DD Harris and Joe Lawrence
~ Joe Lawrence ~
It was about 15 years ago now, I was delivering parts for Card’s Auto Parts in New Berlin,
NY and made regular trips to Edmeston, NY. I occasionally took the opportunity to stop in
to Willie Wust’s shop to say hello and on this particular day I walked into the garage and
could only hear the exasperated grunts coming from somewhere deep in the place.
“Willie?”, I called, “Yah, I’m under here” was his response. I knelt down to see him under a
bulldozer, his arms straight out, his feet propped up against a piece of pipe that was no
less than 4 feet long which was over a breaker bar. The breaker bar and socket was
attached to the drain plug of the dozer’s engine and Willie’s body was not touching the
floor as he grunted “god damn that Sidney, there’s no reason to put a drain plug in that
tight.” Well, no arguing that point, Willie was past his days of being able to pick and walk a
complete flathead engine across the floor, as my father related seeing him do on several
occasions but just the same, he was still rugged. I said my hellos and left him to his task.
Willie, and many like him, made racing a reality for many an aspiring driver. We always see
the pictures of the victorious chauffeur holding the checkered flag but rarely do you see
the pics of the guy changing tires or spending the hundreds of hours getting greasy
preparing the mount. Without the mechanics, many of our heroes wouldn’t have been and
the stories these mechanics have are at least as colorful as there drivers’ tales if not more
so. Their stories need to be told and so this past week Dad and I headed down through Rip
Van Winkle’s stomping grounds to interview one of the most innovative and daring fellows
ever to turn a wrench, Joe Lawrence.
I first met Joe at Lebanon Valley one evening and I needed some advice as I was about to
place injection on my flathead, I leaned in and listened closely as he related ‘Don’t run
lean’.  Kinda like John Force’s advice for aspiring drag racers “DON’T TURN”. OK, well, not
a lot but I never forgot and figured I’d get more later, I did. Going through my notes from
past phone calls I realized what a treasure of information he was. Upon seeing him again I
found him with the same smile and sunny disposition as I had enjoyed that night at the
Valley, he’s still full of it although I think he’s grown shorter. He welcomed us into his
home, got the pictures out and began. “It all started for me in 1957, I was a mechanic
pumping gas in Newburgh, NY at a station for $1.00 and hour. D.D. (Daniel Duncan)
Harris was selling used cars out of the lot to support himself and his racing and he got us
kids to drive cars back for him from New Jersey, and we were just kids too, I didn’t even
have a license. We’d take two kids, drive one car and tow bar another behind it. Anyway he
told me about this sedan class they were starting up at Middletown and Arlington and
thought I should try it out. So I built a sedan, he helped me, and went racing. D.D. (or
Rebel, as he was known at Lebanon Valley) was quite a promoter, quite a hustler, and he
was basically creating himself a mechanic. What he wanted was a guy who knew what was
like to drive a car and to get that he had to have someone who had driven one. He wanted a
racing oriented guy.  He was using me but I didn’t care, actually, he used the $hit out of
me but I learned a lot and don’t regret it.” Joe raced the first sedan, a 1939 Ford 4-door
#16 at Arlington, Middletown and Rhinebeck. A conversation I had with Dick Hansen
revealed this, “I was lining up at Rhinebeck and this sedan pulls up beside me, and I swear
there’s no body driving it. I looked and looked but couldn’t see anybody in the seat.” Joe
remembered, ‘yeah, Dick’s car was running like $hit, had a couple of wires crossed as I
recall, he said to me, ‘take the lead and I’ll hold ‘em back’ he did and I won my first feature.
My first race my first win. I could just barely see over the dash of that thing. I won enough
money that first year in racing to buy myself a brand new pickup truck, a 1959 Ford, for
$1700.00, great truck. My racing was basically on the side as I was towing all over the place
with D.D. and the cars he was racing at the time. We built a second car, a friend helped me
out and all the knowledge I learned from the first car went into the second, a ’40 Ford
sedan #345. That one had a real cheater flathead in it, canadian heads, a ’53 Buick
Stromberg 4 barrel carburetor that I put a couple of alcohol kits in it, it was like two 97’s
hooked together. I put a little oil of wintergreen and some blue food coloring in the alcohol
and nobody knew the difference, looked like blue sunoco, and stunk like everything. Your
eyes would water but it stunk so much you couldn’t tell it was alcohol. I ran that up until
1960 and won quite a bit with the car. The body was just a shell, no floor in the back, only
one brake on the rear, we weren’t supposed to have a locked rear but I did, it was ahead of
its time. I won all over the place in that thing. If I finished, I could win. D.D. made sure I
had all the right stuff and set up right. If you don’t know the difference between a car that
handles and one that doesn’t, you can’t fix it. He put me in a good thing to start with, he
gave me 10 years of experience in six months and that made me more of a mechanic as we
went on.”

