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A Diamond in the Dust; The Julian Doty Story

A Diamond in the Dust; The Julian Doty Story
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A Diamond in the Dust;
The Julian Doty Story
Story & Photographs by Jim Miller,
Edited by Richard Parks,
Photographic Consultant Roger Rohrdanz  
12-09-11

You never know what will happen or who you’ll meet when you go to the dry lakes. The more time you spend there the more you will learn, but the less you truly know and you should always consider yourself a newbie.  It is a humbling place.  I don’t care if you’ve been there five years or fifty, somebody's always been there longer, and Julian DuVall Doty is a fine example.  Julian’s ancestors came to this country on the Mayflower, moved around for a few generations and then finally migrated to Orange County in the covered wagon days.  Settling in on twenty acres they became farmers. Not content with plowing, Grampa Duvall went into the trades constructing the Federal Building in Los Angeles and many homes in Central L.A.  It was here that Julian’s mom was born in 1902.  Moving to Hollywood, the family welcomed Julian into the world in 1922.  Doty grew up across the street from Bancroft Junior High school where he and his pal Alex Xydias later graduated.  As a youngster in the roaring 1920’s, Julian would ride with his Dad in a Model-T on his work route taking them to San Fernando, Newhall, Piru, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Oxnard then back to the Valley and then home.  Later, in the 1920s and ‘30’s his dad was in charge of transportation for production companies that specialized in Westerns for RKO, Paramount and MGM.

It was around this time that Julian’s Dad and some buddies started running a Rajo-T at Ascot. Julian tagged along when they worked on the car, usually getting in the way and dirty from head to toe. They would set him up in the driver’s seat, and you can just bet he always had a fantasy finish of a cars length in front of his hero, Frank Lockhart. Julian later raced about in his own soap box car in Whitley Heights above Hollywood Boulevard, living out his speed dreams.  In the early ‘30’s Julian spent weekends at Grandma’s with Uncle George DuVall, who became famous for his roadster windshields. They would cruise around in his Cragar powered ‘29 A roadster tricked out with fender skirts. In 1934, Julian and Uncle George made their first trip to Muroc together. Julian continued to go with an assortment of friends until 1938 when he acquired a motorcycle and could take himself.  Julian rode that motorbike till 1959.  Julian bought his first car off Jack Bartz’s used car lot at La Brea and Santa Monica with money earned from odd jobs and Pop bottles. It was a ‘29 Model A roadster with an Olds 3-port mill in it.  Since he was only 14, his dad drove it home for him.  After many hours of tinkering and at least 20 miles of back and forth in the driveway, Julian finally worked up the nerve for an excursion on his dead end street. To gain some real mechanical experience, the budding car nut took an apprenticeship at R. J. Dawson on Las Palmas overhauling Hudson’s and Ford engines while still in junior high school.

    In his spare time, the adventurous Julian pulled the 3-port from his ‘29 and then bought a Miller-Schofield from Curley Grandall for $120; payable at the rate of $5 per week.  Grandall had raced the car at Ascot Speedway.  He next ran it at the dry lakes in the Mojave Desert, but it was not fast enough, so in 1940 Julian built up a ‘31 model A roadster and bettered 101 MPH at Muroc.  He ran the car on the street till 1972 and put 90,000 miles on this car.  The motor is still collecting dust today in one of his sheds. Behind the Seaside Gas station at Santa Monica and Spalding was the original B & S Garage.  The ladies of the neighborhood called the garage the Boy Scout Super-Service station, but it was the Baldwin & Sommerfeld Garage to Doty and the other car guys.  This is where Julian, Baldie (Baldwin), Gus Sommerfeld and Mal Ord built the Danny Sakai Modified, probably one of the most famous pre-war dry lakes land speed race car.  Next door was The Hollywood Throttlers Clubhouse, along with the garages of Leonard Folkerson, Danny Sakai and Pat Campi.  B & S later moved to Genisee Street in 1946, operating until 1976.  With a lull in lakes racing, and a need for some extra money Julian, Bob Bliss and Bob Corbet pooled their resources and bought a ‘37 Ford dump truck.  They moved to San Luis Obispo and rebuilt the airport.  Julian took his dry lakes roadster with the button flywheel and his cycle with him as transport.  Just think of the fun he had hand cranking that A on a cold morning with an updraft Winfield.

