"That was the fad then. You...
"That was the fad then. You put the canvass underhood, put the hood down, of course you cut a hole for your head, pull the rest of it back, put the back rumble seat lid down on it, and you had a nice tight cover. Open the door and crawl underneath, stick your head out and away you go. That was a necessity," Danny laughs, "to let people know you had a race car."
Young Danny Eames was a regular spectator at Legion Ascot Speedway in Alhambra, California. It was close enough to his parents' home to almost smell the benzene and Castrol R oil. What he saw and heard was enough to get him hooked on circle track racing.
Ascot was for professional racers and Danny was just a hop-up who wanted to go fast at the time. So when word hit the streets about a place called Muroc, it was enough for Danny to gas up and go: "I went to Muroc in 1934," he begins. "Of course it was in the middle of nowhere. We'd sleep overnight on a blanket under the car. It was safer at night in case some idiot racing around wouldn't run over us. There was no traffic control, no organization, no nothing. We just showed up, they'd pick three or four guys at about your same category, and you'd race against one another.
"We just wanted to race and the cops were getting pretty tough about street racing in town. We had to go someplace where we could just hang out and race without being hassled. The course was a mile long, but the first quarter of the course was measured so they could check you for the quarter and for the full mile."
Wally Parks wrote this rare...
Wally Parks wrote this rare timing slip in pencil for the L.A. Gophers in June 1942. By government decree all racing was stopped in the United States in June of that year because of the war, but that didn't stop racing on the street. The California Highway Patrol asked Wally Parks, an officer with SCTA, to help organize this speed event at an airstrip that was completed in 1942 at the Ontario Airport. Soon Parks would head off to war in the Pacific and Danny and his fellow SCTA members would be scattered around the world. Danny considers this one of his prized possessions.
Danny Eames (born in 1918) was raised in Alhambra. His father was mechanically minded and initially owned a small grocery store. Mr. Eames later worked at Northrop Aircraft Corporation as a parts analyst. Danny majored in manual arts at Alhambra High, which consisted of mechanical drawing, shop math, machine shop, and welding, graduating in 1936.
"I always liked cars," Danny says. "I used to go to Legion Ascot and watch them race. Then a guy gave me a Model T chassis. I monkeyed with it for a while. I just kept getting more and more involved until I got my '29 Model A. Then I went over to Bell Gardens and met George Riley.
"I finally saved enough money while in high school to buy a four-port Riley overhead-valve conversion head for about $160. They were expensive! But I got the intake manifold, the exhaust manifold, and two Winfield carburetors with the deal.
"I finally sold the Model A for $175 and bought the '32 from a car dealer. It was sitting on the back row, it didn't have a top, and nobody wanted it so he sold it to me."
Danny's Alhambra High School class of 1936 must have also had a class for race car drivers. Sam Hanks ('57 Indy 500 winner) was in Danny's graduating class, as were Ray Crawford (won the Stock Car class driving a Lincoln in the Mexican Road Race in 1954, and also invented the check stand at his Crawford's Market) and Don Francisco (dry lake competitor and famed technical editor for Hot Rod, Car Craft, and Motor Trend magazines).
"Of course the place to hang out before the war was Bell Auto Parts. It was a fun place to go," Danny says, "and you could always find something you needed.
"I got the roadster in 1936....
"I got the roadster in 1936. I knew I was going to race it but I had a girlfriend and I had to take her places so I made a kind of street racer out of it. It had the B-block four-banger in it when I got it. I hopped the motor up with a Riley four-port (OHV conversion head) but of course when the Ford V-8 came out that was a whole new world. I eventually put the V-8 in my roadster."
"Everybody had to work in those days. This was during the Depression ... there wasn't any money. We had to be careful what we did with our money, but hot rodding was our relaxation.
"I worked at an auto shop in Alhambra called the Auto Specialty Shop. I learned a lot there as a mechanic. I learned to rebore the cylinders, grind cranks, and they did complete rebuilding so it was a great place for an apprentice to learn."
