At Redwood Acres he was known by various nicknames: Frito Bandito (“I had the big mustache”), Duck (“Donald Duck – that came from Jerry Koval”), Capizone (“that came from Gino Marcelli”), Ralph (“I never heard that one”), and Don Price In Living Color. (There were others that he didn’t want to share with me). He’s been a car mechanic, a builder (he even built the track flag stand), a welder, a commercial fisherman, off-road race race promoter, and a race car driver. He is the all-time ‘character’ of the track, or as Strother Martin said in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – “You probably think I’m crazy, but I’m not; I’m colorful.” He’s Don Price – In Living Color.
Originally from Porterville California, in the foothills between Bakersfield and Fresno, in the family were a cotton farm, alfa alfa, and a chicken ranch. “I quit school when I was 16 years old because I was smarter than everyone else,” he says with a sly grin. “I was a farm boy. My uncle and dad spent 14 years hunting and would never get a buck because they were all drinking. Partied hearty. Most of their pack was whiskey. First time I ever got to go I killed a deer the first day- first time we had ever brought any meat home from a hunting trip.”
“We had a fun life, you couldn’t have a better life. We were free, worked on a farm. I had a ’48 Ford coupe. We had those straight roads in country, and we’d build cars and drag race.”
“I moved up to Eureka in ’61 or ’62 when I was around 21. I had been visiting my uncle Paul Price who ran Paul Price Tires up there. Later Danny Bradbury’s sister and I were an item. Danny was racing, and I had never been to a stock car race before. I was telling her ‘I gotta do that! I’m ready to get me a car!’ A week later I was at the track with a car.” This was 1971.
“You just went and got an old car, a car that was halfway whacked up, and put bars in it. I got ’56 Chevy, #70, painted it metallic brown. Mixed up a bunch of paint, that’s what we got. We had a body shop, there was nothing to it, always had extra paint around. We were painting used cars for the car dealers for $25 each. My first car was in the Street Stocks; they were always beat to death, they beat each other up.”
“I then got a car from Rich Hansen that had previously been the car driven by Dave McMurray, a ’64 Chevelle which was basically a Grand National car when McMurry bought it. We painted it black and white with red trim, #70. It was sponsored by Vista Del Mar, which was owned by Bill Christensen, my roommate back when and friend to this day. Vista Del Mar was the hangout for drivers after the races.”
In 1973 Don brought a striking new white Chevelle Super Stock car to the track with a flag colored #11 on the side.
“Somebody had wrecked a 70 Chevelle, I incorporated newer trim, a 72 grill, etc. So it really was a ’70 Chevelle body but we put all ’72 stuff on it, the newest car on the track at the time. I was the first guy who ever had a car less than two years old out there. Body was pretty good. The front end was gone, annihilated, but we put front end clips on anyway. Nothing underneath it was Chevelle, all of the chassis was modified. For all apprearances here was Joe rich guy with a Chevelle, that’s what it appeared. In all reality it was a bunch of junk parts put together.”
“The #11 came from Tom Dilling. He raced motorcycles and his number was 11. He gave up the car number so it was given to me. My girlfriend at the time had shirts and big floppy hats her sister made that had all red white & blue on them. I’m a redneck from the git go, I don’t care – it should be God bless the flag, etc. It was the Bicentennial coming up at the time.”
“We won with that car. I was always in the mix, let’s put it that way. You don’t win them all, but a lot of the time I was the first loser”, Don says laughing.
“I had various businesses, (some with driver and SRRA president Joe Hamilton), including American Automotive, American Auto Body, American Auto Racing. I’d take a van to the track and sell fuel, gaskets, misc. race parts to sell drivers.”
“I promoted motocross with Joe Hamilton. We built and promoted an off-road track at French’s Camp in the woods behind Garberville in the middle 1970s.”
“Jim Shipley took a photo of me at the buggy races at French’s Camp. I’m sitting there half drowsy with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth, full of mud.” In the photo Don is looking like a turn of the century flight pioneer, or mad inventor. The photo looks like it is from another time. Don says, “Kinda is….”
