By William LaDow
- illustrators: LaDow Publishing
In the last two issues of HPP,
we interviewed Ray Nichels, the
legendary crewchief and race car builder. In this issue and the
next, we continue by interviewing the great
Paul Goldsmith, one of stock car
racing's winningest drivers. Since his retirement from racing, Mr.
Goldsmith has kept a low profile, preferring to concentrate on his
business ventures and pursue his love of flying. Now 78, he still
logs over 600 hours a year as a pilot and remains very active in his
Goldsmith was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, on
October 2, 1925, the son of a riverboat captain. His father passed
away when he was a teenager, and when his mother remarried, the
family moved to St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
Goldsmith was a very
successful motorcycle racer prior to racing cars. He started riding
shortly after World War II. He soon discovered that he had the
skills needed to be a competitive racer and took to the track.
Before retiring from
motorcycle racing, Goldsmith won five American Motorcyclist
Association (AMA) Nationals from 1952-1955, as well as the winning
the '53 Daytona 200. He is one of the few men to ever compete in the
Daytona 200, the Daytona 500, and the Indy 500 and the only racer
who had ever won on the famed Daytona Beach course on a motorcycle
and in a car. His Daytona win on four wheels came in 1958, the last
year the beach course was run. He also qualified on the pole for
After the January '63 GM
Racing Ban, Ray Nichels switched
from Pontiac to Chrysler, and Goldsmith continued his stock car
racing career until his retirement in 1969.
We were lucky enough to catch
up with Paul Goldsmith shortly after our interview with
Ray Nichels. Like the Nichels
interview, this will also be two-part series. Mr. Goldsmith had a
lot to say about the old days and even some things about racing
today. We are grateful to him and Mr. Nichels for agreeing to be
interviewed for HPP.
HPP: You began your
career as a motorcycle racer. How did you get into that area of
Goldsmith: I bought a
motorcycle, started playing around with it, and found out that I
could ride it pretty well. The Harley dealer there in Detroit was
named Earl Robinson. He watched me for a little while and then
suggested that I race in an upcoming event in Marshall, Michigan.
That was right after the war and it was one of the first
AMA-sanctioned races. At that time, they started out in classes of
Novice, Amateur, and Expert. As it turned out, they didn't have
enough Experts for the race. Based on the way I was running, and my
motorcycle, which Earl Robinson helped me develop, they moved me
into the Expert class and I ended up, I believe, third in that race.
From then on I was an Expert and I never got back in the Novice
class or Amateur class. They put me in Expert and left me there.
HPP: Were you surprised
you were chosen to be inducted in the AMA Hall of Fame in 1999?
Goldsmith: Yes, I had
lost track of all that. It was quite a surprise.
HPP: How did you make
the transition from motorcycle to auto racing?
Goldsmith: A friend of
mine had a stock car he was building in Detroit. He didn't have many
dollars to put in it, so I helped him out and built the engine for
it. It was a
Ford. Then he asked me if I'd drive it. I said, "Well, sure. I'm
not racing a motorcycle that weekend. I'll drive it." It was a
marque race, 250 miles at the fairgrounds in Detroit, Michigan, so I
got in the race and won with that particular car. Dodge was in there
and Oldsmobile, Ford--it was a pretty popular race. Some of the
drivers from down South were up there, like
Marvin Panch. I can remember him
very well and others I can't recall now. Anyway, I ended up winning
the race and the next one was about two or three years later.
HPP: How did you get
together with Smokey Yunick?
Goldsmith: I got
acquainted with him when I was down in Daytona for the motorcycle
races in March. I used to hang out with Marshall Teague and got
acquainted with Smokey Yunick,
and he helped me with my motorcycle a little bit. I won the Daytona
race in 1953 on that particular bike. Later, he asked me to start
driving a stock car. That is what I was trying to get into all
along, so we built a stock car for me and went up to Charlotte. It
was a high-banked track and the second stock car race I had ever
been in. I qualified the car on the pole, and outside of me were
Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly, and many of the other famous drivers.