In need of more toys, Julian bought a ‘33 model Hudson-Terraplane straight-8 for $180.  It hadn’t run in a few years, but he got it purring in no time.  Something wasn’t right with the body as the paint wouldn’t stick.  After some investigation it was found to be a special aluminum-bodied car that just happened to have been a Daytona Beach winner.  With the bombing at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941 Julian went back to Los Angeles with his toys, mothballed them and went off to fight in World War II, in February ‘42.  While he was gone, Julian’s younger brother Ray needed a ride to the beach.  What better way to do it than in a Terraplane.  Ray and his buddies took the car off the blocks, tuned it up and sped off.  Disaster struck at Santa Monica and La Cienega because the boys had neglected to tighten the lug nuts and lost two wheels, ditching the car on the trolley tracks. They called a tow-truck, its wartime with scrap drives; exit one aluminum bodied car to the cause for $25.  The boys got weekend cash, but Julian lost a car that would be worth $300,000 today.  Julian worked off and on with Harry A. Pelton Motorcycles from 1936 to 1947.  They went Class A short track racing with a stable of 13 J.A.P.’s and a Crocker.  They ran many tracks including Lincoln, Atlantic, Carroll and Culver City.  When they took their traveling road show to Portland, Oregon for three months, the boys lived on burgers and cokes for 20 cents at a local bowling alley.  Ah, the joys of road trips.

Sergeant Julian Doty wrote a letter to the S.C.T.A. News in 1945 from Germany.  The letter was published in Vol. II, No. 14, and read: “Hope to have a car running next year.  Probably be a straight 8 in an A chassis.  I was sure glad to see some of the old boys getting out and hope to soon myself.  Tell everyone good speeds and safe driving at the lakes.”  After being discharged from military service it was back to the S.C.T.A.  Julian worked will Mel Leighton as treasurer and was on the Hospital Committee for almost 6 years.  He and Sidewinder President Kong Jackson were starters in 1947-‘48. Meets averaged more than 200 entries per event and getting cars off the line at regular intervals was a real problem.  In the best hot rod tradition, Julian and Kong stole some traffic signals, set them up and, voila, more efficient starting.  At the end of 1947 the Milers were re-formed as a club and Julian became a charter member with other future Sidewinders, Harold Johansen and Don Waite.  That was more than 50 years ago, and Julian still has his original embroidered coverall and the pattern for the club plaque.  In 1948 Julian and Charley Fry went back to ‘The Speedway,’ at Indianapolis, Indiana in a ‘29 A roadster with a 3/8” x 3/8” flattie and 7.50x16” on the rear, to help crew on some serious race cars.  They worked on the Tommy Lee cars, the mighty pre-war Mercedes-Benz with Chet Miller driving and a KK2000 Offy.  They couldn’t get the Mercedes qualified, but Mack Hellings finished a credible 5th with the Kurtis.  They also helped Ed Winfield and crew chief Jean Marceinac with the mighty Novi Cars driven by Ralph Hepburn and Duke Naylon.  Unfortunately Hepburn crashed and died, but Nalon earned the best ever finishing position for a Novi in 3rd place.  On the way back the boys swung through Michigan.  While stopped at a diner in the Detroit area, they were approached by two men in dark suits and hats asking about the hot-rod. Next thing you know the boys are in a FoMoCo dyno room staring wide-eyed at the soon to be released flathead 6.  Not bad for a two-month vacation.

     Between lakes meets you could find Julian at one of Southern California’s 15 race tracks like Gilmore Stadium, working behind the wheel of the famous Frank Kurtis built, with DuVall windshield, Southern California Plating Company’s ‘36 Ford phaeton pull/push truck.  Few people can say they pushed around Billy Vukovich or Sam Hanks; but Doty can.  In the late 1940’s at Uncle George’s Pacific Metal Products, Julian performed machine work on hot rod intake manifolds for Eddie Meyer, Tattersfield, Edmonds, etc.  He was also responsible for the bright-work on “Mad Man” Muntz’s Jet. At the First Annual S.C.T.A. Hot Rod Expo in 1948, Julian towed most of the cars into the armory with his straight-8 powered Model T roadster pickup sporting a Dodge tubular front axle and a Franklin rear end.  One of Doty’s better adventures was his first trip to Bonneville in 1949.  Kay Kimes, Dave Ratliff and Julian got hold of an old Ascot sprint car.  They gathered up parts, here and there, and built up a flattie motor.  With a 4:11 ring and pinion, gearing was going to be a problem, so with a little machine work and ingenuity they flipped the cluster gear in the tranny so first gear was direct, 2nd gear was higher and 3rd gear was sky high.  They loaded up the ‘39 Dodge pickup with gas, water, tools, sleeping bags and took off, flat-towing at 35 mph.  By Red Rock canyon the truck was overheating.  They stopped and unhooked the race car and started it up; any excuse to break in a fresh motor.  Dave drove the first stint to Alanchia, and then Julian took the wheel.  When they arrived at small towns they would kill the engine and push it through.  At Miller’s corner Julian ran out of gas.  A short time later, sitting on the rear wheel in the blistering sun, a couple in a ‘48 Buick Convertible came along and rescued our hero by pushing him 13 miles into Tonopah, Nevada.  Two hours later, Kay and Dave showed up, believing Julian had run off the road.  Kay drove after that.  With three hours of break-in time and only six runs on the salt, they turned a respectable 141 mph before the tranny went south.