"We used to go street racing on Foothill Boulevard in Pasadena. It was wide and long with no traffic. It was the place to race. I belonged to the L.A. Gophers and when I first went to Muroc dry lake I couldn't believe it. It was flat and smooth and big ... real big. I was amazed at such a place. When the government shut it down we went to Harper Dry Lake, it was further but it was worth it.
"I just got my driver's license when I first went to Muroc. You'd go to the drive-in and try to choose off a drag race and you'd hear someone say something about Muroc next weekend. Hey, that's great ... I'm going to go. That's how it started, word of mouth.
"My '32 had a Thickstun manifold...
"My '32 had a Thickstun manifold (they were located at 2002 W. Washington in L.A. before the war). The stacks were straight down, which gave you a lot of velocity into the 97s."
"That 270 Offy I'm working...
"That 270 Offy I'm working on was for Nat Rounds' rear-engine Champ Car. I worked on the chassis after they got it going and after I rebuilt the Offy. I went through it and changed the clearances, had Ed Winfield do the cams. It never made the Indy 500 because it weighed 2,200 pounds ... 400 pounds too heavy. The Offenhauser engines were a complete mystery to the average mechanic in those days. They were accustomed to getting the cylinder heads off of a Flathead V-8 in nothing flat, but with the dual-overhead cam Offenhauser, you had to disassemble it very carefully, take the crankshaft out through the flywheel end, all that stuff. I worked for Emil Diedt (famed Champ Car fabricator) and Lujie Lesovsky (metal shaper extraordinaire) at 53rd and Figueroa in L.A. They were master craftsmen."
Before SCTA organized the...
Before SCTA organized the meets, Muroc was a dangerous place, not from a racing standpoint, but from cars blasting across the lakebed from all directions. Danny shot this photo at Muroc in 1934 of a head-on. As Danny stated, "No crowd control."
Danny ran this Model B block...
Danny ran this Model B block with a Riley four-port overhead-valve conversion head with a Model C Ford crankshaft before putting a Flathead Ford V-8 in his roadster. (George Riley was an innovative machinist and inventor who manufactured what Henry Ford should have done in the first place for his four-cylinder engines.)
"I wouldn't have gone up to the high desert to sightsee except to go to Muroc. When I got there, I couldn't believe it-those Joshua trees growing out of that dry sand. I started going in 1934. After a couple of times going up there to watch, I started to compete. I could run as good as those guys could so why not run with them? They gave us a timing slip. I stuck mine on the righthand corner of the windshield and parked my car in front of Alhambra High, so everybody had to look at it," Danny laughs.
"We'd go up to Muroc on a Saturday afternoon after work, camp out under a blanket, wake up at dawn, and be ready to go.
"We used to race four abreast. George Riley was putting on the meets at that time. As I recall, I went 109 mph at Muroc. For a street highboy with no lights, no nothing, that was pretty good. Of course I drove the car there.
"We weren't familiar with alcohol as a fuel then, but Bob Rufi was the first guy to run alcohol. We found out he ran alcohol because he spilled some and it removed the paint.
"I was working at Northrop Aviation in their machine shop in Hawthorne when the war broke out. I had a sister who was a secretary in the Air Corps for some general and I couldn't live with that," Danny laughs, "so I quit my job and joined the Navy as a machinist. I was in the South Pacific for two-and-half years and came home in one piece.
Danny grew up near the old...
Danny grew up near the old Legion Ascot Speedway in Alhambra along with future Indy 500 winner Sam Hanks. Both got into Midget racing, but it was too dangerous for Danny. "I found out racing Midgets was the quickest way to get killed," he laughs. "Racing Stock Cars was safer. That was at Carroll Speedway. The Merc belonged to Lincoln-Mercury dealer in Inglewood, Bob Estes. I drove for him when his regular driver was racing track roadsters and the dates conflicted."
