pictures courtesy of the McLennan Family Collection
It is not possible to talk about
drag racing in Northern California without mentioning Jim McLennan.
An inductee to the Bay Area Sports Writers' Hall of Fame and
the National Hot Rod Association's Hall of Fame, Jim was selected
in 2007 to the prestigious International Drag Racing Hall of
Fame by none other than Don "Big Daddy" Garlits. Jim
McLennan's contribution to the sport of drag racing is immeasurable.
He did it all-drove 180 mph slingshot dragsters; ran Champion
Auto Parts (a retail speed and machine shop); and, owned and
operated several race tracks, including Champion Speedway which
he built from the ground up. Although Jim McLennan died in February
2007, his legacy is carried on today by sons Bobby and Mike,
who continue to build, tune, and drive top fuel dragsters as
part of NHRA's Hot Rod Heritage Series. Jim's life long passion
for hot rods and racing started in his teens. While at San Francisco's
Balboa High School, Jim worked in a gas station. He could fix
anything, but what he loved to do was make cars go fast. He was
well known out on the Great Highway near San Francisco's Ocean
Beach for his street racing prowess with a '51 Chevy powered
by a souped up V-8 Oldsmobile engine. In the 1950s, as almost
all activities relating to hot rods and drag racing revolved
around a car club, Jim became a member of San Francisco's Pacers
Car Club, and was instrumental in moving the racers off the streets
and onto the drag strip. As early as 1955, Jim was racing a flathead-powered
dragster at the strip. The problem was that there were very few
tracks in those days to drag race. But, that would all change
when Jim stepped in and rescued the closure of Half Moon Bay.
The airstrip at Half Moon Bay had been used by a couple of the
local car clubs (the Lightning Rods and the Piston Pushers) as
a place to race legally, but the city wanted improvements and
insurance. Without the money to sustain their pastime, the car
clubs had to give it up. By this time, Jim had already opened
Champion Auto Parts in South San Francisco. His speed shop quickly
became "the place" to go for rodders seeking specialty
parts, hot tune ups, or to just hang out. When Jim heard that
a 3000' long, 60' wide ribbon of concrete was available, he quickly
negotiated a lease with the city and took over the track. Jim
turned this remote little auxiliary airport into the hub of drag
racing in the late 1950s. With Half Moon Bay and Cotati (which
Jim also owned) open on alternate weekends, drag racers in Northern
California finally had a legitimate option to street racing.
Through all this, Jim still found
time to be the wheelman for the Champion Speed Shop-Ted Gotelli
fuel dragster. Talk about "having your cake and eating it
too"--Jim enjoyed the rare privilege driving his own race
car at a track he owned. But, the time to take off the gloves
and helmet was just around the corner. Jim had married his high
school sweetheart, Dorothy Padilla, and he soon became a father
with the arrival of Bobby in 1954 and Sandy in 1955. By 1961,
the dangers of driving a top fuel dragster had escalated exponentially.
With improvements to supercharger and fuel delivery systems,
the engines had become very powerful. Drivers were getting hurt
everywhere including close friend Bud Barnett at Jim's own track
(HMB). Family and business concerns convinced him to turn the
job of driving a fuel dragster over to another. When Jim's long
time partner, Ted Gotelli, left to form his own team, Jim turned
the driving duties over to 19 year old Sammy Hale. It turned
out to be a very fortuitous decision. With Sammy behind the wheel
of a new Kent Fuller car, the Champion Speed Shop Chevy-powered,
Algon-equipped, fuel dragster rose to the No. 2 position on the
Drag News' Mr. Eliminator list.
However, the strain of constantly
touring the country to defend the spot started to wear on Jim.
At the end of 1962, he reluctantly sold the dragster to Masters-Richter.
Jim now turned his attention to a most ambitious project-building
Champion Speedway in Brisbane. On the site of an old landfill
just south of Candlestick Park, Jim constructed a ½ mile
oval track, later adding a 1/8 mile drag strip on the speedways
straightaway. This NHRA-sanctioned facility was the mainstay
of the Bay Area auto racing scene until its closure in 1979.
The following pictures provide
a brief yet vivid peek at Jim's contributions to the development
and popularity of hot rodding and drag racing in the Bay Area.
It is a glimpse back to the sport's infancy, a time when pioneers
like Jim McLennan would take drag racing forward and make it
a permanent part of the pop culture landscape.