“When Joe Hamilton was Six Rivers Racing Association President and I was Vice President, we kind of run the thing with an iron fist to be honest with you. When it was time to pack the dirt track – some Goody Two Shoes didn’t want to get their cars dirty. If they didn’t go out we punished them, made them start in the back. The Fairgrounds didn’t want new lights. Howdy Thurston brought their equipment out, poles, lights, we made it all work. It wouldn’t be there if we didn’t all do it. Clay was going away, we had to get clay. We worked together to make the track.”
“We had so many cars back then. A, B, and sometimes C Mains. Back then you qualified first, you started in the back. You learned to drive in traffic. Some drivers are good qualifiers but poor racers. Out by themselves you give them the track, they’re great. Me, I was a shit qualifier, very seldom was I fast time. But when it come to traffic, I could maneuver traffic.”
GOOFY THE CLOWN
In 1975 at Fair Nights races one of the surprise attractions was Goofy the Clown who started a race in Don’s car while flailing his arms out the window in a panic trying to get out. It was one of the more memorable moments in the track’s history, and the behind-the-scenes story found its way into Tom Dilling’s book Dirt Trackin’ At The Acres (subtitled History, Memories and Related B.S.) (1979), and is an excellent example of his colorful writing style –
Goofy the Clown, oh, yes, Goofy the Clown. He was supposed to be some kind of racing entertainment specialist. This cat showed up at a Board meeting one night and we fell for his Iine – hook and sinker. We hired him for two Fair nights and I would be ashamed to tell you what we paid him.
Coincidentally, just a short time before Goofy’s appearance, my wife and I had discussed and decided that it would be hospitable to offer some of the out-of-town racing people our extra bedroom, since her daughter had eloped with an unemployed, semi-professional quail hunter. So Tom offered. Goofy accepted.
Goofy showed up about four days before his scheduled performance and Aldyne was just a little surprised when a plump little man walked in the back door of our house with a suitcase in one hand and a rubber chicken in the other and said, “Where’s the bedroom?” (I had neglected to tell her that we were going to have company.) So, old Goof got settled and started making long-distance phone calls all over the God-damned country. He reassured me that he would pay us for them and I was not concerned as I knew that he had a bundle of money coming for his performances.
The first night he was to perform he informed me that he had invited his girl friend to come up and catch his act and would I pick her up at the bus depot? Sure. I had to leave my job as lap counter just before the B Main started to go retrieve Goofy’s ﬁnancee, Angel. Well, she got off the bus with a real good-looking dude that she had met on the ride up. He came equipped with a God-damned bicycle that he was going to ride someplace. He needed a motel room and could I give him a ride? Sure. I drove to the nearest motel and unloaded new boyfriend and God-damned bicycle. We all said our goodbyes and I was about to drive off when he came back out and reported that the room was too expensive and could I take him to another motel? Sure. About the third motel, the son-of-a-bitch broke the inside door handle of my pick-up, so at each stop I had to get out, unload bicycle, open the door, and then stand there like a damned fool while he and Angel tried to swallow each other. He would trot into a motel office, trot back out with the same complaint, throw the God-damned bicycle in and get right back to trying to chew Angel’s face off.
About the seventh motel, I unloaded the God-damned bicycle, opened the door for lover boy, and drove off and left him – and the God-damned bicycle. Angel and I arrived at the track just in time for the end of the A Main. There stood Angel with lipstick smeared all over her face, there stood my wife with a strange look all over her face, and there stood yours truly with a stupid look all over my face. I couldn’t tell what kind of look Goofy had on his face as he was wearing all that clown makeup. It took me quite some time to get things half-way straightened out.
In the meantime, Goofy and Angel moved right in with us and played huggie bear all night and half the day. When they weren’t trying to wreck the mattress on the bed they were taking turns seeing who could make the most long-distance phone calls. We tried every excuse in the world to get rid of them (we even discussed murder). Then, just about in the middle of the honeymoon, Bicycle Lover-Boy hit town again. He had made it up the road a piece and someone had run over him (wished it could have been me). He was on death’s door in a motel (low priced I would imagine) and could Angel come down and help sooth his terrible injuries? Sure. Away she went, while Goofy napped the rest of the day to regain his strength. He sure as hell could use a little rest.