"I got a job as a mechanic at Art Hall Lincoln Mercury in Long Beach and worked up to service manager. At the same time my friend and neighbor Sam Hanks got me interested in Midget racing. Hanks was doing quite well and he got me some business rebuilding Offy engines.
"The engines were a complete mystery to the average mechanic in those days. They were used to getting the cylinder head off of a Flathead in nothing-flat, but with the dual-overhead cam Offenhauser you had to disassemble it very carefully, take the crankshaft out through the flywheel end, all that stuff."
A friend of Danny's worked in a gas station and bought a Kurtis Midget chassis. Danny put an Offy in it: "I tried Midget racing. Boy, I found out that was the quickest way in the world to get killed," he laughs.
Road to Detroit
"I worked at Esquire Motors in L.A., which was a Chrysler dealer; the owner had a stock car. One day the driver didn't show up so I drove it. They said, 'Why don't you keep driving this thing?' I raced at Ascot, Carroll Speedway, and the high bank one-mile track at Oakland Speedway. It was a '50 Plymouth standard coupe. The only reason they had that Plymouth coupe was Johnny "Madman" Mantz (not "Madman" Muntz) had won Darlingtom with a Plymouth just like it. It didn't weigh anything and it handled well. It was fast even against the Ford Flathead V-8s with its Flathead six-cylinder engine.
"So that kinda put me on Broadway with Dodge. The Dodge people said why don't you go to work for us?" Danny was hired as chief test driver/chief engineer in charge of its performance program by Bert Carter in 1953. Wally Zierer was the general automotive engineer who said this in 1956: "Danny Eames and his brains were an asset to Dodge's racing programs."
That's Danny in a '50 Plymouth...
That's Danny in a '50 Plymouth standard coupe on the high-bank, one-mile track in Oakland, CA. Danny worked at a Chrysler dealership in L.A. as a mechanic and the owner's regular driver was AWOL. Danny got the call. The coupe was powered by a mighty Flathead six, but the Plymouth was light and handled well against the Ford Flathead V-8s. Danny did well enough to take over the ride and race at Carroll and Ascot Speedways.
"I was in the Mobile Economy Run and I won that twice in a Dodge getting 23.4 mph. We put the Hemi in that little Dodge and that was dynamite," Danny says.
Danny headed for El Mirage and set a speed record of 102.62 mph with the same car. Proving while getting good mileage, this '53 Dodge wasn't your Aunt Bee's Sunday-go-to-meetin' Dodge.
"They put me through the Chrysler Technical Institute and put me through charm school (he's not joking) for two weeks. The boss said 'Look, you're going to meet a lot of dealers and meet a lot of their wives so I want you to act like a gentleman.' They even taught me how to carve a turkey," Danny laughs.
Under Danny's leadership,...
Under Danny's leadership, for the first time, Ford topped NASCAR's point standing in 1956. But almost at the same time Danny wanted to show Fords were not only fast but reliable. Using two identical '56 Fords traveling for 24 hours around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Danny set an endurance record of 107 mph, including fuel stops: "We drove two identical cars around the Speedway-in case one failed, we could keep the record attempt going. Johnny Mantz and Chuck Stevenson drove one and Chuck Diegh and I drove the other. We started the Fords both at the same time to keep things legitimate."
The "King's" Dad
"I put together a race team down south for NASCAR and I got Lee Petty (Richard's dad) to leave Plymouth and go to Dodge. Lee was a short-track racer," Danny continues. "The short wheelbase Dodge with the Hemi engine was right up his alley, but I had to convince him of that because Plymouth didn't have an offering yet.
"I told Lee I wanted to meet with him. He said, 'Why don't you come over for lunch?' The family lived in an old farmhouse, with a quarter-mile racetrack around the property on about a 100-acre farm. They all sat at this long table in the kitchen and ate every meal together, plus everybody in the neighborhood who was in the racing business was invited to eat with them as well. They were real wonderful people and I felt right at home. I offered Lee a Dodge and three engines. We shook on it."
