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World-record run: ‘Buzzards’ break speed mark for flathead vintage engines

While the general pace of life for Nevada County resident Richard Clelland slowed down in retirement, he’s managed to find a record-setting way to speed things up.

Clelland and his band of “Buzzards” from the Roamin Angels Car Club set a world-speed record in the flathead vintage engine category when he clocked in at 140.17 mph in Utah last month. With Clelland at the wheel of a 1934 Ford Coupe, he broke the 20-year-old record of 138.89 mph.

“It was never really my ambition (to break a speed record),” said Clelland, 66. But the interest evolved from a simple desire to make a flathead engine run fast, he said.



“It’s a challenge to see how fast an old engine can go,” Clelland said.

Clelland watched the races at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah nearly 30 years ago and enjoyed the experience. But that wasn’t needed to turn him into a car enthusiast.




“I’ve always had a love for old cars,” Clelland said. “I used to help my dad work on cars.”

Clelland was bitten by the hot rod bug in the early 1960s and he got his first “muscle car” – a 1965 Chevrolet Impala that he used to race.

After retiring as streets superintendent for the city of Riverside eight years ago, Clelland moved just outside Nevada City near Lake Vera. Subsequently after the move, he found a home when he joined the Roamin Angels. From that, a group of nearly 10 car enthusiasts branched off to form the “Buzzards.”

Clelland said he befriended a couple of guys he met at a car show who like to do their own work and it grew from there to a group that calls itself the “Buzzards.”

The Buzzards include Joe Andre, Cedar Ridge; Bill Brothen, Lake of the Pines; Tom Campbell, Lake of the Pines; Ken Davenport, unincorporated Nevada City; Bob Duncan, Lake of the Pines; Dick Engles, unincorporated Nevada City; Jack Eskelson, Lake of the Pines; Don Meyers, unincorporated Nevada City; and John Qualls, Auburn.

“They all have fun,” Clelland’s wife Cheryl said of the Buzzards. “It’s just hilarious to watch them.”

“Once, I got together with the Buzzards, I got the ambition to make a flathead engine run fast,” Clelland said.

The record-breaking attempts need to be made within the 3-mile course. Clelland had seven runs to try to break the record and he broke the record on the seventh run.

The annual event at the Bonneville Salt Flats has about 500 entrants in the various classes.

While some might think he’s a little crazy to try to break speed records at his age, he has a supportive family.

“If it makes him happy, I’m happy,” his wife said.

The couple’s son Mark is “just elated” with the speed record, Clelland said. He designed T-shirts for the Buzzards, he said.

There could be more cause for elation if Clelland and his group of Buzzards broke their own record next month when they go back to Bonneville Salt Flats.

“We want to bump the record up high enough where nobody else will be able to reach it for 20 years,” Clelland said.

If the team bumps up the record high enough, Clelland said they might try competing in another category with an engine that runs on alcohol or nitromethane.

The next series of races at the Bonneville Salt Flats is Oct. 6-9.

Contact Sports Writer Greg Moberly via e-mail at gmoberly@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4234.


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