THE BUSINESS MAN
This was the original Champion
Automotive which opened in 1957 on El Camino Real; Colma Creek
was immediately behind this building. How did Jim come up with
the name "Champion"? Before this building housed Jim's
auto parts store it had been Champion Fence Company.
Jim moved his speed shop to
1685 Old Mission Road in 1958 which was around the corner from
the original location.
The Champion Auto Parts building
today is home to a tire store and an auto body shop. Also, done
are the American built automobiles that used to occupy all the
parking slots in front of the speed shop.
Bruno Gianoli, Don Smith,
Jim, and an unidentified employee; Bruno ran the machine shop
and Don was Jim's partner in both the business and the drag strips.
The view customer's saw when
they talked through the door of Champion Auto Parts.
Taken in the back of Champion
Speed Shop, this photo appeared in Drag News much to the irritation
of both Jim and Jerry Light (owner of Vic Hubbard Speed Shop).
Jim's biggest rivals at the time are standing there at the back
of the dragster-Jerry and Denny Forsberg. (far left is Denny
Milani; Jim is in the foreground and that is a Ford engine!!
he's working on).
A wire from "Big Daddy"
dated 07/13/1964 sent to Don Smith at Champion Speed Shop.
Born in Chicago in 1932, the
family moved to San Francisco when Jim was ten years old. By
the time Jim graduated from Balboa High School in 1950, he was
already a confirmed gear head and hot rodder. He was a member
of the Pacers Car Club out of Daly City, and was well known out
on the Great Highway for his racing prowess with his 1951 Chevrolet.
Jim's dad was a police officer and did not look favorably on
his son's need for speed. Jim later became president of the Pacers
and started racing the club project cars at tracks like "Little
Bonneville" in San Jose. In 1958, Jim teamed up with Ted
Gotelli and their Champion Speed Shop-Gotelli Spl. would set
many track and Standard 1320 records. Jim later built two more
fuel dragsters, the most famous of which was the Champion Speed
Shop Spl. driven by Sammy Hale.
This was Jim's first
race car--a flathead-powered rail (of sorts)>1955.
Jim's street machine that
he raced out on the Great Highway-a 1951 Chevy powered by an
Olds engine equipped with four carburetors.
Drag racing in the 1950s revolved
almost entirely around the car clubs; Jim was a member of The
Pacers , just one of many in the Bay Area at the time (see listing
Before HMB, Cotati, and Fremont,
organized drag racing was held at a facility in San Jose called
"Little Bonneville" (near King and Storey Rd). Jim
is kneeling front row and center in front of the Pacers' modified
Jim (far side) won this final
round of Top Eliminator versus Ewell & Stecker at the San
Luis Obispo Timing Association's (SLOCTA) drag strip at San Luis
Obispo in 1957.
Champion Speed Shop Spl.-
Gotelli racing Ed Cortapassi in The Glass Slipper at Vacaville
I think it is safe to say
Emory Cook (near side) lost this round of eliminations at Vacaville
(1959) to the Gotelli-Champion Speed Shop Spl.
Cover shot of the Champion
Speed Shop-Gotelli Spl. when it set a new Standard 1320 B/FD
record of 8.77-171.45 at HMB.
Jim and Ted put a blower on
the rail for the 2nd Annual U.S. Gas and Fuel Championships;
Bakersfield CA 1960.
By the fall of 1960, the Champion
Speed Shop-Gotelli Team consisted of Ted's black Scotty Fenn
dragster with a blown Chrysler and a new Scotty Fenn rail with
a blown Chevy. Initially Jim drove the Chevy and Bud Barnett
drove the Chrysler, but at times one or the other drove both
cars. In March 1961, Rod Stuckey sustained severe burns from
a fire while driving his top fuel dragster at HMB. To help pay
the medical bills, the Organ Grinders organized a benefit race
on his behalf at HMB. Bud Barnett drove both cars that day, and
as fate would have it, suffered similar serious injuries from
an engine explosion right before the lights. This accident for
all intents and purposes ended Bud's driving career. Ted Gotelli
took a torch and cut up what was left of that Scotty Fenn rail.
The black Gotelli-McLennan
Spl. at the 1961 March Meet. This is the dragster in which Bud
Barnett incurred his horrific burns from a fire at the Rod Stuckey
benefit race at HMB in April 1961.