Lee won five races with the 241-inch Dodge Red Ram Hemi engine in 1953 and Danny was the man behind the scenes who made it happen. Lee became NASCAR Champion in 1954.
"On the West Coast I got Marvin Panch from Oakland, California, to drive for Dodge in 1954." Danny was on a roll, heading to Bonneville setting 196 AAA Stock Car speed records to cement Dodge's place in the high-performance market.
Danny put together a team of drivers in 1956, including 1952 Indy 500 winner Troy Ruttman, Jimmy Jackson, Bill Taylor, and Danny Oakes (Midget racer and dry lake competitor). "We ran 10-mile circles on four-hour shifts in 1956, covering 30,000 miles, averaging 150 mph in just eight days at Bonneville." Then Danny was off to the Mexican Road Race.
Danny has a reason to smile...
Danny has a reason to smile because with his guidance Dodge broke 196 American Automobile Association (AAA) speed records at Bonneville in 1953. He followed that with the same red Ram Hemi-powered Coronet with 102.62 mph at El Mirage.
Ol' Home Week
The Carrera Panamericana (Mexican Road Race) was the brainchild of the Mexican government to celebrate the compilation of the Pan American Highway beginning in Tuxtla Gutierrez ending in Ciudad Juarez (near El Paso) for a total of 2,135 miles. The race took place over six grinding days and Danny was there:
"We had 10 Dodges and won the first seven places. Instead of trying to build the cars on the assembly line for the Mexican Road Race we supplied suspension kits, special cams, and the like to dealers because the factory didn't want to be involved, they wanted the Dodge dealers to be involved. I headquartered out of the Dodge dealership in Juarez."
Danny's friend, Midget racer and dry lake competitor Bill Stroppe, who was contracting for Ford (they both ran the Mobile Economy Run), was there with the Lincoln team. Dodge's team swept the Light Stock Class field by finishing First, Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth, and Ninth. Even the mighty Lincoln team who finished First in the Stock Car class had to take notice in 1954.
Two former dry lake racers,...
Two former dry lake racers, Danny Eames and Phil Remington, were charged with Ford's advertising campaign of driving a '58 prototype around the world in 80 days to coincide with Mike Todd's movie of the same name. (Todd died in 1958.) Here they are in Afghanistan where camel caravans of 50 or more were routinely encountered almost hourly. The animals proved skittish and were difficult to pass along the country's version of a road. The trip took 119 days to complete in 1957.
What are the odds that fellow Alhambra classmates would be down participating in the same event? Ray Crawford drove a Lincoln and finished First in class that year and Don Francisco was covering the event for Hot Rod magazine as technical editor. "We laughed about that a lot. What the hell are we all doing down here?" In all, Danny proved that factory Dodges with the Hemi engine were economical, fast, and reliable.
Get Outta Dodge
Danny was traveling home from Phoenix when tragedy stuck on Mother's Day. "Fifty miles out of Blythe a car hit me head-on, killed both of those people, and killed my wife. Chrysler was real indifferent about it and that pissed me off."
"I used to talk to this Ford guy who said 'if you ever decide to leave Chrysler I'd like to talk to you. But before you do, send your boss a telegram, tell him you're terminating, and you send me a copy, then you're legal.' You didn't steal people back in those days in Detroit. They had a code of ethics."
Danny joined Ford, which wasn't up to speed in the racing business when it came to NASCAR like Chrysler. Ford wanted Danny to get them there.
Danny and Phil Remington (right)...
Danny and Phil Remington (right) fueling one of the Ford support trucks in Afghanistan. Mobil supplied the fuel and oil on their journey around the world. A Mobil representative met the Ford expedition at each border to handle the passports, visas, and currency exchanges, plus a Mobil rep who spoke the language escorted them through the country to the next border and handed off to the next rep with the same qualifications and so on.
