Dick Stockton: A Life In Racing
Editor’s note: Rich Stickley wrote in recently about his acquaintance and unsung American racing legend Dick Stockton. He’s a frequent mention in the history of American road racing, but there’s not been much of a proper writeup on the man. Rich had recently recorded a short interview with Dick and wrote in asking if The Chicane would be interested in putting up an article about him. I’m guessing you know the answer to that question… I’ll let Rich tell you the rest of the story.
For many of us, motor sports in the 1960’s were something we either watched from behind the tire walls as children, or look back on in some sort of nostalgic awe. We think of men with cold dead eyes piercing through the grime of their goggles, racing on the brink of death amidst an orchestra of side draft carburetor trumpets, snarling side pipes, and screeching tires, and we cannot help but be drawn in. Of course, there are others who look back on motor sports in the 1960’s and say, “It’s just stuff to me.” They were there, right in the thick of it. One of these men is Dick Stockton.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Dick didn’t take the plunge into motor sports until the Air Force shipped him off to California. Here he began attending races as a spectator, and picked up an old Ford Roadster to tinker around with. This wasn’t enough though, and a short while later Dick purchased an Austin Healey 100-4, which he raced at Stockton air port and a few other places in the Northern California area.
After his time in the service, Dick worked at a Chrome plating shop in California for a few months, but eventually decided to head home where he ended up working as a mechanic outside of Philadelphia for an Englishman who he recalls being “a real wheeler-dealer type of guy.” It was here that he ended up working on the Austin Healey 100-4 of Steve McQueen, who was in the area filming his first major film, The Blob.
Dick continued to bounce around a bit as a mechanic, and eventually grew tiresome of working for “wheeler-dealers.” He decided to open his own speed shop with a friend of his in the early 60’s in Abington, Pennsylvania. Shortly after opening though, the friend left, and Dick found himself running the whole show himself. Dick’s shop went on to develop quite a reputation for building and maintaining top notch race cars. In engine tuning, Dick stood with the best of them. The Toyota Celica he built and maintained for Buzz Marcus captured the first professional Toyota victory in the United States, and it is said in some circles that if Dick merely touches your car, it will gain 10 horsepower. The shop had an elevator to get cars onto the second floor, but the belt for the elevator’s motor was long gone so, as Dick put it, “who ever volunteered, or whoever I told to do it, had to go up on the third floor, grab a hold of the wheel and pull the elevator up.” The second floor became home to a myriad of race cars over the years, from a Ferrari 500 TRC to a 265 Chevy, but perhaps one of the most historically important cars kept up there was a Turner who belonged to a local guy. His name was Skip Barber, and at the time he was looking for somewhere to work on his car, as he was just starting out in racing. Dick remembers jokingly, “I dunno if he’d recognize me… He basically built [that car] on the second floor of the shop. He had it balled up, I think, most of the time.”
Along side maintaining and building race cars for others, Stockton also quite successfully raced a number of iconic cars throughout his life in racing including a Datsun 510, an early Corolla, a Vulcan Formula 5000 car, and even a rare aluminum bodied Elva. In the late 60’s Dick acquired a 289 AC Shelby Cobra for the modest price of 5,000 dollars from Gene Fisher. Stockton remembers this car very fondly, claiming “in a cobra back then you didn’t drive around a corner, you drove around a corner sliding,” and on famous tires at that. Dick remembers, “one of my customers at the time happened to run the tire store for Roger Penske… tires for the cobra [were] the same size [Mark] Donohue was running on the Camaro in the late ’60s early ’70s. I would buy the scrubs from Donohue’s Camaro for 25 dollars a piece. At one time I had current tire of the week club.”
In 1965 at the SCCA runoffs in Daytona, Dick , his Triumph TR4, and Dick’s crew ended up sharing a garage in the pits with Bob Tullius and his Group 44 team for the race. This led Dick to come to the conclusion, “a group is an organized bunch of people, right? A crowd is a bunch of disorganized people. That was us.” It was from these thoughts that The 71 Crowd was born, and a rivalry between the two teams began. Dick even remembers moving things around in his bay to trick the Group 44 guys into thinking that he was changing the set up on his car, with the hopes of psyching out his competition. Eventually things escalated and became a big enough deal at the runoffs that year that Dick remembers, “a local TV station picked up on it and they interviewed me and all that.”
Towards the end of the 70s and into the 80s, Dick didn’t do much racing, and in 1996, he closed his shop due to being “fed up with people and customers.” However, in the last decade or so, Dick decided to track down his old TR4, buy it back, and have another go at things. Within no time at all Dick has found him self right back at the top, and his Triumph is easily one of the fastest SCCA Vintage TR4’s in the country. His car set up is nothing short of innovative, and Dick says of his current impact on vintage racing, “I kind of think I opened up the door a little for some of the people racing TR4s on the east coast. My car is constantly being developed.” At 79 years old, Dick still does most of his own mechanical work, and is extremely competitive on the track to this day. Currently working on repairs after hitting the wall at a VRG event held at New Jersey Motorsports Park last September, Dick plans on being fully ready for the upcoming vintage racing season, and more competitive than ever.
Here’s some on-board footage with Dick from the 2011 SVRA Feature race at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Special thanks to Bob Adams for tracking down and taking pictures and videos, and for introducing me to Dick.
More photos and information about Dick and his racing team on The 71 Crowd’s Facebook page.
[Great, right? Have an idea for a post? Some old photos in the closet? Let me know about it—Harlo.]