My Feature story...
as written in The Seminole Producer
Local Man Builds America's Racecars
"To go to the racetrack and see
one of the cars I built on the track is just awesome," says Don Dial with
exuberance. "Its even more awesome to see several of them on the
Dial, of Dials Race Shop north of Seminole, builds unique racecars for the serious enthusiast
The smell of dusty steel and hand cleaner filled the air in the shop where racecars get their beginning. Led Zepplin sang on the radio in the background.
The man sanding and smoothing the body of the car and frame does his work with purpose and intent. It is something he has a special touch for, as one can tell by looking at the cars.
Dial smoothed and caressed into perfection the bodywork and framing of a 1999 Firebird for Stacie Johnson. It had to meet the unspoken standards Dial demanded from it.
"It began as nothing," he said. "Just a fiberglass shell resembling a firebird and a pile of steel tubing on the concrete next to it."
Dial, a former airframe and powerplant mechanic and lifetime welder, builds racecars from the ground up. He will design, mold, weld and perfect every system and part in these cars.
A jig sits in the center of the metal shop building. The cool autumn breeze comes through the open doors as he explains the purpose of the jig.
"I start here with building the cars," he said as he pointed to the mass of heavy steel welded into a large rectangular frame. "This is a guide to make sure the racecar chasis will be perfectly straight and aligned."
"I will build the car right on top of here," he continues. "When I get almost done I will lift the body off of the frame to complete the details of the framing underneath."
Dial, who works out at the gym every morning before sunrise, tells of how he has friends help him physically lift the car by hand when moving it from the jig. The car cannot be rolled off the jig because of the way the frame is made.
From the chasis down to the suspension, brakes, and steering, Dial will be responsible for the art of fine tuning a perfectly sound racecar.
The owner of the racecar will put in the engine that will complete the car. The sleek paint work on the car, both interior and exterior, is done by a professional racecar artist in McAlester.
Dial gently touches the car as he speaks of his work. He wipes away speckles of dust as if the car is a piece of delicate china.
"I have went hungry a few times while trying to establish this business," said Dial. "If I had a family, theres no way I could have done it."
"I am starting to make a little money now," he chuckled. "I am paying my bills and eating at least."
Quick with a smile and eager to demonstrate the workings of racecar building, Dial points to the other projects in the shop as he speaks.
"I work on several cars at a time," he says. "It breaks up the monotony and gives me a break from one project to another."
Several cars in different stages of completion are neatly arranged in his workshop. A 1964 Ford Fairlane on blocks is primered gray. The bumper and other accessory parts are held on with clecos, a type of pin used to hold the bellyskins on airplanes before they are riveted into place.
"I learned a lot of good techniques from my profession as an aircraft mechanic," Dial said. "Some of the things I did then, I still use now when building these cars."
A 1974 step side pickup is in one corner, its bed completely removed and standing on end. Several Camaros are in the shop. One of them, a 1986 IROC, is nearer to completion then the others. It gets pushed outside several times a week to be worked on in the sunshine of the day.
The first car Dial ever built was a 1970 Camaro.
"It was beautiful," he exclaims. "I built it for Stacie Johnson also. It won a lot of money."
Some of his cars have been pictured in Hotrod Magazine.
"It is really something to see one of my cars in a popular magazine," Dial said. "And to know that people across America are seeing my work."
"I do a lot of Mustangs.... A LOT of them," he said. "Usually in the 1967 to 1969 model range."
"It is an expensive sport," Dial says. "Some people get into it and dont realize what theyre getting into."
The 1999 Firebird, recently completed, is valued near the six-figure range. It took almost a year to complete.
Dial said he likes to keep track of the cars he builds, but it is sometimes impossible when they are relocated to different states.
With a quiet, reflective voice, Dial said Johnson has been his inspiration to building racecars. Seeing his cars on the race circuit is also motivation, he stated, although it appeared this man already has a mountain of motivation.
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As written by Cheryl Phillips, feature writer, Seminole Producer.