As everyone knows, riding can be a lot more, er, thrilling than driving. I was still scrambling for the seatbelts as the three carbs took in air with earnest. Now we were at full throttle in Second gear, downhill on a misty stretch of pavement. In Third nothing was visible except the mist, the road, then my life flashing before my eyes. Nowhere to go if there was a problem, and out of the corner of my eye, I spied a late-model Buick easing its way across a rapidly approaching T-intersection.
"Look out, there's a car coming!" I yelled.
My fearful plea not withstanding, Jon had already hit the brakes, the car went a little sideways, then he threw it down into Second for a quick moment. The engine screamed in protest, but the brakes took hold and the car finally slowed down.
You know the feeling you get at the apex of a roller coaster: whatever's coming is going to happen and you can't stop it.
"You have to hear this thing in the tunnel," Jon said.
There's a small tunnel in the park, a single 200-foot bore through solid stone with a big rock wall on the curve at the end of it. We idled up toward it and he hammered it again. This time, the rear wheels were way loose, and as we hit the opening of the bore, I was probably screaming louder than the engine. Once inside, it was like a dyno room. That cliff was looming ahead, immovable, and again all I could picture in my mind was going over the cliff on the other side or watching the fiberglass hood fly through the air as the engine burst through the firewall. My only hope was that Jon had been through this routine before and that no other early risers were tooling down from the other direction.
At the last minute, the engine rpm dropped, then screamed again as Jon put it back into Second. The steering wheel was cocked to one side and 3,800 pounds of Mopar steel accelerated sideways through the apex of the turn. Yep, we were still alive, back on the throttle again, and shooting up to the top parking lot. There Jon slowed it down briefly, then nailed it while twisting the wheel a hard left. The Dana was getting worked out big time as twin streaks of black rubber made a complete circle and then some and smoke boiled from the rear tires and mixed with the mountain mist. Facing the access road, the car fought back as Jon straightened it out, just as a carload of young people in a Honda crested the lot. He didn't miss a beat, and we rocketed back downhill. Once past the tunnel, he stopped, looked at me with a nervous laugh, and said, "You drive it now!"
As I slid back behind the wheel, the Honda rolled up beside us.
"Hey, man, do a burnout. C'mon, let's see that thing go again!"
I could only look them in the eye and shake my head no.
This was quite a fix. The park was getting busier and, let's face it, sound carries in the hills. Now, with all the fun stuff done, I was back in the saddle and figured it would be best to leave before somebody in authority saw the car and instantly put two and two together; I can get tickets well enough on my own, thank you. We idled out a side entrance and took a leisurely jaunt back to the interstate.
Once back to our starting point, I put some gas in the tank and tried to settle down. There were rides I'd taken in high school that scared me, but I think Jon's Six Pack Big Smack had taken the cake. We got on the interstate and I nudged the beast up into the triple digits, but that didn't matter at this point; there was no way I could drive that thing like a go-cart.
How many musclecars and their youthful owners had bought the farm driving stuff like this? The car could definitely perform, but obviously Jon had gotten quite used to that margin and knew where the boundaries lay. On the other hand, my past experience had put cars into telephone poles, stumps, other cars, and upside-down. When I asked him if he had ever piled one of his cars, he shook his head no.