© 2014 Chuck Klein
He drove a hot rod Ford
That could lay a fat black patch.
That punk was a fool
Whose daring had no match.
Bonnie Sue knew, deep down, that he wasn't a "bad kid," but some of her friends and especially her mom didn't see it that way. Tommy, she felt, was just frustrated, though she wasn't sure what it was that he was so antsy about. He didn't do well in school, but he was very smart. He had, after all, figured out, without any help, how to take his car motor all apart and put it back together again. Besides, he had said he loved her. True, it was only once and in a fit of passion. It was on a Friday night, last month, at the drive-in. It was one of those Francis the Talking Mule flicks. The movie was boring so they just made out. Tommy kept trying to touch her where she didn't think he should. They fought, she cried, and Tommy said, "I really love you, Bonnie Sue, I mean it."
Bonnie Sue was sure that if only they could both finish school, get married (and Tommy in a good job) she'd be able to change his fast driving ways and other things that might need adjustments. Right now all she wanted was for her man to be here.
Tommy, at sixteen and a half, was one of the more dedicated and speed crazed hot rodders in his sophomore class. Though he had never applied to one of the hot rod clubs for membership he was always thinking about joining - if they would take him. That was the rub. He'd already had two tickets for speeding and he had a reputation for fast driving on city streets. Hot rod clubs frowned on "squirrels," as they called them. He had never shied away from a traffic light race even when Bonnie Sue pouted about his high speed drags. Problem was, he couldn't figure her out. She was pretty enough, but she was always talking about love and all that mushy stuff and she only sometimes seemed to enjoy the drag racing - legal or otherwise. On their first few dates she had been all excited about his races even going so far as to taunt one of her girlfriends because this friend's steady drove a stocker.
But he was really burned up that she had so little regard for the fact that he held the record for the Train Run and now must defend that honor. Johnny Medford, with his Daddy's brand new '55 Olds 88, had bested Tommy's record by at least 50 yards. For Tommy to let this go unchallenged would be like wearing your sister's bloomers or something equally unthinkable.
The troubles with Bonnie Sue culminated last night as they sat sipping Cokes in the lot of the Chester Pike Bun Boy. Removing his arm from her shoulders to light a Lucky, Tommy asked, while trying to make it sound like a casual mention, "Will you ride with me when I go for the Train Run record tomorrow night?"
"Oh, Tommy, you're not going to do that again are you?" Not waiting for an answer she continued while tossing her pony tailed head in a dignified affront, "Tommy, I swear you're going to kill yourself one of these days with all this crazy...."
"Come on Baby I just have ta do it, ya dig. I'm not gonna to be no chicken hearted punk. I'll be the coolest cat in town if I beat that harry-high-schooler in his daddy's stocker."
"Tommy, Tommy, it's so dangerous. I just worry that you'll be killed and I won't have you. I think you're the coolest guy at North Anderson anyway. Winning The Run can't make you any better in my eyes.” All pouty faced, Bonnie Sue pleaded, “Please, just for me . . . don't do it."
"Aw, don't cry honey. I know you dig me and all, but this is something I just have to do. Besides it should be a snap. The last time, I had so much reserve power I ended up backing off before the tracks. And since then I've added dual points. And, hey, I'll put in new plugs in the morning to be extra safe! Don't sweat it," Tommy boasted, flicking his butt over the trunk of the flopped top of the faded black '51 Ford.
The object of his non-romantic desires, the '51, sported two-deuces with chrome racing air cleaners and glass-packed dual exhaust. It was not only fast but it sounded cool, as only a flathead could. In addition to the Mallory distributor he had recently added, he was planning to install Offenhauser high compression heads and maybe a Clay-Smith cam. His after school job at Wylie's Pure Oil Station didn't allow for many luxuries even though he was top paid of all the part timers at $1.10 per hour.
The rest of the evening was like, no-wheres-ville. They ended up, as they always did after a date, parked at the old abandoned army base down near the feed mill. Every time he tried to put the move on Bonnie Sue she'd scrunch up closer to her door and whimper about how she just wasn't in the mood. Chicks! Who could understand them? What kind of mood could she be in parked in a lover's lane? He took her straight home, not even walking her to the door. Then he pealed out because he knew it would make her angry.
Saturday, Train Run day, was chilly for September in Texas. Tommy had managed to install the new plugs between pumping gas and oil changes at Wylie's service station. The powerful flathead was running cherry and sounding very sweet. The soon-to-be nosed and decked rod had even been given a wax job, compliments of the kids who hung out at the station. Kids, of course meant anyone who wasn't old enough to have a driver’s license. These kids, in hopes of being able to get a ride to the race area would do almost anything for the privilege of seeing one of their idols in a run against death.
Just before quitting time, Johnny, riding in Delbert's straight eight Pontiac because his dad had stripped him of his driving rights upon finding out about the Train Run, stopped in at Wylie's.
"Hey Mr. Cool, I hear tell that you're gonna try to beat my record tonight?" Johnny sneered.
"Yeah, that's right sonny and I'll do it in a rod I built myself, not in my daddy’s stocker," Tommy shot right back in a menacing tone.
"Why, I ought to climb out of here and...."
"Okay, Okay, punks. Enough of this tough-guy talk. Do you guys wanna belly-ache or race," Delbert demanded, taking control of the pre-race details. "Now listen up: me and Harry as witnesses, plus about a dozen kids, watched Johnny here, beat the train from the no passing sign through the intersection. Now if you want to beat this record you must start at the end of the guard rail. Ya dig, Tommy?"
"Well, I was thinking about starting halfway between the sign and the rail and...."
"No, no that won't do. You have to use a permanent fixture, dig. Otherwise cats would be claiming to have started at all kinds of locations and the record would be muddied. We talked about it and that's the way it has to be. So, unless you're yellow we'll see ya five minutes before the eight-three-eight," Delbert stated.
Curling his lip, Tommy spat, "I ain't yella - I'll be there."
He didn't have time to be nervous only time to shower, change clothes and chow down with his mom and sister before heading for Bonnie Sue's.
She wouldn't get into the car unless Tommy promised not to race the train, almost tearfully pleading - promising "anything" if he wouldn't make The Run. Too late. Even the thought of "anything" with Bonnie Sue didn't change his mind, though for a moment or two he had his doubts.
Tires squealing and defiance in his eyes
With his girl he had a fight
he cut out for the showdown as she cried,
"I know I'll grieve if you race this race tonight"
Continued on next page...
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