Memories Of Our Misspent Youths
Street racing is one of those things that can get magazines, such as Mopar Muscle, in trouble. After all, Wally Parks spent decades trying to make drag racing legitimate, and we all drank the Kool-Aid editorially trying to convince ourselves it really didn't happen. Since Stunkard and I partook in such experiences back in the old days, we decided this was a worthy subject to discuss, and since we weren't the only ones, we thought other enthusiasts might have similar stories to tell. So last spring we posted a question on Moparts.com asking for different street racing experiences people have had. The idea was the truth-no more, no less. Now mind you, we're in no way condoning street racing, we're merely retelling these tales of old. We used the screen names on the Internet to protect the "innocent" (yeah, right)
Nobody officially knows where street racing originated. One thing is certain, it's illegal and thrilling. When you're staring down a length of highway you're about to cover in mere seconds, knowing full well that if Johnny Law catches ya you're in a pile of deep stuff, the feeling is comparable to the feeling you had while sneaking your girlfriend into your bedroom (sorry, Mom). Your nerves get shaky, your pulse starts racing, and the thought in your mind is I can't miss Third, in either situation.
Anybody who has ever driven a musclecar while in high school can remember cruisin' the local circuit looking for action, and none of us would admit it then, but each of us thought our car was unbeatable, even if only against a Volkswagen. There's nothing wrong with that, and we all laugh about it now. Though they may not have happened that way, our stories all kinda lean to the win side in our memories. You know, the older I get, the better I was! So sit back and clear your mind, because as you read the excerpts here, we'll bet you'll be able to smell street rubber burnin' and hear motors windin' in the midnight air.
The Good Wife
My woman has more racing stories than I do right now. She gets to drive my 340 Challenger, while I get stuck with the Slant Six Dart. Every other night she comes home and says something to the effect of, "You'll never guess what happened. These guys pulled up next to me in a [insert vehicle of choice here] and they started revving the motor and smirking 'cause I'm a girl. Then the light changed, so I smoked the tires and kicked their [insert appropriate piece of anatomy here]. Did I do good, honey?"Yes, dear, you did great. Sigh.
It was the summer of '76 and I had just put a new 340 in my '66 Dart that had 273 emblems on the fenders. Anyway, I'm cruisin' Belair Road in Baltimore County, my girlfriend is with me, and I have only about 250 miles on the motor and have not run it hard yet. Well, along comes this '69 350 SS Nova, so I pop the clutch and jump him at half throttle, then he comes up and I let him go by. Well, this happens for three red lights in a row and my girlfriend says, "How long are you going to let him do that?" (that was the coolest thing she'd ever said to me). At the next light, I pop the clutch, nail it, and jump a car length on him before I hit Second gear. He gets alongside me and puts a half a car length on me; so, still in Second gear, I pull back alongside him and put a half a car on him again. I grab Third and put another car length on him with no trouble and now I'm doing 85 in a 40 zone, so I back out, as I think I proved my point. He lets off and won't come alongside me any more. It was great, and what a great way to impress your girlfriend! Too bad I've grown up and have better sense than that now! Ha ha!
Q: How did my dad find out I was street racing?
A: It turned out he was one of the cars being held up on I-295 one night when I was racing, and he recognized my car on the starting line. Oops!!!
Running from the Boss
Houston, summer of '74, and I was out cruising in my Silver '69 Road Runner coupe. Earlier in the year, I'd purchased a 440 Six Pack engine out of a wrecked '70 Charger R/T, complete with headers and a Mallory dual-point. I'd left the 383 emblems on my car and the exterior was stock-appearing, right down to the painted wheels and dog-dish hubcaps. I was looking for a local rich kid whose father had bought him a '69 Boss 429 Mustang, which he was convinced was the baddest car on the east side.
As I cruised Woodforest Boulevard, I saw headlights approaching rapidly from behind and sure enough, it was the Mustang! We stopped at a light and agreed to meet on the feeder road of Interstate 10 for the run. We lined up there, and I told him we would leave when he honked his horn. At the sound of the horn, I nailed it and the Mustang pulled about a fender length on me, but I gained it all back on the shift to Second. By the time I hit Third, I had him by two car lengths and was pulling away as we crossed the painted line that marked the finish.
