An innovative visionary in the communications field of auto racing, Doug Taylor has made an impression on the world of motorsports racing as we see it today.
Doug did more than just work in the auto racing field, he reinvented how drivers communicated with their crews and also how fans adjusted to this new way of communications without pit boards. Along the way he built a company, nurtured an industry and shaped the culture of motorsports racing with an unbridled optimism that made the sport what it is today, and will be tomorrow.” Done mostly without any credits or media coverage.
Although most people have never heard of Doug Taylor, founder of Taylor’s Communications & Electronics from Grand Rapids, Michigan, he was there, always in the trenches working on something new for the racing industry to be entertained by. Today the vast majority of race fans and most crew members could not recall the first day the two way radio conversations between the driver and pit crew happened during Green Flag laps. In the early 70’s communications by the driver was limited to only the Yellow Flag laps, because of outside noise from the race car engine.
Most people would probably think that Motorola the big producer of 2-way radios made it work. Wrong, it all started with Bubble Gum chewed by long time Nascar driver Dave Marcis and Doug Taylor to innovate the new way 2 way radio communications would play it’s part in the future of auto racing.
A young and ambitious 27 year old engineer had convinced car owner Jr. Johnson at the Spring Nascar Race at Michigan International Speedway in 1974, that he could make his driver Cale Yarborough’s, radios work better. Johnson called Doug up as soon as he got back home from the spring Nascar race at M.I.S. and wanted to send Cale’s radio equipment up to the confident Taylor and added, that he needed them back for the Firecracker 400 at Daytona in July of 1974.
Doug told Johnson to hold off on sending all of Cale’s radio equipment, until he had a day or so to find out delivery on the parts he needed to make it all work. Taylor told Johnson that he would get back to him in a couple of days. The young engineer was on the phone the next morning trying to procure parts he needed to make it all work, when an Air Fright truck pulled up to Doug’s home, with all of Cale’s radio equipment. Doug just being fresh out of the Air Force where he was a Flight Simulator Technician on F4 Phantom Jet, was living home with his parents.
Doug still not knowing what the parts availability was, had to put everything into overdrive. The parts that were needed made it to Taylor’s home in time were he went to work on Cale’s radio’s on his parents kitchen table. Doug didn’t have a shop yet, so it was made due with what you had. Doug also remembers his father telling him to clean the table off as supper was ready. The project was on and off the temporary work table many of times in the next week, but the job finally got done in time and shipped out to Johnson’s Race Shop for it’s departure to Daytona.
Doug didn’t know what the outcome of the race was, until Jr. Johnson called him a few days after the race because they didn’t have good media coverage back in the day and told him that Cale had a photo finish for 3rd. He went on to tell Doug that during one of the early Yellow Flag laps he asked Cale how things were out there and Cale said “Talk to me I can hear ya”. Doug knew right then, that he was on to something good. The results of that race, put Doug’s company in the forefront of the business.
Doug at the time was just making his competitors radios work better than they could, remember, still only on Yellow Flag laps. The phone at Taylor’s Communications started ringing with the next customer Hoss Ellington, car owner of legendary A.J. Foyt’s USAC Stock Car. Same results, except Foyt went on to win the race at Michigan International Speedway in July 1974.
Word traveled fast, as Doug had yet another call, this time from Benny Parsons. Benny flew Doug down to the Southern 500 in 1974 just to look at his radios, yet another brand name of radio. Doug was unable to get the time off of work, so he quit his job, so he could focus on his new career. Doug spent all night in the motel room working his magic on Benny’s radios. Benny lead the first 100 laps of the race the next day, before he crashed. But Benny told Doug that the radios never worked that good before.
Moving onto the Daytona of 1975, Doug was confronted by Dave Marcis, an independent driver that did allot of stuff old school. Dave got by on a shoe string of a budget and a lot of times, would make what was not there. He told Doug that his radio system didn’t work very good and added that he was working on something, but really didn’t know how to perfect it.
He went on to explain what he had, that got Doug laughing. What Dave had was a tiny little transistor radio “earpiece” that he had in his ear, with Bubble Gum stuffed around it to seal off the noise around the tiny speaker and ear. The more he talked the more Doug listened. He added that what he was on too, worked better than the speakers in the helmet, which only worked during the Yellow Flag Laps. He told Doug to take the idea and perfect it with his knowledge. Speedway Media Story about this by Angie Campbell.
