Because Bill was a skillful...
Because Bill was a skillful race driver in his own right, his customers trusted him with their cars. That’s Bill wringing out a Sprint Car at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, CA. “It only had rear-wheel brakes because it was designed to run on dirt. Besides, if I broke it, I knew how to fix it,” Bill laughs.
“I’d always wanted to go to Indy. I’d listened to it on the radio as a kid and when I was stationed in Texas I asked for a three-day pass over Memorial Day weekend to go to Indy in 1952 and was denied. I was all keyed-up to go so I went anyway! Watching the race is when I got hooked on Indy. I was teaching mechanic school so I didn’t get in too much trouble and got out soon after. But that’s how much Indy meant for me to go.”
Bill finally went to the Speedway, not as a spectator but as a competitor in 1959, towing the 4.2L Maserati V-8 in Arciero’s Kurtis 500-C: “I towed it behind Arciero’s company truck that had ‘Montebello Sewer’ lettered on the door (you’d be laughed out of town today). I took a sleeping bag and it was so cold I ripped up the bag so I could wear it while driving the pickup. It didn’t have a heater.
“That was my first shot at Indy,” Bill reminisces. “Shorty Templeman was the driver. We didn’t qualify because all the engines were required to run dry sump systems and the scavenger pump on the Mauser V-8 wasn’t keeping up with the oil pressure pump and we were blowing oil out the rear seal.”
“When we put the 4.2L Maserati...
“When we put the 4.2L Maserati V-8 in the 500 C Kurtis chassis of Arciero’s to go to Indy, we had to convert it from wet sump to dry sump according to the USAC rules. We didn’t put a big enough scavenge pump on it and it was bailing oil out of the rear main. Shorty Templeman was running fast enough to have qualified in the middle of the field but we withdrew the car. (The Maserati had another local racer who made a name for himself racing a Corvette (besides Gurney): Bob Bondurant.)
Before All American Racers
The Formula 1 teams didn’t want their drivers looking on where the cars were being built. “When Enzo Ferrari saw Gurney in the garage area he took him aside and said, ‘When you drive for Ferrari, not to worry … you get in the car, you drive, you win.’ Ferrari didn’t want Gurney asking questions and concerning himself about his race cars.”
Gurney wanted to be more than a driver and made the decision to start his own company. At that point he was already an international Grand Prix star with a huge following in the United States; “Dan Gurney for President” bumper stickers were the rage proclaiming his popularity.
Gurney decided to control his own destiny. Bill and Gurney had formed a bond of respect for one another’s ability during the Arciero days. Gurney chose Bill as his first employee: “Gurney opened a little 40x40-foot shop in Costa Mesa and called it Dan Gurney Racing in 1960 (renamed All American Racers in 1965). That’s when I went to work for him. Carroll Shelby and Gurney teamed up. Shelby knew where to get the money and got us started with Goodyear.
“When we first started, I did the engines … I did everything. I’d pull them down, Magnaflux the crank and rods, lap the valves, and get the cars ready for the next race.
Frank Arciero’s Ferrari became...
Frank Arciero’s Ferrari became a workhorse, running at Bonneville with Bob Drake driving it in 1956 going through the timing trap at 176.913 mph. But when Gurney got behind the wheel, the 4.9L V-12 never cooled off.
“When the first 409 Chevy came out in 1961, Gurney had this idea of taking the Chevy to England to race it in the saloon (sedan) races. We bought the 409 at Don Steve’s Chevrolet in La Habra. Gurney and I went to Van Nuys to the Chevy plant and watched the car being built, and then I drove it to Montebello, tore it apart, and made a race car out of it.
“I got a call when I was in Vegas on my honeymoon that Gurney needed the Chevy over in England ASAP. Could I take it to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and put it on a ship? We had our honeymoon in that car,” Bill laughs. “I drove it to New York. I put it on a ship, then Carolyn and I flew home.”
A wheel broke while Gurney was leading the 3.8 Jags at Silverstone Circuit, the site of the British Grand Prix. Nevertheless he thrilled the crowd, many of which had never heard the sound of a big-inch American V-8 before. (I was in the crowd, a lowly PFC in the Army and I watched with pride Gurney driving the uncorked booming 409 Chevy with Cal plates. Wow! —Dick Martin)
Gurney was no stranger to a rear-engine configuration Champ Car at Indy having qualified eighth fastest in Mickey Thompson’s rear-engine Buick V-8 powered Harvey Aluminum Special in 1962. He was in Ninth Place when the gearbox packed up.
This was 1965 at Indy with...
This was 1965 at Indy with the heavier and wider DOHC Ford engine. Standing behind the Lotus Ford, All American Racers crew members (left to right): Colin Riley, Bill Fowler, Ed Marsh, and Ken Deringer. “This particular car came from England all set up for the 500,” Bill says.
“I got a lot of input from...
“I got a lot of input from Gurney,” Bill stresses, listening to Gurney in 1967 describe the handling of the Eagle on the two-and-a-half-mile Brickyard. “They say I was the first chief mechanic with a clipboard because I took notes and kept track of things.” That’s Wayne Leary behind Bill, Jim Clark in the background, and Ed Marsh. Clark, from Scotland, had already won two Formula 1 World Championships in 1963 and 1965, as well as the 500 in 1965 in the Lotus Ford.
All of the chief mechanics...
All of the chief mechanics were given a ballot at the beginning of the month of May to determine who in their elite group would receive the coveted Mechanical Achievement Award. When the ballots were collected Bill was nominated in 1967 by his peers. Bill was concerned with safety: “I was the first one to put a shoulder harness in a race car. I put it in the Lotus 19 that Gurney drove. I used aircraft refueling caps instead of the LeMans type (the spring-loaded cap flips up by pressing down on a roller latch) where it could open if the car crashed or rolled over. Gurney never spent a day in the hospital driving a car that I prepared.”