Although perhaps not so well known as some American drag racers, semi-professional Bob Keith played an instrumental role in establishing the sport in Great Britain. But his drag racing exploits started like many Californians back in the day when his father gave him a cherry 1940 Ford as his 1955 graduation present. That led to the next 20 years of his life being spent at drag strips across the USA driving a variety of vehicles.
His influence on drag racing across the globe leaped to a different level when in the early 1960s he became one of the first American drag racers to contact Sydney Allard in the UK after reading about his exploits in developing the Allard Chrysler in American magazines.
Regular correspondence (hand written letters in those days) resulted in Sydney insisting that Bob be included in the National Hot Rod Association team that launched the sport in the UK during the 1964 Allard-promoted six-race Drag Festival. Still just semi-professional, but now with a blown small block Chevy dragster in a Tommy Ivo chassis and called Dos Palmas, he found himself in the company of America’s top drag racing stars of the era. What a thrill.
He sold his car to a UK team, helping them learn the techniques to get the power to the ground. The machine went on to play an important role in establishing drag racing in the UK during the next few years under the name Asmodeus, then in the hands of American Bill Weichelt who took the dragster back to the USA. Bob managed to track down this car in later years and Ray Evernham financed its restoration to original condition.
Bob captained the American team that raced at Blackbushe and Woodvale in the 1965 Drag Festival. By this time the small block had been replaced with a blown Chrysler in a Kent Fuller chassis. The following year, with a big block Chevy, Bob captained a team that visited Australia. This car too has been recreated and Bob is recognised as playing an important role in developing drag racing in Australia. He met his wife Lee there and they married in 1967.
Bob kept in contact with many UK pioneers during the years that followed and returned to the country several times. He was very involved in the research for Crazy Horses – the history of British Drag racing. Sadly he passed away during the summer of 2015, but he remembered the period between 1964 and 1966 as the highlight of his career. It is for his involvement in launching drag racing into the UK in 1964 and 1965 that he is being inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
Profile by Brian Taylor