NEIL CASTLES INTERVIEW AT WINGED WARRIORS/NBOA 2006 FALL MEET IN ST LOUIS
TAPED AND TRANSCRIBED BY SUE GEORGE
PHOTOS BY SUE GEORGE AND ROGER NEWMAN
NASCAR legend Neil "Soapy" Castles was the special guest at the 2006 Monster Mopar in St Louis. Among many other stock cars in his long career, Neil is best known for driving the #06 white and red Daytona. Neil Castles was born on October 31, 1934 and raced from 1957 (age 22) until 1976 when he was 41 years old. He raced in 498 NASCAR races. His best year was 1969, when he accomplished his very best finish of his 178 top ten finishes, this one being a 4th place finish. He managed to win $54,367 that banner year. Neil finished in the top ten in points standings five times. In his long racing career. For those who weren't counting, he went around the circle 90,403 times in his career! Neil is still very active, providing many cars for Hollywood and even stunt driving in many movies! I very much enjoyed visiting with and interviewing this legendary man.
How did you get involved in cars?
I had a job delivering papers. So I'd drop off the paper and got to hanging around the shop, and they started giving me a few things to do. They had tools laying all over the floor so they'd have me gather them all up, wash them and hang them up. So I started picking up extra money there. And the more I hung around there the more I was really into those old race cars. So when I was very young I got to build a soapbox derby. Well we didn't win the race but it was still a race, we still were in it. Back then anyone that had a hammer and a box and could get four wheels, you were set. They had been running midgets, sprint cars and the stock cars were periodically coming and going at the time and we couldn't get into it. So I looked around and got into an old midget and ran midgets for awhile. Then I moved on into running an old sports car which is just an old Ford with flathead and single carburetor. I modified it to run an aluminum head, Harmon Collins mag [magneto], big carburetor and manifolds which was a tremendous more horsepower. But you moved on from one thing to another, and I just growed up in it. And the more I stayed in it, the more I wanted to stay in it.
Leland and his brother Bob owned the Darlington race track. And I got caught up in it, racing. In 1951, after the first Darlington race, the Plymouth won. Ford took a look at it and they called me. "We want you to do something for us at Darlington. We're going to give you three cars. We're going to send them to you through the Conway Ford dealership in Conway. That's eight miles outside of Charlotte. We went down and got them from Ford. The '51 had a good 312 engine in it, a V8. But you had one flathead six cylinder. He [Buddy Shuman] doesn't want the V8; he wants the six cylinder flathead. All the stuff in that shop were flatheads, he didn't want to fool with overhead valves.
The tip on a flathead, the only way to check it is to grade the cam. You check the bolts on the end of the crankshaft instead of turning it, grade each valve to its cam lobe. And I'd been crank turning engines with 8 degrees of the cam. And he [Shuman] decided he wanted that six cylinder Ford. It was a business coupe. It didn't have a front seat. The back seat had a shelf that you could lay magazines on for sales; it was a salesman's car. He sat in his office for awhile trying to figure out what in the world we should do with these other two Fords. He gave one of them to Speedy Thompson. He gave the other one to Fireball Roberts. And he said, "Now, you do what we have to do to prepare these cars. They're yours. Take them to Darlington. We want to see them win this racetrack."
We fixed that old six cylinder. We went to Darlington. Fireball, he went to Darlington with his. Well, within 150 to 200 miles, them old V8s started getting hot and boiling the water out. I said, "Are you running strictly stock? You can't change nothing on it." "Yes." So, that old six cylinder, we sat there running all day with it, and we finished third with it. From that day, whatever Ford was more interested in, plus they cautioned, Shuman was one of the main people involved in the start of NASCAR and getting it off the ground, and he had better connections than Bill France. So from then on and up until he died in a hotel fire in [November 12, 1955] 1956, he was in charge of Ford Racing. No matter what, whatever took place at Ford, he was in charge of.
And by me being there and involved in that, he built us a brand new 1934 Ford Coupe and I took it to England and ran it in the first American race run in England. And when I came back from England, that's when they put Joe Weatherly and Curtis Turner in Schwam (Schwam Motors) Fords, those old purple Fords and he [Shuman] said, "If you help me with these cars for a week or two--we've got two new cars built for Fireball--I'll give you a new Ford convertible that you can start running on your own," And that happened to be right before he got killed and burnt up in the hotel fire. Shown below: Schwam Ford
And that's when Depaulo Engineering came in, all because of Bill Stroppe had Mercury in Long Beach, California and Pete Depaulo was well known in racing, he was a good Indy racer, he and Shuman was good friends. And he ran Depaulo Engineering and he took the engine people at Shuman's to the engine department at Depaulo Engineering and talked. That was the beginning of Ford getting into where they're at today. It was about the same thing that took place in all other vintages of those cars.
Oldsmobile got into it in 1950 and that old Rocket 88 was a dominator but that old Hudson, nobody could touch it. It was the fastest thing on the racetrack. it killed more people than any car on the racetrack. Every time you broke an axle on it, that wheel went up into the wheelwell where you can't get it out and it would lock up. The car would go flippin' and they actually killed more people in Hudsons than any car on the racetrack in that period time.
I know we ran at Race Week at Atlanta in '53 and I had a '53 Oldsmobile, and old Frank Luptow, he rolled a Hudson going into turn one and got killed. We all stacked up and scattered and got around him but those Hudsons were a very dangerous car. A lot of people didn't realize how dangerous they was. Those axles were not safe. If you bend an axle, you're going to crash. Other than that, it was the fastest car on the racetrack. It made Marshall Teague, Burt Commet, he brought along a lot of good racers, but you were also driving on that front end. In '50 Buddy ran a Hudson for Bill France in several races and that was at the beginning that I was involved in as a job.
Did NASCAR do anything about the Hudson's then?
They stayed strictly stock. One of the best things about a Hudson, we found out, you had to cure the block. To have a good Hudson engine, those old blocks weren't cured, and they would expand and contract and would give you a lot of trouble. Marshall Teague's don't, because he'd take those blocks in 1951, he'd take them out behind the shop and throw them out in the woods and let them lay there and rust for a year. Then you'd have a good block. It'd been hot, cold, rusty. Once you re-machined it, you'd have a good block and it would stay rigid. It's like all those '39 and '40 coupes, and everything we would run, we had a '59 block in them. If you had a '59 block in your car, you had a good one. But if you could find a '59 A block, it had twice the metal in it than the rest of them did, because it was a Canadian engine. It was only made in the Canadian Fords. So we scoured the junkyards looking for '59 A blocks. You could bore a regular block 3-5/16 and you were just about on the water jackets. I f you had a '59 A block, you wouldn't even run hot bored at 3-5/16.
But it was all touch and go experience, you know, experimental. That's what helped start all of this racing. What was the first Chrysler product I built up? The first Chrysler product I drove....I know I had a Chrysler 300 in 1962-63. The first Hemi motor that I ever really drove with was one of those old '48 Hemis that were in those old Chrysler four-door police cars, taxi cabs, that the world was full of. Ain't nobody had nothing but an old four-door Chrysler for a taxi all through '46, '47 and '48. That was during the war period and metal was at a premium. There just wasn't anything to race with. I did take some of those engines later and run them.
