Bill Shrewsberry may be best remembered as “Wild Bill” driver of the LA Dart wheel standing Dodge Dart. But before stepping into the seat he drove a series of funny cars for Mickey Thompson, Jack Chrisman, and other distinguished owners. Bill started his racing career in 1960 at Dragway 42 located in West Salem, Ohio. Shortly after that he moved to California to drive cars for Mickey Thompson. The first being one of the six factory built 421 Pontiac Tempest LeMans Coupes. His first major national win was in 1963 when he won the Winternationals at Pomona, California while driving Thompson’s Super Duty Pontiac. He was soon the dominating competitor in NHRA’s newly formed A/FX factory experimental class. In 1964 Bill one the Winternationals again but this time driving Jack Chrisman’s four-speed A/FX Mercury Comet. That same year he won a national speed record at Inoykern, California, with a 11.02 ET at 127 MPH in Thompson’s Super Duty Pontiac.
While he continued driving the factory “hot rods”, in 1965 Bill met George Hurst, inventor of Hurst Shifters, and they quickly became good friends. Hurst had designed and built what he designated to be an exhibition “rolling research laboratory” Plymouth Barracuda he named “The Hurst Hemi Under Glass”. The car was powered by an injected 426 Hemi coupled to a Hurst four-speed shifter with the engine resting over the rear end. George’s plan was to get the Hurst name in front of the racing world with the Barracuda with Bill as its driver. Bill accepted the driving assignment and the car was debuted for the very first time at the 1965 NHRA Springnationals in Bristol, Tennessee. While the plan was for “regular” exhibition runs, only after replacing the original 8-inch tires with new set of 10-inch tires, the car instantly became a wheel stander.
The car was not built as a wheel standard, but after a few runs Bill learned how easy it was to get it into a wheel stand and the decision was made to make it a real showstopper as such. With individual braking for each rear wheel; Bill was able to drive the car straight with the frontend in the air for the length of the track. Also, the original version of the car was powered by an injected aluminum Keith Black Hemi. Before long Keith convinced him to bolt a blower on top of the engine which added to it showmanship appeal and allowed the engine not to have to work so hard.
After the Hearst Hemi Under Glass, in 1966 Bill put together a program with the Los Angeles/Orange County, California Dodge Dealers Association to build a Dodge Dart which he debuted as the LA Dart. The Dart also had a 426 Hemi and body was painted with red and white stripes becoming an instant success. It was also during that time Bill met car builder George Barris. Barris was the builder of the famed Batmobile which he often displayed at various venues. George asked Bill to drive and exhibit the Batmobile at drag strips and circle tracks all over the United States; an arrangement Bill found to be both fun and rewarding when he saw how much the kids enjoyed it.
In 1970 Bill changed the LA Dart to a rear engine blown Keith Black aluminum supercharged Hemi with a Lenco two speed transmission. This added to the distance and speed the car could stay up on two wheels and the cars showmanship appeal. The LA Dart was always a showstopper and tremendously popular. Over the years there were four different LA Darts. Three were stock bodied and the fourth was a funny car body. Over the next 12 years Bill ran these cars all over the world from the United States to Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and Monte Carlo.
Bill put together a program in 1980 with the Knotts Berry Farm theme park in Buena Park, California as a sponsor. He built a blown 426 Keith Black Hemi powered 1929 Ford panel delivery wagon which he exhibited throughout the Pacific Northwest, West Coast, New Zealand, and Australia until his retirement in 1988.
Always the showmen Bill never turned down a decent appearance opportunity nor the opportunity to sign autographs for the fans. Bill today remains as one of the legendary ambassadors of the sport; doing keynote speaking at club car meets, and maintaining an advisor relationship with the NHRA Museum in Pomona, California.