My Introduction to Ironhead





I had been contacted by H.A. 'Humpy' Wheeler to prepare a car for a young road race specialist, Willy T. Ribbs, for the upcoming World 600 race in 1978 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. 'Humpy' had acquired a very nice Ford Torino from Bud Moore in Spartanburg, S.C.and had been driven by Buddy Baker for $15,000 and provided it for our use in the upcoming race, but it was going to be a close call getting everything ready on such short notice.

The car had originally been scheduled to be driven by Willy T Ribbs, but issues with driving and problems away from the race track had put him at odds with 'Humpy' and he called me late one afternoon just prior to the race to notify me that Willy would not be driving the car, and that it was going to be revealed on the six o'clock news , but he said not to worry, we would figure something out by tomorrow morning.

Dale and I had been working on some suspension issues with his Sportsman car that had turned out well, so I was familiar with his name as well as his style of driving. When the news report came on the television, sports reporter Harold Johnson had no longer got the words out of his mouth that the cars driver had been released from his duties when the phone rang. It was Dale, and he wanted to know if he could drive the car. While I was impressed with his rapid inquiry, I told him that the car had been 'spoken for' for the 600 race and that he had better call Humpy. He asked me if Humpy said it was OK, was I OK with it, and I said that I was. Harold Johnson was still talking about the ride situation on the television when I got a call from Humpy, confirming his approval of Dale driving the car, and inquiring if I was willing to go along with this arrangement. I responded that I was, and by the time I had let the dogs out, I heard back from Dale, and he said he was coming down to fit the seat while the car was in my shop.

It was 55 miles from Dale's house to my shop and he arrived in 40 minutes. He arrived in an older blue pickup with a small boy sitting at his side. When he got out of the car, he went around to the passenger side door and rolled down the window, closing the door so that the boy could look out and watch what we were doing.

I was expecting to have to add some padding to make the seat fit some one that was clearly smaller than Buddy, and maybe relocate the seat some what by re-drilling some mounting holes, or maybe add a bracket or two. Four hours later, I'm not exactly smiling as we had not only made all of the fore mentioned modifications, we had made a new seat frame assembly, and cut and lowered the floorboard in the car, that resulted in the seat being both lower and further back in the car. My nice new (to me) race car had weld and grind marks all over the floor, and my stomach was sore from climbing in and out of the car. Every once in a while as I was struggling with something, I would look up and he would display that Cheshire cat grin, and with out speaking, hand me a wrench or climb in the other window to help.

We both had worked up a sweat and had been at it for more than four hours, taking time off only to get a drink as Dale went to check on the small boy who kept constant, quite vigil on our progress. All the while he watched his nose was running and because he was continually pressed against the glass, there were a number of tracks running down the door glass. I do not recall him speaking and he was always at the window when I looked over at him.

Dale was sitting in the car and had that grin again, and he looked up at me and said "you don't know what all this work was for, do you?". I admitted that I did not, but commented it was like being married. I may not understand everything my wife wants, but I'm smart enough to do what she asks me to do. I wanted to go fast as badly as he did, and it had been my experience that if the driver perceives a lack of effort, he might feel less comfortable in the car.

He said for me to get in the car and get a grasp on the steering wheel. As I settled in, he asked me to tell him where the car was that I would be drafting as I ran down into the first turn at a super speedway like Charlotte. I pointed to the face of the shop wall that was directly in front of the car and his reply was to ask where the car that would be in front of that car I would be drafting and I again pointed straight ahead of me. He gave me that grin again and said 'think about that', and stepped to the front of the left front fender and raised his right arm, and it became clear to me what he was thinking.

As you dumped the car off into the banked turn while turning left, the traffic in front of you moved to the left and to the top of the windshield. What he had been prepared to ask me to do was to give him an opportunity to perceive the traffic a split second earlier by being able to look further up the race track by being positioned lower in the seat. By moving the seat back he would get a head start on feeling any impending yaw. If the car was moving toward a change in the yaw angle, he would be positioned further back and be able to determine that change a fraction of a second earlier and make the appropriate correction earlier. I was VERY impressed!

He would later be given the nickname of Ironhead for his style of driving, but it was apparant to me right away that he was a determined young man and would pursue his ideas with confidence. That small boy turned out to have a bright future as well.