Jim built this Scotty Fenn
car, the red Champion Speed Shop-Gotelli Spl., in 1960 when Ted
made the decision to put a Chrysler in the original Scotty Fenn
rail. This photo was taken for the October 1961 issue of Hot
Rod Magazine when the magazine ran a 3-page feature called "Rail
for a Reason". Left to right: John Zucca, Jim, Ted Gotelli,
Bruno Gianoli, Marcel "Lem" Lemmelet, and Bud Barnett.
Jim and a model posing for
a publicity shot for the 1961 California State Championships
at HMB-nice hood ornament
Jim campaigned this AA/GD
during the NHRA fuel ban, but could never get it to perform the
way he wanted and quickly returned to fuel racing. The Twin had
a 6:71 blower in back and a 4:71 in front, both equipped with
Algon injectors. He was also wearing what possibly could be the
very first fire suit-(Cotati 1961).
After the accidents to Rod Stuckey
and Bud Barnett, Jim got a proximity suit from the San Francisco
Airport Fire Department. He planned to test it by igniting gasoline
tossed onto the ground and then running through the flames. Unexpectedly,
Jim tripped and fell into the fire during the experiment, and
after rolling around on the ground in the inferno, discovered
that the suit actually worked. But, it was not the answer to
the problem of fires caused by engine explosions; the suit was
simply too hot and uncomfortable for driving a race car. Sammy
Hale complained that it leaked fiberglass and made one itch all
After giving up on the AA/GD
experiment, Jim returned to nitromethane. In this race at Fremont
In 1961, he beat 'Slim' Sumner driving the Sumner-Bert-Mewes
A/GMC for top eliminator.
The infamous Organ Grinders
Racing Team of which every member was named Sam; Sam was actually
their donkey that always accompanied the guys to the track. Back
row: Larry Gotelli; no ID; Andy Brizio; Ted Gotelli; Bud Barnett;
Marcel Lemmelet. Middle row: Jim; Fremont trophy girl; Bruno
Gianoli; Vic Gotelli (Ted's brother) Bottom row: Lou
Jim wearing the proximity
suit prior to a pass in Ted Gotelli's new Fuller car. After Bud's
accident at HMB, Ted cut up the Chassis Research car and ordered
this Fuller car. Kneeling at Jim's right is Ted Gianinni (The
Owl) and on the left a very young Sammy Hale.
Jim could not believe how easy
it was to drive the Fuller car-said it was like driving a Cadillac
compared to the Chassis Research car. This was also right around
the time Jim and Ted Gotelli split up. Jim was so impressed with
Fuller's design that he went to Southern California and ordered
one for himself. This would be the car that Sammy Hale was so
successful in driving, eventually becoming holders of the No.
2 spot on Drag News' Mr. Eliminator list.
Editor's note: when Jim went
to L.A. to order a chassis from Fuller, Kent had a car on the
jig he was building for Ronnie Hampshire and George Bolthoff.
Jim, apparently, made Kent an offer he couldn't refuse and that
piece of chrome moly tubing became the Champion Speed Shop Spl.;
George and Ronnie got the next
Jim in Ted Gotelli's new Fuller
car; after Jim and Ted split up, Jerry Card (El Cerrito),Archie
Liederbrand, and Jesse Schrank each drove the car, but briefly.
Ted eventually settled on Glen Leasher who took the car to runner
up honors at the 1962 March Meet.
Jim driving Gotelli's new
Fuller car vs. the Schrank Bros at HMB (1961); After Bud's fire
in April, Jim went to work exploring ways to prevent drivers
from getting burned as had happened to Rod and Bud. In this shot,
Jim is wearing the proximity suit he got from the SF Airport
Photo of the Fuller (CSS #1)
and Fenn (CSS #2) dragsters at Cotati in early 1962; left to
right: Bobby McLennan, Jim, Chet Thomas, Bruno Gianoli, Don Smith,
Tom McGuire, and Sammy Hale.
Swinging" Sammy Hale
(a nickname given to Sammy by Don Smith) and Jim packing the
The Fuller car in the pits
at HMB; Jim had decided it was time to get out of the seat and
turned the driving chores over to 19 year old Sammy Hale. With
Sammy at the controls, the Champion Speed Shop Spl. held down
the No.2 spot on the Drag News Mr. Eliminator Record List for
most of 1962 and they did it with a 364 cid Chevy, a 4:71 blower,
and Algon Injectors.