“In February of 1961 D.D. and I went down to Daytona, that was the second year they ran
the big track. It was the year Lee Petty ended his career. We were sitting outside the track
and Lee went through the first fence, cleared the telephone poles, cleared the 50 foot bank
and hit the bottom of a palm tree. Just a wonder he didn’t get killed, a real credit to how
they built the cars, if it’d caught on fire he would’ve been in trouble. D.D. said ‘don’t go
down there, if they catch us they’ll throw us out’, so when they went down to the car, we
ran across the track and down into the pits, that’s how we got in. We looked like a couple of
tourists.” “Jim Reed was there and D.D. and Danny Mitchell had helped Jim build the car
that he won Darlington with. Gordon Ross helped out with that car as well. Reed was
running a Chevy then, and he had just switched over from Fords. So he had a whole attic
full of Ford parts from the factory. Cast steering gears, front springs and rear springs, the
right stuff. So, for helping him build his car, D.D. and Mitchell had made the deal to get all
this old Ford stuff. So in the winter of ’61 we built the first Triple A, (so called after the
aluminum siding D.D. was selling), a ’56 Ford Crown Victoria. We won twelve features at
Lebanon, probably fifteen at Olive Bridge and everything at Arlington with this car. We
raced three nights a week and everyplace we run we won because we had all NASCAR stuff
that nobody knew about. The guys up here were all farmers, they never had any of this
crap. This car went around the track like it was on a string, he could run circles around
them. He would start in the back and be leading in two laps.” “Middletown was really the
top in the east in the modified division, nothing better anywhere, nothing faster anywhere,
top money, top show, best anywhere. D.D. had always wanted to race there, he did and
won a feature there but anyway he bought a car form a guy named Bud Mall who had been
a champion there the year before. The motor out of that car was one that John Bollander
out of New Jersey had built, then D.D. and Mitchell bought another car down in New
Jersey that Ralph Smith had been driving and that also had a Bollander engine. So those
two engines where what we used in this Triple A, just took the injectors off and put
carburetors on ‘em.” John Bollander and Jimmy Shaw formed J&J Balancing which
supplied many top teams with the best of engines, Bollander was a former Ford employee
and had access to the best equipment available at the time. “D.D. won the championship at
Lebanon, he won it at Olive Bridge (Onteora) and Arlington that year. Made a lot of money
with that car, paid for the car, paid for everything.” “At that time the rules were that you
could run a flathead or six cylinder and do anything you wanted to it or run a late model
(overhead), but it had to be older than ’57 engine and it had to be stock, Ford in a Ford,
Chevy in a Chevy. You were allowed a quickchange and a four barrel carburetor. This was
before Holley was a big racing deal, my brother worked in a Ford plant and he used to
bring me home Holley four barrels from big trucks. I’d take all that cast iron governor crap
off them and we had a Holley four barrel. He’d bring me that cast distributor, ball bearings
and all and I’d convert them to dual point, we weren’t allowed a magneto at Lebanon, and
we ran that, it was good stuff.” “Once in a while we’d have something go wrong with the
ignition and we had mags around and we’d just stick a mag in it and cover it with a rubber
boot. One night D.D. wins the feature at Lebanon Valley, stops on the mainstretch and
pops up the hood up and there’s the goddamn thing, the magneto and I forgot to put the
boot on it. Nobody saw it but I made sure that boot was on it from them on. BAHAHAHA.
