Top Fuel racer turned shop owner retires to enjoy his hot rod heritage

Tom Walsh says he started going to the drags when he was just eight. Today, he stands in his shop next to the family Bonneville car, winner of the Grand National Roadster Show. Walsh continues to build for customers from his Danville garage.

The Walsh family’s “333” 1932 Ford roadster sits with a customer’s car in the family shop. Driven by son Justin Walsh, 333 has set more than 20 land speed records since 1985, several of which stand today.

Justin Walsh attempted several runs at Bonneville in the Troy Trepanier-built Blowfish, but the team was unsuccessful harnessing the car’s more than 1,000 HP.

Danville, Calif.—Growing up, Tom Walsh said he fixed his neighbors’ cars to support his drag racing hobby. And now, retired after 30 years of owning and operating Tom Walsh’s Dublin Auto, Walsh said he has returned to what he loves — hot rods.

 

“It is all because of my older brother John,” Walsh said. “He had a hot rod and when I was just eight or nine; we started going to the drags at Halfmoon Bay and Kingdom Dragstrip in Lodi. That set the fuse, and by 11, I was driving the push truck.”

 

Walsh bought his first car,  a 1932 three-window coupe while still in the eighth grade, he said. “I bought my second car when I started high school, the 1932 roadster I still have today.” 

        

“To make money to race, I fixed the cars in the neighborhood. I remember convincing my mother she needed a clothes dryer instead of a clothesline,” he said. “As soon as the installer left, I ran the 220-volt line out to my garage so I could have a welder.”

 

Walsh competed in Top Fuel racing from 1963 through 1970 setting records and winning numerous events, he said. “Then I got drafted and did a short stint in the National Guard working on heavy equipment. When I got out, I opened my first shop in San Leandro in 1971 and started Dublin Auto in 1975.

 

“The whole time I owned Dublin Auto I was building hot rods at home at night. I would build one car a year. Ultimately, the growing demands of having a shop took all of the fun out of the repair business. I had great customers and loved the work, but I got tired of all the rigamarole.”

 

Besides building cars and going to shows, Walsh ran an AA Street Roadster at Bonneville, and his two sons raced go-karts nationally for 12 years. “We had a boat then, too. When I think back, I have no idea how we did it all. Between karts, street rods, skiing, and Bonneville, the calendar was always full.”

 

The Walsh family calendar is still full, he said. “I sold my business and rolled my tool cabinets into the garage and went right back to work. Now I build several cars a year for customers and have the time to enjoy it.”

 

The 333 Ford Bonneville roadster was featured in Hot Rod Magazine for the 75th anniversary of the 1932 Ford. The car is still active with son, Justin, behind the wheel. It has set more than 20 land speed records over the years, several of which still stand, including an AA Street Roadster record with Walsh, and A Street Roadster and B Street Roadster records with Justin, he said.

 

“Justin also drove the Troy Trepanier-built Blowfish Bonneville Cuda, which was featured on Discovery Channel,” he said. Though the team was unsuccessful in harnessing the car’s 1,000-plus HP, they look forward to future attempts, Walsh added.

 

“Building hot rods is a lot like racing,” he said. “It is a seven-day-a-week job. It takes passion — you must eat and sleep at what you do. Every morning I get up and walk out to the garage and begin work.” He said the biggest challenge is deadlines and customers making timely decisions. “I can’t get the car done if I am not working on it.”

 

Walsh said that he and Steve Moal, of Moal Coachworks, in Oakland, and three other couples, took their hot rods for a bucket list trip last year. “We shipped our cars to Detroit and we were gone for a month. We put 6,000 miles on our cars, most of it on two lane roads,” he said. “I just loved it.”

 

Moal said, “It was great, we pulled into one little place and Tom had a bandanna over his mouth. When we got out of our cars the owner wanted to know if we were there to rob him. I told him no, ‘We are here for your daughters!’ We all laughed and went in.”

 

Walsh and his family are still hard at it. Besides showing and racing his 1932s, Walsh said he has a 1947 Ford Woodie that he shows at events, including Woodies on the Warf in Santa Cruz.

 

The family is still involved, Walsh said. Wife Diane, works in the front office of Good Guys Rod & Custom Association. Justin, besides driving the family Bonneville car, has a hot rod-themed restaurant, ‘Norm’s Place,’ in downtown Danville.