Perhaps the Best Ever…

Not long after joining the staff of Hot Rod Magazine (circa 1966), I met a young GM engineer tasked with the job of designing and drafting Chevrolet engine components.   He’d been on staff for about three years.  As a graduate from North Carolina State University and a native of Winston-Salem, his original intention had been to find a job with a race team, specifically in NASCAR.  But when no team he contacted wanted a graduate engineer, he turned to focus on a job at GM, hopefully designing parts for their V8 engine family. 

By 1969, he’d been eyeing a position on staff with what was then called GM’s “Product Promotion” group.   Since GM was not publically participating in motorsports of any sort, the PP group was, in fact, their “non-racing” band of clandestine engineers overseeing the design and development of “high performance” parts; read: racing included.  It was in this capacity that we began a friendship that lasts today. 

But I’m digressing.

What I found fascinating about his demeanor and tacit way of getting things done was how he could blend immediate resources into both short- and long-term objectives.  While I never spotted a crystal ball in his proximity, I frequently believed it existed.

Here’s a case in point.  During the ‘70s, when GM was still not officially in racing among the noted NASCAR teams with which they had a close working relationship, this budding engineer was asked to find a way that Smokey Yunick and Jr. Johnson could co-op on projects affecting GM’s future stock car racing progress.  Stated another way, figure out how to get them working in unison, not separately.

Few words could describe the long-standing gap that existed between these two NASCAR pioneers.  Each had his own line of thinking about what it took to build parts and win races, and never the twain had met.  Neither trusted the other for, after all, they were competitors on the racetrack.  Why would they want to work together, sharing ideas and efforts for the combined benefit of GM racing?  Besides, this young engineer had already been turned down by essentially the same people to whom he was assigned to join hands.  However, through skillful negotiation and the building of trust, he managed to make it happen.

I saw him operating in the midst of all this during a testing session in which I was involved with Smokey, at his shop during the time Edelbrock was contemplating building and selling the “Smokey Ram” intake manifold.  It was summertime in Daytona Beach, hot and equally humid.  The image is still vivid in my mind, seeing this soft-spoken engineer from North Carolina, pouring over engine dyno results while dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and tennis shoes (no socks), in a corner of Smokey’s shop, contemplating how to blend the abrasiveness of Smokey  with the closed-mouth stance of Jr.  It was classic.