     In 1950 he was back at the salt with the B & S (Baldwin, Summerfield and Doty) ‘27 T track roadster powered by a Riley 4-port.  They lost a flywheel that chewed up the frame.  This was the same roadster and crew that campaigned in earlier CRA events with Louie Faulkner, Puffie Puffer, Mac Hellings and 16 year old Troy Ruttman as drivers.  The B & S team was also a constant winner at the Saugus drags from 1949 through ‘52 with a McDowell powered sprint car, winning 40 out of 41 starts. In 1953 as the C & D entry at Bonneville, the sprinter turned 140 mph.  Between the years 1951 and 1958 saw the yellow then orange B & S wing-tank lakester run with the 4-port at the dry lakes and the Bonneville Salt Flats.  The high points to those years were winning the S.C.T.A. Points Championship in 1956 and 1958.  The car later ran with a 4-banger Tempest with a special D.O.H.C. 4-valve head that has its own story.  At Julian’s urging the head was designed on paper napkins between libations at Edwards Steak House on 7th and Alvarado by old friends Leo Goosen, the Offy Guru, and Arnold Birner, a prewar dry lakes racer and extraordinary pattern-maker.  Only five 220 Offy-nee-Tempest heads were cast.  At the May 1960 meet the car ran 150.75 mph.  In 1961 the car set the F/L records at 165.13 mph, and held it till 1964.  The car eventually ran 221 mph and Julian still has the car and mill today.  In the mid ‘60’s one of Doty’s many friends found some Hispano-Suiza motors from the WWI era, and another adventure was hatched.  They gathered up plans and scratch-built three SE5-A replica aircraft.  One now rests in the Air Force Museum.  Julian then found and built another tank with friends Jerry Silverstein and Arnold Birner.  This time with front wheel drive, the Tempest powered beast with a Stage-4 head ran 226 mph.

The 1970’s were a busy time for Julian, who became a representative for the Sidewinders club at board meetings and did that job for five or six years.  Starting in 1972, he’s been the man with the big smile who makes and gives out official timing slips at the dry lake meets.  Long-time dry lakes racer, and past S.C.T.A. President Mike Cook thinks that if your time slip doesn’t have Julian’s autograph on it, it’s not worth anything.  Back at B&S his specialty was rebuilding VW’s for hippies like Charlie Dole, of pineapple fame.  For a man who received the illustrious “Wheels of Fame” award from the S.C.T.A., there are always 40 irons in the fire, like building a new tank or dusting off the old Riley 4-Port.  He made a pass at El Mirage in Roy Creel’s 4-banger roadster at the spry age of 79 in 2002.  When asked about the most important lesson he has learned over the 70 plus years of being a dry lakes denizen, he replied, “On the salt, always wear plenty of suntan lotion, especially when wearing shorts and no skivvies!  You don’t want to get sunburned on your private parts, it hurts.”  That’s fun-loving Julian.  Stop by and say hello to one of the unsung heroes of land speed racing, Julian DuVall Doty-- a true Diamond in the Dust.

Jim Miller can be reached at
[email protected].  Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]

Julian Doty is seen at Muroc in July 1941 pushing buddy Arnold Birner's lakes job to the  starting line.
Ever smiling Julian Doty is seen on the right while stationed in France during WWII.
Julian Doty climbs in Roy Creel's roadster at El Mirage in 2002 for a ride after many years. He is surrounded by a bunch of his buddied who came to cheer him on.
 A zillion years of race history is being discussed by two old timers. Julian Doty, left and Dan Iandola are seen at the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame "Gas-Up" in 2009 telling each other lies.