Doug did what Dave told him to do and come up with the “Ear-mold” concept. The Ear-mold was made by taking an impression of the drivers ears, making a mold out of them of soft silicone (much like a hearing aid) and embedding a tiny little speaker into them. These Ear-molds worked so much better than the speakers in the helmets that leaked engine noise into the ear. First of all, the Ear-mold was an earplug that sealed the noise out and second its speakers puts clean audio directly into the ear canal, with the absents of engine noise.
Drivers were now able to talk to their pit crews, while racing under Green Flag laps. Slowly but surely the pit boards started its demise from the pit areas. At first, it was just Nascar drivers, that was using the Ear-molds, but then Doug had been working with the Indy car drivers. Some tried it and liked it, but most thought, that if they were in an accident, it might hurt their ear. Doug, frustrated with there non-acceptance, left most of them with his other competition.
The first Nascar driver to try the new earmolds was Darrell Waltrip who was with DiGard Racing at the time. Doug received a Thank You letter from Buddy Parrott, Darrell’s Crew Chief right after their first race using them, Darrell had pulled the wire out of the earmold taking his helmet off, so Buddy sent them back to Grand Rapids, for a quick mend.
Doug’s next customer was Glen Wood who met with him at the Spring Nascar race at M.I.S. David Pearson was driving for the Wood Brothers and Doug worked all day Saturday during practice and qualifying to put his expertise on the their low powered Motorola radios. During Sunday’s race Glen Wood said the radios worked better than they ever had, as David Pearson went on to win the race. Doug at this point was glowing with approval at what he had just done, as he watched the whole crew running for Victory Lane, he was the only sole left in the Wood’s pit, when all of a sudden Glen reappeared calling Doug to join them in Victory Lane. Two weeks later Bernice (Glen’s wife) sends Doug the Photo of the Crew in Victory Lane with a Thank You letter attached to it. That photo proudly hangs on Doug’s Office wall.
Doug was working with local Beltone Labs dealers at first, but got involved with Westone Labs, a Denver based earmold manufacture in the hearing aid business. Doug realized from an early stage, that this company produced a far superior product than anyone else in the business.
One good thing going for Taylor, is the company had a satellite laboratory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, just one hour from his shop. Westone, a family owned and operated company, had a family member running each of these labs dotted in strategic corners of the U.S. Turnaround was quick, as Doug would send ear-impressions out on Monday and they would be back on Wednesday, with a same day service as well, if he drove down to Kalamazoo.
Rusty who run operations at Westone in Kalamazoo was an innovative technician and helped Doug design many variations of the ear mold concept through the years. Taylor said he has about 30 different designs on his adaption of the ear mold used by almost every race team in the world.
Doug still working out of his families home was encouraged by his father to get a shop, which he did get. Doug sold CB radio’s and hi tech car stereos out of the small store on Plainfield Ave. in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He used the back room to design the race car radio systems that would bring him the success he longed for.
Out of that little shop, Doug’s retail and wholesale business grew to become one of West Michigan’s largest distributor of CB radios and hi tech car stereos. But, as one door closed in Doug’s life a couple more opened, as he started to design and manufacture a small line of lap timers for race tracks. The timers sold at a slower rate than Taylor anticipated and after a few years he dropped the line of timers in1978. After the design of the Ear-mold, Doug began a series of innovations that transformed his already small shop into a bulging business in need of expansion.
Doug in 1977 leased a closed up Goodyear Store on Plainfield Ave. NE in Grand Rapids, Mi. and opened up a Independent Good Year Tire Store with a complete automotive service center.
Instead of selling washers and dryers like all the other franchised Good Year Stores, Taylor loaded his store with the latest in CB radios and hi tech car stereos. This adventure included retail and wholesale outlets. The main reason for getting the store was for the garages and was shared between mechanical work and installation of radios and CB’s. Besides the installation of car stereos from the retail sales, Doug had contracted with many of the Grand Rapids Car Dealers to install high tech stereos into their new cars for sale, as the major auto manufactures didn’t have high end radios from the factory yet.