Classic shot of the Fuller
car with Sammy smoking the hides at pastoral Half Moon Bay.
Possibly the proudest moment
for this Champion Speed Shop rail came on July 22, 1962 at HMB.
In what had been coined as a real David versus Goliath encounter,
Jim McLennan, Don Smith, Sammy Hale and a Gary Rowan-prepared
364 cid Chevy took on the mighty 454 cid Chrysler of Don Garlits
and Connie Swingle. Connie, in the left lane, came out of the
gate in a huge veil of smoke and was soon overtaken by an unfazed
Sammy Hale. At the finish line it was the team from So. San Francisco
by more than a car length with a virtuoso 8.40-180.36.
In August 1962 Bruno Gianoli
and Sammy Hale towed the Champion Speed Shop car back to Cordova,
Illinois for the World Series of Drag Racing. These unique injectors
were built by Bruno Gianoli and called "The Swifty".
Champion Speed Shop in the
pits at Cordova; behind: Chris "The Greek" Karamesines
who had recently lengthened his TE 448 chassis.
A replica of the Champion
Speed Shop Spl. was featured in the1996 Oakland Museum Exhibition,
Hot Rods and Customs: The Men and Machines of California's Car
Culture. This 200" Logghe chassis recreation is currently
on display at Brizio Street Rod in South San Francisco.
In October 1962, Jim challenged
Don Garlits for the Drag News Mr. Eliminator No. 1 spot. They
had already left for Florida when they received news that Vance
Hunt had taken the coveted position away from Garlits. As a result,
Jim and Sammy headed for Houston, Texas, for the showdown with
Vance. Vance won the first round, but Sammy countered with a
win of his own in round two. There was a ditch off to the side
of the asphalt, and because the car had been unusually skittish
that day, Sammy wanted some additional weight on the front end.
However, the team did not want to make the car any heavier and
Sammy was overruled. When the final was run, the car got dangerously
close to that ditch and Sammy had to lift in order to save the
run. Although "the little Chevy that could" did not
grab the coveted top spot away from Vance, it did set low e.t.
at 8.33. A few weeks later, Sid Masters approached Jim and asked
him to drive the M&R car to see what he thought was causing
the handling problems they were having. Jim made a run in the
old M&R (purple car) car and afterwards told Sid the best
thing to do was to put a cutting torch to it At the same time,
Jim was contemplating parking the Champion Speed Shop Spl. because
he was so busy constructing Champion Speedway. This was a million
dollar deal and left Jim with no time to race the Champion Speed
Shop dragster. Sid wanted to purchase the Fuller car. Jim was
so confident that Sid's combination would be a success that he
promised them the car for nothing if it did not set a new speed
record. They put M&R's 392 cid Chrysler in it and set a new
1320 speed record of 192.30 at HMB the first time out. M&R
then took it to Fresno, San Gabriel, and Lions and set new speed
records at those tracks, too. Sid and Rick were more interested
in running big speeds than winning races, but they also won their
fair share of top eliminators.
On November 24, 1962 at San Gabriel,
Sammy Hale defeated Ewell, Stecker, and Kamboor the last time
the feisty little 364 cid Chevy would defend its number two Mr.
Eliminator position. By January 1963, Sid and Rick had purchased
the Fuller chassis, repainted the dragster yellow, and the rest
Big' Bob Haines in the Fuller
car after the Masters-Richter makeover. Can you believe he's
looking at her face?
Jay Cheatham and his record-holding
B/GD graced the cover of this HMB program; Jay was killed the
following March during the 1st U.S. Gas & Fuel Championships.
A Half Moon Bay souvenir program
from 8/24/1958-12 pages of features, results, ads, and photos.
Before Al Caldwell wrote his
famous "Northern Briefs" column in Drag News, he published
his own Drag Race Gazette-Vol. 1 No.1 seen here.
Don Garlits was a frequent
competitor at Half Moon Bay over the years. By September 1960,
Ted Gotelli had replaced the Chevy engine with a Chrysler mill
and challenged Garlits to a match race at HMB.
