“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.”

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.

“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)

Where’s The Motor?

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.