We went to Langhorne with it, qualified 15th on Saturday and D.D. says ‘we got nothing to
do, let’s go to Lebanon’ so we took off at 4:30 for Lebanon. We had to get there by 8:30 to
run the consi, we made it by 8 and D.D. wins the consi. Then we get in the feature and the
damn spool rips out of the rearend, one of those short ones. We should have won the
feature too, it was running that good. So D.D. says ‘swing by this guys place he owes me
one’, it was a little machine shop and the guy made spools, ‘then take the car back to
Mitchell’s place in Middletown and get it ready for Olive Bridge.’ So we take the car up to
the machine shop, there’s a light on but he won’t come to the door, we knock and knock,
end up sitting in the truck for hours. Finally, he comes down, somebody else’s wife leaves,
that’s why he didn’t answer the door, and he gets us a spool. Off to Middletown and we’re
up to dawn putting the rear back together, we’re just about dead now, haven’t had any
sleep since Wednesday. Head to Olive Bridge, win the feature and make enough to pay for
the whole mess. It was quite an education working for D.D. and Mitchell. Mitchell was quite
a guy too, worked a lot with caster and camber, sharp guy. You don’t want any Ackerman
in the car.” Welt, I’ve got about 240 lbs. of Ackerman in my car and there isn’t much I can
do about that. “You want zero.”

“In ’62 we continued to run the late model. We also ran a ’32 Ford modified that Mitchell
had run at Middletown and Victoria, it also had a Bollander 312 engine. Mitchell got in bad
wreck at Victoria with it and got kinda screwed up.  So he and D.D. took the engine and
rear out of the car and I traded a flathead for the ’32. It was just a frame body and cage. D.
D. said ‘why don’t you take that car and run it.’ So I put a straight rear in it from a
junkyard with 5:12 gears and built my first modified flathead. Three carburetors, big cam,
finned heads all that. We ran this car whenever we had a problem with the other one, I
didn’t get much chance to drive as I was always hauling for him. My mother painted it for
me with a brush, she used small letter a’s so we called it the triple a Jr.  He’d start in the
back of a show and come up through and win, it was all just pieced together junk left over
in the garage. In late ’62 D.D. and Mitchell had an argument and split up, Mitchell bought
him out and took the car and D.D. got some parts. We ran a ’55 Chevy at the first Lebanon
open competition that year that D.D. had bought from Gordon Ross. It had a crossfire and
it took us all day to figure out the firing order. Didn’t have much luck with it as it kept
jumping out of gear. After that D.D. swore he was never going to own another racecar. So
he bullshitted me into building this thing. I was ripe, I was all primed for it. So I built my
first modified, a ’34 Ford five window. I spent thousands of hours doing this stuff. I’d work 8
to 10 hours for a boss, then work until 2 in the morning every night on it. Then when we
went racing we’d start on Friday night and not sleep until Monday night. It was a lot of fun,
guys today don’t have opportunities like that.”
“Over the winter of ’62, ’63 I built this modified, the ’34.  I spent every nickel I had on it, It
had new everything, new halibrand rear, hilborn fuel injection, and were doing pretty good
with it. Winning some races, doing pretty good, it wasn’t paying for itself but at least we
were racing. About the middle of the season these brothers, Louie and Fritzie Mueller,
from Albany Pork Stores who were interested in racing approached me about buying the
car. I didn’t really want to sell it but D.D. says ‘what are you nuts, sell them the thing and
we’ll run it for them.’ So he puts this deal together and we sell the car for $3000.00. I think
I had about $2500.00 in it, didn’t keep very good track. We weren’t making anything at out
jobs so the car had to pretty much support itself, D.D. took 40% and I got 60% and that
was supposed to keep the car going and it did. With this deal I got 40%, D.D. got 40% and
the brothers got 20%, and they paid all of our expenses, good deal. They also came with
this supercharger they had bought, and said this is what they wanted to run, because that’
s what Garrison was running. I looked at that and said well we’ll have to build an engine
for that because we were running the shit out of our flathead as it was against these late
models and it wasn’t going to hold up to that. You see we beat everyone with the late model
in ’61, so everybody builds late models and now were running the flathead and driving
them nuts, they couldn’t see how we could beat ourselves with this outdated stuff, but we
did.  I looked at it and said I wanted some injectors for it, they would do whatever I wanted
to do. So we got some Hilborn’s for it. It had a v belt drive and the manifold wasn’t milled
correctly, Louie said everybody else was putting a wedge on the manifold to correct it, so I
tried that and wasted another week, couldn’t make one thin enough to hold it together,
didn’t know enough to make it thicker. The belts were slipping because I was running a lot
more boost than anyone else. We were running 12 to 14 pounds of boost and everyone else
was running 4 lbs. So I found a machinist up in Olive Bridge to make me up some Gilmore
drive gears and then we had no more problems with it. I used a 3/8 allen head bolt to the
front of the cam and brazed up the timing cover to fit the pump to and eliminate the pump
drive. Then got a Chevy magneto from Gordon Ross and I bought a base from Scintilla to fit
that to a side mount and had it licked. Then it went like stink.”