Now the first real overhead valve engine we got involved with was the Cadillac engine they came out with in '49-'50. And Oldsmobile, they had that old V8 Rocket 88 and Oldsmobile pushed that. I drove a 1953 Oldsmobile for a long time, in '53, '54 and part of '55. I went to a Ford and stayed with Ford in '55 and '56. In 1960, I ran a '60 Ford for a while and in 1961, I guess I first drove a Plymouth. That was when Curtis Turner and Bill France got into a big fight over the union and about half of us got suspended every week because they couldn't figure out who was going to go with the union and who was going to stay with France. I know I did go and run some USAC races for a time. There's no need to stay and argue, you might as well take what you can and make some money. I stayed with Chrysler off and on through the years. I ran an Oldsmobile for a while, a 442. And I also ran a Dynamic 88, I guess it was in '65. And we also had a Pontiac.
Joe Weatherly was running a Pontiac when he got killed at Riverside. But I did fool with that Pontiac. Pontiac got into it pretty good, they made aluminum hoods for it and unless you ran it on a dirt track, you couldn't tell it. That paint would pop up running on dirt. But on asphalt, we just took the shavings out from under the grinder, the bench grinder and mixed it with paint, painted it back to the same form. And we did that with those aluminum blocks too. But you had to gather up all the shavings from underneath the bench grinder and turn it to paint. They'd [NASCAR officials] walk by with a little bag [with a magnet in it], take it out of their pocket and check to see if you had any aluminum fenders. And the magnet would stick to it, that's all you'd need! We learned how to improvise.
I took one of those hoods up to the museum in Mooresville, an aluminum one, and put it on the wall up there, because when I'm gone I don't think there'll ever be another one. The Memory Lane museum in Mooresville, if you're interested in racing, it goes back to the time I'm talking about. There's a real honest-to-God liquor still sitting in the front of the building beside a '40 Ford Coupe that Junior Johnston and a friend of his built and put it in the museum. And there are race cars going as far back as you want to go--Grand National cars, Winston Cup cars, sprint cars, a tremendous amount of Model As, Ts, Roadsters, one of the first things that Pure Oil put together for a display in there, it was an old Roadster--we ran it. Did any of you ever see a thing in IMAX theatre called "A NASCAR Experience"? It was the only Chevy in IMAX theatre. We made that out of a few cars that I had left and we put it in the movie. There's a lot of cars in there....there's a T model in there that I had to teach [actress] Diahanne Carroll how to drive. There's a lot of good racing history there and it will take you a while to go through it all.
Above left to right: The front of the Legends Museum in Charlotte, NC; Neil's pit board; the liquor still and Ford moonshine runner. Below: these photos were all taken inside the Legends Museum.
Bobby Isaac, Buddy Baker, Harold Kinder warning about deer on track, Cotton Owens and Junior Johnson, Pete Hamilton
Above left to right: Sam McQuagg, Buddy Baker, Tom Pistone, Jim Vandiver, Tiny Lund
Above left to right: Dick Brooks, Neil Castles, Bobby Isaac and Richard Petty, Maurice Petty with pit board, Fred Lorenzen
Above: Some of the old car movie posters that are in Legends Museum.
Above second and third from left: Jim Vandiver and Buddy Baker's driver uniforms from 1969-70, Miss Winston, Tiny Lund
Where did you pick up the name "Soapy"?
When I was running that soap box derby and running those soap box cars. That name stuck with me from then on. In fact, when I grew up and got fooling around racing, got older, everyone teased me about running the soap box derby and they just kind of picked up on the nickname. About everybody had some kind of nickname that hung on, whether they wanted it or not. Bill Whitehouse won the South Carolina state championships in a modified Chevrolet. But no one knew his name was Bill Whitehouse because they called him "Slab". Shuman nicknamed him that when he was just a kid. His daddy owned a salvage yard. And he'd go in there and load loads of slab and take them and sell them, and buy parts with it and an old car, and build him a race car. Anytime you'd see him, he'd have an old flatbed truck loaded with slabs going somewhere. So he picked up on that nickname. Oh, everybody back then had a nickname. A lot of that old bunch is not with us anymore now that we're getting up there in years, and I feel lucky to still be here.
Can you think of any really odd experience you had on the race track, something really odd that happened?
Mainly, when you got up in the morning, something odd is going to happen! You never figured what's going to happen; you just figure when it's going to happen. I'll have to start thinking about odd experiences. There's been a lot of good and a lot of bad, but you have a lot of odd experiences every day. Oh, anything green is totally taboo. Anybody that ever picked up a handful of peanuts wasn't allowed on the racetrack. And if you threw peanut hulls down around by a racecar or around anybody that had a racecar, they'd get out of the car and go home. They wouldn't run the race. That was a superstition that went on from back in the sprint cars, before there was such a thing as a stock car. Before, long before I came along, they said there was this sprint car driver and a bunch of them were eating peanuts in the car and he wrecked it and got killed in it and the car had peanut hulls in it. And they said that was a jinx. Anyway, that was taboo, no more peanuts. Anything green, if there was a green racecar on the race track, if you had a hat, if you showed up in a green shirt, don't come into my pits! Get out of here! NASCAR would actually come out and take you out of the garage area. You would have 90% of drivers saying, "You take him with his green shirt out or we're going home."
Where does the green superstition come from? Why that?
It's just a superstition that started years ago. Even your kids weren't allowed to come to the track if they had green on. My kids never owned nothing green in their life. Darn sure they didn't have any money in their pockets! It was just a big superstition.
Did that ever change during your career?
No. Well, later on Elmo Langley did build a green car but he got away with it because that was years and years later. That was just some of the little bit odd stuff I growed up in. There were all kinds of superstitions.
Was there something that you considered good luck that you would always try to do?
Not really, no. Everybody racing was interested in good luck. But ninety percent of us made our own luck. Regardless of what you were racing in, you had to get to a place that you felt comfortable with the people around you. You knew, in your mind, who was going to do what, pretty well. And being an independent for years, you picked your spot that you felt comfortable in and for 500 miles you're going to sit there and run it. You had to pick exactly what company you wanted to be with because you got to really drive with who you pick.
Flat-out on the big speedways, before we had the winged car and whatever, like at Daytona and most of those big racetracks, when you go into the corner behind a car, you drop the center of yours over, even with the left tail light of that car in front of you. That puts air through your radiator and keeps his car tight. Now if you go in, drift up and take the wind off your car, he's gone. So you've got to know who you trust out there.
Did you have any problems with the winged cars?
