Dick needed goggles (sunscreen...
Dick needed goggles (sunscreen hadn't hit the shelves yet) at El Mirage with its searing heat and wind. That ominous dust devil, forming on a hot, flat surface, heading Dick's way, was/is all part of coping with the changing conditions of the dry lake bed.
Newly hired by an insurance company, appearance was everything; Annie was worried about her first impression with her bosses. Prim and proper was the dress code. "I was very vain about my hair at that time," Annie, of West Hills, California, says. "I was just out of high school and was hired by an insurance company on Wilshire and 7th in Santa Monica. Dick would drive me to work in his Modified and my shoulder length hair was blown all over the place ... we didn't have hair spray in those days. I told him to quit speeding and slow down.
"Every other weekend, it seems, he was going to El Mirage and the next weekend his car would be scattered all over the backyard. All his buddies, like Bob, were there working on it."
Dick maintained his father's...
Dick maintained his father's Pontiac and in return he could use it get to school when his Modified was scattered in his backyard. One time he stuffed 16 guys and girls in the '37 to cart them home from (Norwegian Figure Skating Champion) Sonja Henie's Skating Rink. "I only did that once," Dick says.
Dick says, "Bob Wenz was a Low Flyers guy and we went to the lakes together. We went to high school together and Bob was the best man in my wedding. Bob was running his '27 roadster at the lakes; I was the pit crew, I'd help him push the car and that stuff.
"I was a Santa Monica High School kid and the Low Flyers Racing Club was in town and I used to hang out with them. I got invited to go to a meeting and became a member."
Dick was raised on 24th and Broadway in Santa Monica. On a recent visit to his old neighborhood he saw a house that looked exactly like the house he grew up in ... that's because it was the house he grew up in! (The Signal Gasoline gas station Dick's dad ran next to the house is gone.) "The lady who lives in our house was 94 years old and hadn't changed a thing."
The talent in the Low Flyers...
The talent in the Low Flyers was extraordinary. Bob and Dick paid club dues along with some of the best wrenches in all of hot rodding/motorsports when they became members: Old-guys-22 or 23 at the time-like Phil Remington (who still works at Dan Gurney's All American Racers in Santa Ana, CA, and became one of the early developers of the Ford GT 40 program), and Jack Engle (Engle Racing Cams), Stu Hilborn (developed the first constant flow-direct fuel injection system for racing engines).
Not only was the Low Flyers Car Club in Santa Monica, Karl and Veda Orr's Speed Shop (both were racers) was located there as well, where guys could ogle the latest speed equipment and pick up on the latest speed secrets. Veda also published the California Timing News before Hot Rod magazine hit the stands.
Being a member of the Low Flyers, Dick was more of an observer of the experienced racers like Stu Hilborn and Phil Remington than an equal: "When it was my turn to run my Modified at El Mirage, I didn't know what to do. Take your car and go. I put my $3 helmet on, a seat belt ... period, that was it. You took your windshield off, your fenders off (if you had them), and ran the car. That was in the '40s. I ran 117 ... that was bitchin'. It wasn't good enough to get me up with the heavyweights, but I was thrilled.
"Stu Hilborn and Phil Remington were the big boys at the lakes," Dick says. "When Hilborn had his car at El Mirage (Hilborn's Class B Streamliner was the first to record 150 mph at the lakes), I'd just stand there and watch him work on it."
What was the appeal of enduring...
What was the appeal of enduring the extreme heat, and the cold, of El Mirage? That timing tag that Dick (and virtually every hot rodder who competed) has kept as a prized possession since he received it in 1948.
The Piccadilly is mentioned time and again as the number one gathering place for street racers. Was it the great burgers or the fast cars that drew hot rodders to the Piccadilly? "I was a BAD street racer," Dick says, who would frequent the Piccadilly Drive-In with Lois.
Street racers like George Barris, Dick Kraft, Indy 500 racer Jack McGrath, and Manual Ayulo were regulars at the Piccadilly. Hot rodders came from miles around where choosing off one another to a street race was where it was at.
"It was on Sepulveda in Culver City and we used to go there on Saturday nights. It was always crowded with kids and young adults. There was always someone who thought he had the faster car than the next guy," Lois continues.
"One by one, the fast cars would leave and everyone would pick up on the fact that a drag race was in the making. Everyone would jump in their cars and follow them to Washington Boulevard or Venice Boulevard and stand by the sidelines to watch." (Probably more rubber was laid on that exit driveway than the start line at Santa Ana Drag Strip.)
Dick joined the Army at the tail end of the war after graduating from high school, spending 18 months in Japan during the Allied Occupation as a mechanic's instructor.