Ron Lawrence's Fremont Drag
Strip was a formidable rival in the late 1950s and early 1960s
for the drag racing fan and racer's loyalty ; HMB and Fremont
frequently went head-to-head staging big meets on the same dates.
Ed Garlits was better known
for his blown Chrysler gas dragsters than Swamp Rat.
The view at HMB looking NE
from the return road; the drag strip would be on the racer's
left and Hwy 1 on their right.
"That is Rod Stuckey
in the seat, and yours truly, standing on the starting line lining
him up for a qualifying pass. I'm sure this photo was taken on
the Sunday morning of March 30, 1961.Later that afternoon when
Stuckey was running Bob Sullivan in his Pandemonium car for the
No. 5 spot on the Drag News List, Stuckey's engine let go out
the bottom, and a fire came thru the firewall and the belly-pan
and burned Rod's lower body very badly. It was exactly one month
later at Stuckey's memorial race at Half Moon Bay on April 30,
1961, that I got critically burned, and flipped Ted Gotelli's
car off the end of the track".-Bud Barnett
"The Snake" with
HMB's 'theme girl' Tammy Taylor (1964). Note: the Greer-Black-Prudhomme
car had been lengthened and repainted (from yellow) back to a
shade of orange (the car would be sold in December 1964).
HMB hosted many championship
drag races from 1957 to 1969 including the California Fuel and
Gas Championships. This shot taken in 1963 features the Moody-Zeuschel-Fuller
top fuel dragster against The Dragmaster.
The portable bread truck that
doubled as a timing tower was later replaced by this permanent
tower. After the track closed, the HMB Fire Department torched
it for a training exercise.
The staging lanes at Half
Moon Bay; the lettering barely visible at the extreme left of
the photo designated one of the lanes; looking east back toward
HMB, also called the "Pebble
Beach of Drag Racing", ran north to south. Ron Reed, a current
mechanic at the San Mateo/ Half Moon Bay County Airport is standing
at the spot that starter Andy Brizio would have occupied when
he flagged off a race.
The drag strip was actually
a taxi runway still used today--the view from the finish line.
Though nice and wide (60'), the entire length of the runway was
The finish line at HMB is
still visible in the aggravate; this is the same surface that
was last kissed by a pair of slicks back in 1969.
The dense growth at the right
obscures a deep culvert that angles into the end of the outrun;
this is the same ditch that claimed the life of Denny Milani
Champion Speedway was located
on a parcel of land situated between Bayshore Blvd. on the west
and the Bayshore Fwy (Hwy 101) on the east; entrance to the facility
was on Beatty Rd. off Tunnel Ave.
Champion Speedway was built in
Brisbane on land owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad. It had
previously served as a landfill, so the smell was incredibly
obnoxious during the excavation phase of the construction. Jim
originally proposed to build it in Redwood City where the Oracle
building now stands, but could not convince the city to issue
the permits due to noise concerns. Champion Speedway was patterned
after the famous Ascot Park in Los Angeles, and Included a ¼
mile oval on the inside of the bigger track. In 1967, the entire
place was remodeled and a 1/8 drag strip was added to the facility.
The view north toward
Hunter's Point and Candlestick Park.
A shot of the oval
track taking shape.
Kent Fuller and Jim (background)
surveying the grading for the speedway. Kent had moved to northern
California to expand his chassis-building business and was integral
in the planning and construction of the speedway.
Champion Speedway was designed
after the legendary Ascot Speedway (seen above) in Los Angeles.
Sprint Car action
at 'The Speedway' back in the day.
Champion Speedway cost a fan
$2.00 to get in-that wouldn't even buy a bottle of water at the
Motorcycle racing was an integral
part of the speedway's offering-the trophy queen none other than
the beautiful Cherie Hale (Sammy's better half).
toward Sierra and Oyster Points.
In 1967, the speedway was
remodeled and a 1/8 mile drag strip added to the facility; NHRA's
Jack Hart and a Southern Pacific RR executive checking out the
progress; the view south toward San Bruno Mountain.
All the "suits"
were there for the grand opening of the drag strip: SP's Bill
Finsterbush; Wally Parks; Jim; Steve Evans; Jack Hart; and Bernie
A young Steve Evans was the
general manager and announcer at Champion Speedway.
Opening day-with the light
standards of Candlestick Park in the distance, the Cow Palace
Shell top fuel dragster makes the maiden voyage down the 1/8
mile drag strip.
