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Paul Goldsmith
Born:  October 2, 1927  (Parkersburg, West Va.)
Home: St. Clair Shores, MI  

More Paul Goldsmith: Motorcycle Page

Paul Goldsmith   is a motorcycle Hall of Famer and former USAC and NASCAR driver. He was the winner of the final auto race at the famous Daytona Beach Road Course in 1958. He was also the only driver to win the Daytona Beach Road course both in a stock car and on a motorcycle.

USAC STOCK CARS: Goldsmith was the 1961 USAC champion, with 7 poles, 10 wins, 16 top-five finishes in 19 races. Goldsmith won his second consecutive USAC championship in 1962 with 6 poles, 8 wins, and 15 top-five finishes in 20 races.

Championship Car (Indy): Goldsmith competed in 8 races in the USAC Championship Car series, between 1958 and 1963 with 6 of those starts in the Indianapolis 500. He finished in the top five twice at Indy, following up a 5th place finish in 1959 with a 3rd in 1960.

“I guess the truth isn't that exciting,” laughs Paul Goldsmith from his office at Griffith-Merrillville Airport in Northern Indiana, the facility he has owned and operated for four decades, “but, I raced because I wanted to eat!” Not necessarily the romantic image most have of the inspiration required to run hard and fast with motorized vehicles.

Yet, for a child raised in the ravages of the Great Depression and the deprivations of a World War, the availability of the next meal was a high priority indeed. It takes more than just a mundane need, however, to endure in racing. Desire, determination and a sense of adventure are a few of the motivators. And Goldsmith didn't just endure, he excelled.

Born in Parkersburg, W.Va., in 1925, his family moved to Detroit while he was a teenager. After serving in the Merchant Marines during the war, he went to work in the Chrysler plant and bought a Harley-Davidson with his hard-earned money. That purchase led him to a lifetime in racing.

“The AMA held one of their first races at Marshall, Mich.,” recalls Goldsmith. “Back then, they ran three classes: Novice, Amateur and Expert. The local Harley dealer, Earl Robinson, had been helping me develop my motorcycle. I guess I looked pretty good, so he moved me to the Expert class because they were short on Experts. And that's where I stayed.”

Goldsmith finished third in his initial AMA venture and ran so well on the county fair circuit that he got a call from Harley. “Walter Davidson met with me,” recalls Goldsmith, “and offered me an excellent deal to run for them. I was just a snotty-nose kid, and I remember thinking, ‘Man, I've really gone uptown!’”

Goldsmith made the most out of the deal, eventually winning 27 AMA events, including five AMA Nationals, as well as the prestigious 1953 Daytona 200, ran on the beach/road course.

Through Marshal Teague, Goldsmith helped Marshal Teague on his Hudsons until the AMA motorcycle season started. There he met Smokey Yunick, who helped Goldsmith prepare his Daytona-winning Harley. Yunick and Goldsmith built a relationship that helped Goldsmith get his start racing cars. “Smokey was one of those guys that liked to get things done,” recalls Goldsmith. “He asked me if I’d like to race stock cars for him. I agreed right away.”

Yunick contacted former three-time Indy winner Mauri Rose, who was head of Chevrolet’s competition division. Rose gave his stamp of approval with a, “Hell yes! Sign him up.”

Goldsmith had competed in only one auto race before driving Yunick’s Chevy. He had helped a friend prepare a car, which he then drove in a very early NASCAR event at the Detroit Fairgrounds. He won it. Goldsmith’s first race with Yunick was nearly as successful. “It was a convertible race at the old dirt track in Charlotte,” recalls Goldsmith. “I won the pole, with Curtis Turner lined up next to me. I was running good until I broke a shock, caught a rut, and rolled completely over. I landed on my wheels and never slowed up. But I didn't have time to catch Curtis. After that, I'm sure they all thought I was crazy, and I guess I was, but I was on my way!”

In 1958, Goldsmith won Daytona. Driving Yunick’s Chevy, he edged out Turner by five car lengths in the last race held on the old beach/road course. Afterwards, they looked towards Indianapolis.

“Smokey had always wanted to try the 500,” recalls Goldsmith, “and wanted to know if I’d drive. That was something I’d always wanted to try, too, so I said, ‘Let's go!’”

It was the first time he'd ever sat in an Indy car, yet he qualified the City of Daytona Special in 16th place, then was caught up in the first-lap melee that wrecked 15 cars and took Pat O’Connor’s life.

Goldsmith narrowly escaped becoming a fatality himself. Jerry Unser, on his way over the wall, just cleared Goldsmith’s head. It was so close that Unser’s tires peeled the skin off Goldsmith’s back, the scars of which he bears to this day.

