Remembering Dick Smith

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Dick Smith Stories

On April 18, 2007 we lost another 427 Cobra driver, Dick Smith, in a airplane crash north of Los Angeles. Dick Smith was 73 years old and was a very experienced aviator being a commercial pilot at one time, he passed away doing one of his favorite pasttimes: flying. He was in route from Fresno to Lancaster, California with his 16 year old stepson, Kyle Runciman when Dick's single engine Piper crashed into Tehachapi mountain. The pair of Fresno based residents were flying to Lancaster to look at a restored B-17 which was on tour at the time. The crash occurred at an elevation of 5,500 feet, about 115 miles North of L.A. The crash was under investigation, I have not heard if they ever determined what was the cause of the accident.

When you think of the cars from Shelby American, perhaps one of the first ones that come to mind is the powerful 427 Cobra . With the thousands of replicas having been built it is easily the most recognizable car Shelby American produced. Twenty one early 427 Cobras were full competition cars and at $9,000.00 sales were slow, so the remaining thirty one 427 Cobras were converted to S/C specs and sold as street cars. The 427 S/C was nothing less than a detuned race car for street use. When you look at the few drivers who were consistently successful in racing 427 Cobras, the names Ed Lowther and Harold Keck come to mind, but they were on the East coast. On the West coast, we had Dick Smith. Dick Smith approached a local Fresno based radio station to purchase a new S/C and with the help from Shelby American's Lew Spencer a deal was made. In 1967, Smith won the A- production championship in CSX3035 and while racing the car at Daytona was clocked at 198mph, pretty impressive since the 427 Cobra had the aerodynamics of a brick. In 1968, Smith took first place in the Northern Pacific Division and went to the ARRC runoffs at Daytona, unfortunately engine gremlins caused an engine failure, one of Smith's very few DNF'S. Smith continued to fully enjoy CSX3035 with the advent of historic/vintage racing in the late 1970's. CSX3035 was a regular fixture on the West coast SAAC Conventions as well, the red 427 Cobra, with its tubular nerf bars and "198" on its side was easy to spot. Next to, if not in CSX3035 was the ever joyful, easy going, Smith . At SAAC 30, Dick Smith, announced he was retiring racing CSX3035, its always hard to keep good racers down, and a short time later Smith was racing and promoting the Factory Five 427 Cobra. Dick Smith will be missed, a couple of WASAAC members and other friends have fond stories of Dick Smith, here are a couple.

- Mark Hovander

Dick lived a full life with experiences most of us can only dream about and I will always remember & treasure my "Dick Smith" stories.

I first met Dick at SAAC 1 when he fired up his Cobra as part of Drew's fantastic multi-media show, and a lasting friendship developed from then on. I remember when we were at SAAC V, Dick and some of us decided to play "how many people can you stuff in a rental car?" when we went out to Milan Dragway for the days racing activities. He didn't quite hit 198 mph with the rental car, but he tried. Those of you who were there know that was a fun convention and they even had to call a riot squad of cops in at one point to tone the boys down a bit because they were having too good of a time. I'll never forget the sight of two big cops basically holding Ken Eber up by his ears and making him tell the crowd to disperse. (sigh) For the good old days of REAL SAAC conventions.

Later, when I got involved with vintage racing I always saw Dick at the races and some memorable times occurred on & off the track at those events. One year Dick showed up at Portland with a new wife (not his present wife), so Wes Burmark and I had our girlfriends (both new for that year) dress up in bikinis and go over to Dick's pit area, run up and throw their arms around him and start kissing him while they talked about "the good time they had there with him last year." Of course, Dick's new wife is watching this little show wondering who these two babes are. Dick has never seen them before either, and he is looking like a deer caught in the headlights thinking "Did I get so drunk last year that I don't remember these two?" He was really relieved when Wes and I stepped out laughing from behind a trailer where we had been watching.

Another time Dick called up out of the blue and said, "Hey, these guys promoting a Monster Truck event have hired me to fly them up to Portland so they can oversee their event. Come on down and have dinner with me, I have free tickets for you." So Wes and I jumped in a car, drove to Portland to watch the event and had dinner (and a few drinks) and a fun evening with Dick.

Dick was one of those rare people who always had a smile for everyone and, most important of all, the gift of some of his time for everyone.

- Dick Roush

Hi Mark, I paid a visit to WASAAC web site today (2/3/08) and saw the Dick Smith Memorial web page. Just thought you might like to see these pics I took at the SAAC convention in 2005. It was my first convention as I live in New Zealand. I have known of Dick for a long time though magazines and the likes. When I came across Dick having his lunch I felt like I was intruding a bit but he was unbelievable in making himself available to me to have a chat. He put his ham sandwich down and away we went, he even signed a photo of himself racing his famous 198 car for me. We talked for about half an hour. Top bloke, really sad news about his death.

- Terry McMahon

(Terry's pics are the four on the bottom row, thanks Terry)

I met Dick in the early 80's when I was a college student at USC and a fellow neighbor and also a student at USC, decided to purchase and restore a McLaren Can Am car. We ran into Dick at Monterey and Dick volunteered to do the test driving and sorting once the car was back together because he drove the same McLaren in the CanAm series. He also drove it at a few vintage events for us. The McLaren was a big step up....but we were smart enough to let someone with experience (Dick) drive it during setup and at vintage race events for fear of doing something stupid and wading it up in a little ball. It was scary fast, 1400-1500 pounds with a 510 horse power small block Chevy set up for it would get your attention. Dick told us that he figured my McLaren wouldn't accelerate as violently in 4th & 5th gear as it did in 1st, 2nd and 3rd, but it shocked him....he was so used to the Ford big block in his Cobra that the McLaren with a small block surprised him...but the weight was almost nothing with a reasonable amount of horsepower.

Our friendship lasted until he passed but there are things he did, like helping sort a McLaren for two crazy college kids and volunteering to be pit crew in the Baja 1000 for a friend of his... Dick and I were the air contingent for his friends Baja adventure and we flew his Gruman Cheetah all over Mexico for a few days setting up pits where needed. Dick was a rough airstrip landing pilot when he was in the Marines(as I recall) and that rough airstrip experience came in handy in Mexico.

Dick was a great guy and many didn't get to know him they way we did.

- Tom Borcich