The view of the remodeled
Champion Raceway looking north; though not visible in the picture,
Candlestick Park was to the right and behind the hill in the
Jim took over Fremont
Drag Strip in 1967.
Somewhere underneath all this
dirt lie the skeletal remains of Champion Speedway; ironically,
this acreage has come full circle, serving the City of Brisbane
today as a landfill, but soon to become condos.
Jim taking in all the action
from atop the Fremont Raceway tower; Bobby McLennan recalls,
"I think we had just finished putting in the old Oakland
Raiders stadium grandstands."
Good bet the contractual obligation
agreements today are a lot more sophisticated - "The Greek"
and and John Durbin's signatures grace this contract (1969).
Jim McLennan and Dorothy
Padilla on their wedding day.
Here it is in black and white-Jim's
6th grade report card from St. John's. You have to love some
of the disciplines that have disappeared from the school curriculum
This picture was taken at
HMB looking west toward the Pacific Ocean (which was right behind
that hill); left to right: Don Smith, Ted Gotelli, Scotty Fenn,
Jim, and Larry Gotelli.
Jim and Micky Thompson were
the best of friends, and in many ways pursued similar careers
as drivers, businessmen, and track managers (Micky at Lions).
This shot was taken at Las Vegas with Micky, Judy Thompson, Don
Smith, Pat Smith, Dorothy, and Jim.
Andy Brizio under the poster;
Sue Brizio in front of him; and, Debbie Brizio wearing the white
Jim and Andy Brizio in front
of Champion Auto Parts flanking Andy's first "Instant T"
Don Smith, Bobby McLennan,
and Jim in the shop at Champion Auto Parts with Andy's "Instant
Cocomo" the clown ( ex-AMA
cycle rider), Jim's daughter (now Sandy Stratton), and a fan
from the motorcycle races at Champion Speedway 1964.
Chassis builder Kent Fuller
and engine whiz Dave Zueschel contemplating how in God's name
they were going to get this lawn mower engine to fit in the frame.
Richmond's Cloy Fitzgerald
started his career working for Jim at HMB. It was Jim who introduced
Cloy to Bernie Partridge who later made him the NHRA Division
Seven tech director.
Sammy Hale: I bought a lot of speed equipment at
Jim's shop for my Olds fast back sedan. I raced in a class called
Olds Modified starting when I was 17 years old. When I was younger
and lived in San Bruno, I was actually classmates with Larry
Gotelli at Capuchino H.S. Then, my dad moved our family to Morro
Bay. But, it seemed I was always bumping into some drag racers
from San Francisco. I remember running into John Zucca at the
Santa Maria drag strip once. I started driving for Jim when I
was 19 years old. I started out as the typical grunt guy on the
team, but after a few weeks Jim put me in the Scotty Fenn car
just to warm it up. Then, I got to make a half pass at HMB and
went 135 mph. The following week, I went 176 mph before damaging
the crankshaft and ending our day. The learning curve went up
sharply when I had to race Romeo Palimedes for the #5 spot on
the Mr. Eliminator List. We won and things just took off after
that. The dragster that made us famous was the Fuller car which
made its debut on New Year's Day in 1962 at HMB. We were having
problems with wheel stands that day, so Jim told me to slip the
clutch for 200'. In the final we were matched against Slim Sumner
and his modified coupe. We beat him and ran low e.t. of the day
our first time out. That year, we must have defended our #2 Mr.
Eliminator position seven or eight times. In October 1962, we
challenged Don Garlits for the number one spot. But, he had just
lost it to Vance Hunt, so we went to Houston, Texas to take on
Vance. The right lane was real difficult that day; the car wanted
to wheel stand and drift to the right. This strip did not have
a guard rail and there was a big drop off at the edge of the
asphalt. Vance had replaced J L Payne and I was getting out first
on his new driver. They won the first round, but I returned the
favor in round two setting low e.t. in the process (8.33). Delegated
back to the troublesome right lane for the final, I knew it would
be an uphill battle. Nobody on the team wanted to add any weight
to the front end, so I knew I would have a tough time of it.
