Ready to Race
Bob’s dad operated the service station and that is where Bob learned much of his trade of being a mechanic.
“My parents refused to sign release papers allowing me to drive in a race until I was 21,” Burcham said. “In 1956 I built a 1934 Ford Flathead and took it to the racetrack at Cleveland, Tennessee. I started on the pole and thought ‘this racing deal is going to be pretty simple.’ However, once the flag fell, I found myself at the end of the field. I quickly discovered it’s a lot different being on the track than in the stands. I built that car from the ground up for about $300. I had help, but did the majority of the work myself.”
Over the next five years, Burcham was learning with every race and every bolt he turned. Every mistake and every victory would be calculated into his head. He had a very arced learning curve and a sponge-like knowledge of remembering the rights and wrongs of building and driving.
“I won my first feature race in my number 555 (his ’34 Ford) at Boyd’s in the early ‘60s,” he said. “Back then, you could build one of these things in about two weeks. Like I said, I had all of $300 in the car. All I had to do was set the engine, open up the cylinders and crankshaft for oiling and install roll bars. Boyd’s Speedway, at the state lines of Georgia and Tennessee, and Cleveland Speedway were the Friday and Saturday night races for me.”
It wasn’t long before Bob encountered that first wreck.
“At Tri-City Speedway in Kingsport, Tennessee, I drove through the fence. We didn’t use harness straps back then, so I ended up smashing my face up pretty good,” he said.
Fortunately, the accident kept him out of racing for only about a week.