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A Visit with Steve Doll

A Visit with Steve Doll



A Visit with Steve Doll
Biography by Steve Doll, Edited by Richard Parks 

   My father's family was located in Minnesota and my mother's family was located in Iowa and how they got together I have no idea! My father was Herman Doll and he was born in 1894 and my mother was Norma Wagner and she was born in 1900. I had two brothers, Rod and Clifford and one sister Jeri Doll. Rod was 20 years older than me and I was the youngest sibling. I had a good childhood, I thought, until it came to me that no one else's parents fought constantly like mine did and when that happened I would just get in my car and go for a cruise and listen to the new Rock & Roll. Some of the cars I had in my early years were a 1940 Ford deluxe opera coupe, 1941 Merc convertible that was Olds powered, a 1949 Chevy fastback with a complete Olds drive train, a 1950 Olds coupe stick shift and of course a 1956 Chevy 210. I was born in Davenport, Iowa on November 16, 1941. I went to Trinity Lutheran School for grammar school and Davenport High School and graduated in mid-year 1960. I still keep in touch with some of my friends from those days, Thom Sharpe, Kim Votroubek were two of my closest friends that are still with us. I took woodworking, auto shop and welding. One day in the winter a couple of my classmates and I were picked to go to the gym to get metal for class which was stored under the building. We knew that the girls had class under the gym also so we tack welded the door shut from outside and it was later that afternoon before they got and expelled us. My Dad was a traveling salesman and my mother worked in a department store. Prior to going in the Navy, I worked at a drive-in restaurant, an auto upholstery shop and at an Oldsmobile dealer.

   It was in October of 1961 as I was headed downtown in Davenport, Iowa that a snowflake had the gall to land on the hood of my just washed '56 Chevy. Well, enough is enough. I drove straight downtown to the post office and went in to talk to the Navy recruiter. Three days later I was headed for San Diego for boot camp and school. After graduating from storekeeper’s school in San Diego I got orders to go to Mobile Support Unit 3 and nobody knew where this was located. I was hoping that it was somewhere in the States since I just got married. My wife's name was Linda Lovewell and I met her thru a friend. I ended up in Sasebo, Japan for 2 years at the Mobile Support Unit and 3 supply barges. My marriage was starting to fall apart at this time. My second duty station was AO-51 USS Ashtabula, a fleet oiler. I visited Hong Kong, the Philippine Islands, Japan and Hawaii many times and in 1964 went on a cruise to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. We also became a member of the "Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club" during the Vietnam War.

   I was released from active duty in January of 1966. My wife had an apartment in the city of Bell, California which was close to where she worked. She needed the car to go to work so the first day that I was a civilian again, I decided to go for a walk around town and check it out. I had only walked two blocks when I found myself on Gage Avenue. Across the street where I was standing I saw mannequins in a store window but they looked like they were chrome. I had to go in and find out what that was all about. I first talked to Chuck Strader on the parts counter and he introduced me to a man who has become one of my dearest friends, Jot Horne, and Jot then introduced me to Kenny Parks, the brother of Wally Parks as most of us know, and by the time I left there headed back home, I had a job at Bell Auto Parts. At the time I had no idea what I had just fallen into. The world's oldest speed shop, the actual home of CRAGAR and of course Bell Helmets. During my time there I would have the opportunity to meet people such as Big Bill Edwards, Roscoe Turner, Roy Richter (The Boss) and so many others. Roy Richter was a wonderful person and a great man, always smiling and very friendly. Big Bill Edwards was also a good guy and he loved Bonneville. Roscoe Turner was an older gentleman, very nice and polite and as I understand he was quite a "hot shoe" in the circle track cars in his younger years. We were all like family it seemed and I still keep in touch with those that haven't already passed on.