“We came down to Olive Bridge in July, this is when we really had it working right. When I
built the car I asked D.D. what kind of seat he wanted in it, they didn’t have racing seats at
the time. When we were in Daytona in ’61 he saw that the grand national guys were using
Pontiac Bonneville bucket seats, a plush bucket seat. He was tired of beating his ass on
these old Army seats so he brings me this seat out of a Bonneville because he wanted to be
comfortable. So I put it in and put in safety belts and a shoulder harness, I think we were
the first to use one. He tried it for a couple of weeks but didn’t like it, couldn’t move around
enough in the car, couldn’t do what he wanted to do. So he used to sit on that. So the first
night we took the supercharger to Olive Bridge he started the feature in the back and they
drop the green. By the time we get to the first turn he’s passed three quarters of the pack,
coming down the backstretch he’s got the lead. Coming out of four somebody spins out so
they drop the yellow. They wanted to make a race out it so they put him in the back again
and he’s pissed. Back then they stopped the races to line ‘em up and made a big
production out of it. I leaned in the car and he said ‘you watch this, I’m not going to even
wait until I get to the first turn, I’m going to have the lead going into the first turn.’ He
started racing out of four and ran over someone’s wheel. At Olive Bridge, they had lights up
above the grandstand and the car was above the lights. It went straight up and landed on
its back. The seat belts are stretched out and the bottom cushion came out from the car.
Now when it goes over again, it’s really loose and he flies out the window. He always wore
black and the guys couldn’t see him as he was on the track.” D.D. got hit and was in bad
shape when they loaded him into the ambulance, unfortunately the driver was from
Newburgh and didn’t know his way to the Kingston Hospital. D.D. died from a punctured
lung on the trip at age 30. Joe is sure that if they had today’s technology, he would have
survived the crash.

The winter before, D.D. had made a deal with John Holman and Ralph Moody to test drive
their cars, while Joe was to work in the shop. Now with D.D. gone and the car wrecked, Joe
entered the Army. Upon his first pass 6 months later, Louie and Fritzie had taken the car
to Bobbie Hart to piece it back together to drive it at Lebanon Valley. They called me up
and I went up to Nassau to meet them and go to the Valley. When I get there, there was no
gears in the car. Louie asks me what gear to run and I tell him a 4:86 so he’s putting them
in and I get in to start up the car and there’s no clutch. Well when it got wrecked the motor
moved and so there’s not enough throw for the clutch which was hydraulic. I said shit you
don’t need that anyway, just start it up and drive away. So they’ve got this big box truck,
pork store truck, they borrowed a trailer and it way up high. We pushed it out of the garage
but didn’t have enough guys to push it on the trailer. So I start it up in gear and get it up
on the trailer, shut it off and tell them to get the chains and I’ll hold the brake while they
chain it down. They don’t have any chains. Well, Nassau is only 4 or 5 miles from Lebanon
Valley, so I said well, I’ll sit in here and hold the brakes on and you drive to the track. So
we get going up over this hill, just the other side and Louie hits the brakes on the truck
and the whole tow hitch and bumper break off the truck. He takes off and here I am going
down the mountain on top of the trailer with my foot on the brake in the stock car but it’s
doing me no good. So it slid off the road and stopped and Louie comes back and says ‘now
what are we going to do?’ I said take this sumbitch off the trailer and I’ll drive it to
Lebanon. So we take it off and I start it up and it almost stalls, he’s got the gears in upside
down and I got a three to one in it. We got it to Lebanon and pull up to the backstretch
entrance which is blocked because they’re racing. I get a wrench to change the gears and I’
m under the back of the car and the races stop. ‘Are we going in?’ I asked and Louie says
‘naw, there’s an accident.’ So I’m finishing up the gears and we get in, then we find out
that the wreck was a guy spinning out into the pits and his car pinned Hart up against
another car and broke both his legs. So now he can’t drive the car! ‘Whattwe gonna do
know says Louie’, he was all excited so I drove the car, qualified it but overheated it in the
feature. I left and said I can’t do this stupid shit anymore.” He did though, upon his return
from the Army, Joe worked on the car for Dink Davis with Jimmy Markle driving and won
some more with it.

