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Paul Smith’s 55 Chevy Longroof - “1973 NHRA National Champion”

Paul Smith’s 55 Chevy Longroof - “1973 NHRA National Champion”
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Paul Smith is the most successful name in drag racing history.  Now, I realize that is one hell of a bold statement, but at the time that “The Best of Drag Racing” magazine claimed it in the mid 1970s, it was true.  The magazine then went on to explain that it took no less than 3 gentlemen bearing the name Paul Smith to make that statement accurate.  Paul Smith of Arlington, TX won Competition Eliminator honors at the 1973 World Finals, Paul Smith of Boyton Beach, FL drove the “Fireball Vega” Funny Car to runner-up honors in the World Points Championship in 1974, and Paul Smith of Eugene, OR won the 1973 Winternationals Super Stock Eliminator at Pomona.  We will be focusing on the 3rd Paul Smith, who still lives in Eugene, Oregon, and still owns every car he ever drag raced.  If you are a consistent reader of this magazine you have already seen Paul’s '34 three window drag car in TRK #33, but the '55 Chevy wagon you see before you marks the pinnacle of Paul’s 7 years as a professional race car driver.

I sat down with Paul at his home in Oregon surrounded by 70+ years of drag racing and hot rod memorabilia to discuss his racing years.  I had a bit of trouble focusing as my eyes kept wandering in amazement at my surroundings, but to hear Paul speak about racing like it happened yesterday kept me hanging on every word.  Paul purchased the '55 wagon in 1964, and began racing it locally.  Shortly after that Paul decided that a '50 Olds coupe was the ticket, so he traded the wagon for one.  The Olds landed Paul his first NHRA national record and a World Champion Series (W.C.S) points meet Eliminator win at Deer Park, WA in 1970.  Paul continued to race the Olds until 1972, when the NHRA dropped all the bottom classes of early cars, so he went and got the '55 wagon back again.  The wagon was initially raced as a Jr. Stock, then became a Super Stocker where you were allowed to run a cam and intake.  The wagon went through countless changes over the years, but I asked Paul to give me the combination that won him the Nationals in 1973 and the 15th annual Bakersfield March Meet.

Stock and Super Stock were classified by a factory shipping weight divided by advertised horse power factor…there for, making the weight over the rear wheels of a wagon the hot spot.  Paul’s '55 ran its factory 265 cubic inch engine with a Carter WCFB 4bl that was rated at 195 hp.  With the allowances in the Super Stock class Paul added a Clay Smith cam and an Edelbrock intake.  Paul started with a 3 speed transmission, then switched to a Tony Rossi cast iron 2 speed Powerglide running an 8” Buick/Opel 5000 rpm stall converter.  The original '55 rear end housing ran a 6:17 gear ratio.  One of Paul’s tricks to less red light starts was the use oversized Firestone Drag 500 front tires that would allow him more roll out on the Christmas tree.  Paul explained to me that ¼ mile speeds were calculated by a speed trap that started before, and ended past the actual finish line.  When his '55 crossed through the speed trap you could tell if you were on a good run if your Tach was reading right at 8100 rpms.  Paul’s high revving engines were built by Grant Springer Performance in Eugene, Oregon.  Grant and Paul met while working at Specialty Automotive, a speed shop also in Eugene where Grant offered to build his engines.  Grant thought he could make engines run harder than Paul’s engines, and run harder they did!  Paul said Grant would work tirelessly on his engines, but he had to be present and making notes of all the specs.  Grant told Paul he needed to know all the specs so he would know ahead of time what the NHRA tech team would come up with for numbers during legality tear downs. Grant also stated that the tech team didn’t check specs anywhere near as many times as he did.

This winning combo secured Paul a 1972 AHRA (American Hot Rod Association) world record and class win in Fremont, CA.  The '73 NHRA Super Stock Eliminator, and class win at the Winternationals, the 15th annual Bakersfield March Meet S/S Eliminator, 3 out of 5 World Championship series NHRA division 6 overall Eliminators, Division 6 Top Points Champion, and overall NHRA all division Sportsmen Top Points.  These points earned Paul a paid trip and pre-qualification to the World Finals in Amarillo, TX where Paul was presented with a shiny new pair of Tony Lama cowboy boots! Paul was also treated to a broken motor over the weekend (head off a valve).

In the 1975 season, with a fresh engine and a fresh coat of the paint, Paul won his class and went to the quarter finals at the Fall Nationals in Seattle, WA.  Paul didn’t have time to get the wagon lettered up, so he raced it looking like a stock wagon, which the fans loved.  Paul recalls all the sponsors telling him he wasn’t going to get paid without logos, but Paul knew with upcoming rule changes the wagon would be no good for the next season.  Paul parked the wagon, but continued to race other cars until 1979 when the cost of fuel, and keeping up with the rule changes became more expensive than keeping up with your competition.

Paul is an amazing guy, who has led and continues to lead an incredible life, and I feel extremely lucky to be his friend.  I think of how few people have had the ability to be professional drag racers - what an elite group.  Paul recalls calling up the speed shop he was working at and quiting over the phone after his Winternationals win in '73; that had to be a crazy feeling - racing cars full time, and getting paid for it.  In the off season Paul drove prop truck for Hollywood, and still drives truck full time today.  Like I mentioned earlier, Paul still owns every car he ever raced, and I can’t wait to get the next one in front of my lenses.

As a side note, you can see the red Converse shoes Paul always wore when racing… He has them on in the photo where he’s kissing the trophy girl.  Paul still has the shoes, and I took some pics of them with his helmet. The guy threw nothing away related to cars or racing!