I started running around with Blackie when he was racing hardtops.
"In 1957, I bought a '29 pickup and decided to take it down to George Barris and have some minor work done to it. On the way, Blackie and I, with our wives, went to Vegas first, then went to L.A. and met with George. I just wanted to do a paintjob, a few modifications ... it was lowered. I didn't want to spend a lot of money."
Blackie, George, and Richard went to a local coffee shop to kick around some ideas. "George pulled out some napkins and started drawing on them. He said, 'How about this, how about that?' To make a long story short," recalled Richard, "I said, 'let's do it.'"
"That was my one-car garage...
"That was my one-car garage on my packing facility in Fresno," said Richard Peters. "This is the building in which the Ala Kart was built in 1956 and 1957. Blackie and I would take the car apart and put it back together in that little garage. That was its home, until I loaded it on a trailer to go to the AMT Corporation."
At that point, Blackie was ready to eat. "When I looked at the menu," he remembered, "I said to George, 'We got the car's name. Read the top of the menu-Ala Carte.'"
The Ala Kart was a whole new dimension for show rods culminating into the America's Most Beautiful Roadster-twice-plus winning more than 200 show trophies in its prime.
It's been acknowledged over the years that Blackie and Richard were responsible for the suspension/undercarriage on the car. But, few realize the scope and magnitude of their involvement, which is truly a Herculean effort.
When Richard said, "Let's do it," it wasn't simply a matter of delivering his pickup to Barris Kustom Kars and waiting for the phone to ring when the car was completed. On the contrary, Richard and Blackie would invest countless hours and thousands of commuter miles from Fresno to L.A. (lasting a year and a half) before the car was completed.
"Richard and I built the whole undercarriage," said Blackie. "We built the pieces for the frame in Fresno. The front axle was a '32 Ford that I stretched and filled. That was the first stretched and filled axle ever made. Look at the dropped axles today; there is a big deep grove in them where they stretch and drop them."
"Blackie and I took the car to L.A.," continued Richard, "and George kept the pickup bed. While George was working on the bed, we brought the car back to Fresno. We did the frontend work; Blackie and I built the undercarriage, the suspension, and the airbags in Fresno.
"I just wanted a paintjob,...
"I just wanted a paintjob, a few modifications on my roadster pickup," laughed Richard, recalling when he and Blackie went to Barris Kustom Kars to talk to George.
"Every week, we'd go back to L.A. We lifted the body off, left it with George, hauling the frame back to Fresno. We made sure everything fit right. Then, we took it back to L.A.; George put the body on the frame. Barris kept it until he had pretty much finished the whole body.
"Then, George took the whole car apart and painted it, piece by piece. Dean Jeffries did all of the 'striping when the car was all in pieces. Toward the end, we had no building to work in-we were outside-because George's shop burned down (in December 1957), but the flames missed the car. Blackie had a 55-gallon drum filled with wood that burned all night to keep us warm.
"We drove from Fresno to Lynwood every night. I'd pick up Blackie after he got off work; we'd drive down to Barris' place on Atlantic Boulevard in Lynwood. Get there about 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and work till 3 in the morning and head back to Fresno to go to work. Hell, I saw so many elephants walking on the road," laughed Richard, "I didn't know whether I was coming or going."
"When we took the Ala Kart to the Oakland show, I wanted to show the undercarriage," said Blackie. "The car was too heavy to turn on its side, like I did mine, to show all the chrome on the bottom of the car. I went to the women's restroom and took the mirror off the wall to put under the car. That was the first mirror that was ever put under a car."
The Golden Age of Drag Racing,...
The Golden Age of Drag Racing, from 1965 to 1980, was wild. The fans loved every ear-shattering minute of it.
Clovis SpeedwayBlackie's promotional skills and hard work turned a failing rodeo arena into the very successful Clovis Speedway from 1960 to 1980. "When I took over the rodeo grounds, it was owned by the Rodeo Association, which was almost bankrupt. They didn't have enough money to bring in the top riders.
"When I started Clovis Speedway, I had, what I called, open competition-like the Outlaw Sprint Cars today. I invited everybody across the United States. Bring what you got and run what you got. I had cars from the Midwest, winged Sprints, non-winged Sprints, you name it.
"We used to qualify 138 cars on dirt, and the track surface held. The drivers from the East Coast had never seen a track hold up running as many laps without getting torn up and being a danger to the drivers. These days, they're lucky to get 30 cars to qualify in any association.