Pete De Paolo (1925 Indy 500 winner in a Duesenberg) was running Bill Stroppe's racing team in Long Beach and wanted Danny's help. "I hired John Holman, who was working next door on Spring Street as a mechanic at a Lincoln-Mercury dealer, and I put him down in Charlotte. In turn, John hired Ralph Moody who was an excellent chassis man and a hell of a race driver. Between the two of them, they put together Holman and Moody (H&M), which was a roaring success."
H&M became the official racing contractor for Ford, amassing drivers like Mario Andretti, the late Jimmy Clark, A.J. Foyt, Dan Gurney, Richard Petty, Parnelli Jones, and Al and Bobby Unser, to name just a few.
"I got called into Mr. [Lee] Iacocca's office one day. He said, 'We have a job for you. Michael Todd has just made a movie-Around the World in Eighty Days-and Todd has licensed Ford to use that name and announcement of our '58 Ford (this was in January 1957). We want you to drive a '58 Ford around the world. Can you do that?' I said sure! I didn't have the slightest idea how I was going to do that," Danny laughs. "We've been into this thing a couple of months and we don't," Iacocca replied.
"We [Ford PR man and J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency rep] went on a reconnaissance trip. We went flying around the world. When we returned I told Iacocca there's no problem in getting the car around the world, the problem was fuel. Iacocca had talked to Standard Oil, Ford's supplier at the factory, who wasn't structured to furnish fuel around the world. Of course all of this was confidential."
Yep, you guessed it, that's...
Yep, you guessed it, that's Steve McQueen the road racer, seeking Danny's expertise on a wheel bearing that failed on McQueen's Ford at Riverside Raceway. "He was in a road race there and wanted Art Chrisman and I to determine what caused the wheel bearing to fail." (Forget the actor part; McQueen could've easily become a successful professional driver. He finished Second at the '70 Sebring 12-Hour in a 908 Porsche with codriver Peter Revson. Get this: They missed First by 23 seconds to Mario Andretti's Ferrari. Oh, and he drove the 908 with a broken left foot from a motorcycle crash.)
Danny had become friends with Frank Maunier, the head of sales promotion for Mobil Oil, when he was in the Economy Run. With a Ford attorney present and emphasizing that their conversations couldn't go beyond those four walls, a deal was struck on a handshake.
Mobil would supply fuel and oil around the world. A Mobil representative would meet the Ford drivers at each border to handle the passports, visas, currency exchanges, plus whoever spoke the language would take them to the next border and hand them off to the next rep with the same qualifications and so on. Mobil would get exposure in their ads and vice versa.
"I had a '58 Ford prototype, which was handmade, about a $1 million car. Ford didn't have any sheetmetal parts for us in case we crashed or broke them. They weren't that far down the road on the car yet, but they had what was called a pilot car. That's the first car that goes down the assembly line and it takes about a day to build it. So they gave me the pilot car for spare parts.
Of course Danny would drive one of the '58 Fords when they embarked in 1957. Danny then asked his friend Phil Remington to be his chief mechanic (Remington, 90 still works at Dan Gurney's All American Racers), and to drive one of the Fords, plus three other drivers.
"We had to look 100 percent, appearance-wise, all the time. If the cars got skinned up or damaged we had paint, thinner, and welding outfits, so we could fix anything," Remington states.
"I worked for Pete De Paolo at the time," Remington says, "but I met Danny when we worked at Eddie Meyer."
The group Danny assembled was a virtual army: Two 1-ton Ford 4x4 custom-built trucks (Ford didn't make a 4x4, according to Danny); with fore and aft winches, dual fuel tanks, 110 gallons of water per truck, generators, drivers, tools, spare parts, everything to fix the cars, and a camera crew from Disney.