No, not really. We took the right headlight door and filled it full of holes ad that acted as a cooler at one time. We had them that we could take them off and put them on. And I had them where you could take the center slots out of them so you could put tape on and take tape off of them. But now see, we were getting accused of running too big of a radiator. If I had a winged car like many of you all do, I'd put an electric fan on. I wouldn't drive it out of the yard without an electric fan on it. Most of those cars that I do motion picture work with, I never fool with any old cars that I don't send them in and if we got ten cars, we get ten electric fans and we work up the wire looms because I don't want to be sitting on the road boiling the water out of these cars. We do that to just any movie cars. If I was going to make a movie with any of your winged cars even though we're gong to run them, whatever speed we're going to run them, I'd put an electric fan on them because they have to stop while we change film and they have to stop while we change camera location. Put an electric fan on it; we don't have time to stop and boil the water out of them. We do that with everything we do. I do a lot of '50 Fords and '40 Ford stuff, we do a lot of chase scenes. I just did a documentary of Curtis Turner and we did one on Greased Lightning about Wendell Scott. I can't believe Greased Lightning came back. It was just here last year when we did the documentary.
Are those on DVD?
I think the Wendell Scott thing is on sale at Wally World but I don't know if they put the Turner one out yet or not. It's just a little documentary about his lifestyle as he growed up. We were good friends.
What about Riverside
and wrecking the car and the car hauler?
At Riverside, I was following Bobby Allison and we were going up that hill and a hard right turn, what number was that...I can't remember.
This was in your winged car, right?
Yeah. He dug deep going around the corner and scattered 40 quarts of oil right in front of the grandstands and I hit that oil and slapped the wall on the driver's side. First thing I could see was a guy stuck the fire extinguisher through the fence at that car. And I knew if he pulled the trigger on that, I'd had it. I hit the switch and it cranked up and I was out of there. I had it in [the pits] and the guys trimmed off the left front fender, the door was already tore off, so I got out of the pits with four new tires and gas.
I got along pretty well for the rest of the race. I don't know, probably another forty or fifty laps, a bunch of people got together coming off down the hill under that tunnel. I hit another car, another car hit me, and spun me and I came in the pits and cut the right fender off, the right door was gone and the quarter panel. I came into the garage after the race was over and I was beat. It just wasn't my day. I just got out of the car and sat down on the bench and I was sitting there really looking at what was left. It was a good car, good chassis but there just wasn't nothing left of the sheet metal. They had to take a torch to cut both sides of the nose off. Ronney Householder, I guess you know who he was with Chrysler, he came down there in the garage area and didn't say much. He just looked. "Neil, that's the tore-uppest damn car I've ever seen that's still rolling," He said. "I know you're going to have to have some sheet metal. How about if your boys take that car back to the shop. I have a truck over yonder that you can take. I want to go up to Nichels' anyway to pick up some stuff for Goldsmith. How about you take that truck up there and we'll put you some sheet metal on there for that car."
Well, I went up there then with that truck and they give me enough sheet metal to redo that car and I took the rest of the stuff back to Charlotte and drove to my shop. Ronney Householder, Bob McDaniels, Larry Rathgeb and all of the people involved in Chrysler looked for a place to keep there image up. They picked what they wanted to do and they put together a good program and they helped a lot of people keep going that needed the help. It kept the program alive. Until they ruled out the Hemi, Chrysler was still the dominate car of the time. They called me and said, "We're going to lose our Hemi engine. We want you to take the cars you got, equipment and take everything you've got and use it all up. We don't guess there's nothing we can do. We still want you to run the Grand National Race Championship. We think that you can win it with a Chrysler." Between me and the good Lord, we got there somehow. Chrysler played a big part. Between him [Householder] and the good Lord, we did win the Championship. And thereafter, they ruled out our Hemi.
But, when I hit that wall at Riverside in that winged car, the wing came off it and I didn't know where it went. It went over that grandstand like a blade off a helicopter. And that's when, the next week, they came out with the new rule that we had to put the aircraft cable through the wing. If you're hunting for a real [race] winged car, it has aircraft cable through the wing unless someone's took it out. I still have a roll of that cable at home.
When and how did you get your first winged car for racing?
I had a Charger 500 and they sent me the nose and wing and a pretty good rough blueprint. And I stuck it on there. And then we had an aluminum frame that we put up through and come down and bolted onto the floor. That was the car that I wrecked at Riverside that we put the cable through the wing and hung new sheet metal on it. The suspension on that car really wasn't hurt. It was just all sheet metal damage. The first wreck, he hung me into that chain link fence and part of it was hung over the guard rail. That was another case that the guard rail bolts were actually sticking out farther than they should have been., There's a lot of things that took place,. Like the old Charlotte Speedway no one paid attention to the lapped cars that were going the wrong way. Reds Kagle got into the wall in [turns] three and four and the guard rail went through the car and cut his leg off. That's when we started looking, maybe we needed the guard rail to be screwed together the other way. We learned by everything that went wrong, we learned by it.
Did you think the wing and the nose was going to work as good as it did when you got yours?
At that time I thought it would work good because of things we'd done in the past, learning how to draft was one. There wasn't really a lot of that drafting. We learned what we could do and we couldn't do. We had to. The factories really got forced and started putting cars in the wind tunnel. That's when we realized what the air was going to do. But the winged car that you're all playing with today was one of the most stable automobiles that anybody built. But you got to look at it this way: that's a stable automobile before you put the nose and wing on it. Take the Charger 500, torsion bars over springs spreads the roll rate over a larger area instead of up and down in the corner. That makes a car that's coming in, [springs] rolling over and the back end gets loose and you can get on the gas and it comes back. That's the reason the state patrol is a low-deck car. They could save it. It was a forgiving automobile. And what you all got today is a forgiving automobile. If you get it hung out far enough, just get your foot in it and see how forgiving it really is!
I was wondering if the wing would mess up the air turbulence behind the car?
No, he could draft right up to it. But when he swung around to try to pass us, it would pull the rear end right out from under him. We've got more stability than he does because we've got this big wing, just gives you that much more air space. Everybody started to buy it because it was a good car. Anytime somebody builds a good racecar, somebody is going to buy it.
Would you say that the winged cars necessarily needed the Hemi, or did the Hemi really help?
Well yeah, we needed it because it's the only thing we had that could compete with what the Fords had in them. Besides, they would stay together a lot better than the old wedges. When we were running the old wedges, we had a hard time keeping the bottom ends in them. Are you all familiar with the Stage I, Stage II and Stage III heads? We had three sets of heads then, just trying to keep them together, better valves.
Are you pretty involved with the Charlotte track now?
Nope. I have nothing to do with it no more. Richard Howard, who owned it , passed away. Bruton [Smith] came in and bought it. Then Bruton and Penske had been in a fight about who was going to buy the most racetracks, and I didn't need to get involved in that. Over a period of years, I've been doing a good bit of motion picture work. I went back to doing motion picture work and I've been pretty satisfied with that. Four years ago, I lost my eye to cancer. They said I wasn't going to be here but a short while. But I guess somebody wanted me to stay here and finish up, and I hadn't got around to it. There was a lot of things took place. There was a guy called Brother Bill at Talladega. He was a preacher. He built him a church on the back of a flatbed trailer and it had about three or four little rows of seats and a little podium. He walked the garage area about every day trying to get everybody to go to church Sunday morning before the driver's meeting. He and one of the boys came up to me and said, "I want you all to call me Brother Bill and I want somebody to come to my church." And I told him, "Come on, we'll go to church," and Chief--Maurice Petty--Richard's brother, was sitting on the bench and I grabbed his arm and said, "Come on Chief, we're going to church," and the three of us went to church that day., He preached a little sermon. And that was the beginning of the church services they have at the racetrack today. From that day on, he would go to the racetrack and have a little service. Later on, my oldest daughter taught Sunday School. So that brought Christianity to the bunch of rednecks that didn't have time.