Well, after ﬁve or six days, they ﬁnally left. Aldyne and l sealed off the extra bedroom. And, Goofy, if you are out there, we are still waiting for you to pay the phone bill, plus interest. Don’t bring it in person—just put it in the mail.
On the infamous Goofy The Clown race, Don sets the record straight-
“It was a Trophy Dash. Kind of a one lap thing. We fictitiously started the trophy dash, I might have been in the lead. All a put-on deal, all for show. Never really raced with him in the car. Come around and started the race, he leaps out the window, waving his arms, if you didn’t pay attention you missed it. Me, Joe Hamilton, all the rest put that thing together, a funny bit. We did one lap, came back around, he got out. Just a show to get the people excited. We thought we were promoters. There was a danger factor to what we did, but then again there’s a danger factor when you go out the front door.”
In September 1976 Don brought a new car to Redwood Acres, a “Mustang with a Camaro-Conversion kit” as the Stock Report put it, and in his first race with it he managed to “sift through perpetual clouds of dust that made racing miserable for all the rest of his competition”, winning a heat and his third main event trophy of the year, sitting 2nd in points to out-of-towner and eventual ’76 track champ Tom Wyatt from Medford.
“It was a Camaro body with a Mustang motor in it. Joe Hamilton had a Mustang. I probably did some really goofy things, but I look back on it and it was cool; anything I could do to put something together. You couldn’t integrate parts- Ford/Ford, Chevy/Chevy Studebaker/Stude was how it had to be. The rule was you had to have a 115 inch wheelbase. Camaros are 108. Had to modify the rules to do that, or stretch the frame and build it accordingly. Things evolve as time goes on. I changed many of the rules. Because I had some hair-brained idea in my head…” Ultimately the power band of the Mustang engine was not getting the job done so the hybrid car was another creative (though somewhat successful) experiment that was finally dropped.
A regular feature in the Stock Report was a piece called ‘Nuts ‘N Bolts’, mostly cryptic one-liners that only those behind the wall in the pits could truly appreciate. In a 1981 issue appeared the line:
-The hell with Price and all his funky ideas!
“I hate to say it but it’s true” he smiles.
“I was the first guy who ever run a powerglide transmission at the track. Tried to kick me out – no automatic trans in those days. There was a big debate in the SRRA meeting, finally got it approved. I’m the guy they talk about – pushing the rules… I’m that guy. I built all my own stuff. Everything was hand made, that’s just how we did it. Walker and McMurray buy all the fancy stuff from stock car products. I had the welder and the piece of iron, put it all together. I did pretty well actually, when I look back on it.”
In 1977 Don took his Chevelle down to race in the Permatex 300 at Riverside. “I heard Jimmy was going down and I thought hell, I want to go down too!”
“We had watched the race somewhere down the line before. I mostly remember Jimmy Wilson (of Wayne Wilson’s Radiator) at the club that night when they had the hypnotist there. We were all in the audience. Jim Wilson had been at Redwood Acres track officiating. Jim was used to going fluffo. We all did a little bit of drinking in those days…” [Looking through the old Riverside program Don’s attention was taken away from telling this story and unfortunately, or fortunately for Jim, we never returned to find out the conclusion of Jim going fluffo and the hypnotist in the night club. You will have to fill in the story yourselves. My version involves a chicken impersonation.]
“I remember going around the Riverside track the first time, and it’s a mile on the back straightway. It has a hook that goes like this, then a big sweeper. Beginning of practice I was going down that straightaway, balls out pedal to the metal. They have these signs that say 4-3-2-1 and it makes this little dogleg, and I’m going down there and I see these signs there so I let off the gas and about five guys go by me!” he says, laughing. “Because I thought I’d have to slow down for this little curve in the track. It didn’t take me long to figure it out, by the second lap I was into it. You just don’t know what you can do until you get out there and do it. I’ve never been anywhere that was so fast- average speed was just over 100 miles per hour a lap.”