That all changed in 1979, when it seemed all the auto manufactures come out with some sort of high end radio option for their cars and trucks. It had an immediate effect on Taylor’s business. That’s when Doug realized that he just could not be at all these places at once, so he closed all his retail concerns, which turned out to be a blessing. Without the store, he now could travel a lot easier.
Taylor’s Communications was finally making its way into major league auto racing and the future looked good with a new radio manufacture called Standard Communications Corp. (S.C.C.) that Doug took on to make a race car radio package to sell. There was a problem, as S.C.C. best radio was under powered for super speedways at the time. It made for a good short track system, but higher wattage radios were needed for the big tracks.
Some of Doug’s first Standard Radio customers were Dick Trickle, Mark Martin, Bob Sennecker and many others. These were their first set of race car radios.
Doug now batting 1000 was happy with his results, but frustrated that he was just making his competition’s radios shine in the glory on the Super Speedway level. Doug needed a good High Powered 2-way radio line to make a package to sell to race teams. Doug finally got hooked up with a driver from the Darlington Dash Series that sold the 4 Watt Motorola radios needed for super speedway use.
His first order in 1982 from Motorola was for Mark Martin who was racing in the ASA Series at the time. This was Mark’s second radio system purchased from Taylor and to be the last radios ordered from Motorola by Doug. After hearing of the Martin radio order the company refused to accept any other orders from Taylor.
It was very obvious that Motorola didn’t want Doug in the race car radio business. Doug felt this pressure mostly from Nascar’s Competition Director Bill Gazaway whom at every chance made Doug’s visits to the Winston Cup garage areas, not happen. It was a simple fact that Nascar and Motorola were sleeping together.
For the most part, none of this made any sense to Doug, as he would just be selling more radios for that company. But, as that door closed, another door at Standard Communications, Inc. opened, this time with a high powered, 5 Watt UHF 2-way radio that Doug could use for his Super Speedway radio systems in 1982, Motorola’s high powered UHF radio was only 4 Watts.
Now that Doug had a major brand of 2-way radios to design his systems around, his business grew in leaps and bounds. Taylor’s Communications was selling radios from a small shop on the NE side of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Besides Nascar and ASA drivers, Doug was now selling to racers from Nascar Sportsman & Modified Divisions, ARCA, SCCA and IMSA and all the short track race teams that raced outlaw events.
Within two years Doug had sold systems to the vast majority of Nascar Modified drivers, including the legendary Richie Evans and Jerry Cook. Doug said it was like a domino effect at first, but slowed to a steady flow of system orders. Doug was doing this mostly from word of mouth from one driver to another. Doug was the first to advertise his race car 2-way radio systems in National Speed Sport News, one of the leading racing papers back in the 70’s and 80’s. Doug said it was one of the best things he did for the business to get his name out there.
In 1978 Roger Britt a snowmobile racer approached Doug and ask him if he could make one of his 2-way radio systems work on a Race Sled for the I-500 Snowmobile Race in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Doug’s radio system worked and started another outlet for his communications business. Doug went on to lease about 20 two-way radios w/headsets to the I-500 Race Committee in the early 80’s to run the race, that got Doug’s start in the two-way radio rental business. Taylor went on to work closely with MIRA (another snowmobile racing association) with their communications needs, along with supplying their drivers with two-way radios for a number of years. Doug also designed an FM Broadcast System for every race, where fans could tune the PA announcer in on their FM radio. The system was well received by racers, crews and the fans. Roger Britt is currently the flagman for the I-500 race.
Every year for 3 weeks in February Doug was going down to Daytona Speed Weeks to work all the races, but since he had the Good Year Store from 1977-1979, it was pretty hard to be both places at the same time, so he elected to stay in Grand Rapids. Doug was invited to a 1979 Daytona 500 Party and on the last lap of the race there was an accident evolving Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison.