   Every Saturday was "donut day" and whoever was chosen to go get the donuts got to ride in "Charlie the Painters" black and yellow '53 Ford F100 with the blown Chrysler engine. I remember on one of my "rides" we came up next to a yellow Camaro with a black vinyl top at a stop light. The passenger was Don McCain, a car salesman from Dana Chevrolet in South Gate and he was doing a "demo" with a potential customer in the 427 Camaro. Charlie looked at me and he said, "Is that what I think it is?" I said, "Yep, sure is!" "Let's see how well he's gonna like his windshield covered with rubber!" Needless to say, the Camaro didn't have a prayer and I think the driver, potential buyer, had to stop at the house to change his underwear! Getting back to the Bell story, to this day I don't remember having as much fun as we all had working at Bell Auto. One of our daily customers was Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and what a blast. Most of his stories I can't tell you as they were x rated. I do remember one time someone asked him something about the Rat Fink and he reached in his pocket, pulled out a decal, licked it and stuck it right on the office window. We also had a lot of racers show up almost everyday and we did a lot of mail order business as well, Gayland Hill and Rene Andre are just a couple more names that come to mind along with Keith Black who we all know and Doug Rose of "Green Mamba" fame. Rene Andre was a boat racer who had a bad arm due to a racing accident and was a nice guy. Gayland Hill drove a Corvette with a 4 speed at Lions. I believe it was injected and he ran it on a light load of nitro very early when the funny car class was established. Later on in his life, Gayland built engines for drag boats. Keith Black was the man when it came to Chrysler engines of the day and Bell Auto used to buy all of our blower belts from him. He was another great guy.

   Chuck Strader is disabled and now lives in Nevada. Jot Horne is still alive and well and living in central California. Bill Hardison who did most of the buying at Bell still lives in SoCal and is also disabled. Roy Richter, Kenny Parks and Rich Lenarz have all passed on. Kenny Parks was probably the best boss that I ever had. He had this great personality and was always fun to work with. Roy Richter was just a great man and a generous person. Rich Lenarz worked in the shipping and receiving department and was also a good guy and drove a '57 Chevy nomad wagon. Chuck Strader is one of those guys who has every car he's ever owned I think and they are either an Oldsmobile or Oldsmobile powered. In fact he has a Bonneville roadster that still has the pinstriping by Ed Roth on it. My wife made more money than I did and she kept throwing it up at me and I finally gave in and decided that I was going to make a fortune selling cars? I went to work for Lindt-Wilson Ford in Southgate around January, 1966 and stayed with them for about three or four years. I kept my music talents alive by playing bass in many of the nightclubs in Orange County where I lived at the time. I was a bass player in various rock & roll bands since the late 1950's. My whole life has revolved around cars and music and I have no regrets. I've met a lot of the stars of the 1950's and '60's and still keep in touch with some of them. One of the guys that I've kept in touch with is Larry Ramos of the Association. His father used to come into Bell Auto all the time. Larry was the banjo player in the Original Christy Minstrels. They were great people. I also ran into Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers occasionally and again both are nice guys.

   After my car selling experience I walked into American Speed & Custom in Garden Grove, California one day and talked with Fred Crow and he told me that Jack Ewell at M/T Speed Shop was looking for someone. So I drove down to M/T's in Long Beach where my buddy Tom Bell also worked, and by the time I left there I was hired. I was in charge of the fuel dump and it seems like we were always getting a bunch of crap from the fire department. We were only allowed to keep 5 drums of nitro in our little cage so we had a storage lot just a little ways down the street in Wilmington. I remember one day when the fire captain came by to check out our drums and our no smoking signs. Ewell opened a drum of 98% nitro and dropped in a lit cigarette and everybody either ducked or ran except Jack and I as the cigarette went out. We laughed for months about that and it even seems funny today. The myth is that nitromethane is extremely explosive, but it's difficult to light, which is why alcohol has to be mixed with it. Nitromethane by itself is very hard to light, in fact I've never heard of it happening. Even the nitro we sold was only 98%, there is no 100% nitro, and it’s all mixed. I met a lot of racers at Mickey Thompson's and one day really stands out. There was this young U.S. Marine looking around in the store when a 4 door, 1959 Chevy Biscayne drives up. As I remember, it seems to me that it was all rusted out, the paint was horrible and the driver didn't exactly look like he was going to a men's fashion show. He brought in 3 or 4 jugs for me to fill with nitro and 1 with alcohol, which I did and he paid the bill with cash. At the time nitro was going for $6.50 a gallon and alcohol was 34 cents a gallon. He loaded it all in the car and it seemed like only 4 of the 6 cylinders of that old Chevy were firing as he drove away. The Marine came over to me and said, "Who was that old guy that just left and what's he gonna do with all that nitro?" I said, "That, my good man, is Wild Willie Borsch!"

