Click on images to see larger view

The Super Stock Years....

Bill Thomas invited us to come to his shop in Anaheim. He had some new rear springs made for drag racing and this would help the traction. That is how our relationship began. They worked great and improved things a bunch. I had a lot of success with my 62’ 409 Chevy. Bill told me about the new Z11 Chevy Impala that was coming out in 1963 with a 427 and an aluminum front end. I got one! I ran very well with Bill’s help.

In the middle of the year of 1963, General Motors decided to end all racing sponsorship. At that time, Bill wanted to talk to me in the office. This was the first time I had heard about GM ending all sponsorship. Bill was strictly a GM person. He told me that Mickey Thompson had been racing Pontiac's and that he had signed a deal with Ford. Bill suggested that I give Mickey a phone call. I called him and set up an appointment.

Mickey liked Super Stock racing also. He hired me in mid 1963 as a driver. He had talked to Ford and we received a 1963 light weight Galaxy. Two weeks before the US Nationals I went to the track with my new 427 Galaxy but did not run very well. With some help from the late Les Ritchie with carburetors I ran somewhat better. After leaving the US Nationals, I went back to Long Beach and I did some testing, the car was running 114 mph no matter what we did. I went back to Dearborn, Mi. and while I was there I met with Dick Brannan and Phil Bonner at the Dearborn Inn. We did some bench racing! They told me how many CC's I should have in the heads, what camshaft to use and what my deck heights should be. I go back to Long Beach and tell Mickey that I had learned what camshaft I should use, how many CC’s I should have in the cylinder heads and what the deck height should be.

Remember now, I was strictly a driver at this time.

Mickey asked me if I was willing to do this on my own. I said yes but I needed help. Mickey said go back to the shop and ask Fritz to show you how to run the milling machine and get the parts you need. With help from Fritz, I was on my way to try to be an engine builder. Everything worked out perfect. I was in the engine room working on the engine and finally got it back together. I put it in the car and was afraid to start it so I waited for everyone to leave before I started it. Naturally I thought it sounded so good that it would run better than it had.

Saturday night at Fontana all super stocks were there. On my first pass, it ran over 120 mph! I thought at the time that I could drive pretty well, but now I was one of the best engine builders around. I won the race Saturday and Sunday and was very happy.

The 427 Thunderbolts were in the making......

At 19 years old, one of my favorite moments in life was being part of a factory team. Mickey sent me to Detroit to pick up one of the original seven Ford Thunderbolts. While I was at the plant in Dearborn, Gas Ronda and I slipped in to look at the seven Thunderbolts. The number six car had the new hood with a bubble hood scoop. That evening we had a factory driver’s banquet with all of the Ford executives. Dick Brannan (who helped design the Thunderbolt) was given the number 1 car and after dinner, the drivers drew numbers for the remaining six cars. I drew number 7.... Mickey asked me why I didn’t seem too excited. I said “Well, boss number six has the good hood scoop.”

The next morning we met at the Ford Proving ground and guess what? Number 7, my car, now had the good hood scoop.

The first time "California Flash was painted on his
cars was after his 64 Nationals win
I had a match race set up in Chicago. Ben Christ (the track promoter) invited me to his home for dinner after the race. We were talking and he said I needed a name. All the racers and cars had names at that time. His wife said "you are clean cut, kind of a flashy personally... why not California Flash since you were born and raised in California". The name stayed in my mind. After the US Nationals win, Ford sent me some fiberglass doors for the car so I decided to remove the Mr 427 and re-letter the doors with California Flash. Thus, the beginning of Butch Leal the California Flash.

At the Winternationals in Pomona, all of the Thunderbolts were there. I was in the finals with Gas Ronda and he outran me. Then at the Hot Rod Magazine Race he out ran me again. The original factory engine was in the car so I began to build another one. Once the new engine I built was in the car I was never outrun again. The Thunderbolts became the most famous Super Stock cars ever built by Ford Motor Company.

In 1964 I won the US Nationals which was and still is the largest field ever in Super Stock. There were 54 cars.

I later met a man named Bob Cahill, who was the director for Chrysler Factory racing. He wanted to hire me to drive a 1965 four speed Chrysler Hemi. I signed up and became a member of the Chrysler factory team. I had the first funny car that was ever built. Chrysler had built 6 Plymouth’s and 7 Dodges. They presented the cars to NHRA so a class might be established. The NHRA would not accept the cars because the rear wheels and front wheels were moved forward and their response was they “look funny”.

Because NHRA did not create a class for these cars at that time, the cars were campaigned across the country as match race cars.

This was the beginning of what we know today as funny cars.....

Continued in part three...

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | For the Record
Home | History | Scrapbook | Merchandise | Contact | Links

This web site copyright © 2005-2007 Butch Leal Enterprises
All rights reserved
"Butch Leal", "California Flash" and "the California Flash" are ® registered trademarks.
Website by WebBlaster Designs