"I did all of the watering and blade work myself. I never saw one race in the grandstands; I was always in the infield with the racers. Whenever they needed something, I was there. My job was to put on a race.
"The promoters today are lacking to give the public their money's worth. They've got to give them more than racing, so the fans can have something to talk about when they leave.
"The things I did at Clovis had never been done anywhere. I went to Alaska and brought in eight teams of dogs that ran nine dogs per team. I had Huskies out there pulling sleds, and each one of the sleds had one of our top radio guys of every radio station we had. I wet the track enough so it was very slick. The fans were pulling for their favorite radio personality, and the place went wild."
Fresno Dragway"I had the Fresno Dragway for 18 years. I was AHRA instead of NHRA because I could run whatever I wanted to run. I was the only one who put on drag races with four dragsters going side by side for the entire quarter-mile. Each of us promoters had a different style of producing drag racing. That was mine.
"It was incredible. I remember one race. Picture four front-engine dragsters with eight streams of smoke from the tires going into the air, and when they came to the end of the quarter-mile they were a quarter of a car length apart from one another. It was a tremendous sight. All you saw was the nose and the motor coming through the smoke. We'd run four jet cars, or four Funny Cars. That was a big draw, running the four at one time.
"We were breaking records over and over, and I had certification on the clocks with certificates to verify the speeds. I'd clean the track with our regular sweeper truck, then take a fire hose and wash the entire racetrack down and put soap on it. We'd suds it up to where there were bubbles damn near six feet in the air. We'd then wash it down and let it dry for a week. Then, I bought these 55-gallon drums that cost $500 in those days and sprayed an adhesive on the asphalt. What we were doing was giving the guys a surface to run on."
His WayOf late, when attending shows that require miles of walking, Blackie reluctantly gets around on his electric cart. "I've got all of these broken parts in me. I've had two hip replacements and I'm on the third on my right leg. I've had two pacemakers put into me with more nuts, bolts, and screws in my body than I can count," laughed Blackie, "but I don't let that stop me."
The buck has always stopped with Blackie. To delegate has never been part of his modus operandi. "I never brag that I've got the best show. If you want to know anything about my show, ask somebody else," he said. "That way, you'll get a true answer. A promoter will tell you anything to get you into his event. I let my events speak for themselves. But, a promoter is a promoter."
Blackie has been a house afire his entire life, juggling his car show, dragstrip, the circle track, plus running his ranch all at the same time. (Blackie also ran Madera Speedway, but we're running out of room.) Suffice it to say, Blackie has been a rousing success at every venture he's undertaken in life. Although, he's never tried to retire, so we think that might be the one he'd fail at.
In 1998, Blackie began an exhaustive restoration on his roadster for the 50th anniversary of the Oakland Roadster Show. "For 40 years, my roadster sat out in the rain in the barn because only about a fourth of the shingles were still on the roof," Blackie recalled. "There is not one piece that was originally on the car, regardless if it was rusted out or whatever, that I replaced with a new part, including the battery cables. I had a rusted-out taillight on the car I had to copper 11 times. I kept buffing it and kept building it up with copper. I had a brand-new windshield frame hanging up in my garage that I could have used, and nobody would have known the difference. Water got in my windshield frame where the glass went into and had rotted it all out. I had to braze it and fill it in. You can feel it if you rub your hand over it, but you can't see it. Somebody had gotten into the barn and put dents in the backside of headlight buckets. I had a brand-new set of King Bee headlights I could have replaced them with, and nobody would have known-but, I would have. I saw cars at Pebble Beach that were over-restored. I wanted the car to look the way it did the day I parked it more than 40 years ago.
"The Flathead is the same as when I first built it. I haven't touched it. Everything is Edelbrock-fuel block, heads, and intake manifold. In fact, in the early days, Vic Edelbrock Sr. used to give out an award for the most Edelbrock-equipped car, and I won every time. It's got four carburetors, yet I can bring the throttle back to where you can count each one of the cylinders as they fire. At the Hot Rod Reunion, Wally Parks brought a whole bunch of people by my car and said, 'Blackie, start the car up; the guys want to hear it run.' Greg Sharp said, 'Wally, the car is running,'" laughed Blackie.
"Vic Edelbrock Sr. ground my crankshafts when I ran the lakes. He wanted to know what gear ratio I was running, at what rpm. I took the crank to Vic at his little shop in Hollywood, where the grease racks were. He undercut the journals and put flash chrome on them. He reground the chrome. I had chrome journals, which picked up 700 rpms."