Chuck Daigh

The Unsung Hero

Carroll Shelby once remarked, "There are only two people I can think of who could sit down, take a welding torch, build their own chassis, go out to test it and then win races with it. They are Jack Brabham and Chuck Daigh. I put Chuck in the same category as Jack."

Chuck running on Daytona Beach in a '56 T-Bird

Except for the war years, Chuck Daigh has been associated in one way or another with internal combustion engines. At age 15, while still in high school, he ran a Union Oil gas station in Long Beach near where he grew up in Paramount. In his eighth decade he was busy at work preparing a car for a record run at Bonneville. Between those times, he had a legendary career both behind the wheel and wielding a wrench. Bruce Kessler said recently that he thinks Chuck was the most under appreciated racing driver of his time. According to his Sebring teammate, Dan Gurney, "Chuck was not only a excellant engineer, but he also could drive the wheels off a car." Dan went on to say, "when I got into racing, I soon found out who the real heavyweights were. In those days, Chuck was like a god to us."

Chuck was born on November 29, 1923. His father owned and operated a garage where, according to older brother Harold, they grew up. Both were typical "hotrodders." They made a car with a Model A chassis and an Alfa Romero body.

Along came the war, in which Chuck joined up and served with 517th regiment. In the Spring of 1943, the division parachuted into Sicily and later dropped near Salerno, Italy and took Naples in October. The next month, they left for England to prepare for D-Day, when they jumped into Normandy. After the Battle of the Bulge, they took Luxemburg, where Chuck was shot and mustered out in 1945.

Returning to Long Beach, Chuck and Harold built a track roadster and raced it at Carroll Speedway in Gardenia. Chuck was out practicing when J.C. Agajanian came over and asked Harold who was driving. Harold said, "Oh that's Chuck and he is just fooling around." J.C. replied, "I don't know about that, but he just broke the track record."

Chuck in the Troutman-Barnes car

In 1952, Benson Ford hired Chuck, Clay Smith, and Bill Stroppe to build Lincolns for the Mexican Road Race. Chuck went along as a riding mechanic and navigator. His first Sports Car race was a Moffet Field in 1953 piloting Jim Lowe's Frazer Nash. Then he came fourth overall in the main event at the October Terminal Island Race behind the wheel of the ex-Dan Parkinson (Phil Hill's brother-in-law) Jaguar Special. His first Sports Car victory was at Willow Springs in May 1954 driving his Kurtis with a Lincoln engine. Next, he started driving the Troutman-Barnes Special for Dick and Tom. After winning the Fall 1955 Santa Barbara Race, he campaigned the car for another year winning more than his share of races and always was a front runner.

In 1957, with help from the Peter DePaolo Team, Chuck was the first man in history to drive a Thunderbird at the speed in excess of 200 mph. Quite a feat with a stock body that had a streamlining effect of a brick.

Also in 1957, Lance Reventlow asked Troutman and Barnes to build an All-American Sports Car. The partners wanted to involve Chuck, so he went to work at Warren Olson's shop where the car was to be constructed. Warren said of Chuck, "He was one of my two most valuable employees; the other being Phil Remmington. Chuck would try anything. If something didn't work it didn't bother him. He would just try something else or do it a different way." Chuck was responsible for the Scarab engine, suspension, and brakes. The first Scarab, the Mark I, won it's second race at Santa Barbara with Lance at the wheel.

Chuck in the Scarab MK II

The first bigtime professional road race in Southern California was the U.S. Grand Prix for sports cars sponsored by the Los Angeles Times in October 1958. Lance had named Chuck for his #1 driver and entered two Mark IIs. Chuck won against very serious competition, making a name for the marquee. That year, in a Scarab, Daigh won the opener at Meadowdale. At Montgomery he defeated the Cunninghame Lister Team led by Walt Hansgen, and won at Laguna Seca and Nassau.

After the Scarab days, Chuck raced at Sebring three times, winning one with Dan Gurney in a Ferrari Testarosa. He also raced in Europe, including Silverstone and LeMans, usually in a Maserati. During Carroll Shelby's GT-40 effort at LeMans, Daigh was in charge of carburation. Even so, the Ford mechanics thought they knew better. Bruce McLaren went out to practice and complained, so unknown to the factory people, Chuck fixed the problem. Bruce credited both his LeMans wins impart to Chuck.

Chuck didn't confine himself to four wheels. He had a very successful career with Offshore Ocean Racing. With the boat Thunderball, Chuck not only built the engine, but was also the throttle man while working in his shop in Costa Mesa.

His last project for the past 5+ years was the Streamliner. His goal was Bonneville to BREAK RECORDS!!! He will ride in it again!

After a brief illness, on Tuesday morning April 29th, 2008, Chuck Daigh passed on. He was 84 1/2.

Chuck's Racing Career

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Chuck at '07 Monterey Historics

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Chuck's Memorial Service

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