Is that on Hard Chargers [movie]?
I don't know. It was on Sunday when I was there!
It showed church in trailers there.
We were the first three people to ever walk in.
How many different winged cars did you have in your career over the years?
Oh, five or six. I had one of Cotton's. Cotton had two cars, one that he just sold the other day, and I bought the other one a long time ago. And I bought one of Mario Rossi's number 22 cars that Allison had. I bought one of the Ray Fox cars. And I converted at least two of mine, maybe three. That's basically how many cars I had. And they mainly got changed back over as the sheet metal and other things got used up.
What about the street cars? The car you bought your daughter?
Oh well, we don't want to discuss that! I bought the daughter a Daytona. I think this gentleman here probably owns it now. Bobby Isaac had one. He was driving for Harry Hyde. He never did actually title it; he just had the paperwork. And he told me, "Man, I ain't driving that car around town. Too many people know me now. If you want it, give me something for it." I said, "Alright, I'll take it. What do you want for it?" "Well, just give me something and get it out of the yard." I said, "I'll give you $2,500 for it and I'll go park it in the barn." At the same time I got this other one and I put it up there and was just going to save it. My daughter was turning sixteen and my wife said, "That car is dangerous and I don't want it." We were at a Winston Cup dinner. Winston had a big get-together of all the National drivers. We were seated at a table with a hundred people and they wanted to party. Someone asked me, "Hey Neil, how many of those old Dodges have you got left? I'd like to buy one." My wife chimed in, "Well I've got two sitting in the barn and you can have them. My daughter is going to turn sixteen and she'll get killed in one of those cars and I want rid of them. They are two Dodge Daytonas." He said, "I want them." She said, "What will you pay for them?:" I said, "Well, give me five thousand and come and get them." He wrote me a check and I put it in my pocket and the next day he came and got them. I don't know where the other one is at. That ended the two Dodge street cars.
Do you remember what color they were?
Yeah. They were red. Red with a white stripe. Probably if I went back through the old history books at home, I probably have documentation on them. Probably the registration cards when they were registered to me. A bunch of stuff I've saved like pit passes from 1950 on before we got the computer, for different cars that we bought. See we was buying cars right off the showroom floor back then and racing them. NASCAR wouldn't let you do nothing to them except put a rollbar in them. Convertibles you only had to have one loop around the windshield. Then they made us put a bar down beside us, then later on, they put a loop behind us. We'd buy a brand new Ford convertible for $2,100 and have it on the racetrack in a day. A 1956 Ford Sunliner, even with a fancy radio and everything, wasn't $2,100 off the showroom floor. You could be racing the next day.
Did you have to go out and knock on doors for sponsorship back then in '69, '70 and '71 or did people come to you?
Before then, we had to knock on doors. If you'd been around long enough, a few people would look at what you were doing and you could come up with some kind of a deal. Now we did do one thing. Every town we went to, we went to the Dodge dealership, the Chrysler dealership, and all the used sheet metal they had took off, we looked at fenders and doors, whatever. Back then in sheet metal, anything that was used they could give to you. And in turn, we would put their name, the Dodge dealership name on the car. We had on the car--Dodge Dealer--and we'd just take whatever town we were in, we'd make up little decals for the last guy there and stick them on there and that was the guy that got the advertisement. We did that all over the country.
When you were running a winged car, and you would have the local Dodge dealer on the quarter panel, you really didn't get ay money from them but you traded for whatever you needed?
Any sheet metal we could use even if it was 500 sheet metal or anything that you took off a Dodge. You gotta remember on thing. They sent them cars out to the dealers and they couldn't get anything for them. Wouldn't nobody take them. Dealers were taking the wing and nose off them and putting a grille in them and selling them for dealer cost to get them out the door. I sold two for five thousand dollars and that was a pretty good price.
What was pay day like on the track back then?
The average racetrack, other than Talladega and Daytona, paid a thousand dollars to win and if you ended up last, they paid you two hundred dollars. You could be on the pole the first lap, and be passed the second lap and it paid you two hundred dollars.
Could you tell us about your qualifying?
They used to run forty cars. NASCAR started with a forty car field and that was it. And then they'd have a problem if Petty, Pearson or somebody blowed an engine qualifying and didn't make the race. They'd run into points and they couldn't even start the race! To cover that, NASCAR said, "What we're going to do is have a qualifying race after qualifying last thing in the evening. And the first two cars in that qualifying race start the race tomorrow at the tail end. We'll start forty-two cars." That was the beginning of the forty-two car field. It covered whoever was running one and two in the qualifying race. Well, I had a pretty good job. I kind of got to calculating this thing and it paid five-hundred dollars to win the qualifying race. It paid five-hundred dollars to start the race. Well, at times I would drive right around and at times, I would even run the qualifying lap with a stopwatch in my hand just to make sure I didn't run fast enough to make the rest of that qualifying run. And I won forty-two of them in a row. Then you got a bunch of newspaper people and radio people calling it "The Neil Castles Benefit Race". And they made a big joke out of it. And Bill France even said, "This is going to have to come to a halt." Even Chrysler started turning it into a pretty good joke. They had Chrysler cars that wouldn't even race but would win on Saturday! It really helped me with my racing program because when I first started to race, when something happened to the car, I made five-hundred dollars. Now when they drop the green flag, I've already made a thousand dollars. That's more than anybody on the racetrack got! So I stuck with it for a while and took advantage, till they finally got wise and cut me off! But that's the reason today that you've got forty-two cars starting the race. Because if somebody did have a problem, blew an engine or whatever, and couldn't come back and win the qualifying race, that was their insurance policy to all of the people running that you couldn't come back and start. That was just another gimmick they came up with.
How many consecutive races did you start?
I don't have any idea. I don't believe I could tell you. I started over 500 and that was just Grand National races. That wasn't the convertibles or ARCA or....see, at one time we drove convertibles just like they run hardtops today. All we done was just set a top, a hardtop, on that convertible. Then you could drive in the Grand National with that convertible.
Can you talk about running the winged cars on dirt?