I got off and was running second behind Curtis Turner and did a
roll--I looped a car and didn't slow down. I ended up second in the
race, so I was pretty well known after that. From then on, I started
driving stock cars for Smokey. I believe that was in 1957.
HPP: How many Indy 500s
were you in?
Goldsmith: Golly, I
think at Indianapolis I qualified for six of the races. The seventh
one, my car wasn't too good and I turned it down--I wouldn't drive
it. I ended up there in 1958. I was involved in a wreck driving
Smokey Yunick's car. The following
year, I was in Norm Demler's car with Ray Nichels as the mechanic
and I got fifth. The next year I got third and from then on my cars
weren't too good. I think the following year, after my third pace, I
was running pretty good, but I lost the engine. The crankshaft broke
or something in the engine.
HPP: It has been said
that GM had "encouraged" you to leave motorcycle racing. Is that
accurate and what was the reason?
Goldsmith: I was
getting a lot of publicity riding that motorcycle and I was called
downtown to have lunch with the officials at GM. They sort of
encouraged me to get off of the motorcycles. They made me a pretty
good offer and I couldn't refuse. (laughs) I went full time into
cars, but I had been obligated to one more motorcycle race. The very
next race that I went to run was in Columbus, Ohio, the charity
"Newsy" race they called it. I won that on a motorcycle and that was
the last I ever ran--on a motorcycle.
HPP: How did you get
involved with Ray Nichels?
Goldsmith: I had been
driving a little bit for Smokey Yunick when the phone rang one
day--I was living in St. Clair Shores at the time--and it was Bunkie
Knudsen on the other end of the line. He asked me if I'd come up and
have lunch with him. I thought, "Man, this is something else. I'm
getting to meet people like this!" So I went up. It was on a Monday,
I think. I found his office and walked in, and Ray Nichels was
sitting there. Bunkie had called him in also because he was building
a few Pontiacs for the Daytona race before that. I believe it was in
1957, and he said that he'd like the two of us to team up to build a
stock car and see what we could do with it. From then on, I was with
Ray Nichels. We teamed up, and eventually, I moved to Indiana so I
wouldn't be traveling back and forth from Detroit to Indiana,
working on these race cars, doing all the test work, driving, and so
on. So I met Nichels through Bunkie Knudsen.
HPP: And the two of you
were not just owner and driver; you were actually partners...
Goldsmith: That's true.
HPP: How did the
experience with motorcycles and Indy cars help you as a driver of
stock cars? Do you think there was anything that carried over?
motorcycles helped me quite a bit, with respect to handling. A
motorcycle was pretty hard to make handle and get the most traction
off of the racetrack. Transforming the feel to riding that
motorcycle between you and that dirt, or the pavement in a road
race, it gives you a sense of feel for handling that helped me an
awful lot in the race cars. There weren't too many people who could
beat me on a racetrack in a stock car.
HPP: Pontiac was
heavily involved in the development of racing components with its
Super Duty program. Did you have any contact or input with the
Goldsmith: Oh yeah. We
were always talking to the engineers at Pontiac, which would be
John DeLorean and some of the other
fellows. I can't remember all of their names, but we were involved
in different conferences with them on what we would build and what
we thought would work well. Ray Nichels
and I would build it and then we would test it on the racetrack and
would see if it worked.
HPP: When you were
racing Pontiacs, the Corporation treated PMD's racing efforts as a
separate entity from Chevy's. For a while, Pontiac was on top and so
was Nichels Engineering. What was it like being with such a winning
carmaker and race team at the same time?
Goldsmith: Well, it was
great. I don't know if you were aware of this, but in 1956, Pontiac
was in sixth place in sales. When we started racing and doing well,
like in 1958, sales picked up and they were heading toward third
place. They made it to third behind Chevy and Ford in 1961. That was
a big step for Pontiac and that was a lot of dollars for GM.
HPP: Back then, the
Grand National stock cars were actual production-based machines, as
opposed to today's purpose-built race cars. Do you believe racing
cars that were actually in the showroom was better for the
manufacturers than the arrangement they have now?