Doug had been installing equipment into all of Cale’s helmets since 1974 and had just done 2 helmets for him just before the 1979 Daytona race and had Wayne Moeckles from Wayne’s Sign’s from Byron Center, Mi. letter both of Cale’s helmets free, as Wayne wanted to expand his business into Nascar. At the time Wayne was the “Official Sign Painter for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway”. Wayne ended up being the Chaplain for American Speed Association (ASA). (RIP my friend)
So Doug was real proud of how these helmets turned out. There was two helmets, one helmet was a little larger than the other because Cale had a “Cool Helmet” system in the second helmet which required extra space for the cool tube liner.
You need to ponder back to those days, as the drivers didn’t have the lavish paint schemes on their helmets as they do today. They were lucky to have their car number and or their name on their helmet, most drivers had nothing.
So, as the dust cleared and the cameras showing Richard Petty winning the race, the cameras turned quickly to a fight that had erupted between Cale against Donnie and his brother Bobby Allison with Donnie and Cale hitting each other with their helmets. At this moment Doug got very excited and started yelling real loud at the party “No, No, don’t ruin the helmet”, referring to Cale and Donnie using their helmets to hit one another. Daytona 1979: Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough fight!
Everybody was asking why Doug was so upset and he finally explained that he had just got done with Cale’s helmet and that he had just got it painted for him with his sponsors colors on it and didn’t want it ruined. Everybody had a good laugh.
Then one day in 1979, Doug got a call from a Mel Larson, a friend and driver who use to race Nascar with Glen Wood from the Wood Brothers Racing. Mel Larson had called Glen Wood and asked him who he got his radios from for their race car? Glen pointed him in Taylor’s direction and Doug went on to design the first 2-way radios for APBA Unlimited Hydroplanes. Mel Larson , CEO of Circus Circus, owns Miss Circus Circus hydroplane.
It was just another arena for Taylor to expand his communications business in and expand he did do. Doug doesn’t remember who give Billy Martin his number in 1978, but it turned into yet another arena of communications, as Billy owned the “Bounty Hunter” the World Champion – APBA Offshore Power Boat. He told Doug that his Intercom in his race boat didn’t work very good and asked Doug what he could do.
After a few years working with this new group of APBA Offshore Powerboat racers including soon to become 3 time world Champion Betty Cook (Kaama), Billy Martin (Bounty Hunter), Hiroaki “Rockie” Aoki (Benihana) and Sandy Satullo (Copper Kettle) Doug become good friends with a lot of these people from drivers, sponsors and race officials.
In 1982 Doug heard that his old employer Coral Gables in Saugatuck, Mi. was going to host a National APBA Offshore Powerboat race on the Lake Michigan. With no hesitation, Doug contacted Mike and Topper Johnson, sons of his past employer Tom Johnson and arranged to assist with the scoring of the race. APBA would use the two-way radios on check point boats, to give the run down of the race in real time to race headquarters, which has never been done before at any APBA Offshore race. Doug would repeat this Hugh undertaking again at the “Northport 200” Offshore race in the sleepy little town of Northport in 1983 and again in 1984. The Northport race basically raced down into the West Grand Traverse Bay to Traverse City and back to Northport. Those race’s were well attended and drew well over 100,000 people to the area.
In 1988, Taylor hooked up with WLAV (Grand Rapids, Mi. FM Radio Station) to give live broadcast/reports on the “Spirit of America” Offshore Powerboat race at Grand Haven, Michigan. WLAV had reporters on all the check point boats, so the race got excellent coverage, because Doug put the receiver at the top of the Grand Haven Lighthouse and Doug and his girlfriend and a U.S.C.G. official got to watch the race from the best seat on the water. This was all done with Doug’s new sideline of radio rentals and his innovative visions on how to organize already organized groups.
Doug at this point was now in the two-way radio rental business, which ushered in a new host of clients. New clients included two security companies that did security for rock concert venues in West Michigan. Doug explains that the benefits also included getting in free to these concerts: Bob Segar, Willie Nelson, Santana, ZZ Top, Glen Campbell and others that he couldn’t go to, because of commitments with his Nascar and ASA clients.
In 1982 Michigan International Speedway contracted Taylor’s Communications to direct all their 2-way radio operations. Doug first began his contract just maintaining the 70 2-way radios used to run the operations at the speedway, which included all fire and rescue trucks, maintenance crews and operations managers.
The very next year, Taylor expanded his contract to furnish 8 radios w/headsets for the media/pit information team of reporters.
