November 30, 2022

Vintage-Nitro

Still car-crazy after all these years

Cover of new Car Tech book: Butch "The California Flash" Leal.

Review: Butch “The California Flash” Leal

Book Name: Butch “The California Flash” Leal
Publisher: CarTech Autobooks and Manuals
ISBN: 978-1-61325-710-4
Binding: Paperback
Number of pages: 162
Year first published: 2022
Author: Bob McClurg

CarTech Auto Books recently sent me a copy of Bob McClurg’s latest book: Butch “The California Flash” Leal. And what a book it is!

Leal has led an amazing life, which includes an incredible drag racing career. There aren’t many drivers who can claim they received factory support from Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler, and Pontiac. And the California Flash has proven himself a winner under each nameplate.

The 1960s saw drag racing transition from casual shade-tree racers to professional, high-tech entries in every category. And Leal was there, competing in Super Stock, A/FX, Funny Car and Pro Stock.

It began with an El Camino Super Stocker

Starting with an El Camino Super Stock entry, Leal progressed to a 409-powered BelAire. He was then offered one of the original Ford Thunderbolt machines. When his first tenure with Ford ended, Chrysler recruited Leal to drive one of the famous altered wheelbase A/FX Plymouths. The Flash then moved to an extremely successful flip-top Baracuda.

Chrysler chose to withdraw from backing funny cars in 1970, so Leal jumped into the Pro Stock ranks with both feet. His success in Pro Stock and Super Stock is the stuff of legends.

McClurg has accumulated numerous anecdotes from Leal’s racing efforts. These “behind the scenes” tales, sprinkled throughout the volume’s 162 pages, set this book apart from other biographies. I already knew much of Leal’s story, but this book has greatly amplified my appreciation of Leal as both a driver and mechanic.

Dodging the Mercury Embargo

My favorite Leal tale in the book is how he got the Logghe brothers to build his original Barracuda flopper. As Leal tells it, when he first saw Don Nicholson’s flip-top Comet, he immediately wanted a similar car. But the Logghe brothers were under contract with Lincoln Mercury so they couldn’t build a Plymouth for Leal.

Leal coaxed Ron Logghe to covertly build him a tube chassis just like Nicholson’s. The chassis was stored away in the Logghe shop while the Mercury contract was in effect.

The day the contract ended, Leal showed up in Fraser, Michigan to pick up his new chassis. There are more details about how Leal got around the Mercury/Logghe embargo but you’ll have to see page 42 of McClurg’s book for the rest of the story.

McClurg explores many other tidbits of Leal’s career, including what happened to Leal’s ’65 AWD A/FX car, why Leal campaigned a Dodge Dart instead of a Plymouth Demon Pro Stocker, how a broken transmission helped Leal get Chrysler backing, how Leal out-foxed Gas Ronda to obtain a tear-drop hood Ford Thunderbolt and much more.

Leal’s extraordinary career spills out across every page. Reading this book will turn anyone into a Butch Leal fan.

The California Flash took a few years off to pursue golf, including a shot at the US Open. An entire chapter of McClurg’s book is devoted to the Flash’s golfing exploits.

The California Flash returns to the Drag Strip

But the greenways couldn’t keep the Flash away from the drag strip for very long. After a mediocre season with a Pro Stock Horizon, Leal teamed with Gil Kirk to field a Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird carrying the Rod Shop banner. Leal was in the thick of things with the Firebird, qualifying well and making it to the final at multiple national events, but he couldn’t put things together for a major win.

Until he defeated Bob Glidden in the final to win the 1985 NHRA Southern Nationals.

Leal would go on to drive the Pontiac to NHRA major event wins at the Winternationals, Gatornationals, and Grand Nationals over the next several years.

McClurg explores every aspect of the Flash’s career, both highs and lows. Leal consistantly generated the utmost performance out of Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, Pontiac race cars. And don’t forget the blown Hemi-powered Willys gasser he drove in 1968.

One thing I wasn’t aware of was just how involved Leal was in building the engines for his cars. He was as adept at porting heads and tuning the induction system as he was at cutting good lights and wrangling a four-speed. Leal was a great driver, but much of his success came from the hours he spent preparing his equipment before heading to the track.

One last thing. The California Flash was only known to me as “Butch” Leal. I’ve never heard him called anything else. McClurg reveals the Flash’s given name, but if you want to know that, you’ll have to read the book.

 

Available from Car Tech Books

Butch “The California Flash” Leal can be ordered from CarTech Books at 800-551-4754, or purchased through the website at www.cartechbooks.com.

 

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Tom Bonner