By Gray Bostick
Rare is the opportunity for one to meet a childhood hero, someone you admired, perhaps even emulated, at times, as a youngster. And rarer yet is the chance to spend time with and around that boyhood idol over half a century later.
But that is the blessing bestowed upon Griffin Motors Racing /Team GMR over the past few months as we were able to reunite legendary beach racer Mr. Goldsmith with the very same car he drove in a Modified-Sportsman race on February 21, 1958 – the “Roarin’ Relic,” which is widely believed to be the oldest remaining authentic NASCAR race car remaining, which he’d finished fifth in only two days before winning the final Grand National race run on the 4.2-mile Beach-Road course in a Smokey Yunick prepared 1958 Pontiac.
In explanation, Goldsmith is the only man to win on the Beach-Road course on a motorcycle and in a stock car – and even went on to win on the new 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, as well. From an early start racing war surplus motorcycles around an oval dirt track on a farm owned by Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis, Goldsmith continued to display the skills required to be a consistent winner to such an extent that he was summoned by Walter Davidson and asked if he would be a member of the Harley-Davidson team. Three months later, Goldsmith won at Daytona, the first win there for Harley-Davidson in 13 years. Goldsmith continued to stack win upon win and collect titles at such a pace that he was ultimately elected to be a member of the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
But Goldsmith wasn’t bound strictly to bikes; if it had wheels, Goldsmith was good at it, as evidenced by his record on four wheels. And it didn’t matter what or where. With his reputation as a winner, he also ran the Indy 500 six times, with a best finish of third, and he was soon teamed together with Ray Nichels by Bunkie Knudsen, the head of Pontiac, in stock cars ,and they performed so well and won so often that, given the “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” nature of the sport, Pontiac jumped from the number 8th seller of new cars to #3, behind only Ford and Chevrolet after only one year of the Goldsmith/Nichels partnership.
In short, Goldsmith was a master behind the wheel or gripping handlebars; a good example is the 1963 Daytona Challenge 250 where Paul ran a 1963 Pontiac Tempest on the 2.5-mile track, beating Porshes, Corvettes, Jaguars and such – by five miles; he was so good that both legendary racer AJ Foyt and famed mechanic Smokey Yunick declared him to be the “best pure racer” they’d ever competed against or with.
Knowing of his record and that the Bobby Griffin-Bob Pemberton Trust owned the car he drove on the beach, we made it our mission to host a reunion between Goldsmith and the original “Relic,” a reunion 62-years in the making. We attempted to have him come down to Florida in February for the annual Beach Parade on the old Beach-Road course and see the ol’ gal he last drove in 1958.
But Mother Nature had other ideas as Goldsmith, who had indeed planned to come down, was snowed in the day he planned to fly out of the airport he owns in Griffith, IN. (It was an interesting morning as I tried to reach all the people in Florida whom I’d told that “Goldy” was coming that he, in fact, wouldn’t be available. May have been the closest I’ve ever come to having a full-blown stroke.)
But despite having to cede to a snowstorm, we were not ready to give up, just started working on a new plan to get “Goldy” and the “Relic” back together for their date on the Daytona sands. Checking in with Goldy’s staff, especially his right-hand man, Craig Anderson, we started talking about what would be the best time to look to reschedule, finally settling on August 20 of last year. And when 8/20/20 finally rolled around, Mr. Goldsmith and two of his associates jetted down to Daytona for a beachside reunion with the “Relic”, some interviews, then activities and photo ops over at the Daytona International Speedway, before having to depart for return to Indiana. And the “Roarin’ Relic” left their date to assume her new home in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (MSHFA), into which Goldsmith was inducted in 2008, right on the Grounds of the Daytona track.
With the “Relic,” which is owned by the Bobby Griffin and Bob Pemberton Trust, taking her rightful place on the main floor of the Hall of Fame, on a long-term lease to the MSHFA, we found ourselves in a quandary. We had the “First Entry” a tribute car to its heritage as Entry #1 in the inaugural Southern 500, and now the “Relic” was on display in Florida. What’s next?
We needed a car.
So, we got one – we recreated the “Relic” with another Olds Rocket 88, as closely as possible, mechanically – an in-house rebuilt 1957 J-2 Olds Rocket engine — and aesthetically, to the “Relic” itself. We then had the car hand-lettered and numbered – a rarity these days, and even had a couple decals recreated solely for this project to ensure an accurate representation.
Then we call Paul, The Man, the guy in multiple halls of fame. “When can we bring a car up that we think Mr. Goldsmith would like to see?” I asked of Craig Anderson. And after a bit of sliding dates around we finally determined that April 23, 2021 was going to be THE day, with our primary goal being to recreate the pre-race photo of Goldsmith we had, even down to new white pants with a black stripe and a shirt with black piping on the collar, and to let that freshly-rebuilt 1957 Olds J-2 Rocket engine ROAR as rides were given to friends, family, and employees of Mr. Goldsmith, plus a few who wanted to drive it on the 4,900’ runway at the airport Mr. Goldsmith owns.
And, as crucially as anything, to make Mr. Goldsmith smile with the memories of his time wheeling the “Roarin’ Relic”.
And smile we all did, even after two days of driving the 700+ miles trip, reminiscing about old races and old friends, right there in Paul’s office and lobby, among his friends and family, getting autographs on materials we had carried up, even sharing lunch with the GN Aviation staff and members of the local Sheriff’s office who base their helicopter operations there.
It was probably the most fun you could have for five hours. (That you can talk about!) And it goes far beyond a Bucket List item or a desire to show the proper respect to one of America’s greatest yet most underrated racers; this was a full-on mindblower. To see Mr. Goldsmith alongside that car was beyond special, and just the beginning as he was soon behind the wheel, checking gauges and prepping to let her roar, then doing a brake check on the taxiway – he knew he had to know how well it stopped before he blasted down the runway, just as he did in qualifying for the beach race, by time over a flying mile.
And he’s still got it. He scalded that runway, and scalded it good.
And the smile on his face when he returned will never be forgotten..
From riding winning bikes on the beach, to USAC battles in the Midwest that led to championships, to Indy cars or NASCAR — or just on runways in Indiana, Paul Goldsmith is a straight up, hot-shoe, LEGEND.
And legends live forever.