Well, the winged cars were never run on dirt. It ran on NASCAR one mile tracks. We was going up north to race and I had my winged car that I was going to take to Michigan on the trailer behind my motorhome. I had the short track car on the car hauler and we were in northern West Virginia. And the guy that was the promoter had Buddy Baker over there every time because he was driving for Petty to promote the race. Petty didn't show up with a car, he didn't get there in time. So John Mays put Petty in one of my cars. So I went back and let Buddy have my winged car, me and him were good friends. I wouldn't turn him loose with my winged car if he wasn't my pal. I probably would have just told him to go home. So I let him have the short track car and I ran the winged car for a while on the short track and came in and ran it right up the ramps on the trailer and tied it down. That's the only time the winged car was ever run on the short track. Now Buddy, he'd go out and qualify and we'd swap cars after that but that's really the only time me and Baker ever ran the winged car on the quarter mile track.
How did it do?
Why, we shouldn't have even had it on a quarter mile asphalt. You couldn't even get your foot in it. We had a gear in it that was meant to run Michigan on a two-mile track.
Did you have a superspeedway steering box in that car?
They used a 16:1, 20:1 and a 24:1. That car had a 24:1. The short track car had a 16:1. They're stamped right on the back of the box what they are--16:1, 20:1 and 24:1.
So were you a little busier on the short track with the winged car?
No, because I never got it hung out. It was just a start and stop thing; accommodate the promoters and keep people from running back to town and whining about Baker not really being there.
How much equipment did you take to the track?
Usually, about everything you owned! Lots of times, you had an engine and transmission all in one unit on a roll-back stand bolted to the truck. On the other side you had racks to hang your clothes on. And between the two, we usually stacked that with boxed parts, a few parts that were still in the box. Underneath the truck, we had one box of gears, rear end grease and everything we needed to change gears. We would probably have seven, eight, to ten gears in that one box. In front of it, we'd have a tool box with a roll-out tray that we could roll out pretty well a set of tools that you could do anything with. Behind that box was another box that we carried oil and spare parts in. Then on the back of the dovetail was a box that went all the way through that we carried all of our hoses, pit equipment and black boards. On the other side, we carried springs, torsion bars, sway bars. We had on that truck just about everything we would go racing with.
No sheet metal, though?
Yeah, we'd take a few.
So you could almost build a car with just what you had with you?
Well, we had all the suspension; on the other side, we had A-frames and upper and lower control arms. So you've got R 1, 2, and 3 upper arms left and R 1, 2 and 3 upper arms right, which had offsets. The upper A-frames were determined against the cam on what race track you went to. To do that, we had to change the upper control arms even though we had the cam adjust. The cam wouldn't tighten up where we needed it to move that upper ball joint where we wanted it. We actually had to set up each upper control arm per car. If you drive two cars, you have twelve of them to do. And also, the lower ball joints and steering arm that come off the ball joints, there was a right 1, 2 and 3 of those that had a different drop to them which determined how you toe was run after you set your toe-in off dead rule.
Where did you keep the box with the buckshot in it?
Oh, that was throwed in behind the engine!
Tell them what the buckshot was for.
We had to go across the scales and that old car had to weigh 3,200 pounds regardless. So we'd fill one frame rail after we qualify, do a practice run. To get across the scale we'd fill one frame full of birdshot, especially on the short track. We had a little trap door. It was rigged with a cable underneath. You couldn't see the cable because we cut through the frame and split it open and put the cable inside the frame rail and not on the outside. After we got started getting ready to race and we're scuffing the tires, we'd drop that birdshot out and you'd pick up 150 pounds.
What were some other tricks?
We always had a big camp cooler behind the seat and before we got ready to start the race and whoever was working on the pit crew would go out and get the cooler out of the car and fill it up with ice and water and it would last 500 miles. And I had a cooler that took two men to pick it up out of the car and come back with a cooler full of ice, because there were a lot of coolers full of lead!
How about your firewall?
Well, I had a couple of cars that had two firewalls. One of them was able to hold three gallons of gas between the firewalls. Just hope you don't hit nothing too hard before you use it. There was a lot of things that we did back then.
Did you build any of your parts?
Oh yes, we had to. Back years ago, we had to build just about everything we used. Them Chrysler spindles were stock car products. We bought them. Usually we got everything out of Ray Nichels. Everything we had on them cars, we'd take Ray Nichels' catalog and order them. And if you were desperate, they'd overnight it and I have seen Paul Goldsmith land on the speedway on pit road at Charlotte and bring in an engine in the middle of the night. We had to have it out of Chicago, I mean Highland, Indiana, that fast. You see, Paul's shop was on racetrack property and he'd land on pit road. A guy who worked with me picked up the building between the two shops with Harry Hyde and the #71 car and Leonard Whiteside had the shop next door. So it was Leonard and me and Leonard would go back through our engines. We'd get engines to run, like any engine that you run on a superspeedway, you could go back through it and run it on the short track and never have any trouble. But you could not take a short track engine and run it on the superspeedway. It's just a total disbalance. You can take a short track engine and put it on the superspeedway, it won't run thirty minutes. You can take that superspeedway engine and run it down the short track and run it forever. That's just the difference., You can just sit there with your foot in it for 500 miles and not be jumping in and out of that gas. The worst thing was webbing in any block. These led to becoming Hemi blocks--the crossbolts. That paved the way for the Hemi block. Before that, we was putting Hemi cranks and rods in the 440. We had the piston-maker move the wrist pin location to compensate. See, you'd have to bore an engine.030 over. Well I found if you bore it .030 over, it won't stay together because that much compression will blow the webbing out of the block. But if you bore it .020 over, use Hemi rods and crank, you can turn it 10,000 rpms. And that was one of the good things on a short track.
What kind of intake manifolds did you design?
Well, the intake manifold that Buck Baker, me, and a bunch of the guys used--Buck took it up to Detroit into Chrysler and they ran it on the dyno, and they took the manifold and put it right in their parts. They put a Chrysler part number on it. I got one laying on the shelf but I don't even know what the part number is. That manifold has no belly pan under it. It's got two gaskets. Those gaskets cross under and it's a solid aluminum manifold. We ran them on the 440s and we ran them on all the wedges for a long time. I ran them on the Chrysler 300s for years.
With one four barrel?
One four barrel. I still got a shelf that has every four barrel we ever ran on that shelf. Some I believe Harry Hyde used. He passed away quite a long time ago...I've still got all the special machined ones that he used.
How did you decide what size of carburetor to use?
Whatever you thought you could get away with!
When did they change over from highway-type tires to your racing slicks?
Highway-type tires was recaps, all we were permitted to use. At Darlington in 1956, Firestone came out with race tires. And their little rules was, you go out and qualify for this race, we will send you four tires to start the race on. But we don't have the tires to sell to everybody here. You probably have eighty cars there and they're not going to put tires on those cars for people to drive around and then take them off., If you qualify and have a starting position in the race, then they'd sell you a set of tires to race on. There was no Goodyear at the time. It was either Firestone or hitchhike on the racetrack. I qualified a convertible in '56 and that recap came off the right front tire and tore the fender off the car. And Firestone said, "Oh well, you go ahead and fix the car. We'll be glad to sell you a set of tires." I wasn't real happy with that at that time. So, I went back to Darlington to do a movie, "Thunder in Carolina" with Rory Calhoun. Had old Allen Hale as the pit crew before he became the "Skipper" [in Gilligan's Island]. Goodyear came to Darlington in 1957 and '58 with their tires. They wanted to be on every racecar in there. A guy by the name of Crash Graham was in charge of the Goodyear truck. And I went to him and I said, "I'm going to give you fifty dollars a tire and I'm not going any farther." He called the factory and we had a talk. They were going to supply me tires back in the pits. They were going to supply me tires for our racecar. So, we're standing at the Darlington motel and I told Crash, I said, "Throw twenty tires in the back of your truck and bring them down to my motel room tonight, just between me and you. And I went to the hardware store and got a can of white paint and a brush. Me and him sat in the motel room for three nights and we painted Goodyear on every one of those damn tires, just to let Firestone know that there was somebody there besides them! That was the first white letter Goodyears that there ever was!