It would have been better if there was any way for NASCAR to keep it
standard. When we started out, we'd take a passenger car and convert
it into a race car. Today, they build the race car and use the hood
and decklid as a standard production part. I think it costs them a
tremendous amount of money today to build that type of a car.
Somewhere down the road, I think it's going to hurt NASCAR a little
bit, and they probably need to figure out how to get back into the
standard production car if there is any possible way. The reason
they want to do it that way is to get the cars a little more even,
where they would perform pretty much evenly, and it would be up to
the race teams how they win.
endurance races at Indy and Darlington with the two 421 SD Catalinas
were true record-breaking performances and real-world tests at the
same time. Unfortunately, tests like that aren't really promoted
anymore. Why do you think that is the case?
Goldsmith: I think
today there is much more publicity in the type of stock car racing
that there is on television. I believe it lost a little bit of its
interest in promotion of the car itself. Back when there were real
"stock cars," I think it would have meant more in those days than
HPP: What were the most
memorable aspects of the Pure Oil Economy runs with the '62
Yunick and I ran the Pure Oil runs. There again, Pontiac
didn't want to be finishing in the back or left out of it. That's
why they had Smokey and I run the cars. We were mostly in the
Catalinas. I don't know who drove the Tempests.
HPP:Was that a project for you separate
from Nichels Engineering?
Goldsmith:Yes, that was. I can tell you
a little story...You know Ford spent an awful lot of money in the
Pure Oil Runs. They would run that particular competition and time
all the stoplights, measure the grades, downhill, uphill. They had
it pretty well worked out for their drivers to take advantage of all
that. I used to get a hold of the sheet and we did the same thing.
It really helped Smokey and I quite a bit! (laughs)
Next month, we will continue with our
interview with Paul Goldsmith
and find out what it was like behind the wheel of the famous #50
LeMans that beat the world's best sports cars and drivers to win the
'63 Daytona 250 Challenge Cup.
If it had
wheels, Goldsmith drove it
William LaDow Post-Tribune correspondent -
May 23, 2007
It was once said that Paul
Goldsmith's race cars should all have been
painted ice blue to match his "cool under pressure"
demeanor when he was behind the wheel. Quiet and
reserved outside the car, he was relentless and
anything Goldsmith couldn't race. Motorcycles, Indy
cars, stock cars or airplanes, if it could go fast,
Goldsmith could pilot it.
stock car races at tracks such as Daytona, Bristol,
Rockingham, DuQuoin and Milwaukee to name just a few. He
is the only man to win races at the Daytona Beach course
and fearsome Langhorne one-mile oval on both a
motorcycle and in a race car.
He also is one of
a select few to have ever competed in the Daytona 200,
the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. He even took
the pole (in record-setting time) for the 1965 Pikes
Peaks Hill Climb -- before he almost raced himself right
off the side of the mountain. Lastly, Goldsmith raced
roadsters relentlessly at Indianapolis.
Born in 1925 in
Parkersburg, W. Va., Goldsmith worked his way up the
auto racing ladder the hard way, first racing
motorcycles. By doing so, he learned to study every
track he raced on.
how to adapt his "rides" to the nuances of a given track
and capitalize on them. He won five American Motorcycle
Association Nationals from 1952-1955. In all, Paul won
27 times with his biggest two-wheel victory being the
Daytona 200 in 1953, where he set a course record.
Goldsmith made the
switch from two wheels to four in 1956, driving a
Chevrolet for Smokey Yunick,
with his debut at the famed Lakewood Speedway in
Atlanta. They won six NASCAR races together from
showed up at Indianapolis in 1958, he had just won the
NASCAR Beach race at Daytona the previous February. His
entry for the 1958 Indy 500 was the "City of Daytona
Beach Special" and he promptly qualified on the inside
of the sixth row for his rookie race.
