Ray Lee Goodwin
Interviewed by Dave Zortman
I got to sit down
with Ray Lee at EMMR for this great interview. There's an added
bonus to this interview as another outstanding driver, Bobbie Adamson,
makes an unexpected entrance, turning this interview into a very
memorable exchange of memories, laughs and recollections of days gone by
from these two exceptional racers.
Do you remember where and when you saw your first race?
At what point did you know you wanted to become
involved in racing?
How did you get your first ride?
I went to work for a man named Elmer Layne. His sons are still racing there in the Kansas City area. He owned Layne Machinery and he put me to work. We were doing work for Bendix, who at that time was doing defense work. This would be… I’m saying ’58. I was about 18 years old.
He told me that he couldn’t pay me much, but that we’d work something out. I said alright… if at the end of the year my work is satisfactory… He ran GMC’s and at that time everybody ran flatheads. At that time a flathead was like 283, or 2-something, and a stock GMC was 304… a 4 x 4 engine. He said that’s a deal… you buy a car and I’ll put an engine in it for a year.
He’s my dearest friend to this day. If I’m in town I always stop to see him. He’s just a good friend… good people.
How was that first
Where did you go from
From there I went to the #85 car of Bill Bryson. Bill Bryson had a body shop and Bill Ryan was the car owner. Was that the next car? No… excuse me. It was Junior Hower. Junior Hower was a 7-time Kansas City Champion. He was the Edelbrock of Kansas City. He was the man with flatheads.
Junior was a great guy. I use to go over to wash parts in his garage. He built a second car and I drove it. I probably won my first race at Kansas City in it. It was a Hower creation. It was a square tube frame… it even had hexagon torsion bars. You could take a socket, put it on it… all you had to do was jack it up, pull off the socket and raise it up one serration. Of course, that was a bunch… with a hexagon bar you’d raise it an inch and a half every time… <laughs> You were either too low or too high! That was my second ride.
After that, I owned a car one other time in my life. After I defeated Mr. Hower in Kansas City… he was the word in Kansas City. I mean he was the big name, and Chennault and Larson and all them… they all were at that age… I was about 10 years younger than that era. You know what I’m saying? Everything is in 10 year increments.
I think of auto racing as kindergarten, junior high… if you win Knoxville, that gives you a doctorate right there. I mean that’s kind of the way, you know. Olympic Stadium was kind of the proving grounds. I don’t care who you were, if you had quick time you started in the back. The competitors, umm… Chennault, Larson and Hower, that crowd… the boys of Kansas City were about 10 years older than me. So, I was coming on… Jerry Weld was maybe 3 years older than me, Greg Weld was 2 or 3 years younger than I am. I started racing there in probably 1960 and raced there until 1968. Then I went USAC, which was not successful.
I couldn’t stand up on pavement! We had no pavement in Kansas City and I had no pavement experience. It was a necessary factor in USAC. More than half the shows were on pavement. Anyway, we went there with Jay Woodside, who recently passed away. We went USAC together. We went to Florida together. He was an Indian and I was an Irishman and we kinda got along. <laughs>
After ’68, a gentleman out of Lincoln, Nebraska, that Woodside was driving for when we went USAC… when we were on our way back to Kansas City I asked Jay if he was going to drive for Gary Swenson. He said no, he was going to go home and drive for Taylor "Pappy" Weld. So I said I was going to go drive for Swenson, if he’ll hire me.
We went to Knoxville, set a good time, started up front and was successful at winning Knoxville. Now there was a hook to winning Knoxville. See, I never ran a stroker motor. He run like a 5/8 stroker… gave me like 376 if I recall. We set quick time and in the heat race, I’m going down the back chute and I hear this thing <slaps his leg> click. I looked down at my oil pressure gauge and of course it was driven off of the crank… and there was no oil pressure. I just rolled it in the pits and told Gary we broke a crankshaft. We had to take the car back to Lincoln, he put a 327 in it, a high performance Corvette engine. We put our cam and injectors in it and he got it ready to go back to Knoxville for Saturday afternoon and race that night with the 327 in it.
He warmed it up, put it on the trailer and the engine seized up on the trailer. He never said a word… put it on the trailer and brought it to the races. So, I’m trying to be helpful… I’m no mechanic. I’d cross screw a light bulb. I was just so happy that he made it and everything… so I go get a jeep to push us off. I told the Jeep man to get around behind the car and Gary said no, to get around the front of the car. I thought that was funny, but we pushed this car the length of Knoxville’s infield backwards. He said when you go out and warm it up, just make sure it starts and everything is working, then bring it into the pits. I said okay, I’d do that.
As we’re standing in Victory lane, he said he didn’t want to tell me that the car seized up in his driveway. <laughs> So, there’s a great amount of luck in auto racing and the good Lord willing, or you don’t win. That’s a long story.
And after Knoxville?
So, I stayed there… and I got hurt at Knoxville in 1974… that was a bad one. There was two cars that were built over there at Lincoln and I destroyed both of them. One for a farmer out of Columbus, he owned the first car that I put in the cemetery… and damn near put me in the cemetery. Then I drove for Bill Smith, another car out of Lincoln. They were Maxwell cars and I destroyed it. There was nothing left to put back together. But, my driving career ended in 1975.
Did you stay involved in racing in any other way?
They were thinking about it… they were in Florida thinking about it… Rick Ferkel had a great deal to do with the World of Outlaws… I don’t know if he still gets credit for it or not… but Johnson was kind of the back stop… he was listening to all this that we were talking about this that we were talking about down in Tampa, Florida. It was a growing thing and I enjoyed all of my career… I really did… Still do!
How many types of racing did you compete in?
Prior to your actually competing in racing, who were your favorites?
(Bill) Chennault and Larson, they were buddies. They did lots of things together… that I can’t talk about here! <laughs> Junior Hower was a family man. He rarely left the Kansas City area, other than a few times to Knoxville. He was our state champion at Sedalia. He was one of the few guys who could beat the overheads with a flathead, even on the half-miles at the state fairs. He was very good.
There was stories about all the rest of the guys… Marshall, Missouri, was a big modified area. They had two ways to compete. You had to run a B class, then once you graduated from B class you were a full modified driver. You couldn’t go back and run a B class. They had a good building system and very good drivers. That was called the Central Missouri Auto Racing.
Who were your favorites? If you'd like information on how