--------------BOB DRAKE


"The most famous front-engined car was the Maserati 250F, which first graced the F1 stage in 1954 and made its final bow in the 1960 USA GP, the last race before the new engine rules for 1961 consigned front-engined machines to history. The man who drove the 250F at Riverside was Californian Bob Drake. His place in the F1 record books is interesting enough as it is, but the rest of Drake's life and his place in the golden age of Southern Californian sports car racing makes his story even more compelling."


the Wanderling

Following the end of World War II the U.S. Government was selling every surplus land, air, and sea vehicle, vessel, and piece of equipment they could get their hands on. My dad, much to the contrary belief of almost everybody in the whole world, but as found fully documented in Jeep in a Box, Jeep in a Crate, bought a brand new jeep right off the docks in San Francisco for $225 bucks cash. The CHP licensed it just off the base and we drove it home. Another man, in a fully documented case, bought a P-40 Warhawk in full operational condition for $150.00 dollars and used it as an attention grabbing display on top of his Flying A gas station in Everett, Washington for years and years, a plane that had been flown at one time by the double flying ace Col. Robert L. Scott. A few years later after the war a number of early model-series AT-6s were remodeled, upgraded, and remanufactured in Downey, California similar to the AT-6 pictured a little ways down the page, only to be eventually, shortly thereafter, turned over in some fashion to civilian status. However, for Bod Drake, it was just around that end of the war period he bought his AT-6 along with a couple of other planes, all at give away prices.

By the 1950's into the early 1960's that same Bob Drake (1919 - 1990) had become a prominent sports car race driver in Southern California, the place to be in the heyday of the sport. Drake began racing his own privately owned MGTD in production car races before moving to a much quicker two liter Triumph TR-2 back when production cars were in. He won so often and was so fast, often by many lengths or laps, his cars were challenged at least 5 times in 20 races for being modified. Each time he won the challenges. Even though most of the big team owners such as Tony Parravano, John Edgar, and Joe Lubin had drivers such as Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, and Carroll Shelby on their rosters in their number one cars, it wasn't long before Drake was being noticed and offered rides as well. Whenever he had a top car in a top team he was always a contender to be watched out for, racking up many first place wins sometimes even in the Buick V-8 powered special built by Max Balchowsky called "Old Yeller II."

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Drake and I were in the same place at the same time often, but because of an 18 year age difference, me just being a few years into high school and all when we first met, we didn't actually get to know each other until he heard that a couple of years before I had flown out of an abandoned World War II airfield in the high desert near Palmdale called Victory Field to Texas in an AT-6 (actually the plane and pilot continued on to Texas, but I was left off at my uncle's in Santa Fe, New Mexico), an AT-6 that had been purchased by a rich Texan collector. At the time Drake owned an AT-6 and was highly interested in marketing it, especially if he could get a good price say from a collector willing to pay a good price.

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Mainly, after he found out how the collector's AT-6 involved me and how it circulated around my Stepmother and the famed aviatrix and stunt pilot Pancho Barnes, what he hoped to gain --- through me --- was a jump to the Texan. To accomplish that, one weekend, after a suggestion from my stepmother how to go about it, Drake and I went together to the Van Nuys airport in San Fernando Valley to meet the ex World War II P-47 pilot that flew me to New Mexico. At first the pilot expressed interest in the AT-6 himself until after we all went up to where Drake kept the plane and he saw it with his own eyes. After that, for reasons unknown, he changed his mind. From there the best the pilot could do was put Drake in contact with the collector, basically putting any possible sale to the collector into the hands of Drake. What happened to the AT-6 after that I have no clue.

Unlike the ex-Marine taxi driver I ran away from home to live with, Drake and I were diametrically opposite. For the credibility of the world, to hold what the AT-6 trip did, as far as Drake and I were concerned, was no more than to put the two of us together into a situation where we could carry on a conversation over a lengthy period of time when otherwise it would never have happened.

Drake turned age 20 just at the outbreak of World War II. He joined the U..S. Navy becoming a Navy diver, being discharged with some controversy that continued to haunt him, at the end of the war. Although he didn't talk about his military experience much generally that day, or his discharge ever at all, with me as a kid and alone in the car, he opened up. Most of his diving circulated around plain old salvage, but some of it included attempting to save still alive individuals trapped in underwater wreckage, body retrieval, and obtaining possible top secret documents and equipment from sunken enemy vessels, sometimes while still in enemy territory. Drake's friend and oft time mechanic George Dillaway, who served in the South Pacific and suffered relapses of malaria contacted there for the rest of his life, and who affectionately called Drake a "big pugnacious brute" on a regular basis, says that as far as he knew everything that Drake had to say was pretty much right on, but as Dillaway said, nobody knows for sure.[1]

On February 25, 1942 one of the strangest events of World War II occurred, an event that has pretty much come to be known as The Battle of Los Angeles: 1942 UFO. Drake had only just joined the Navy and started diving school if yet to do so, when a giant airborne object of unknown origin and unknown purpose as large as a Zeppelin if not larger flew over the still dark past midnight skies of Los Angeles. Caught in the glare of searchlights the sky "erupted like a volcano" as a variety of anti-aircraft guns and coast defense batteries all along the L.A. basin opened up unleashing everything they had against it, and all to no avail. Several hours later the airborne object slipped out over the Pacific southbound in a narrow slot between Seal Beach on the east and Long Beach on the west. Famed professor of meteorites and astronomer Dr. Lincoln La Paz came forward saying reports indicated the object went down in the deep marine trench just off San Clemente Island about 78 miles west of San Diego and 63 miles south of Long Beach after a possible brief touchdown on the island. La Paz also said that the U.S. Navy had put more than one top secret deep sea retrieval operations into motion in an attempt to locate the object if it even was or even existed --- and if found to be as such, recover it. None of those two occurrences were known to have transpired on an official level let alone the existence of the object in the first place. However, existing on an official level or not, events put into place surrounding San Clemente Island brought Bob Drake, as a freshly minted Navy diver, into the picture.

