there he went to flight school where he
earned his military pilot’s wings. He
continued flying for the rest of his life
and was adept at piloting everything
from a Piper Cub to a 707. After three
year’s active duty he remained in the
Army Reserves and continued to fly.
He ultimately retired as a major.
When Ronald Reagan was cam-
paigning for Governor of California,
Smith was his pilot. He said that each
time they landed the plane, sometimes
three or four times a day, Reagan
made it a point to stop by the cockpit
as he exited to thank the crew for a
At SAAC-1 all of the historical
race cars were parked in a foyer near
the hotel’s entrance. There weren’t
many of them back then because re-
tired race cars were just beginning to
acquire interest, value and panache.
CSX3035 was parked near a side door
of the ballroom where the dinner and
evening program were held. We con-
cocted a surprise for the start of the
program. A false wall surrounded the
ballroom, creating a ten-foot space
around its perimeter, primarily used
by the waiters and busboys. We de-
cided to roll CSX3035 in through a
service door and when the master of
ceremonies began to speak, he would
open his remarks by saying something
about Shelby American being known
for horsepower. At that point Smith
would start the Cobra and lean heav-
ily on the gas pedal. The sound of the
427’s unmuffled side pipes inside the
narrow passageway would reverberate
and shake the walls.
As soon as we heard the word
” Smith touched the 427
off and it sounded like an explosion.
People inside the ballroom were
shocked and startled until they real-
ized what had happened. Then, know-
ing smiles broke out on everyone’s
face. Everyone except for the hotel’s
banquet manager, who freaked-out.
We had not informed him in advance
because we were pretty sure he would-
n’t have allowed it. We figured it was
better to ask for forgiveness than per-
mission. We quickly pushed the Cobra
back outside and tried to act like noth-
ing had happened.
Dick Smith was a regular, racing
his Cobra at the Monterey Historics
every year and we planned our vaca-
tion around that event every August.
We spent a lot of time with Smith out
at the track, telling stories and swap-
ping lies. He was a very enjoyable per-
son to be around and always attracted
a large group of friends. At one point
he and I were discussing our time in
the Army and discovered that we had
both gone to Officer Candidate School
at Ft. Benning. In fact, we had both
graduated from the 53rd Company.
Even though we were ten years apart,
it established a bond between us sim-
ilar to that of fraternity brothers.
Smith was a popular guy and
whenever he raced he attracted a
steady stream of friends and well-
wishers who would stop by his car to
chat. When he was talking with some-
one and another person he knew
walked up, he would introduce both of
them to each other and would include
a short description to provide some
context of how he knew both of them.
This is my friend, Joe Shlabotnik. I
went to high school with him
.” Or, “
used to race against each other in the
.” Or, “
He runs the hardware
store near me.
” Smith was genuinely
happy to bring two people together
with himself as the common link. I
watched this happen over and over,
every time I saw him.
When he would introduce me, he
would say, “
We were in the same OCS
” as if that was all the expla-
nation that was needed. I never said
anything, but if the third person had
any military experience, I could see
the thought cross his mind: either
Smith was the oldest OCS second lieu-
tenant in the world or Kopec was the
youngest. It always made me smile.
Sadly, Dick died in April 2007, at
73 years old, when the small plane his
son was piloting crashed in the moun-
tains southeast of Los Angeles. Wind
shear was thought to have been the
cause, causing the plane to drop out of
the sky in the blink of an eye. His
death was a shock to everyone who
knew Dick because not being able to
control an airplane he was flying in
was simply unthinkable.
The SHELBY AMERICAN
254 Fall 2015
Smith at SAAC-1 in Oakland, California in August 1976.
Colleen Kopec waits for her ride at Ontario Motor Speedway dur-
ing SAAC-3. When giving rides, Smith was always partial to fe-
males. Many a guy was left standing in the pits waiting patiently
for a ride while Smith circulated the track eliciting high-pitched
squeals of delight from his female passenger.