Continued in part three...
The 427 Thunderbolts were in the making......
At 19 years old, one of my favorite moments in life was being part of a factory team. Mickey sent me to Detroit to pick up one of the original seven Ford Thunderbolts. While I was at the plant in Dearborn, Gas Ronda and I slipped in to look at the seven Thunderbolts. The number six car had the new hood with a bubble hood scoop. That evening we had a factory driver’s banquet with all of the Ford executives. Dick Brannan (who helped design the Thunderbolt) was given the number 1 car and after dinner, the drivers drew numbers for the remaining six cars. I drew number 7.... Mickey asked me why I didn’t seem too excited. I said “Well, boss number six has the good hood scoop.”
The next morning we met at the Ford Proving ground and guess what? Number 7, my car, now had the good hood scoop.
The first time "California Flash was painted on his
cars was after his 64 Nationals win
I had a match race set up in Chicago. Ben Christ (the track promoter) invited me to his home for dinner after the race. We were talking and he said I needed a name. All the racers and cars had names at that time. His wife said "you are clean cut, kind of a flashy personally... why not California Flash since you were born and raised in California"
. The name stayed in my mind. After the US Nationals win, Ford sent me some fiberglass doors for the car so I decided to remove the Mr 427 and re-letter the doors with California Flash. Thus, the beginning of Butch Leal the California Flash.
At the Winternationals in Pomona, all of the Thunderbolts were there. I was in the finals with Gas Ronda and he outran me. Then at the Hot Rod Magazine Race he out ran me again. The original factory engine was in the car so I began to build another one. Once the new engine I built was in the car I was never outrun again. The Thunderbolts became the most famous Super Stock cars ever built by Ford Motor Company.
In 1964 I won the US Nationals which was and still is the largest field ever in Super Stock. There were 54 cars.
I later met a man named Bob Cahill, who was the director for Chrysler Factory racing. He wanted to hire me to drive a 1965 four speed Chrysler Hemi. I signed up and became a member of the Chrysler factory team. I had the first funny car that was ever built. Chrysler had built 6 Plymouth’s and 7 Dodges. They presented the cars to NHRA so a class might be established. The NHRA would not accept the cars because the rear wheels and front wheels were moved forward and their response was they “look funny”.
Because NHRA did not create a class for these cars at that time, the cars were campaigned across the country as match race cars.
This was the beginning of what we know today as funny cars.....