Thursday, May 15, 2008

CHUCK DAIGH MEMORIAL La Carrera Member

Some of you might remember a recent post I made paying respect to Chuck Daigh who had competed in La Carrera Panamericana back in the 50's. Here is a well written obit about Chuck and many of his accomplishments.



CHUCK DAIGH, THE UNSUNG HERO
By Art Evans

Carroll Shelby once remarked, “There are only two people I can think of who could sit
down, take a welding torch, build their own chassis, go out to test it and then win races with it.

They are Jack Brabham and Chuck Daigh. I put Chuck in the same category as Jack.”
Except for the war years, Chuck Daigh has been associated in one way or another with
internal combustion engines. At age 15, while still in high school, he ran a Union Oil gas station in Long Beach where he grew up. In his eighth decade he was busy at work preparing a car for a record run at Bonneville. Between those times, he had a legendary career both behind the wheel and wielding a wrench. Bruce Kessler told me recently that he thinks Chuck was the most under appreciated racing driver of his time. According to his Sebring teammate, Dan Gurney, “Chuck was not only an excellent engineer, but he could also drive the wheels off a car.” Dan went on to
say, “When I got into racing, I soon found out who the real heavyweights were. In those days,Chuck was like a god to us.”

Daigh’s parents moved to Long Beach in 1923 where Chuck was born on November 29th
of that year. His father owned and operated a garage where, according to older brother Harold, they grew up. Both were typical hot rodders. They made a car with a Model A chassis and an Alfa Romeo body. Chuck graduated from Compton High School in 1941.

Along came the war and Chuck joined up and served with the famed 82nd Airborne
Division for the duration. In the spring of 1943, the division parachuted into Sicily and later dropped near Salerno, Italy, and took Naples in October. The next month, they left for England to prepare for D Day, when they jumped into Normandy. After the Battle of the Bulge, they took Luxemburg where Chuck was shot and mustered out in 1945.

Returning to Long Beach, Chuck and Harold built a track roadster and raced it at Carroll Speedway in Gardena. Chuck was out practicing when J.C. Agajanian came over and asked Harold who was driving. Harold replied, “Oh, that’s Chuck; he’s just fooling around.” “I don’t know about that,” J.C. said, “but he just broke the track record!”

In 1952, Benson Ford hired Chuck, Clay Smith and Bill Stroppe to build Lincolns for the Mexican Road Race. Chuck went along as a riding mechanic and navigator. His first sports car race was at Moffett Field in 1953 piloting Marion Lowe’s Frazer Nash. Then he came in fourth overall in the main event at the October Terminal Island race behind the wheel of the ex-Dan Parkinson (Phil Hill’s brother-in-law) Jaguar Special. His first sports car victory was at Willow Springs in May 1954 driving his Kurtis with a Lincoln engine. Next, he started driving the
Troutman-Barnes Special for Dick and Tom. After winning the fall 1955 Santa Barbara, he campaigned the car for another year winning more than his share of races and always was a front-runner.

In 1957, Lance Reventlow asked Troutman and Barnes to build an all-American sports
car. The partners wanted to involve Chuck, so he went to work at Warren Olson’s shop where the car was to be constructed. Warren said of Chuck, “He was one of my two most valuable employees; the other being Phil Remington. Chuck would try anything. If something didn’t work, it didn’t bother him. He would just try something else or do it a different way.” Chuck was responsible for the Scarab engine, suspension and brakes. The first Scarab—the Mark I—won its second race at Santa Barbara with Lance at the wheel.

The first big-time professional road race in Southern California was the U.S. Grand Prix for Sports Cars sponsored by the Los Angeles Times in October 1958. Lance had named Chuck his number one driver and entered two Mark IIs. Chuck won against very serious competition, making a name for the marque. That year, in a Scarab, Daigh won the opener at Meadowdale. At Montgomery he defeated the Cunningham Lister team led by Walt Hansgen, and won at Laguna Seca and Nassau.

After the Scarab days, Chuck raced at Sebring three times, winning one with Dan Gurney in a Ferrari Testa Rossa. He also race in Europe including Silverstone and Le Mans, usually in a Maserati. During Carroll Shelby’s GT-40 effort at Le Mans, Daigh was in charge of carburetion. Even so, the Ford mechanics thought they knew better. Bruce McLaren went out to practice and complained, so, unknown to the factory people, Chuck fixed the problem. Bruce credited both his Le Mans wins in part to Chuck.

Daigh didn’t confine himself to four wheels. He had a very successful career with an
offshore racer called the Thunderball. Chuck not only built the engine, but was also the pilot. In later years, he left Long Beach and moved to Costa Mesa where he set up shop. A few years ago, I visited Chuck in Costa Mesa. There sat his Bonneville streamliner, up on blocks. It was gorgeous; a work of art! It seemed to me it would be as at home in the Petersen Museum as on the Salt Flats.

After a brief illness, on Tuesday morning, April 29, 2008, Chuck Daigh passed on. He
was 84 years old. He was not only a great driver and designer/mechanic, but also a wonderful person. I’ll miss him. I understand a Scarab reunion is planned for the July 17-20 Kohler International Challenge with Brian Redman at Road America. Augie Pabst told me that a remembrance of Chuck Daigh will be included in the celebration.

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