We were approaching the onramp to the freeway and I hit it without lifting, heading for home, and to my surprise the Mustang was following me as if he wanted a rematch! We moved into the left lane, never slowing down, passing traffic in the right lane at more than 100 mph, when I noticed that one of the cars in the line was black and white with lights on top! Sure enough, it was a state trooper and the lights came on as he swung out in pursuit. To this day, I don't know what I was thinking, but I decided to run, and I figured since the guy in the Mustang was behind me, I had a chance. As I stayed on it, I pulled away from the Mustang guy who had the trooper parked on his bumper. I went over an overpass with about a 200-yard lead on them, and as I came down the far side, there were two yellow freight semis in the right lane. I locked up the brakes and pulled between them to the tune of air horns and flashing high beams. Almost instantly, the Mustang blasted past with the trooper close behind. Either the cop didn't see me or he just didn't care. They were soon out of sight, and I took the next exit and drove home.
I remember being so scared, I couldn't get the key in the door when I got home. I lay wide awake in bed all night, waiting for the police to come banging on the door, and wondering how I was going to explain this to my dad when he had to bail me out. Luckily, nothing ever came of it. But I heard that the driver of the Mustang spent the night in jail and a few months later was driving a Cutlass Supreme! That was the first and last time I tried to run from the police.
I had a little '70 318 with 340 heads, a little porting, a Thermoquad, headers, a 3:55 SureGrip, a small cam, and a three-speed in a '74 Duster. I used to visit a rival high school to see if I could meet one or some of their ladies, so to speak. A guy in a '66 'Stang with a 351 four-speed kept harassing me. Everyone told me he was fast. Day after day, I kept hearing, "Here comes the Plum," and I was asked to race, but I always declined, since I recently had some points deducted off my license and wanted to stay clean. After about four months of abuse, though, I'd had enough. We made a date and we met on a straight, wide road. He asked me if it was for money or what? I told him it was simply for "respect." I told him we would run once, and if I won, from that time on when we meet while cruising, he was to "tip his hat." The distance was six light poles, no more, no less. We staged and the old Duster snapped outta the hole about half a car length. The unrespected 318 screamed until there wasn't anything left, and left the 'Stang "squealing from the feeling." I had him by two full-car lengths by the last pole. He never forgot to "tip his hat" after that, and I never heard the "Plum" comment again. My poor little 318 finally got a "little" respect, although he was telling everyone a 340 smoked him.
It was the summer of '85. I was 17 years old and, at the time, the proud owner of a '69 Chevelle SS 396. My car was the 350hp version, but it had some additional goodies, such as a Holley 800, a Comp 292H camshaft, an Edelbrock Torker intake, headers, a Muncie four-speed, and 4.11 gears. It ran 12.90 at 107 mph on 9-inch slicks. Saturday nights were usually spent with my girlfriend, but we had a falling out on this particular night, so I decided to go solo to Gratiot Avenue (the east side of Detroit) for some cruising. It was always packed, and I had several red light jousts that night and won them all.
About 12:30 a.m. or so, I remember pulling into a White Castle for a snack before the 45-minute ride home. When I was getting ready to pull out and leave, a guy approached in a Panther Pink '70 Road Runner. It was a 440-6 car, and he had the Air Grabber open. He asked me if I wanted to run and, not being a cop back then, of course I accepted. He led me to the Interstate 696 service drive east from Gratiot. At a stop sign, we both brought the rpm up a bit, nodded, and we were off. First gear was a joust to see who could catch traction first, and the cars came out door to door. It was like a race scene in a movie, as we grabbed gears and took turns pulling back and forth a few inches each time one of us shifted. At about 90 mph or so, we both grabbed top gear, and I knew my Chevelle always rewarded me with a strong top-end rush. To my surprise this time, the Road Runner seemed to hit Overdrive, and the guy pulled on me pretty good. When we let off, I can remember the reflective decal on the RR's trunk about two car lengths ahead of me.
We both pulled off on a side street and he gave me a Pabst and we b.s.'d until about 1:30 a.m. A few hours later, I remember telling my dad about it. These words ring true today. He said "Gary, if you're ahead of a Mopar in a race, let up before you get to top gear. Something about them Mopars."
I can still smell the interior of my old car, I can hear the tire spin on each shift, and I swear I can hear the ting-ting-ting of the hot exhaust system after the race. I can also taste that lukewarm Pabst too-unreal!!!