Joe Weatherly (L), Goldsmith (R)He competed in five more 500s collecting a third place, a fifth place and gaining membership in the esteemed Champion 100-Mile an Hour Club. But the Indy cars were his least favorite form of racing, and he concentrated his efforts on stock cars.

Shortly after the 1958 500, Goldsmith got a call for a lunch meeting with GM’s “Bunkie” Knudsen. Ray Nichels, O’Connor’s former mechanic, was also in attendance. Knudsen asked them to join forces to develop and race Pontiacs.

The Goldsmith/Nichels partnership would become astoundingly successful. They ran Pontiacs until GM banned racing in 1963. They switched to Chrysler without missing a beat. They developed cars and equipment for all the Pontiac — and then all Chrysler teams — with Goldsmith logging hundreds of test hours. They also competed themselves.

Before he retired from racing in 1969, Goldsmith won 26 USAC stock races and consecutive USAC championships in 1961-62 at a time when USAC rivaled NASCAR for stock car supremacy. In NASCAR, he racked up 59 top 10s and nine Grand National wins. He also captured nine poles, including the 1964 Daytona 500 pole when he broke the track record by a stunning 15 miles per hour with a run of 174.910.

Because of his heavy test and race schedule, Goldsmith turned to flying to make all the dates, becoming one of the first drivers to earn a pilot's license and to own his own plane.

That evolved into the aviation business he owns today.

Goldsmith was one of the few drivers of that era who wisely invested his money. At one time, he owned two horse farms in Florida and a dozen Burger King restaurants. He has sold those and has the financial resources to retire.

But don't suggest it.

“I’ll never retire,” states Goldsmith emphatically. “I tried it back in the 1980s and didn't like it. To keep busy, I actually got my license to race standard bred horses.”

Goldsmith nearly won his first sulky race at the Meadowlands, but his horse threw a shoe. He placed third in his next outing but soon stepped out of the sulky and back to running his businesses.

At 81, Goldsmith still works daily, flying hundreds of hours a year. He still insists he has to eat.

One suspects, however, that the desire, determination and adventuresome spirit that took Goldsmith to the pinnacle of racing is what motivates him still today.

From a reader:

Paul Goldsmith drove my grandfathers Olds in the modified race a few days before the big race in Daytona 1958.
Check our page on Facebook Griffin Motors Racing. 


Interview with Race Car Driver Paul Goldsmith

Part 1: The Early Days       A Few Words With One of Pontiac's Winningest Stock Car Drivers

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 businesses.

Paul 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 that race.


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 competition?

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?

Goldsmith:Yes, 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 engineers?

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?

Goldsmith: Definitely. 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.

HPP:The 24-hour 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 today.

HPP: What were the most memorable aspects of the Pure Oil Economy runs with the '62 Pontiacs?

Goldsmith:Smokey 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

By 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 calculating inside.

There wasn't anything Goldsmith couldn't race. Motorcycles, Indy cars, stock cars or airplanes, if it could go fast, Goldsmith could pilot it.

Goldsmith won 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.

Goldsmith learned 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 1956-58.

When Goldsmith 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.

Three months 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 with Nichels.

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 Aircraft.

Goldsmith's and 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.

In 1963, 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.

Goldsmith's 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 Plymouth Superbird.

Goldsmith captured 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 mph.

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 well. 

As Goldsmith 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."

Goldsmith yelled 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 miles."

Goldsmith ranks 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.

Goldsmith retired 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.

Goldsmith was 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.

More Paul Goldsmith: Motorcycle Page

Paul Goldsmith Winston Cup

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1956 28 9 of 56 1 4 6 0 2192 182 8,568 13 8.1 9.2
1957 29 25 of 53 4 10 15 4 3759 588 12,734 13 6.2 11.7
1958 30 2 of 51 1 1 2 1 178 39 4,690   6.0 5.5
1961 33 2 of 52 0 1 2 0 239 0 6,050 45 12.0 6.0
1962 34 1 of 53 0 0 1 0 218 0 1,375 51 19.0 6.0
1963 35 6 of 55 0 1 1 1 545 22 4,170   7.5 25.0
1964 36 14 of 62 0 3 4 1 2281 319 20,835 22 8.4 18.0
1966 38 21 of 49 3 11 11 1 5097 452 54,609 5 6.1 13.0
1967 39 21 of 49 0 7 8 0 4851 398 38,731 11 8.6 15.3
1968 40 15 of 49 0 2 4 0 2793 304 24,365 30 9.1 22.1
1969 41 11 of 54 0 4 5 0 1999 20 22,850 40 7.4 20.6
11 years 127 9 44 59 8 24152 2324 198,977   7.7 15.4

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