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The Local Chevy Racing Team
In the early 1960’s in Sioux Falls, if you were a hard-core Chevrolet enthusiast, you likely belonged to a loosely organized group that called themselves the Chevrolet Racing Team. I was introduced to this group in 1964 through my friend Randy Williams. Randy’s dad, Robert Williams, operated Park Ridge Texaco on the southeast corner of 26th Street and Western Avenue. This was the “unofficial” home to the Chevrolet Racing Team.
Stopping in Park Ridge Texaco in those days one saw a steady flow of early Corvettes, 55-57 Chevys, 61-64 Impalas, Bel Airs, and Biscaynes, and hot rod Chevys of all other descriptions. High performance 283-327 smallblocks, as well as 348’s and 409’s powered most of these future classics. The four-speed transmission with a Hurst Shifter was the transmission of choice. (The “muscle car” 396’s and 427’s began showing up by 1966.) Proudly displayed on a plaque inside the station were pictures of many of the member’s cars. Most of the “veteran” Chevrolet Racing Team members that frequented the place wore the much admired dark blue Chevrolet Racing Team jacket.
Park Ridge Texaco was a full service station where you could get your oil changed, car tuned up, as well as tires, batteries, and accessories installed. (Remember those days?) Darrell VanderPloeg was Bob’s lead mechanic; Darrell and Randy both did quality “race-tuning” on many of the performance cars that came in. I have fond memories of watching them “racetune” a customer’s car as well as the obligatory check-out drive to make sure things were performing up to expectations. Randy loved working on these cars and commonly worked after hours tuning or polishing a customer’s hot rod just for a small “tip” and the opportunity to take the car for a short drive.
On Sunday afternoons in the summer the group would regularly congregate in the 300 block of South Main Avenue. Jay-Shon Chevrolet was on the east side of Main Avenue and Washington High School was on the west side of the street. There was a low wall by the high school that was perfect for sitting and watching the world go by. Chevy’s would line the street on each side for the full block and members would simply hang out, “bench race” and admire each other’s cars. What a sight all those lined up classics were.
On weekends when Sioux City held drag races, the Chevrolet Racing Team often would go down as a group. Those that were racing would either drive their car or perhaps have one of their buddies tow them on a tow bar (no one had trailers then). Members that didn’t race would show up as spectators or as informal pit crews for the racers. Many of the cars were lettered with vinyl “contact paper” and of course everyone wore their dark blue club jacket. Several of the members were quite competitive in their classes and many went on to race or work in automotive fields for years to come.
The Chevrolet Racing Team held no meetings, there were no dues, no officers, and no formal admittance process. When I became aware of the group, most of the members were at least a few years older than me. After an introduction by Randy to several of the veteran members, a couple other close friends and I became involved with the club almost like apprentices. We’d show up to help out hauling equipment to the races, perhaps tow a race car, run errands, or assist with an oil change. Whatever it took to be involved with this group and their cars was fine by us. Eventually a couple of us got our own hot rod, began doing a little racing, and were assimilated into the group. The day that a few of the original members gave the OK to buy and wear the “official” Chevrolet Racing Team jacket meant that we’d met the standard and been accepted.
By the early 1970’s the “team” was no longer an entity. Times had definitely changed; families were being raised, members were off to other endeavors, and Park Ridge Texaco had been sold. Most sadly, my close friend Randy Williams had been killed in Vietnam in 1968 while serving with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division. How great it would be to be able to re-live some of those years.