Bloomfield Hills, MI
It's 1973 in El Paso, Texas, at a place called the Ysleta cutoff, southeast of town. I had just returned from Vietnam but was still in uniform. I bought a '68 Hemi Road Runner before leaving and stored it at my dad and mom's house in Oklahoma. Before leaving for 'Nam, I put on a set of Hooker headers, bought some slicks, and added a pinion snubber. At Green Valley in Dallas, I had turned a best of 12.4 at the time-pretty fast for a mostly stock Hemi. Anyway, I left Oklahoma to report for duty at Fort Bliss, and after getting checked in, I decided to cruise El Paso and check out the action. On Memorial Highway there was a Bun-n-Barrel Drive-In (or something like that) with several good-looking cars cruising through, so I pulled in. These guys in a '69 big-block Chevelle came over. "It this a real Hemi? How does it run?" One thing led to another, and they told me they street raced on the Ysleta cutoff and if I thought my car was so fast, I should show up and prove it. I had stacked my slicks back at the base in my room, so I went to get them and picked up another sergeant who had a 340 Dart. He knew where the place was, although he had never raced there. By the time we arrived after changing the plugs, the races had already started, and we saw a couple of small-block Chevy IIs go at it. I felt like a real stranger, since I had the only Mopar there; even among the bystanders lining both sides of the road, I didn't see another Mopar. By then, the headers were cool enough to uncap, and we pulled the rear tires off and mounted the slicks. The guy with the Chevelle came over and yelled "Let's go," so I pulled out on the highway and cleaned the slicks off. The surface of the road wasn't too bad but had a nasty crown.
We pulled up alongside the guy in the Chevelle, and a guy with a flashlight flagged us off. The Chevelle immediately got a jump out of the hole, but I was used to this since almost every car I race pulls me off the line; so I counted on the top-end power of my Hemi. I grabbed the gears at 6,500, got excellent Second and Third gear changes, and blew by him about 200 feet from the finish. We pulled over and this guy was pissed. His was the fastest car out there and he was a regular at El Paso Dragstrip, almost a nonstreetable car (I learned a lot of this later). To get defeated by a Plymouth had him whipped into a lather.
He demanded a rerace; they raced here one way, then turned around and raced back. It was as flat as Phyllis Diller and had desert on both sides forever. So after watching some more cars come through, we pulled up to the line. The guy with the flashlight flagged us off and the Chevelle went up in smoke. I was going to beat him off the line! I grabbed Second, and all of a sudden, here came the highway patrol or something-lights flashing and two of them covering the road. I hit the brakes, spun around, and headed back to grab my buddy. As soon as I stopped, he jumped in, and I looked the other way up the road and a single car with lights flashing was coming. Being in the Army, I couldn't get caught up in this, so I turned into the desert and took off. After driving about a mile, I switched off the lights and went as far as I could remember the ground looking OK and stopped.
We waited and waited. We could still see the highway off in the distance and the cops seemed to have rounded up a bunch of the people. When the headers cooled off, we capped them back up. By then, the road was clearing out, so I eased back toward El Paso, knowing I would catch a side road. Luckily, the moon was out, so by that time, we could see our way pretty good.
I lost a set of wheels in the deal. I went back the next day, but they were gone. Oh, well, I was planning to put mags on my car anyway. I ran into the Chevelle many more times, but always at the dragstrip. The guy never liked me. God, I wish I had a time machine
Oklahoma City, OK
The early '80s still had a lot of machinery on the street, and the biggest haunt for regular action near my folks' house in Delaware was South Philly. There were a lot of street rats, some real serious big-money hitters, and even the beginnings of the import races. The police would run us all over the south end of town by turning on the fire hydrants at the race spots. Front Street was the best-known spot, but Delaware Avenue bordering the docks was also popular.
One night, I took my Charger and a Pontiac-addled friend up for a few hot laps. On Delaware Avenue that night, I got into a race with a guy in a Nova; both cars in primer and a little bit of original paint. The races were rarely set up; you ran whomever was in the opposite lane. On this run, somebody pulled out in front of me as the transmission went into Second, so I hit the brakes and went around the loop (railroad tracks divided the north and south lanes). I lined up again with the same guy. This time, we were able to get a little farther, but somebody pulled out on him. More than an hour had gone by, and we still hadn't gotten a good run. The guy and I looked at each other and laughed as we got back in line; this time, it was going to be flat out. At the start, we were side by side through the middle of Second when the rollers showed up to stop the evening's activities. The guy in the Nova was able to get down a side street, but I was totally busted. Exhibition of speed, drag racing, and some minor vehicle infractions added up to a nice, fat fine; luckily, the car wasn't impounded. I took it home, begged my mom not to tell my dad, and sold some of my Lionel train collection to pay the fines (more than $300). I lost my Pennsylvania driving privileges for two years as well; it cost another $150 and a trip to Harrisburg to fix that. That was the end of my street racing days, and I took up drag racing photo- graphy to make up for the loss. As Paul Harvey would say, "Now you know the rest of the story."