Now look what you started!
Yeah. We created a monster but we didn't know it. We did it just out of spite. Crash Graham and I sat in that motel room every night and painted every one of them tires. We thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened.
So was there alcohol involved in this?
No, not really, because we were working twelve to fourteen hours a day. It was, more or less, me getting even with them because they wouldn't sell me tires when I wanted them. That was when Goodyear was really getting involved in racing. I stuck with Goodyear for a long time. Our short track car I did run McCreary. I stuck with Goodyears up until Lumpy Wheeler, the Firestone rep in that year, 1970, they told him he needed to get some of us on Firestone tires or he could find him another job. That's the reason he's working in Cleveland, because Firestone had to pick up and leave because there was nothing on the east coast to do. Now that you've heard all these antique stories, what else can I tell you?
What was your last year of racing?
For Chevrolet, I think it was '79 or '78, somewhere along there.
Did you like racing at that point in time as well as earlier?
Yeah. It was a time that Chrysler was on the way out. It was either Ford or Chevrolet and I didn't even have nothing competitive in Chevrolet, except I had a Junior Johnson Chevrolet and I run the car several races and Bobby Isaac and Cotton Owens took it to Rockingham, qualified sixth. I was going to run the car at Charlotte and Richard Howard wanted Hyde to run it. Hyde had probably run it thirty laps and lost the engine in it. And I was working for a motion picture company and I took it home and shoved it in the garage and left it there for a long time. Junior wanted to do a promo thing and I was doing a movie--"The Last American Hero"--with Junior Johnson starring. I needed a Chevrolet and I went out there and got it and used it for the movie scene. We've all had our ups and downs but I wouldn't have done anything different.
You said you had Chrysler deliver like three Hemi engines to the track?
Goldsmith. Goldsmith flew the engines down there. They was for Harry or for Goldsmith's car or whoever. When we had to have something, I'd call Nichels and tell him, "Hey, I need two upper control arms, a transmission or whatever." He threw it on the airplane which Goldsmith brought engines in. Always there was somebody there to unload.
Did you have to pay for that stuff yourself then, or did Chrysler supply that?
We paid for the most of it. If we got in a bind, Chrysler would give it to us. I can say that--Larry Rathgeb, Ronney Householder, McDaniels, the top ten people at Dodge's racing, Grand National racing--they would look after us because they had stuff they were testing and stuff that was being used would be handed down, and if I needed something I could go to Harry Hyde and say, "Harry, I've got to have a gear or transmission or something." He'd say, "Here, just take this one and when you get through with it, just bring it back." He knew that if I tore it up, he could get another one back. They didn't exactly sponsor us but anything that we were desperate for was available. I'm sure if I tore up something of Cotton's , Larry Rathgeb or McDaniels, one of them would have something on the way back. We looked out for each other. We all worked together pretty good. And the only thing that Chrysler wanted is that if you're racing a Chrysler car against a Chrysler car, don't beat the sheet metal off of it, crashing the wall, don't get up there and start beating those cars together. We're not going to be giving you sheet metal if you're going to tear it up. If you're sitting back there in seventh or eighth place, and try to tear up the fifth place car and can't get by him, Chrysler would not give you sheet metal if you're going to play that game.
Did that come straight from Householder?
No. That was just the general rule of thumb. We all knew that if you abused what you had, you might as well forget it and go home. It wasn't a rule but it's like if you take those two cars you got out there in the parking lot and go to racing with them. If we pile them up, who's going to fix them? We may get somebody to fix them and we might not, so you'd better respect what you've got while you've got it.
Do you have any experience with or knowledge of an unknown '57 D501 Dodge?
I have heard of that 501 Dodge.
Chrysler played with it in racing.
I have knowledge of it, but I can't tell you whatever happened to it. I know there was a lot of testing going off and on. I know they had a test car and they built a test track. There was a lot of testing that we weren't in on.
The Missouri Highway Patrol used Chrysler cars.
I know the state patrol had cars in North Carolina. They were supposedly called "program cars". You can break that down into whatever you want, but they was "program cars." I only ever saw one of them; it was a '56 Dodge two-door. Our highway patrol had program cars. I really don't know what the deal was with them. There wasn't a state patrolman in the part of the country where I was that had one that wanted to give them up. This car that I saw was the only one that I ever saw. It was in highway patrol colors and decals. They might have had some of them to play with. I had a good friend of mine that was in the state patrol that thought his Dodge was the greatest car in the world. But there was a lot of people that had those old Flathead Fords that thought they was good. They used to bring them to Junior's to have them worked on every day. They'd have ten bootlegger cars in there working on them and the next week, the State man would be down there wanting his worked on, because he couldn't outrun them.
How did you end up with the number 06?
I had number 86 and I wanted to run two cars so I made an 06 and when I wanted to change it, I'd put a piece of red tape across the center of it and swap them around.
Is that when you were hooked up with Buck? Buck would have had 87.
Buck had 87. But out of forty-four cars that I could choose from, Buck had 87, Shuman had the 86 car. He owned two cars. He drove one himself and I drove the other one. And they won qualifying races all over the place. Baker got a sponsor from his wrecker service for the 87 car and that left Buddy with the 86 car. So Buddy got his shoulder broke in the Concord modified and took over the inspection of ARCA and NASCAR. I can't remember what year it was when Fireball won the big trophy and he gave it back and then they gave it to Tim Flock. I don't know whether he was cheating or not, but it was pretty shady. Fireball won the Grand National race and the modified race and Speedy Thompson won the Sportsman race. We rented an old fire station at Daytona and that's where I kept the 86. And Buddy and Buck [Baker] started running then, a Chrysler 300, it was father and son, and Buck called me and he asked me, "Will you sell that [number] to me?" Well, once you own that number, you own it until you agree to let somebody else have it. It's still your number with NASCAR. Buck wanted me to let him have the 86 number because him and Buddy had the 87. So, I told Buck, "I'll let you have it but the day I want it back you'll give it back to me." That's when I put the 06 on there, knowing that I'm going to get the 86 back. Buddy moved over to another ride and I took the 86 back away from him. Baker kept the 87 up until this week. That's the reason I had 86 and 87, I mean 86 and 06. If I had the 06 car and I needed the 86, I'd take a piece of red duct tape and stick it on there. Now you've got an 86 car.
