Len “Digger” O’Dell began his race driving career at Langford Speedway, moving to Shearing Speedway just north of Duncan when it opened in 1952 and competing in it’s “Stockcar” class. From there it was on to Western in 1954 where he drove his car to a 2nd place finish in the inaugural main event on May 29th and in addition won that season’s Championship Race.
As he was an American citizen at the time, Digger had to put his racing on hold when he was drafted into the US Army the following year, but he got Chris Benson to drive his car in his absence. Chris did a very admirable job, finishing 3rd in the 1955 points standings at Western. His stint in the army completed, Digger returned for the ’56 season and drove his #88 sedan-bodied Stocker to a 6th place finish in points.
He built a new car, a 1932 Ford coupe, for the 1957 season which was to be his best year. His 2nd place finish in year-end standings included winning a record 9 trophy dashes in a row and 5 main events plus a 3rd in the Championship Race and, in addition to Dave Cooper, he was the only driver to score a clean sweep that season. Digger was also the 1st to hold the new track record for pavement following time trials on June 1st at 20.71.
Running the same car the following season, he had another good year and finished 3rd in points but decided to hang up his helmet at year’s end, selling his car to Bud Hopkins.
Partway through the 1961 season, a young rookie named Gary Kershaw bought Digger’s old car and approached him about being his mechanic. Digger agreed and his wrench-twisting skills coupled with Gary’s natural driving ability quickly made them a force to be reckoned with in the Stockcar class with Gary finishing 6th in points and winning “Rookie of the Year”.
A new “Modified Sportsman” class was formed for the following season and Digger built one for Gary to pilot along with the Stockcar. Their combined efforts put them 2nd for the year in Stockcar points and 4th in the Sportsman standings.
After 3 years away from racing, Digger built a 1953 Ford for his 17 year old son Rick to drive in the “Jalopy” class at Western for the 1966 season. Their 1st race saw Rick time the car in fast enough to make the trophy dash which he also won. Digger also served on the VARA (Victoria Auto Racing Association) Technical Committee that year. Rick ended his 1st season 2nd in VARA points standings and was voted VARA’s “Rookie of the Year”.
A seasoned mechanic and the owner of “Digger O’Dell Automotive”, Digger had long been a very talented engine builder and was rumoured to have invented the Flathead Ford V8 engine which had powered most of his cars during his driving days. He built many of them for his and his son’s fellow competitors, all having the same very distinctive exhaust sound. During hot laps, time trials or a race, one could quickly pick out the cars that carried an “O’Dell” engine.
Digger continued to build cars and engines for Rick as he moved up from Jalopies to Stockcars and on into the Super Stock class, until the end of 1971.
Digger passed in 2013.