“I was last qualifier. Transmission was going out, and I managed to qualify. The drive line was the problem and virtually broke the transmission, I barely qualified – 40th – I was on the bubble. In the race I was running very good, was carving through the field, passing cars. Went to 17th when I finally broke. Had never been in a road race. I did good, for me.” (smiles)
“Bobby Allison was there, cool to go into the pit meeting in there with Richard Petty and all those guys – ‘Hi, I’m Don!’,” he laughs.
“Coming back from Riverside with Dusty Mausa and some others, the hitch come off the motor home, struck the car and trailer sent over, on the long stretch on I-80. There was some truck parked alongside the freeway with a bunch of pallets on it, trailer hits the truck, trailer separated from the car. Trailer sitting in lane 5 or 6 or whatever. Jerry Holtz with his ten cell flashlight trying to flag traffic down. Some drunk comes down, hits the side of the trailer, jumped, landed on the trailer. Dusty’s tool box was on the trailer; we picked up sockets a half mile down the road the next day.”
“You talk to guys who went traveling with me, we never went to a race and nothing happened. We’d all pile in the motor home going to Shasta or Oregon. We are going to Carson City once and the wheel on the trailer comes off, I yell to everybody ‘WATCH THAT TIRE!’. At Susanville got a guy to weld the axle so we could get to Carson city and go racing. I had forgotten my fire suit, had to borrow one. In the race I got into an accident or something. The tow truck guy stuck the hooks through the radiator, had to borrow a radiator to get racing again. We all celebrated in Reno, some went to the whore houses, some drank and gambled, we didn’t have any money left.”
MAYHEM ON THE TRACK (and in the bar)
“The only guy I ever had an issue with at Redwood Acres was Ed Tanferani. We were in a bar after a race talking about what had happened and he asked me what I thought and I said “I think you are the worst driver we got on the track” and he popped me. Hit me. I never even dropped my drink though. I fell back on the bar, and I still had my drink. Then I got up and we went at it. If you don’t want to know what I think don’t ask me.”
“One time I was ahead of Mike Chase in the Open and he started banging into me. So I came out of turn two and I powered out and I just locked it up, smashed the whole front end of his car. If you can pass me, you pass me, but don’t beat me up. I don’t like it, I don’t do it to people, I don’t want it done to me.”
“I went to Roseville the only time they qualified, they had a draw every year except one, and I set fast time so started on pole. Oren Prosser wrecked me third or fourth lap. I had a crew guy Bob Griffitts, it was all we could do to keep him from killing him. Another one of the highlights” he says laughing.
“Come to Medford one time, got off the trailer, running around like a bunch of maniacs, qualified and got fast time. In the race this guy was pounding me around the track from behind, spun me out, and back in the pits Ron Marcelli was running around the car with the jack, I yelled ‘Just put it under the bumper!!’, and he yells back ‘THERE AIN’T NO F^@&ING BUMPER!!!'”
Speaking of bumpers, there was a very memorable incident at Redwood Acres involving Don Price, a bumper, and Bill O’Neill, at the 1981 North Coast Dirt Track Classic. After an absence of several years O’Neill was driving Randy Olson’s car and won the Day Two 2nd Heat, with Don Price finishing 2nd behind Harold Hardesty in the B-Main, transferring on to the main event. Paraphrasing the story in the Stock Report – In the A-Main on lap 54: ‘Don Price dropped his bumper on the track. Bill O’Neill ran over it. The bumper had cut his brake lines. O’Neill’s car climbed right up on top of Price’s and the two of them slid off the end of the track between turns three and four. Price, who just recently rebuilt his car after a roll-over and fire, was left with nothing but the chassis of his car intact. Fortunately no one was injured but the cars were heavily damaged.’
Don’s in-car view of the action was different. “The bumper didn’t fall off until he hit me! He ended up on top of me. Holtzy and the guys run out to see what was going on. The bumper wasn’t laying there. We were in traffic. Into turn three and he just never stopped, ended up on top of me. That’s my story. We’ll always live with that story, my opinion and his opinion.”
