By Donnel Schmidt
It was back in the mid-1960s and I was out of funding to support both college and racing my 1961 TR4. I heard about and joined the fledgling fire and safety crew that Les Richter was forming out at Riverside International Raceway just to keep my hand in the game—and, if the truth be told, get free entrance to the events. Having recently finished a hitch in the U.S. Navy where I was a Hospital Corpsman, my emergency medical skills were my ticket onto the new team. It turned out to be a highlight of my young life as I mingled with many of my racecar heroes, and I have numerous stories as a result.
One incident I recall happened just north of Santa Barbara at the Goleta airport, a popular venue for SCCA racing in those days. Our emergency team was invited to attend the meet and provide coverage, giving us an opportunity to get some recognition and experience.
It was a hot day and our fire truck and ambulance were parked next to a building that offered some semblance of shade just off the entrance to the track apron with a clear shot between rows of hay bales. The Dodge Dealers Association of Southern California had sold this red heavy-duty four-door pickup to Riverside after it had been used as a maintenance vehicle in Utah at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Someone had installed a pair of very loud horns and loud speakers that worked when you spoke into the hand held microphone attached to the CB radio.
An open practice session was underway when a track steward came running up to us frantically waving his arms and official clipboard. At the same time we acknowledged a dispatch alerting us to a multiple car accident, possible fire and rollover. With everyone on board and the lights flashing I rolled out only to be stopped from entering the racetrack by a disabled racecar with a pair of legs extending out from under the jacked up rig.
I blew the horn, maybe a little too steady, and my team leader in the passenger seat, accustomed to giving orders as Battalion Chief of a large metropolitan fire district, bellowed into the loud speakers with great authority!
Seconds later the prone figure was upright and jerking me out the diver’s door. His clenched fist grazed my chin before my gang of six volunteers leaped to my defense. The mayhem ended quickly and we attended to matters trackside. It was after everything cooled down that an apology was sent from the agitated driver, via a spokesman.
I will always remember the prone driver, Steve McQueen, not only for all the thrills, chills and memorable performances he accomplished on the big screen, but also for his huge talent behind the wheel or handlebars. Most of all I am grateful for his bad aim at my jaw, and for the memory I’ve carried with me for more than 50 years.