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I asked Tom Compton and some of the other NHRA guys one day where they slept when they went to their first race. And they said, “Well I think it was the Hilton,” or, “I think it was this or that.” And I thought, okay, you know, my first race I slept in the trunk of a ’56 Oldsmobile, and the only reason I got the trunk was that someone was in the back seat and someone else was in the front seat. I had spent every penny I had to get to the racetrack and buy a ticket. I had no money to eat, no money for a hotel, no money to get home. It didn’t make any difference: I’d figure all that out later, but now I was there, and I was there because that’s what drove me, that’s what I had to do.
And still today sitting there in the seats has the same effect, but some of the things on the outside have sort of fallen off the side.
: Weren’t you a Super Stock racer back in the day?
SB: I had several of them. A ’69 Camaro with a 350/255 horse and a Powerglide, a convertible car that was one of my better ones. You know, I’m pretty proud of something. I was really, really, really good friends with John Lenny Felder, and he was another guy kind of like me: Back then we weren’t smart enough to realize that we couldn’t do what we were doing. John and I read the rulebook about oil pans -- and this had to have been in the mid-seventies -- and I said, “You know, it doesn’t say anything about making this big oil pan. Doesn’t say you can’t do it, doesn’t say you can’t trim the cross member, doesn’t say you can’t do any of this.”
So we just hacked my car up and put this big huge oil pan on there. The NHRA guys were just mortified when we showed up for the next race. The more they looked, they said, “Well, it doesn’t say you can’t do it, so I guess it’s okay.”
So we were the first ones to have the new style oil pans that everyone has and takes for granted now. Well, that wasn’t a big deal, but when I sold the car, mid to late seventies, and I basically made the decision to start racing companies instead of racing cars.
: Was the car competitive?
SB: Well, there were a lot of guys who beat our ET’s of the time, but our speed record wasn’t eclipsed for about another fifteen years.
: What were the speeds and ET?
SB: Oh I think I ran very low elevens, 11.10 and 11.15 at somewhere around 120 mph.
: What was the class, do you remember?
SB: Super M Automatic. And that was when you could do it for very little money and have fun and you could out-think the next guy. Today it’s gotten so technical that it’s hard to get that kind of advantage.
: Back to SEMA. What would you like to accomplish when you assume the SEMA presidency?
SB: Very basically, the goal you set is to leave it better than when you took it over. Now I think that boils down to better people on the board of directors, people who understand more the fundamentals of what we do. As far as specifically, those things will sort of work themselves out. If you put better people in the decision-making process along the way, the small things will work themselves out.
: What’s your general view of our industry right now? We’re all struggling some, from my business as a magazine guy, to you guys as a manufacturer, to the guys trying to race Tuesday night. How do you see the health of our business?
SB: Well it’s an interesting time right now. And I’m not necessarily going to say it’s a tough time. You know, if we lived in Detroit making cars it’s a tough time, but I think most of the people having a really, really hard time right now are the people who were either not healthy last September (2008) when all this started and they were in trouble anyway, they just didn’t know it, or they refuse to change the way they’ve always done things.