Few people are as inexorably linked to the Corvette as Santa Monica, California-born street racer Dick Guldstrand. Like many gearheads growing up in the ’50s, he was enamored with Chevy’s fiberglass two-seater. Unlike most, however, he parlayed his interest and skill behind the wheel into a career worthy of a screenplay.
Guldstrand puts it succinctly: “If you weren’t a jock, you were either a hot-rodder or a candy-ass.” He learned car control on Southern California’s dry lakebeds and street racing on Sepulveda Boulevard at three in the morning. “It came out of necessity. To stay alive at 130 mph in a stupid-ass old car, you’d better be good, or you were dead.”
His first professional drive occurred at the old Culver City Speedway (when the regular driver showed up drunk). Pushing a beat-up sprint car too hard–while in the lead–the engine let go. Guldstrand was paid $20 for his efforts. And the racing hook was set.
In 1952, he took his degree in electrical engineering to an aerospace firm and wound up working next to Dr. Werner Von Braun. This exposure to physical processes changed his outlook toward problem solving. He carried that experience over to racing, coming up with fresh approaches to difficulties when others copied what everyone else was doing.
While setting up his cars, he discovered that his forte was suspension development. “I found out I could go faster if I could make the car handle than if I had this hot engine that blew up. So I used stock engines ‘n’ just warmed them up a little bit.” Getting his hands on a used ’56 Vette, he followed his hot-rodder instincts–by promptly taking the Vette apart. Finding that special parts, such as four-speed transmissions and high-performance brakes were available from Chevrolet, Guldstrand massaged the Vette for competition and one of its first forays on the track in 1958 resulted in a checkered flag!
Dick Guldstrand passed away on September 2, 2015. He was 87 years old.
(Source: Motor Trend)