According to Drake, during our conversations on our way to and from the Van Nuys airport and the back and forth excursion to where the AT-6 was kept, he, in some aspect or level of training in a Navy dive school or course, had an instructor that was one of the Navy's foremost divers, especially in one notable area, night time deep sea hard hat diving at great depths. The instructor was pulled from his teaching duties to participate or lead a top secret deep water recovery operation off the coast of Southern California and he requested Drake, because of having strong innate diving skills and a tendency toward risk taking tempered by a certain cautious sensibility, to be part of the team. Apparently higher ups agreed because Drake, sworn to secrecy, ended up associated with the San Clemente Island UFO, diving off the coast searching for the unknown airborne object said to have gone down in the deep marine trench west of the island. Drake said he barely got close because he was handling high intensity broad-width light sleds, but he clearly saw something was there and for sure it wasn't a submarine or a ship. He wasn't in on any recovery operation and never heard if there was one having been pulled from the operation and put on routine dive status shortly thereafter.

Drake met his future wife Mary Davis, who was eight years his junior, in San Francisco, California, while she was visiting friends. Davis had been stationed near San Francisco in the U.S. Marines Corps under the banner of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during the war, receiving an honorable discharge just prior to the wars end because of an age discrepancy that surfaced. Somewhere along the way, once civilian life was established, they got married with Davis becoming a major sports car enthusiast and the west coast's number one woman race driver. The two rose right to the top of the Southern California road racing scene, especially after they opened their Grand Prix Restaurant in West Hollywood, immediately becoming the place to be. They divorced in 1961 with the restaurant going to Drake in the settlement and of which almost just as quickly he sold. Davis, quick on her feet turned right around and created, designed, built, and developed the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach becoming a millionaire in the process.







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As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.

Footnote [1]


The decade plus between the tail end of the late 1940's thru just into crossing over into late 1961 early 1962 was just about the high profile golden age of California and west coast sports car road racing. During that period almost everybody who was familiar with the sport had heard of drivers such as Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Ken Miles and Dan Gurney as well as the prominent car and team owners like John Edgar, Tony Parravano, Johnny Von Neumann, Joe Lubin, and Frank Arciero, along with Lance Reventlow and his Scarabs at one end to Max Balchowsky and his Old Yeller junk yard dog specials at the other.

However, as much as the top drivers and teams did to draw in the crowds and make the races more exciting, it is what filled in the bottom rungs that made the races what they were.. It was the production cars and production car drivers that fueled the whole shebang. We're talking mainly affordable British built cars such as MG's, Triumphs, Austin Healys, Morgans, with a smattering of Jaguars along with German cars costing a few more bucks to buy and maintain such as Porsches and Mercedes Benz 300SL's.

One of Southern California's top, if not the top, production British sports car mechanics and tune-up artists who was much larger in scale than his diminutive size would seem to predict, was a man named George Dillaway. I had just got my SCCA drivers license and stopped by his shop to talk to him about installing a roll bar and blueprinting the engine of my MGTD or switch to a Triumph or Morgan and do the same. Joe Lubin's white with blue stripes Aston Martin DB3S was parked inside the shop facing headlights toward the street the day I stopped by. Needing the space and wanting to move the Aston Martin, even though it could easily be pushed by hand as it couldn't have been more than 30 feet to the parking lot Dillaway asked if I'd like to drive it from the garage space it occupied to the parking area next to the shop. He said the only problem was I would have to drive it around the block because it wasn't good to just start it up, move it a few feet, then shut it off.

I eased the Aston Martin out of the garage after a couple of clutch faux pas turning right onto Opal Street barely moving. When I got to the first street instead of turning right to go around the block I turned left then a quick right on Torrance Boulevard, crossed over Prospect past the drive in theater all the while picking up my pace. When I got to Hawthorne Boulevard I made a U-turn heading back west. Just passed Mary's Little Lamb I shoved my foot in it before I slowed to cross over the Redondo city line with two Torrance motorcycle cops right on my tail. I pulled into the White and Day mortuary parking lot and shut off the engine.

Before I had a chance to do anything, Roy Thomas, the Redondo Beach motor officer was pulling into the lot. Seeing it was me, who he knew from my high school days working at Fred and Liz's just down the street, began asking the two Torrance officers why they were in his territory. After a few minutes Thomas waved me off. Just as I was heading toward the exit the son of the owner of the mortuary, Larry by name, came out to see what an Aston Martin DB3S sports racer was doing in his parking lot followed by two motorcycle cops. We had gone to high school together and seeing it was me said he should have figured.

Larry turned out to be an interesting guy. Drove a pagoda top Mercedes Benz 280SL coupe and lived on a boat he owned in the Portofino Inn Marina owned by Mary Davis. His regular female companion on the boat as elsewhere, was a model-like ex-Playboy photo shoot regular about 5'9'' tall with blue eyes, a perpetual golden tan, long straight blonde hair, and that worked for the Redondo post office who everybody called "Jan the Mailman." She delivered mail to my ancient and decrepit and over-the-hill grandmother as a part of her daily route and kept me appraised on a regular basis as to how my grandmother was doing.

Thomas told me later the Torrance cops said I was going over 140 MPH. Not long afterwards Roy Thomas got in a tragic non-accident accident. Someone had stretched a steel cable side-to-side across the old Pacific Electric bridge on Prospect Avenue. At night Thomas was headed southbound on Prospect when partway over the bridge and traveling at a fairly high rate of speed he hit the stretched cable straight-on about chest high, pulling him off the motorcycle and breaking his back