   I could probably go on and on for months about all the wonderful times I've had and some of the wonderful friends I've been honored to know in my lifetime. My first divorce was very difficult. In fact, there were two years that I don't even remember. I do remember that I was drinking heavily but I never did any drugs and I thank my upbringing for that. So for awhile I was just another musician in Orange County until I got real hungry and went back to work for an auto parts store, called United Auto Parts, in Santa Ana. I was only there about a year and one of my customers at the Olds dealer in Santa Ana asked why I worked on Saturday and I told him that's just the way things are in a parts store. He asked me if I knew anything about boats or had any interest in them and I said "not really," and he said great! It just so happens that a good friend of his at Hardin Marine in Anaheim was looking for a parts man 5 days a week, no weekends and if I was interested he'd give him a call. Well, I got the job as an Account Manager selling Jacuzzi jet drives and Olds, Chevy and Ford marine conversions. I worked at that job for about 6 months when the boss called me into the office, had me shut the door and sit down and I thought....Uh Oh! He then asked me if I'd ever been to Arkansas and I said "no." So he explained to me that they needed a plant manager down there and I was the best qualified, so I said OK. It was to be the highest paying position of my life, but after a few years there my desire to fulfill a lifelong dream could not be denied.

   I resigned from Hardin on very good terms and went to broadcasting school in Dallas, Texas for around 8 months to get my first class radio television license. On returning to Little Rock, Arkansas, I was hired at the very first station that I applied and worked there for six months, but then California was calling me again. Finding it impossible to get a radio job with little experience in the L.A market, I was advised to go to Bakersfield. I worked at an automated station during the night until I got familiar with the Bakersfield market and then got a week-end job at KUZZ, one of Buck Owens' stations. Then during the week I worked at a little store in Rosedale called Parts Depot. One of the highlights of my life was one day when I stopped by the station in the middle of the week and I was walking down the hall and Buck was coming the other way towards me. Now I gotta say right here that I am not one to play by the rules when it comes to music. All DJs have a "play list" for when they are on the air in order to keep the station sounding reasonably the same 24 hours a day. I found this impossible to live with so I started bringing in my own records from home and had been doing this for sometime. All the other jocks used to ask me what Buck said when he called me when I was on the air and I said that he never did call me. Well, at that time I had been there about a year and Buck called everybody to request a song just to see how fast you were. OK now back to Buck coming down the hall towards me. He said, "Hi Steve, how ya doin’?" I said fine and he asked if he could talk to me for a minute and again I thought Uh-Oh! We went into his office and he shut the door and sat down. He asked me how long I'd been a musician and I responded by asking, "How did you know I was a musician?" He said it's very obvious by the way you put your show together and that he loved my choice of music. He told me that he and Dorothy, his sister, wouldn't miss it for anything. And yes, he has known about the "records from home" for a long, long time.  Let me say right here that Buck Owens was another great guy and genius as a business man. I've been proud to call him my friend!

   Sometimes, when it's real quiet here at my home in Mesa, Arizona, I like to think back to the old days of not just the cars and racing or the rock & roll, but of a time that I was honored enough to have lived. A time that was so much simpler than today! A wonderful time to be alive! I never had a very big income, except when I was Plant Manager of Hardin Marine in North Little Rock, Arkansas. If you want to know more about my radio experience just watch some of the re-runs of WKRP and I would have been "Dr. Johnny Fever." In fact I still have a studio in my home where I now make CDs for folks in true "Wolfman Jack" style. Oooooooowww .... Have Mercy Baby! I guess I get side tracked pretty easy as there was a lot going on in my life. But as I was saying, I've never made a lot of money and money was never that important to me, I was more concerned with my happiness and the memories I have that no amount of money could ever buy. Today I live in a retirement area in Mesa, Arizona (God bless Sheriff Joe Arpaio!) I've been married twice, my first lasted 10 years and we were in the process of divorce when she was killed in a car crash in 1972 and I married again in 1992 to an old high school sweetheart but that only lasted for 7 months, but we remained good friends and she passed away on Christmas eve 2004 of breast cancer. I have no children and my sister is still alive and well at 86 in Davenport, Iowa. The rest of my family has all passed on.

   I've been disabled since January 3rd 1998 due to a failed quadruple bypass surgery. I've since become diabetic also. I just had a new, state of the art, pacemaker implanted a couple months ago and I feel pretty good. I've got a 1950 Olds 88 fastback or sedanette, stick shift sitting in my garage with only 53,000 miles on the clock. I can't leave anything alone, it was all stock when I got it a couple years ago but it's now lowered, nosed and decked and has a hood full of louvers. Still to come are a new clutch assembly, floor shifter, some mild front end work (bushings, etc) and of course, add on, under dash, 1950's style air conditioning which I think is the law here in Arizona. I live alone with my Pug dog, my 32" HDTV and my 1950 Olds. I'm still enjoying each and every day that the "Big Guy" has seen fit to give me, although, I do miss the smell of NITRO!

Gone Racin' is at [email protected]