The death of "Speedy" Bill, as we knew him, was a deeply emotional time, and while we knew Bill was in poor health we always hoped there would be hope. D. William "Speedy Bill" Smith was truly an icon as a hot rodder, a racer, a businessman, and as a friend—and he had many in each arena. Speedy was just that, as he didn't "idle" through life, he always had his foot on the proverbial throttle. He was constantly thinking of new ways to make his race car go faster, broaden his product line for his budding speed shop, or add to his ever-expanding Rolodex. Throughout his life he was constantly "building." Those of us were very proud to call Bill "my friend," and we were even prouder to have Bill call us "his friend."
It's well documented that Bill followed his automotive passion and opened Speedway Motors in 1952, aided by a $300 loan from his wife, Joyce. One night while visiting Speedway Motors a group of us went to dinner and while enjoying the evening I asked Joyce about the $300. To listen to Joyce, she promptly told us, "I'm still waiting to be paid back." My guess is each of them received more than they could have ever hoped for from the other.
I'd like to write about the man and our friendship. I believe he meant a great deal to our hobby, industry, and all the individuals who had the good luck to cross paths.
I went back through my files and pulled letters that Bill sent to me during my career. He was never shy about getting in a few "shots" whenever he could. Never let it be said that Bill didn't know where he came from, was currently "standing," and where he was going.
It was a long time ago but the following is a takeaway from a letter that Bill sent to me about the resurgence of T-buckets in reference to an article we ran in Street Rodder.
"Your recent coverage on T-buckets is right on target. We have experienced a resurgence of interest in these entry-level packages and are making plans to expand our product offerings." All of us were thrilled that Bill would take the time to write a letter and thank us for this editorial coverage. All one has to do is look at the Speedway Motors T-bucket product line to see the commitment to rodders trying to get into the hobby.
On more than one occasion Bill would take us editorial types to task, "How come you West Coast magazine guys never write about Speedway? It's always about those West Coast companies." And then the banter would start. Bill was always up for a little "poking," as he knew well how the magazine games were played. Bill knew he was treated well by the press but it never hurt to remind us that he wouldn't mind Speedway Motors receiving a little more attention.
On another occasion Bill wrote us, "In addition, Ron Ceridono's article on Stromberg carburetors was informative and gave Speedway Motors the attention that a good advertiser needs. Again, thank you!"
After this letter I remember speaking with Bill and told him I wasn't sure if he was complimenting us or making sure to remind us that Speedway Motors was an important advertiser. He told me, "Both!"
One of the best compliments we ever received from Bill came after we ran the three-part series on the Speedway Signature Series '32 roadster. We latched onto one of the Signature '32s, bolted it together over several days, and in no time we had a running and driving hot rod. And, to Speedway Motors' credit, the car went together as they said it would.
Bill went on to write. "WOW! I just read part three of STREET RODDER's buildup on the Speedway Signature Series '32 and felt compelled to write you and share my appreciation. Having played this game for more than 56 years, when someone gets it right, I want to be the first to congratulate them. Thank you and please thank your team!"
In all the years I knew Bill he was quick to point out what he liked and didn't. To have him put pen to paper and sign his name to such a complimentary letter is something that I will forever cherish. Bill was a hot rodder.