Ah sure, Bob was one of those...
Ah sure, Bob was one of those future tea bagger sporty-car chaps. Why he probably had a spot of tea waiting for him just after he got off his ’45 Harley. Fact is, Bob raced motorcycles on dirt tracks like Carrell Speedway and knew few of his fellow competitors grew old doing it. Sports car racing was Bob’s entry into becoming a professional and he went for it.
“There was a road on the outskirts of Bishop off Highway 2 where there was a dirt oval track that ran jalopy races. I was taking my buddy around the track and said, ‘This is really great isn’t it?’ He didn’t answer. He’d fallen out of the car! I got a Model A roadster body and frame from Economy Auto Wrecking in Bishop and put it together. I lived in Bishop about a year.”
After graduating from high school, Bob dug ditches and unloaded furniture trucks at Bekins Van Lines, then later on, sold Corvettes to finance his racing. “I even tried selling insurance once, but that was boring.”
When Bob was 18 he started racing motorcycles at Carrell and Culver City Speedways: “In those days you didn’t have brakes; you went faster without brakes on the bikes. I was going with a girl who I liked a lot, but she said, ‘If we’re going to get married you’re going to have to stop racing motorcycles. It’s either me or the motorcycle.’ If you put it that way, I have to race.”
Bob made the big bucks—$8 a night because he was in the novice class. He was going to a motorcycle shop in Glendale where Don Bachtold worked—he was a top motorcycle mechanic. “Bachtold built a special motor and said, ‘Why don’t you take that little motor out of your bike and put this one in’? I raced an Indian 101 Scout motorcycle at De Anza Park in Riverside. I checked the board to see where I qualified; I wasn’t on the Novice board. I said where am I? ‘You qualified Expert, you were the quickest.’ I had learned how to ride the bike by now. I raced that bike for a long time.”
Bob raced motorcycles on a regular basis, but he didn’t want to be on a first-name basic with his orthopedic surgeon like many he raced against. Of course since Bob was an experienced dirt racer he could have picked up a used Midget or Sprinter and gone that route. But that was during a period when fatalities were commonplace … it was a dangerous business. Always in the back of his mind was going to Santa Barbara to watch the sports cars races, so Bob decided to try racing sports cars.
Bob turned heads (quickly)...
Bob turned heads (quickly) on the racecourses of Europe as they sped by at speed, but there was a time and a place for speed. His chopped custom was meant to turn heads alright—girl’s—as Bob slowly cruised to the Piccadilly Drive In. “A bunch of us hung out at the Piccadilly Drive-In on Sepulveda Boulevard to check out the girls and the hot rods. After, we’d street race on Sepulveda Saturday nights because it had a long straightaway. One guy would be the lookout and if the cops were coming he’d flash his lights and we’d take off in different directions. I never got caught,” Bob laughs.
That’s the Motor?
“I went to the Cal Club (California Sports Car Club) and said I wanted to go racing. ‘Do you have a license?’ ‘No.’ I handed them $5, they handed me a Competition License and said, ‘Now you can go racing.’ There were no driving schools then,” Bob laughs. He bought a British two-seater Morgan Plus 4 with four cylinders that put out 68 hp and raced it for a year, graduating to a Triumph TR2 with a blazing 90 horses stock.
You’re right, that’s “tea bagger” stuff … but wait! There’s a definite correlation between Dan Gurney’s budding start and Bob’s. Both raced Triumphs and both raced Corvettes, which got the attention of wealthy car owners who put them in their Ferraris and Maseratis.
When Bob stepped up to the Big Bore crowd and purchased a ’57 Vette with a fuel-injected, 190hp, 283 ci that had been successfully raced by Arcadia resident Jerry Austin, that’s when his racing career took off.
Bob was racing at Riverside Raceway when the crank broke in the Vette. He didn’t have the money to fix it but his motorcycle mechanic friend Don who built the hot motor for his 101 Scout came to the rescue. Bob happened on a used car lot where Don was working.
“I hadn’t seen Don in a few years and told him I’d parked the Vette because I didn’t have the money to fix it. He said you buy the crank and I’ll put the motor back together, and for every race you win I won’t charge you. (How’s that for motivation?) He put the motor back together and it ran strong. We started winning races. In those days there were as many as 35 Vettes on the track at the same time. There was a lot of fiberglass flying.”