Charles "Chuck" Sanders
By Chuck's Family

Chuck was born in 1939 in Alamogordo, New Mexico. At the age of ten, his family moved to El Paso, Texas where his love of automobiles and racing began. His dad bought him a motor scooter to get to and from school, but Chuck decided to use the scooter to teach himself the art of auto mechanics by dismantling and rebuilding it. Later, while on a visit to a local car dealership with his dad, Chuck ventured into the service department where he received an ad hoc introductory course on the workings of an actual automobile engine from a professional mechanic. After reading Hot Rod, by Henry Gregor Felsen, there was little doubt what direction his future would take. Chuck’s parents recognized and supported his ambitions, even buying him an acetylene torch for his 12th birthday so he could learn to gas weld hot rod parts.

 Charles SandersChuck got his driver’s license at age 14 and worked all summer to buy his first car, a 1946 Ford sedan for $125. He then bought a 1930 Ford Model A from a junk yard, which he turned into a roadster by removing the already drastically chopped top. Over the span of his high school years, he added a bored Mercury engine and crankshaft, a set of aluminum heads, and other parts sourced from a local pawn shop, and his first hot rod was born.

 Charles SandersChuck later upgraded his ride to an early 1950s Henry-J that he modified to accommodate a Pontiac engine sourced from a friend in Carlsbad. It was common in those days for the local drag racing community to trade parts and even cars with each other, helping to build or improve their hot rods. Between Chuck, Dick Harrell, and other friends, these swaps numbered well into the dozens.

Chuck first met Dick while they were both living and working in the Las Cruces, NM area. Chuck was attending school at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (now New Mexico State University) and working for Buddy Carter at his automotive repair shop. Dick often used Buddy’s shop to service his cars and soon developed a friendship with Chuck that led to a partnership when they opened Harrell and Sanders Automotive in Carlsbad. Dick and Chuck spent as much of their time as possible working on cars or racing. A typical racing weekend for the team would entail a Friday night decision to enter a regional event, towing the car nearly 600 miles each way for the weekend, and returning inspired and exhausted to work in the potash mines Monday morning.  Charles Sanders Wanting to see the beach for the first time in his life, Chuck eventually moved out of state to take an auto mechanic job for Buddy Carter at a Volkswagen Dealership in Los Angeles, though his friendship with Dick remained strong. When Dick raced on the West Coast, he would often ask Chuck to lend a hand keeping the cars ready for the races. Chuck once helped Dick prepare his 1966 Chevy Nova for a match race in Anaheim against Hayden Proffitt. On another ‘marathon weekend,’ Dick towed his Nova to Bakersfield for technical check-in on Friday for the Sunday race and towed it back to Long Beach to squeeze in a Saturday night East vs. West Top Ten match race before heading back to Bakersfield. Despite breaking three rear ends and having to borrow a fourth from a friend’s Corvette, Dick managed to win three out of five races that Saturday in Long Beach, defending his ranking at #6 in the west. Afterward, Chuck and Dick worked throughout the night building two new rear ends at Bill Thomas’ shop before heading up to Bakersfield where Dick won the BFX competition that Sunday afternoon.

When Chuck moved to LA in the early 1960s, he still had the Henry-J that he raced back home in New Mexico. After purchasing a dragster chassis and installing the Pontiac motor from the Henry-J, Chuck was actively racing again. Unfortunately, the old Pontiac motor wasn’t up to the task of nitromethane class racing and blew up about 300 feet into its first run down the track. He acquired a 286 ci DeSoto blown fuel motor that could better withstand the extremes of drag racing. During races at Long Beach and Irwindale, Chuck often ran eight second quarter miles at over 200 MPH in nitromethane class races.  Charles Sanders Chuck retired from racing his own cars around 1965 and remained active in the following decades as a valued crew member for other teams. He helped his cousins, Bob and Heather Sanders (founders and owners of Titan Speed Engineering), with their Top Alcohol Dragster over the years and was also invited to join the crew of Butch Blair’s Nostalgia Top Fuel Dragster class team. Chuck recalled that during the 2005 Bakersfield March Meet, they had to change out four engines and six crankshafts on Blair’s dragster over the course of three days and they still managed to win the event.

In 1990, Chuck switched gears to a new kind of race. Chuck was asked by Ralph Day, the owner of Concord BMW at that time, to ride as navigator for the Interstate Batteries Great American Race in his 1940 BMW Roadster. The 4000-mile, two-week race started in Westchester, New York and finished at Disneyland in California. The goal of the race was not to finish fastest, but to travel the course at exactly the speed indicated along a route outlined on a set of instructions handed out each day.  Charles Sanders During an interview at the time Chuck stated, “I’ve never done this type of event, so when Mr. Day asked if I would consider being his navigator, I jumped at the chance...all my [previous] challenges with cars were to see how fast they would go.” Chuck worked at Concord BMW in northern California for nearly 30 years as a Master Technician and Shop Forman. Upon retirement from BMW, he harkened back to his early days owning a shop with Dick in Carlsbad and opened All Star Transmission in 1995. His passion to keep cars running efficiently fueled a commitment to quality repairs through 2001, when he closed the shop at age 62. Chuck is now retired and living in Berthoud, Colorado with wife Iris and dog Teddy. While no longer racing, he still finds time to offer expert automotive advice and assistance to his crew of family and friends.

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