Did you pick the colors of your cars?
Why did you pick white?
It looks better.
You mentioned the Fish carburetor?
Yes. It's got three moving parts and it has two mounting bolts and you can run them on alcohol, run them on gas. On Flathead Fords you could get about 23 miles per gallon with them.
What happened to that design?
The government seized that. There was a big controversy over that carburetor and its fuel mileage and the oil people. Somehow the federal government got the patent. In the past few years, it's been sold to somebody, that is what I understand.
So could it be made again then?
They say somebody is going to remanufacture it.
And those were one barrel carburetors?
Yep. Go back down to Daytona where Fish [factory] used to be on the river and go outside the back door and there's probably a hundred of them in the river.
If they didn't run good on the dyno, we'd throw them out the back door!
Those would probably be worth some money today! There wasn't very many of them really though, were there?
There were a lot of them. We ran four of them on the modified at one time. We ran four or three at a time. And then we even made adapters to adapt them to Edelbrocks. Those were a good carburetor.
Do you know how many CFM those would have been?
I have no idea. Fact is, we were not worried about CFM, just worried about what you could get out of them.
And those were legal and NASCAR let you run them?
On the modified, but not Grand Nationals. They were the main carburetors and it was hard to beat it even with fuel injection. They came with fuel injection. With the fuel injection you had a little junction box that you had to add or subtract washers to get it richer or leaner. I used to have a ring around my neck where I kept them washers. We used to run Charlotte fairground on Friday night and go to Asheville on Sunday morning. The altitude would be three to five washers difference. The older I get I don't remember as much as I used to.
Neither do we! I don't think anyone does, it changes so often.
That's one thing you live with. There's nothing more definite than change.
Who were the toughest guys you raced against in Grand National?
You mean, who won the best fights or who won the race?
On the track.
I don't know. You couldn't pick just one person. I don't know where you'd even start, because we had so many different people that came from so many different places that in their own field were as good as you could get. I don't think you'll ever get anybody better than Dan Gurney at Riverside. In Glen Woods' car, Dan Gurney was the man no matter what we did at that track, I did manage to finish in second. As long as Dan Gurney and Glen Woods had a car, it was a pretty good race. But on the superspeedway, Dan Gurney couldn't hold a light. He couldn't hold a light to any of them on the superspeedway. AJ Foyt, he was damn good on the superspeedway. He was in the best Ford built. He had an advantage in Glen Woods' car. So it just depended on the race track and the driver. Turner and Weatherly was good on dirt. We'd try to take it home. He'd be three times the length of this room, the only guy to beat, when he crossed the stands there and he'd jus throw it sideways and let it slide. You'd have to slow it down. You'd never catch him. They were running too fast. Turner and Weatherly would be side-by-side, and slide through those corners, they were just as good as anybody. It just depended on the facility and who was there. There were different drivers for different races. As far as tough, there was a lot of drivers that won and lost a lot of fist fights after the races!
Were you ever seriously hurt in your racing career?
I guess the worst one, I was probably sixteen or seventeen years old, driving midgets in Norfolk, Virginia on a quarter-mile dirt track, and a radius rod broke on the right side and dug in, car jumped up on the fence The fence was made out of cross ties and poles. The car got up on one of those cross ties and flipped over. I knew that I was lying under the car but I didn't know where. I could hear the other cars coming down the back stretch and I was waiting to get run over. I couldn't focus. My eyes wouldn't focus. I couldn't move. I heard the cars all shut off; everybody was getting off the gas. Liquid was running down my back. I knew that the battery was under the seat. There was also the alcohol tank that I was against. I either knew that it was alcohol or battery acid. I was waiting on the fire. I couldn't feel nothing. I was numb. They got over there and turned the car over. And when they turned the car over, I got the steering column out of my stomach. I sat up. The feeling came back. In a few minutes I could feel my fingers. I got out of the car and I started moving my legs. I guess that the two people that were with me, Paul Hanover, he had a midget he was still running. He and Bob got a wrecker and they took the car back over to the pits and set it on the trailer. I had on a helmet. It was the first helmet that Fireball Roberts ever wore. He had got a new one and he gave me that one because it was better than the one I had. It was busted down the side. So I took it home and put it in a box. After we got married, Jean found it in a box in the attic and where it had busted, she took and glued it back together. It's in the museum in Mooresville. I'd say that is about the worst wreck I had because of that time, there was no such thing as roll bars.
Oh, you didn't have any protection at all?
Nothing but an aluminum loop behind your back that held the cap of the fuel tank. The seat was the fuel tank and the battery was under the seat!
What would you say was the most dangerous aspect of the car?
I don't know. The worst thing that I know of is trying to compete with equipment that wasn't actually suitable for speedways. Shuman had the first one, he got NASCAR to let us take two wheels and put one in the lathe and cut the center out of it, bolt it on top of the other one, kind of mated them. It was the first double wheel center that was ever in NASCAR, We made them in an old machine shop in Charlotte. We made four of them and took them to NASCAR, and they finally approved them. We run a double plated wheel. Before that we was pulling lug bolts through them right and left. It was not uncommon. That '64 Dodge in Charlotte, it was Cotton's car. It didn't feel right and I drove into the pits and told them to change the tire. Something was wrong with the right front tire. He went beside the racecar and he said, "Well hell, there ain't nothing wrong with the tire. It looks good." And I said, "Change it." "It looks fine. Go on and get outta here!" So I took off. In the next lap, coming off of [turn] two I watched that wheel go over the back grandstand! When I quit sliding, I was in front of the scorer's table coming off of four. I came walking up pit road and he said, "What the hell happened?!" I said, "Go find that wheel you said was looking go good." The center was breaking out of the wheel. They was looking at the damn tire and I was telling them to change it. There wasn't anybody that would listen to me. So we ground half of the front end of the racecar off before it ever stopped sliding. Nobody has ever seen that wheel since!
Really? It was never found?!
Not when we quit. Ray Hilll went outside the racetrack and tried to find it. A spectator probably carried it home for a souvenir. I went out of the racetrack. I seen it go over the grandstand.
But they never brought it back for you to autograph though?
No. The worst thing about that is, see, we had to run stock automobile switch keys, a stock switch with a key. After the race, somebody would steal the switch keys and God help you if you'd leave them. When you shut the car off, you had to take the key out. If you didn't those spectators would come by and steal every switch key you had.
Goodyear made a gearshift knob. A little round chrome knob with "Goodyear" on the top., They give us all Goodyear gear shift knobs. Well, you couldn't keep one for a day! If you had one in the racecar you'd better take it off and put it in your pocket or somebody would steal it.
Tell us about the boots from NASA.
Oh, we all had problems blistering our feet in the car. The floors were hot. We've had that problem ever since we had a car. I know you'd all seen Petty with eight or ten of these coffee cups taped onto the bottom of his shoes. We tried what we could , until NASCAR let us put asbestos on the floor. But still the floors get hot. When you'd get out of the car after a race, and stand up, water would run out of your shoes when the blisters broke. We was running Bristol. I'm sure you've all seen Bristol racetrack on TV. That's a long, hot racetrack, and there's a lot of heat generated. They were making shoes for the astronauts to go to the moon. They brought three pair of them to Bristol and I wore a pair and tested them. They did cut down a lot of heat. I didn't blister my feet. They really were good. I tested some of the first shoes for NASA, I tested the first ones.
