No Cale Yarborough
Usually after a winning meet,...
Usually after a winning meet, Keith Black would gather the guys (not necessarily just crew members) for a group photo. Dick couldn't identify the other individuals but that's Dick behind the front wheel; third from the left are Tommy Greer, Don Prudhomme, and Keith Black.
The military was calling in 1952. Dick chose the Air Force, eventually stationed in Georgia. While in the service, knowing his way around a toolbox, Dick landed on the pit crew of a '38 Ford at a dirt track in Biloxi, Mississippi.
"I was on the pit crew at first; we had to change the water pump on the Flathead V-8 between the heat races. They were going to pack it up for the night and go home. On a Flathead, the pump isn't easy to change. Well, I whipped that sucker out quick and got them back in the race.
"Then I taught them how to control the heat by putting washers on the inlet on top of the cylinder head and slowing down the flow of water-nobody knew anything about thermostats in those days.
"The owner of the '38 decided to let me drive the car for a couple of races." (Our guess is the owner wanted to keep Dick around as chief mechanic more than just another good ol' boy driver.)
"About the second lap a dirt clod hit me in the head. There was no glass or screen in the windshield. I didn't remember the next couple of laps, and somehow I finished Fifth in the heat race. I didn't make the main."
"This was my steel body '29...
"This was my steel body '29 roadster pickup that I built in 1959. That's Jim Walker next to me. He also knew automatic transmissions, which I didn't. Some guys at Disney painted the Road Runner on a Hydramatic transmission. Jim drove it because he was 10 years younger than me so he was quicker. Jim was an Olds man. We ran against "Big John" Mazmanian ... [we] never beat him as many times as we tried," Dick says. "I sold it and built the '23 T. The guy who bought it kept the Road Runner on the car for years. We switched to the Hemi Chrysler then."
Two early NASCAR stars out of Georgia, Bob and Fronty, known as the Fabulous Flock Brothers, learned to drive fast race cars by hauling moonshine whiskey. Dick might have been responsible for them changing careers.
When he was off duty, Dick worked at a gas station near the air base. One of the local cops who frequented the station had a complaint: "He couldn't catch this Buick that was a "tank car" that hauled whiskey in a large tank at night. He had to catch him with the tank full of booze, not empty. I said, 'What do you have?' 'I got a Ford coupe.' We'll stuff an Olds overhead in it. His eyes lit up. I went to a wrecking yard and found a late-model, low-mileage Olds V-8 with the Hydramatic transmission and put it in his coupe. About two weeks later he came in the station with a big smile on his face. 'We got him!' "
Upon returning home after his two and a half years in the service, Dick purchased the Associated (Flying A) gas station in South Gate he had worked at in 1954. "That's where I met Keith Black," Dick says. "Keith ran his dad's business called Mike Black Auto Parts. He went around to all the gas stations and garages and serviced my station with tire patches, additives, and such. He had an old army truck that he drove to service his accounts.
"Keith had a machine shop at his house in South Gate and would invite me over to help him build engines for boats. I didn't know what I was doing compared to him, but I did what he told me to do. I learned so much from Keith; he was a genius.
"As an example, the Flathead had aluminum lifters; Keith wanted weak valvesprings, and without the extra spring tension, he got more horsepower. The engines would rev up quicker and higher. We went looking for the weakest valvesprings that shops took out that we could find. He built Ford Flathead engines for people on the side.
"Keith ran a 225ci Ford Flathead hydroplane called the 'Flying Saucer.' I'd go to the boat races with him and help out. But he realized that it was so much easier to make horsepower with a Chrysler Hemi than anything else out there.
"Keith studied engineering books about fuel and metallurgy. Sometimes he'd have to read those two or three times just to absorb the material."
(Keith might have also buried himself in an article from the May '52 Hot Rod magazine "New Horizons in Engine Development," written by James Zeder, Chrysler's director of engineering, on hemispherical combustion chambers. The Chrysler Hemi was developed in 1948, hitting the showrooms in 1951.)
"His thing was, don't put stuff in an engine you don't need ... no speed equipment for speed equipment's sake. I wanted to put a radical cam in my engine, but he said, 'Don't do it, put this one in' ... a very mild cam. And it worked.
"I was having trouble with my 97 carburetors flooding over. Keith never had that trouble. I said to Keith, I need to know what makes your carburetors work. 'Very simple. The first thing you do is set the carb up to the factory specs and it will work.'"
Keith understood that the factory spent millions engineering their engines, like the incredible Chrysler Hemi, as well as transmissions, so why second-guess them out of the gate? Keith and Dick agreed that the higher the horsepower, the shorter the life.
"I ordered up some rectangular...
"I ordered up some rectangular tubing, got the dimensions of a Model T frame, went to a frame straitening business that had a jig to weld the frame straight. Jim Walker (the "W" in B&W), my business partner owned the Olds engine. But the Olds wasn't getting the job done, so I bought a Hemi from Ethyl Corporation. Those wheels were off the G/B/P car."
Like a grizzly about to pounce...
Like a grizzly about to pounce on its prey, you're looking at the last time Dick's mean and nasty '23 T roadster pickup ran in competition in 1968. "We kept adding weight to the rear because with the Chrysler we couldn't get hold of the ground. It had a plywood bed and the wood sides from a Model T. We had a floorboard that weighed 600 pounds and a truck battery that weighed 300 pounds. The rear bumper was a big pipe that we filled with lead."