Now wearing two hats at the speedway, working for M.I.S. and also the race teams, give Doug opportunities he probably would have not encountered otherwise. Doug had been working on a system to interview drivers while under the Yellow Flag, as far back as 1974 with ABC Wide World of Sports at the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C. They declined to use the system, because they thought at the time it was illegal by FCC Rules.
Doug knew it was legal and approached M.I.S. with the concept. Al Uncer Jr. was the first driver in all of motorsports to be interviewed over the tracks PA system with Doug’s “Yellow Flag Interview System”. Before this, the race fan had never experienced the inside thoughts of a drivers intent and outlook during a race. It’s been said, that there was an article written about it in one of the Detroit papers, as it was a motorsports first.
Below is a page from Michigan International Speedway Media Log from that day!!!
Doug at the same time contracted with “Diamond P Sports” (The Nashville Network) to set-up and operate an interview system for all ASA Races. Brock Yates and Steve Evans (Network announcers) were really impressed with the new concept of media coverage and used the system just about every caution period.
The concept was excepted well by race fans and was quickly copied by other Networks. After a couple of years the major Networks added in-car cameras. Taylor feels his original radio interview with Al Uncer Jr. spurred all interest of this kind of media coverage and never did get the credits do from the idea of the design.
In this time frame of Taylor’s operations, Doug yet did something so amazing, that years later, he still has to pinch himself to know he is not daydreaming when he talks about it. Racing was always in his thoughts, but never ever thought it would happen. He raced Go-karts as a 13 year old, but that doesn’t count here. We’re talking M.I.S. Super Speedway.
Doug was getting a few complaints about same systems not working as his others did, so he leased a brand new ASA race car and went out to see, what it was all about. He thought being in the drivers seat, is where he could design the answers he needed with hands on experience.
With all the work behind him, procuring the lease of an ASA race car for a September 1983 race at M.I.S. Doug was ready to go racing. In the early 80’s, Doug was getting concerns, of a few complaints on same type systems. Not, proving that the drivers were hard of hearing or just can’t chew gum while they raced, he went out to find out, just what it was all about. There was nobody Doug knew that would let him take their race car for a few hot laps, so, he had to go lease one and the only way to get on the track was, of course in a race.
So, Doug leased a race car, motor and put together a crew. Went to M.I.S. for the Sept.1983 Indy car and A.S.A. race. Doug took 5 practice laps, 2 qualifying laps and later he was 30th out of 32 cars and in his first race ever. Wow, he was in a race. Something, he always wanted to do. These ASA race cars were a little faster on the M.I.S. track than their cousins Nascar Winston Cup cars.
His friend Dick Trickle was confronted, as he run the rookie driver’s meeting. Any driver, even though he has raced for 20 years, if he hasn’t run a super speedway, he’s still considered a rookie there. And, has to have that yellow strip on his back bumper. Somebody asked Dick at the meeting about Doug and stating that he never even raced before. Dick just said with a big ole smile, “Doug’s a Raw Rookie”. So, he was coined that. He knows he was a real underdog, but hell, nobody knew Doug was just going to stay out long enough to test his equipment and when the leaders caught up with him, he was going to duck into the pits and call it a day.
Well, things turned out quite differently. A driver/customer of Doug’s passed him while under the first yellow, as he was almost at the tail end of the field. Needless to say, it ticked him off. He thought to himself, that he was going to pass him back, even, if he had to crash his car to do it. Well, the car didn’t crash and he passed him and allot of others. He found out that Harley Bovey (Port City Racing) who built the Howe 5th Design race car and did the set up, did his job good. The car was set up to fly, which it did. Doug was running about 15th when 13 laps from the end of the race, there was another yellow. Everybody hit the pits for gas and tires including Doug, but he only had gas, as he run the whole race on a set of used tires. The only driver that didn’t pit was Rusty Wallace, who went on to win. Doug beat everybody out of the pits, because he had no tires to put on, just needed gas. That made him 2nd on the scoreboard, in front of a crowd of about 100,000. What a thrill he said. The green flag dropped and 3 cars with new rubber just flew past him. Two laps later he developed a push, from the worn out tires and slipped back to 8th, were he was pulling away from the cars behind him at the finish. The race was finally done and 8th place isn’t too bad for a Raw Rookie. Just think what he could have done, if he could have put on new rubber at the last yellow!
