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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

A Day at the Races with Dick Harrell's Car

By Dave Libby

I first met Dick Harrell at Wes Jerde's speed shop in Kansas City in about early 1967. But I had seen him match racing at the Kansas City "old strip" (where the second NHRA Nationals were held). He ran a '63 Z-11, a '64 or '65 Chevy II with a Z-11 motor, and one of only two genuine Z-16 '65 Chevelles I have ever seen. That was the first of the 396 Chevelles, but I believe it had a 427 in it at the time. I am not sure this was his car (I never asked him), but he had it there just the same.

When Dick moved to Kansas City later that year to start his Dick Harrell Performance Center, I was offered a job there. I was on layoff at the time and jumped at it. I stayed there until late 1969. In that time I put a lot of 427s in a lot of Camaros, Chevy IIs ('68s were Chevy IIs and '69s became Novas), and a few Chevelles. (Read it in SS&DI July 68). 

We also did a lot of custom machine work and built more than a few race cars, like Fred Gibb's ZL-1 Pro Stocker, for instance. I have often wondered what happened to that. I think it was the #1 ZL-1. I left Dick when he was getting ready to move the shop to Mission Kansas. This is a story about one of my experiences during that time (summer 68).

I had been racing my AHRA B/HR 55 Chevy at Kansas City the Saturday night all this started. Dick had a match race in Pittsburgh, Kansas, with the "old car" (his recently reacquired '67 Camaro) while Charlie Therwhanger had the "new car" (Dick's '68 flopper Camaro) in Union Grove (Great Lakes Dragway) at the "Olympics of Drag Racing." I got home about midnight from the drag strip and shortly after that the phone rings. 

Dick says, "I need you to help me. Charlie has torn up the motor and I have the motor out of the old car now. I need you and Norm (I cannot remember his last name) to take it to him and help put it in the car so we can race tomorrow." I said, "No problem Dick. Be right there."

Well, making a long story short, we drove like a bat out of hell all night and got to the "HO-JOs" in Kenosha, Wisconsin, about 8:30 Sunday morning. Sure enough, there was Charlie and Jerry (Stanger, I think) waiting for us. We set the motor in the car and I went to the room to take a shower and catch a few winks. Guess what? In the shower/bathtub, Charlie had overhauled the tranny the previous night! BIG mess! I went to get some breakfast instead. 

At breakfast, I overheard other racers talking. Word was "Harrell's car is broke. Guess one of us will get a single first round." I looked around to see who was talking and it was the Jungle man himself talking to someone. (I don't remember who.) Just as I was finishing my coffee, Charlie fired the car in the parking lot. That got a LOT of attention, including the local cops, but it all worked out OK. Charlie had a good line of BS.

Needless to say, we got to the races on time. Charlie won the first round but lost second round to... I cannot remember who -- Schumacher's Stardust Cuda or maybe the Ramchargers car -- I am not sure. (Wonder why I can't remember? It has only been 32 years ago! HA!)

I crashed so hard I really don't remember the ride home, but the memory of the trip will never fade. Wish I knew whatever happened to or where Therwhanger is now. I would like to talk to him again. I still miss Dick and will never be able to thank him for all the memories I have, but I thought I would share this one with you.

Dave Libby


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