In 1978, in the words of Tom Dilling, “My hero, Don Price, ended up SRRA Track Champion.” He finished just ahead of Larry Pries by 11 points. “You never know you are there until they boo you. I won the championship and I hear these boos,” Don says, adding that he remembers his crashes more than his wins.
Throughout Tom’s book, in detailing the nicknames, the wins, ribbing him about his rough days at the track when he ‘forgot to turn left’ and found every wall, Tom just loved writing about Don. “I always thought he didn’t like me. It took me a while to figure Tom out.” But it all came out in the book, it was pretty clear there.
There was something in Don’s mad inventor personality and disaster-filled road trips that appealed to Tom’s borderline Gonzo writing style, and the appreciation went both ways. “Tom was the world’s best. He had such a way of telling stories.” Don also appreciated Tom’s character. “He was just that guy- a gruff character. I pride myself on being up front and saying what I think. That’s Tom – if he had something to say to you he didn’t hold back, an up front kind of a guy. Nobody like him I’ve ever seen.”
“Last time I drove was for Al Berkey in ’89 or so. Bought my boat in ’88, I was commercial fishing, would take off in the Summer. I would come up for three or four races. The car was fast, I was fast in it, but something always broke. Angelo Marcelli ran Berkey’s car a couple of times. I ended up in top 10 that year. Just couldn’t finish races, the SOB would break all the time. Had a good motor, I set the thing on fire, it was fast. My last race started in back, passed almost all the field going into turn four and got up in the marbles and hit the wall” he says, laughing.
“Angelo and I became friends through the racing stuff. To this day we are still buds. He still harasses the shit out of me,” Don says laughing. “Angelo always talks about beating me in that 1978 B-Main. I don’t even remember. He’s shown me this article for the past 10 or 20 years. Highlight of his career. That race means more than any of his championships. He thinks he can bug me. We’re like brothers from different mothers along the way. It’s an ongoing rivalry and it will probably go on until we’re a hundred.” [By the way Angelo, Don told me to tell you he still has that race engine in his garage that you want; I saw it and it looks really nice.]
In the years since racing, true to his nature, Don has continued to be a jack of all trades. “I was a commercial fisherman out of Humboldt and Bodega Bay. Met my wife while fishing in Fort Bragg. The fishing business got whacked, so in the early 1990s I started a computer business in Santa Rosa, ran that for 11 years. We had checked out Medford and bought property in 2000, and moved permanently to Eagle Point in 2009.” For the last several years he has been caring for his wife Kriss who was diagnosed with cancer.
Don is currently owner and operator of Rock N Tractor and Custom 4 Less in Eagle Point. If you want something hauled, cut, or built, Don’s your guy. He still stays in touch with Humboldt via Facebook; with his old racing friends and on the Remember In Eureka When page. One of his many projects is a 1960 El Camino restoration that has been in the family forever that he finally has in his home garage.
Once out of the driver’s seat, Don stopped following racing, local and national, and only began watching again in recent years. “Once he pulled the pin, that was it” his friend Angelo says. He did return to the Redwood Acres pits in 2012 to visit old friends, and has been following the weekly soap opera that is Nascar again the past couple of years.
When asked if he ever thought anyone was going to track him down looking for car photos and asking a bunch of questions about racing, he replied “Truthfully…..no. But I think it’s pretty freakin’ cool myself. I’m amazed anyone remembers me.”
As Don’s favorite saying goes, something he would proclaim throughout my weekend with him, “There’s An Ass For Every Seat”. And I guess I was happily sitting in mine, taking it all in.
Besides calling Don his hero, in Dirt Trackin’ At The Acres Tom Dilling also described the haul back from Riverside and wrote that he wanted to go on one of Don’s famous road trips some time, and that he could probably get an entire book out of it. While we didn’t get into the RV, I did go with Don on a road trip of the mind. It was a privilege hearing about his journey from there to here.
For me growing up, it was always about that #11 Chevelle, forever frozen in black and white photos in the old Stock Report programs, and I finally got to find out what the driver of that car was really all about; Don Price – In Living Color.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy Don Price or from the Stock Report (thanks Fergy!)