He never completed
a lap. A 15-car accident, spurred by
Ed Elision and
Dick Rathmann tangling
in Turn 3, eventually collected Goldsmith and finished
his day. The only remnant he has from his first Indy 500
are the burn scars on his back from the tires of Jerry
Unser's car before it tumbled out of the Speedway.
later, Semond "Bunkie" Knudsen,
CEO of the Pontiac Division of General Motors, asked
Goldsmith to drive for Ray
Nichels in a Pontiac stock car testing
program. Goldsmith agreed and began a long association
In a matter of
months, Nichels would hire Goldsmith as his chief
Firestone test driver, replacing Nichels' close friend
Pat O'Connor, who
was killed in the 1958 Indy 500 wreck that Goldsmith
inadvertently was drawn into.
Within a few
years, Goldsmith would become vice president of Nichels
Engineering. In 1961, he and Nichels would jointly open
an aircraft engine business known as G&N Aircraft. Other
business opportunities such as the ownership of the
Griffith-Merrillville Airport would soon follow. It was
during this time that Goldsmith moved to the Calumet
Region and settled his family in Munster to be closer to
the daily operations of Nichels Engineering and G&N
Nichels' association paid off at the Indianapolis Motor
Speedway, with Paul collecting two top-fives (a third in
1960 and a fifth in 1959) in just six races.
His stock car
efforts for Nichels Engineering were even more
impressive. In 1960, he finished second in the United
States Auto Club (USAC) season championship. In 1961,
Paul was the USAC champion with 10 victories, seven
poles, and 16 top-five finishes in just 19 races.
In 1962, he and
Nichels won their second consecutive USAC championship
with eight wins, six poles, and 15 top-five finishes in
20 races. The back-to-back championships over this
two-year period were an exhibition of pure dominance by
Goldsmith and Nichels.
Also in 1961,
Goldsmith teamed with Glenn
"Fireball" Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Rodger
Ward and Len Sutton to set a series of
24-hour speed and endurance records (that still stand to
this day) at both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and
Darlington Raceway for Nichels Engineering.
In 1963, Paul
piloted the Nichels Engineering No. 50 Super Duty 421
Pontiac LeMans to one of the most lopsided victories in
Daytona Speed Weeks history by beating second-place
finisher A.J. Foyt
by more than 5 miles in the Challenge Cup 250.
Goldsmith's engineering expertise was a key part of
Nichels Engineering with their transition from Pontiac
to Chrysler products, helping to lead Chrysler to stock
car racing dominance in NASCAR, USAC, IMCA and ARCA.
ability to read a race track and articulate his
observations while test driving, along with Nichels'
innate skill to modify the race car to get it to do
precisely what Goldsmith needed, proved to be priceless
in the development of the Chrysler Hemi engine, Plymouth
Belvedere, Dodge Charger, Dodge Daytona Charger and the
the first 426 Hemi-engine pole at Daytona in 1964, in a
fire-red Nichels Engineering Plymouth Belvedere by
beating the previous year's pole speed by almost 15
miles per hour when he posted a track record of 174.910
What the racing
world didn't know was the previous November, during a
week-long secret testing session at San Angelo, Texas,
while he and Nichels were testing the newly developed
Hemi engine, "Goldy" would share his cool, dry humor as
drove, Nichels, in an effort to find more speed, sat
beside him and analyzed every possible chassis
combination. As they were running 185 miles per hour,
(unheard of in stock car racing at the time) Nichels
leaned over and said loudly to Goldsmith "You know,
there really isn't any sort wall to stop us if we begin
to roll over."
back at Nichels "not to worry, if we do roll the car, it
will stop by the time we get to Abilene." Nichels asked,
"How far away is Abilene?" Goldsmith replied, "About 80
fifth in all-time wins in USAC late model competition
with 26 wins behind Don White,
Foyt, Norm Nelson and Butch Hartman. In
addition to his two USAC National stock car
championships, he finished second in season points on
two occasions. Goldsmith's 11-year NASCAR career
consisted of 127 races, 9 victories, 8 poles, 44
top-fives and 59 top-10s.
as a race driver in 1969. He is still active with his
ownership of the Griffith-Merrillville Airport, G&N
Aircraft and a series of other businesses.
inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, the
Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1986 and was
honored by the Living Legends of Auto Racing
during Daytona Speedweeks in 2007.
Goldsmith: Motorcycle Page