Did I hear you say something the other day about the lug nuts?
By now you know that you have a NASCAR inspector. He watches everything you do. They didn't really watch too close what we put on, but, if you broke off more than two [studs], I want to know about it. I'm not going back to three. I don't car if you break two off. But tell me when that third one broke off. NASCAR started clamping down and everybody had to have a lug nut on all five of them. So if you strip a lug nut that means you've got to change that stud in that hub. And that's a three-day job. Me and four others had lug nuts made out of thread chasers. They're actually kind of a tap and die. They were just a shade smaller than the lug nuts. So you'd actually re-thread that stud. All it was. was a tap. And all the guys changing [tires] had five lug nuts on a wire around their neck, those were actually thread chasers. So if you'd strip one, you'd throw it away and jerk one off the wire around your neck and stick it on there. The tire tested perfect and nobody ever knew you switched lug nuts. That was a safety factor. Now you don't see cars losing wheels like that. But all of that evolved over a period of years. There was all kind of test things we did in off-season. I tested Comets for Ford Motor Company at Daytona. I ran 100,000 miles, forty days and nights, and we averaged 115 miles per hour. The cars were never shut off. At 50,000 miles, they'd change the tires. One man would run under and drop the oil out and screw the filter off and screw another one on. While he was doing that, another man was pouring the oil in. They changed the oil in the engine at 50,000 miles. But we averaged 115 miles per hour for forty days and nights. And the deal was, we drove for two hours on and two hours off. We had bunks set up in the Goodyear pits. We'd rotate drivers, two hours on, two off, two on, two off.
So you would literally just go out there, get in the car and driver 115 miles per hour for two hours?
Around a race track?
Yes They was strictly stock cars. The only thing they did was bolt the doors on the inside and you had to climb in and out of the window. They had everything on them, strictly stock. The second night we were there, we had a storm come in off the coast and I was in the car and I was supposed to get off in two hours. I stayed in the car for fourteen hours before anyone else would take it. Jean and them was staying at the hotel in town and the wind was so strong that it took the palm trees out of the hotel parking lot and put them in the swimming pool! The water was so deep on the racetrack that I had to run right at the top by the wall. I'd hold it wide open all the way through the corners and when I came down off the back there'd be so much water on the racetrack you'd just spin the rear tires through the water and get ahold, and when you got to the corner you'd go way up high, float it down and run through the dogleg right next to the wall to get traction, make it through one and two. We had four cars and four teams and you were not allowed to run within ten car-lengths of each other. We had radio communication and whenever we had to, we could talk to the pits and the Goodyear building or we could talk car to car.
Daytona was a new race track in '64. They had a guardrail down the back stretch. There was no concrete wall, just a guardrail. When you were going down through there at 115 or 120 miles per hour and someone came on the radio and said, "move over to the third lane, there's an alligator in the second....." The place was full of big turtles! We caught one down there that you couldn't put in a bushel basket and painted a number on it! They'd be crossing the racetrack all night...alligators, possums and coons. There was some kind of wildlife crossing that race track all night long. All you had to do was try to dodge them.
It was work. When we started making motion film and wanted a fire on the right side of the car, they took the wicks out of the lanterns like they used to use along the highways and they would soak them with oil and stick them in a pipe that was connected to a manifold and anytime you wanted a fire on that line, you turned the valve on the manifold and the wick would be lit with a match on that pipe. You could control how high you wanted the fire on the right side. Now when they were dragging the driver out, meantime I went unnoticed up into the trunk and took the fuel cell out. The trunk and the back glass were going to be on fire and the fire was to scorch the back glass. As hey pulled the driver out and when his feet hit the ground, that was my signal and I turned on the other valve to set the left side of the car on fire. It burnt all the sheet metal and the seat covers and it was out before it hurt the car and touched any of the electronics and none of the gauges in the dash, you could reach in and turn the switch and crank it up and it would be fine.
But the car actually looked like it had truly burnt up. Now what we've done on the rented cars for special effects is mount two explosive packets underneath the car. And when they go off, fire would come out from underneath the car like you'd blown an engine. It would actually burn the paint on the quarter panels at the back of the car and usually the deck lid depending on where you put the explosives. Say if you were running 145 mph and pop one of them off, that car is off the ground. You could do the right side or the left side, come back a little and you have a row of switches on your leg, just go one, two, three, four. Just be sure you know each one that you pop. As long as you're expecting it, you have time to correct for each one that you pop. That's where you see movie cars doing that. I've done it with race cars on the speedway. Now making movies on the speedway, I would run 70 or 80 pounds of air in the rear tires and cut off the front brakes. Cut the front brakes totally off. They don't even work. Just touch the pedal and it locks the rear wheels. And when you lock those rear wheels., you're gone. That way you can spin anywhere on the racetrack. It depends on how many times they want the car to spin up or down or where, that's how you see a lot of the movie cars doing that. Now if you want that particular car to turn, you can get a little package that you put in the brake lines and put an electric button on the steering wheel and it would lock up the brakes for you.
You had another story about how you made it appear you were out there racing while you were making the movie?
There were many of them. At certain times for certain movies, we had cameras that we would set up to film pit road, the grandstands and everything. We rode with and put one in the car and filmed the finish line at the end of the race. And after the race, I'd keep twenty or thirty cars around for five days to run and do filming to fill in afterwards. You'd have to get all the infield people, the grandstand people, the pit road action, the whole field before the race was over. Then you can get your fill-on shots after.
You did really good tonight.
Well, it killed some time! I really enjoyed it. This is something that I growed up in and I really enjoyed it. I hope you all come to Charlotte [2007 Winged Warriors National Meet] and go to the museum in Mooresville, and look at a lot of the stuff we're trying to save. There's a little bit of this history there from the time that NASCAR started up to current. They wanted to build a big new museum in Charlotte but they never did get that thing built. All that they're trying to do is jump in on the tail end of something that they've throwed away years ago. They didn't want anybody around Charlotte that had anything to do with racing. They ran everybody off. They closed down the racetrack in Charlotte because of the noise and dust. They've got a nice dirt track in Redmond. Tony Stewart wanted to run midgets on it one night a week this year. Just one night a week. They set the decibel point on that thing lower than the roads make. There was no way you could run a midget. They knew he wasn't going to rent the race track because he couldn't run the cars. And it's been that way for years. Any type of racing in Charlotte, they've done away with. Charlotte Motor Speedway, one year down here in August, they [drivers/owners] wanted to have a parade, Charlotte race, World 600, all of these people you want to come out here in Charlotte and bring their race cars and have a parade. We had to have the parade in Concord to get around it. And now they won't deal with anybody. I guess everybody waits to get in on the tail end of a good deal and now they want to drive the deal!
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