I took it out as far as I could, but had to get out of it to
keep it on the track. By the time I stabbed it again, he had
gone past me. It was a race we should have won, but we could
not agree on the best way to set up the car. The disappointment
from not winning the number one spot spilled over to other things
once we got back to California. I think Jim was tired of all
the traveling and wanted to spend more time at home. Not long
after we returned home, he sold the car to Masters-Richter and
I was out of a ride. I did drive for Ted Gotelli in 1964 and
much later for Jessie Perkins. All in all, we had a great run
at it. Especially pleasing was that time at HMB when we beat
Don Garlits and Connie Swingle for Top Eliminator. Yes, that
little tiger of a Chevy knocked off that big, bad 454 cid Chrysler-Don
was not pleased.
Bud Barnett: I knew about Champion Speed Shop from my
days driving the Scottie's Muffler A/HR in Southern California.
I moved to Northern California to attend San Francisco State
University. One day I just went down to the shop and introduced
myself to Don Smith. They needed someone to run the shop in the
evenings, so I started working for them after classes. I also
told Jim that I was looking for a ride. After about six months,
I got a chance to make a run in Ted's car at Cotati. About the
same time, Jim decided to build a second car with a Chevy engine
because Ted wanted to put a Chrysler in the older car. I became
the driver of the red Chevy dragster and Jim drove the black
Chrysler rail. Ted was real concerned that Jim might get hurt
driving the more powerful Chrysler, and being a father with two
young kids, urged him to quit driving. I eventually ended up
driving both dragsters.
Rod Stuckey used to come out
to the West Coast for the winter meets and frequently stayed
at my apartment. He had a Fuller car with all the best equipment
on it. After the 1961 March Meet, Rod was at HMB for the big
California State Championship event. Unfortunately, he had an
engine explosion that weekend and suffered bad burns from the
accident. He had contracts to satisfy for races at Cotati and
Fremont, so the Organ Grinders got together and repaired his
dragster. We were able to meet those obligations while Rod recovered
at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City. I beat Bob Sullivan with
the Gotelli car at Kingdon for the #5 spot, and two weeks later
wrested the #2 spot from Chris Karamesines with the Stuckey car.
Jim organized a benefit race for Rod at HMB, which was held exactly
one month after the accident.
It was April 30, 1961, and I
drove both the Chevy and Chrysler cars that day. We won top eliminator;
set low e.t. and top speed. Ted put a new set of M&H slicks
on the Chrysler car and said let's go for the record. We had
been having some injector and supercharger problems that day,
so we put Rod's stuff on the engine. Right before the first light,
there was a tremendous blower explosion that severed the fuel
lines. Unlike Rod's fire that came from underneath the firewall,
this inferno came right back at me. In order to avoid the creek
at the end of the track, I steered it off to the left. I hit
a drainage ditch that ripped the front wheels off causing the
dragster to flip end over end. Like Stuckey, I ended up in the
Sequoia Hospital for several months from the severe burns I received
in the accident. Also, I'm probably the only guy to miss his
college graduation ceremony because of a drag racing accident.
After the crash, Ted took a torch
and cut up the chassis. He had already ordered a new Fuller car,
but was not sure he wanted to take delivery of it. I told him
to get back to the business of racing and not to worry about
it. After the accident, I continued to help both Ted and Jim
with their dragsters, but that memorable day at HMB effectively
ended my driving career. Jim was one of the nicest guys ever
to enter my life; I used to call him "father" and Dot
Jesse Schrank: Jim was an outstanding person who would
do anything for you that he could. He helped us in a lot of ways,
especially during the time we raced our record-holding B/FD.
Most of the equipment we used for the dragster came from Champion
Speed Shop and we got it at a really affordable price. We raced
against Jim a lot. He did not like to lose a race, but was real
gracious when he did. I recall everyone got along OK until it
came time to race-we were very competitive and nobody liked to
lose. HMB was short, but in those days all the tracks were short
except for Riverside Raceway. That just made you "stay on
your toes" because nobody wanted to end up in the creek
like Gary Cagle and Big Bob Haines. Despite the obvious dangers,
we had a lot of fun during those days at HMB and Fremont. I'm
glad I was able to race during that era and guys like Jim McLennan
were there to make it possible for us.
"No better way to end this
story than with a magical moment in Bay Area drag racing history
frozen in time: Jim racing Don Garlits with flagman Andy Brizio
in the middle. Note: the bread truck in the background doubling
as a portable timing tower (1960).
Champion Speed Shop
- Part 2