© 2014 Bill 'BADCO' Ott
*Now some folks say it's too big
And uses too much gas
Some folks say it's too old
And that it goes too fast *
Editors note: This is Covered Up Part 2. To view Part 1, please click here.
And some folks too, over in Highland County VA, claim that Richard 'Dick' Swecker was born in Monterey. Some say Bluegrass. While a few others say Crabbottom. Now here's where it starts to get a might tricky... turns out Bluegrass and Crabbottom are in fact the same town. So... thus starts the mystery about a man who won one of the most prestigious events on drag racing's yearly calendar, and hardly a soul knew it then... or knows it now.
According to Mr. Swecker's Obituary(1) he was in fact born in Monterey on Dec. 11, 1928. He was a U.S. Army Veteran and attended West Waynesboro Church of Christ.
But irregardless of where he came from, it's safe to assume that everyone in that mountainous part of Virginia had to learn to figure out how things worked pretty much for themselves. One room schoolhouses were the norm back then. Folks also had strong moral values and a strict sense of right and wrong. Monterey County's own county records from that period show a religious affiliation or membership in at least eleven different church denominations in that sparsely populated region.
About fifty miles southeast of Monterey sits the city of Staunton, VA. Incidentally... in Part I of this series, I mistakenly left the 'n' out of Staunton every time I spelleded it... apologies all around and be advised my spell checker is now flipping burgers. We're not gonna miss them anyway.
Not too much is known about Dick's younger years up there in the mountain country. We do know that sometime around the mid 1950's he started working at the B&B Buick dealership in Staunton, and eventually worked his way up to Service Manager at Obaugh Ford's (also in Staunton) truck department.
The people I've interviewed about Dick all were quick to point out what a soft spoken mild mannered gentlemen he was. A few also mentioned his 'frugality'. One his his frugal attributes was to buy his work shoes only from a local shoe factory... seconds of course... they were cheaper. But being seconds meant they all sported some sort of defect. Usually it turned out the defect manifested itself as a squeak. And being a foreman at a garage it tended to make it difficult, if not downright impossible, to sneak up to the hired help if he suspected they were sleeping on the job.
Dick was also famous for his ability to pull copious amounts of horsepower out of automobile engines... carburetor 'tweaking' was one of his well know specialties. His first foray into auto racing started with an modified Oldsmobile powered '34 Ford. Eventually the Olds was replaced with a 392 Chrysler Hemi. He also dropped a 'Nailhead' Buick V8 into an otherwise stock looking '55 T-Bird. This left the Olds looking for a home. Eventually it found one, between the rails of the rather odd looking mix of square and round tubing pictured above. And here comes that frugal thing again. That chassis? Welded up by the students at a Roanoke, VA Industrial Arts class. That's a McCollough VS57 belt driven supercharger lifted off a 1954 Kaiser Manhattan(2) sitting atop the Olds. Notice also what appear to be re-cap slicks (Bruces maybe?). I couldn't come up with any numbers on how this dragster ran. It's possible they didn't even time them in those early days of the sport. But it sure won it's share of trophies. One last note about the image above... it was taken beside Glenn Houlihan's family owned market in Staunton. Glenn will become another player as this story unfolds.
The image below shows the same chassis with a roll cage update and the 392 Chrysler featuring a Potvin style blower drive on board. I'm not sure if it was a factory Potvin (crankshaft driven) drive or something Dick (or the guys at the school?) crafted himself. Up front one can see a tow bar mounted on the frame. The dragster was 'flat towed' to the track. No fancy trailer here. And those are street tires all around for the ride to the track. Also note the earlier mentioned Buick powered '55 T-Bird in the background. The dragster in this configuration evidently won more than it's share of trophies too.
As can be assumed from the black and white image above Dick had a good bit of success at the Roanoke (VA) Drag Strip. BUT... when the facility was hoping to become an NHRA sanctioned track, the management invited NHRA Division 1 Director Ed Eaton down for a look see. Ed had no problem with the facilities at the track, but he took one look at that day's Top Eliminator and said “Not at one of MY tracks”. Seems times had caught up with Dick's 'country' style dragster and it wasn't gonna pass NHRA Tech inspection. Not now, not ever.
So Dick made a call to his old pal Joe Tucci (again, see part 1) over in Quantico and asked how he could get in touch with that Pat Bilbow fellow up in Pennsylvania about a new chassis? A long distance call later and a new Lyndwood Welding state of the art 96” wheelbase chassis was discussed. Only problem was the price. Then local businessman Glenn Houlihan came to the rescue. Glenn agreed to put up the money necessary to put together a killer combination dragster. As was also mentioned in Part 1, this particular dragster came equipped with two extra uprights on the roll cage. Perhaps Dick wanted a chassis exactly like Tucci's because these two chassis are the only ones to sport those extra uprights as far as I've been able to determine. And also, just a few months later in 1960, Tucci's dragster would go on to set the NHRA National Speed Record for the A/Dragster class at Atco NJ, making it indeed a good one to copy down to the last minute detail.
Sometime over the winter of 59 & '60 the new Lyndwood dragster was put together by Dick, David Fry, Sam Richardson, Roger Sprouse, and maybe a few other who's names have been forgotten over time. The Hemi from the earlier dragster was dropped in the new pipe. With less 'tubing' in the way to block the view the unusual induction setup on the intake side of the blower can be seen (see image below). That's a rather well constructed looking log type intake manifold (possibly a Crower U-Fab?) with three aircraft 'updraft' carburetors mounted to it.
Enough can't be said about the ingenuity of those old racers from all forms of motor sports back in those days when not too much hop up equipment was available like it is today. What speed equipment was available was more than likely purchased from The Lickliter Brothers owned 'Lick's Speed Shop' in Staunton. I've also been told that Dick ran an 'Experimental' Isky cam. As did Tucci, and possibly every one else in the country that ran an Isky cam? You do realize that Ed Iskenderian was a master at marketing as well as grinding camshafts? But then again, the older cams weren't mass produced on CNC machines like today... so who knows? Going by these and dozens of other images from David Fry's collection that he was gracious enough to share with me, I don't see anything else particularly 'trick' about this dragster.
By the spring of that year the front mounted blower setup was discarded and a more conventional top mount with an Isky drive and Hilborn two port injector was added. It took no time at all to get this new combination ironed out and keep up his winning ways at the local tracks. He also got back in the good graces of Ed Eaton and the other High Sheriffs at the NHRA with this less scary looking combination.
Continued on next page...
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