Doug only raced a very limited schedule the next couple of years. Being, his own sponsor was tough. If, he would only have known how the race would have ended like, he said he would have went out and pursued a big sponsor. This will always be the big thrill of his life, that’s for sure !!! He just didn’t know, that he had the racer in him.
The very next year, he traded in his Howe 1983 5th design car for a 1984 car. The 5th design proved superior over the 84 design, by far. He went down to the Sept. 1984 race at M.I.S. again and qualified 22nd. He had to rent a 4 speed transmission for the race from Bob Sennecker. Dick Trickle said he would just let him use one of his 3 speeds, but Doug made the mistake of renting Bob’s 4 speed, which leaked through the whole race. He was up to 7th place and racing back and forth for that position, when the race officials black flagged his car for leaking oil with 13 laps from the end of the race. He still managed to finish 19th. Still not bad for the 2nd race of his life.
The next year 1985 at M.I.S. He fielded the same car with a changed front clip (front chassis suspension) back to a 5th design type. During qualification at 200 mph the right exhaust header broke loose and all that pressure pushed the hood up and it caught all that air and ripped the hood apart. He didn’t crash, but thought he was going too. At lease only the right side of the hood was torn away. But, the time to fix the hood and header proved to short and he didn’t make the race. Doug Said, “It’s all about the journey, just being there, trying to compete against drivers that have been my hero’s while growing up, was an honor.
Below is a Quote from Doug:
Thanks Rex Robbins, President of ASA for believing in me and allowing me to race in your organization. It will be truly something I will always remember. And Thanks Mike Eddy and Ed Howe for all the advice and support you gave me, while at the track and off.”
About the same time frame Taylor’s Communications added 3 repeaters to his growing local two-way radio business concern. Two business band repeaters were placed on the WLAV Broadcast tower and one on another tower. Taylor would then rent space on his business band community repeaters to companies in the Grand Rapids area. This repeater replaces the expensive towers that a business would have to erect at their place of business in order to have two-way radio communications. This was all before the days of cell phones.
This part of Taylor’s radio business would last until Nextel come out with their version of the two-way radio on their cell phones, in the late 90’s. Most small business owners chose the combination radio/cell phone in one, rather than the repeater system Taylor rented. Slowly, his repeater business declined to a point Doug just sold all his systems and clients to another 2-way radio associate in the area. Another blessing in disguise, as Doug was always tied to these repeaters and made travel difficult, because of maintenance.
Getting tired of all the BS that went along with the politics of doing business around Nascar, Doug started looking for other alternatives to making a living. Traveling for work really wasn’t his big thing to do. So, he got into the construction business and worked for a friend for a few years, who was also a driver. He later went to work for the local electricians union as a journeyman communications technician. But, found out in short time, that that wasn’t his bag, as he had to travel. Again, he was looking for his niche and found it in the broadband communications field. Still in the electronics arena, he built and rebuilt cable systems for the major cable companies. A big part of the job is being a lineman and working out in the elements. It has it’s rewards, being you never put weight on and you sleep real well at night. The best thing he liked was that the birds would sing to you all day and there isn’t the high pressure of the racing world. But, again time pasted and the business was taking him farther away from home to work. So, from being an Electronics Systems Design Engineer for 40 years, he yet needed another change. He has been doing allot of planning since 1994, with his little hobby, turned business. “This job is going to be the one that I’m really going to love”. He says. This time, he plays as being a wood artisan, building miniature, replica, to scale lighthouses. www.TheLittleLighthouseFactory.com. What he was doing for fun, is now putting money in his pocket. He boosts “There is nobody that does this quite like me. I have a saying, I bet the Jones don’t have one of these “. Also, in the works he’s building a sawmill to do custom sawing and millwork. Doug moved to the U.P. of Michigan, where he can make up the rules as he goes along. He says it makes for a calmer Doug!
Doug has often wondered, if there would ever be a major company out there, that would want to back him on his “Freedom System ll”. And once again, challenge Motorola, this time on a fair playing field.