"We were gone about 119 days instead of the 80 days, they stopped a lot and the film crew took a lot of pictures," Remington continues. "We had to get the car back to the United States and we couldn't fit the whole car in the Douglas C 54."
Danny had gotten a telegram from Ford; they needed the prototype back in Detroit for promotional photos. A smaller DC4 cargo plane arrived at the Burma airport instead of the promised DC6.
Danny Eames became one of...
Danny Eames became one of the "suits" the day he joined driver Jerry Kugel for this advertising shot at Bonneville. When Ford acquired Autolite, Danny became manager of product performance. He created an engineering exercise in 1969, the "Lead Wedge" that used 20 Autolite high-performance batteries. The Baker Torpedo held the electric car land speed record on Daytona Beach of 104 mph, which stood for 65 years. That is until Danny showcased Ford's commitment to electric-powered cars. He called on his fellow hot rodders to help with the project, including Larry "Chopstick" Shinoda, who designed the wedge; Jerry Eisert built the monocoque body and Kugel drove. "Ford didn't want me driving that thing, so we asked Jerry to drive it. The team upped the record considerably to 134 mph," Danny says. Remember the 427 in the Andretti's Ranger pickup? For Kugel's effort, he was given the cammer motor.
The pilot said he was only going to be on the ground for two hours. He had a stop in the Philippines to pick up a load of monkeys. We had to cut the car in two. We cut it behind the door posts and took the whole front end off the car and part of the quarter-panels to pry it into the cargo plane."
Back on U.S. soil, the monkeys had gotten loose and soiled everything inside the plane. They especially took a liking to the Ford. The plane had to taxi to the end of the runway and have the fire department hose everything off before they'd allow the nasty Ford to be unloaded.
Not to diminish the team's accomplishments, they crossed through 17 countries in those 119 days and made a lot of ink for Ford and Mobil Oil in the process.
A youthful looking 92-year-young...
A youthful looking 92-year-young Danny Eames went after the youth market in the '50s. Both Dodge and Ford were lackluster brands until Danny spearheaded their racing programs into high gear.
When Ford acquired Autolite, Danny went to work for the division known for its spark plugs and batteries. He enlisted two of the best engine men in racing: "I hired Art Chrisman to represent us in the drag racing business. I hired Chrisman in 1962 because he was one of the first big-time drag racers, plus he was well respected in the industry. He was excellent on fuel injection and engine tuning. He knew engines.
"Chickie Hirashima was a riding mechanic in the old two-man Champ Car days going back to the mid-'30s. He also knew engines. Hirashima assembled every Offenhauser engine and dyno tested it before it was released from the factory. I knew Hirashima from the Champ Car, United States Auto Club (USAC) circuit.
Danny created an engineering exercise in 1969, the "Lead Wedge" that used 20 Autolite high-performance batteries. It was Ford's path for electric cars. Danny chose Jerry Kugel as the driver because Ford didn't want Danny to drive the thing. Kugel got it up to 141 mph with an average record speed of 138 mph at Bonneville.
(Left to right) Mario Andretti,...
(Left to right) Mario Andretti, Danny, Art Chrisman, and Chickie Hirashima. "Mario drove a Ranger pickup that Jerry Eisert built at Bonneville for us that had a 427 SOHC Ford. (Chrisman built the 427.) It was so wide that Eisert had to take the spring towers out and put a straight front axle under it. Andretti was a little skeptical but it ran like a charm and he drove it 200 mph on the salt."
There's no question that Dodge, Ford, and Autolite benefited from Danny's creative mind in motorsports. Autolite Spark Plugs surpassed Champion when it came to racing team preferences at the time. When Ford sold Autolite in 1974, Danny retired from Ford. He went to work as a product manager for a parts company in Nevada before moving to Santa Maria.
Looking back Danny has this to say: "You have to stay at whatever you are doing in life. I grew up in the Depression; you grabbed onto opportunities and pursued them. You parlayed one to another. That's what it takes to get somewhere."