The sun is shining in on Joe’s kitchen and my father, who is missing his nap is starting to
do his bobblehead impersonation as Joe jabbers along. Fascinating stories continue to flow
from Joe, his ‘rent a racer’ days in which he took a car to Langhorne and met a driver
looking for a ride. The fellow had a guaranteed spot, outside pole, and said his name was
Rene Charland. Ended up ahem ‘borrowing’ a transmission from Mousey Kempster that
day, although Mousey didn’t know it. Preparing a car for Jan Opperman to race at
Syracuse and watching him carve up the tires to run the cushion. “We didn’t even know
what the cushion was, he’d come down the straight and never lift going into the corner.
Amazing driver, really nice guy too.’ Joe built a 300 Ford six cylinder complete with fuel
injection and a turbocharger (obtained from A.J. Foyt) that Jackie Wilson defeated the big
blocks with at Lebanon. “It went like stink once we got it right but I always had trouble
keeping the flywheel on it.” It was with this effort that he conversed with Stu Hilborn and
came up with the idea of the high speed bypass now universally used with mechanical
pressure type injectors. His stories of Rebel and the crank breaking front end bumper he
preferred to take out opponents with. “D.D. liked to just catch their wheel going into a
corner with that bumper. It had just enough give to it to stop the wheel and break the ends
right off their crankshaft.” “That’s the car my brother bought in 1961, it had a high
performance 390 in it. So we promptly take the engine out of the car and put it in the
stock car. Boy, was his wife mad about that.” His drivers through the years included D.D.
Harris, Jimmy Markle, Rene Charland, Jackie Wilson, Dick Hanson, Mike Grbac, Rich
Ricci, Bob Malzahn, Jan Opperman, Dave Buanno, Roger Laureno, Chuck Ciprich and
Ernie Marshall. Heavy hitters. Had the steering wheel not been so close to the seat the list
would have also included Will Cagle and Jim Hurtibise who both wanted to drive his cars
on certain occasions but were unable to because, well, the steering wheel was to close to
their..bodies. Joe’s stories continued and I could easily double what I’ve put down already,
all interesting, all entertaining, Joe’s career could be summed up with his one sentence, “It
sure was a lot of fun.” Joe’s fun landed him in the Lebanon Valley Hall of Fame in 1971 a
well deserved honor. He wasn’t afraid to take a chance on an idea and he epitomizes what
modified racing was about during his era, low buck and being innovative. It was certainly a
lot of fun, and a privilege to talk with Joe and I hope you’ve enjoyed his stories as much as
my father and I did.
The ride home through the gorge on Rte. 23A was a blast, really an engineering marvel of
road building. With the sun glistening through the ice cascading from the rocks all around,
it was hard to remain focused. “Uhhh, there’s not much of a guardrail here Jeff, and it’s
quite a drop”, was dad’s subtle hint to keep my eyes on the road. It sure was nice to get
home and see the boys out in their summer attire. St. Bernards absolutely love the winter
and routinely roll around in the snow like they’re at the beach. Napolean has come a long
way and looks great, always smiling. He’s had a positive affect on both Belvedere and
Winston as they bark, run ,growl, eat, sleep, and oh yeah, go grumpy. Was thinking of
naming my race team dogpyle ent., sure was happy to see the snow.
Flattech Dept.: See Above.
I look forward to my next adventure. Jeff Ackerman, 6256 State Route 17C, Endicott, NY
DD at the Valley
With the injected flathead at the Valley
Joe tow barring with his truck
At Langhorne
From the International Motorsports News
John Grady photo
Article Published in Volume 39 #3, February 27, 2004 in the Gater Racing News
Jimmy Markle
Jack Wilson and Joe.
Jack Wilson.