The Birmingham News
Tuesday, May 16, 1995
By: Clyde Bolton
When Lee Hurley was watching Bobby Allison's racer pitch off the trailer and crash into seven passenger cars in 1970, he probably figured his name would be on nationwide radio.
But as a victim of strangulation, not as The Car Doctor That Takes House Calls.
Hurley, the brightest mechanical star ever produced by local racing, has signed a contract with ABC to host a national call-in radio show by that name.
Hurley built the engines that powered 13 victors in sports car races at Daytona, he fielded winning stock cars for Neil Bonnett, and his motors took Allison to Winston Cup victory lanes. He still does research and development for Chrysler. But the misadventure of the rambling racecar makes the most memorable story. Hurley drove racers himself, beginning in 1966, and he achieved some local prominence. He won 14 straight Limited Sportsman features at the fairgrounds in Birmingham. But in 1969 he was seriously injured in a crash in Jackson, Miss., and his driving career shifted into low gear.
"Bobby Allison was driving for Mario Rossi," Hurley remembered, "and he came and got me out of my den when I still had a cast on my leg and convinced me I needed to work for Chrysler. He put me to building motors for Chrysler."
Hurley created hemi engines for Allison in 1969 and 1970. Allison was runner-up to Bobby Isaac in Winston Cup standings in 1970, by just 51 points.
But he should have been first. "The reason he finished second," Hurley said, "was because Chuck Looney and I were on the way to Hickory, N.C., for a race, and the race car came off the trailer and went into a used car lot in Bremen, Ga., and tore up seven cars.
When everything cleared, Chuck said, ‘Somebody has got to call Bobby.' I said, 'You're driving, so you call him.' He said, ‘I can't, I'm scared to death'.
So I called Bobby at 5 a.m. and said, ‘Bobby, nobody's hurt, but there's been a wreck'".
The upshot was that Allison had to borrow a car to compete at Hickory, and "it blew up on the first lap. If he had had the points from that race he would have won the championship that year."
One day a teen-ager walked into Hurley's racing shop and said he heard he could use some help. Hurley put Neil Bonnett to work sweeping out the garage, and a career was launched. Soon he was Hurley's driver.
"He had it in his blood even then," Hurley said. " There was more determination in that boy's heart than anyone in the world. I believe if you'd ask Dale Earnhardt who was closest to being his equal, he'd say Neil. He trained under Bobby in the big cars, and Bobby taught him how to think. He had that talent and desire, and he also had that killer instinct. Nothing satisfied him more than putting doughnuts on Dale's car. They used to talk about him turning the 3 car into the 30 or the 03 car."
Hurley, 53, operates HESCO, a company that performs specialty car repairs and maintenance but also does work for the general motorist.
In 1992 the local Better Business Bureau asked him to host a 15-minutes weekly auto radio show. Then it became 30 minutes. Then an hour. Then two hours. Then five nights a week.
Anything automotive is fair game, from NASCAR to news of hot rod clubs' cruise-ins, but mainly the show has Hurley offering advice to callers about their passenger cars.
Like watch out for trailers hauling race cars?