It may look like Dick was...
It may look like Dick was showing off the hot motor (which it wasn't) on his Chevy that he bought in 1946, but Dick and his friend were looking over his crunched fender, which wasn't from street racing his '29. "We'd just finished making a U-turn and got zapped right in the side of the car. My friend is consoling me," Dick says.
Had Dick Burley (born in 1927) stayed in Iowa instead of moving to Culver City, California, he wouldn't have been hooked on the sound of Ford Flathead V-8s screaming for mercy or broken records at El Mirage dry lake that would've stirred his hot rodding juices in the late '40s.
Dick, like the two hard-core dry lake racers and officers of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), Wally Parks and Ak Miller, embraced a sport that all hot rodders could compete in on a regular basic across the country-drag racing. Parks formed the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) in 1951 and chose Miller as his founding vice president. While you may not recognize his name, Dick has been a well-respected figure in the motorsports industry for decades. "Motor" is the keyword here because racing engines are what attracted Dick to the sport.
As a youth, however, Dick liked to drive fast cars; the trouble was that they belonged to someone else. Further compounded with his running away from home, the law decided that Dick needed to change his ways. Reform school was their answer, and the authorities literally put their foot down to emphasize a point. As traumatic as the experience was, it definitely reformed Dick from his errant ways.
Later in life, Dick would have an affinity for one of the "burliest" engines ever to be yanked from one of Walter P. Chrysler's New Yorkers, the mighty Hemi V-8, and associated himself with the most renowned of Hemi engine builders, Keith Black. Dick, in turn, became part of the most successful drag racing team in history: the Greer/Black/Prudhomme (G/B/P) slingshot dragster.
Not to be overshadowed by the G/B/P successes, Dick drag raced his T roadster pickup (which he still drives on the street today) in the '60s that had as storied a record of wins as the Greer digger.
Eeny Meeny Miny ...
After the war, Dick like the...
After the war, Dick like the hundreds of lesser-known hot rodders, wanted the experience of running at El Mirage dry lake. They knew of the superstars like Ak Miller but weren't in the position to make the same commitment and ran just once. Many like Dick ran their transportation car; in Dick's case, his full-fendered '37 Ford. "I belonged to a club briefly, so I could run my convertible at El Mirage. You had to have some kind of speed equipment on the car to run; the '37 was all stock except for two carburetors on a Cyclone intake manifold that I installed. I only went 87 mph. That was in 1947 or 1948."
Dick's father was an auto mechanic and even as a 9-year-old that rubbed off on the young Burley. "My dad bought a wrecked '35 Hudson in 1936. I watched him take the transmission apart and when I came home from school, I put it back together ... and it worked.
"When I was in high school, I got a Model A roadster without an engine. I found a motor that one of the farmers had. I took my bicycle, pulled my wagon behind it, and loaded the motor in my wagon. I wasn't very big and it was tough, but I dragged it home. I overhauled that entire engine.
"There were only two of us in high school who had cars out of 900 students. We both had Model A roadsters. They didn't know who was playing hooky because we painted our cars different colors with a brush every week so they didn't know if Klinger was playing hooky or I was," Dick says.
"When I came to California in 1946, I worked at Powell Manufacturing in Compton, where they made motor scooters. I got a scooter (Powell sold it new for $300) and rode it all over for about a year till I could afford a car, which was a '29 Chevy. It was nothing special, just transportation, but then I found a '37 Ford convertible."
The '37 was his ticket to running with the big boys at the heat races. Heat, all right; the searing heat and dirt of El Mirage dry lake in 1947, with its free spirit style of competition.
El Mirage was nothing like Dick had ever encountered back home. "It was a trip," he says. "It took us all day to get there from Culver City. By the time you ran and went home, as young as I was then, I was tired. Nobody trailered; you drove up there ... and back."
Dick was a one-time competitor at El Mirage. His '37 Ford convertible wasn't exactly hot rod material, but he put the pedal to the firewall down the lakebed and turned a respectable 87 mph for a full-fendered car and watched the action of the super stars of the day, from Miller to Alex Xydias.
Dick was hell on wheels-even roller skate wheels: "I was a pretty good skater and that's were I met my future wife, Mary, on a skating rink in Compton." They married in 1951.
"I bought this Model A pickup...
"I bought this Model A pickup right after I got out of the service in 1954," Dick says. Dick's truck couldn't make up its mind which engine suited it, starting with a Flathead Ford V-8, a new crate Chevy motor in 1955, and finally a 331 Chrysler Hemi with two 97s that Dick purchased from Ethyl Corporation that was used for testing their gasoline. "It did very well on the dragstrip. It was the only car I owned at the time. It was my family car, my race car, my camping car ... we'd take all three kids and go camping to the dragstrip and go racing with it.
Anyone frequenting South Gate...
Anyone frequenting South Gate will remember Dick's garage (Walker was no longer a partner) where Dick built his T roadster pickup. While Dick did general repair work, you can bet many a winning race engine was wrenched on at 10519 Atlantic Boulevard. Dick had replaced drag racing with dirt bike racing with his motor home and motorcycle trailer (which he still owns today) on the ready for the next desert race.