DRAG STRIP, SUMMER 1957
© 2014 Chuck Klein
Atop the control tower
at any drag race
runs the announcer's mouth
at a constant and fever pace
"First off we have a few announcements. The ice man hasn't made the scene yet so if you're in need of a cold Coke or somethin' you're gonna have to wait. He is expected within the hour. Next all you cats who plan on racing today please use gate "B" as in baby, baby, baby.”
With the opening of the Beechmont Drag Strip in Cincinnati, Legal drag racing finally came of age in the Midwest. I was most fortunate to have been there. It all came about with one memorable meeting between S.O.T.A and a city police officer. It was believed mandatory to have the blessing of law enforcement and we, the local hot rodders who made up the Southern Ohio Timing Association, found a friend in motorcycle officer, Carl Poppe. After listening to our pleas and promises to curtail street racing, he agreed to represent us to the city council. It was a revelation. Though I was only 15 at the time, I was a junior member of The Knights of the 20th Century - one of the hot rod clubs that made up the timing association.
The financing was done with the sale of bonds. However, we only raised enough money to pave the quarter mile thus the shut-down lanes were gravel and the return track was dirt. By opening day, though, late in the summer of 1957, we had had the return strip coated with copious amounts of used motor oil to keep the dust under
Early on it was Elvis and Smokey
the Everly's, Richie and Fats.
Four-on-the-floor or three-on-the-tree
and DARLING COME SOFTLY TO ME.
My first chore was helping nail the roofing boards on the cinder block restroom. Other tasks included assisting the construction the announcer’s tower and clearing brush – with a shovel, pick-axe and grit.
The spectator and pit areas were grass beaten into dirt which yielded great clouds of dust whenever the wind blew. But nobody really cared - we saw our hard work rewarded when we, at long last, reached the starting line. Club members who weren't racing, either because they didn't have their rod ready, or because, like me, weren’t old enough for a license, were still expected to work at the various posts. Not having a license didn't prevent my driving on the strip, because when an errand needed to be run from one end of the strip to the other, I was the first to volunteer to drive S.O.T.A.'s '52 Ford pick-up. I couldn't go over 10 MPH on the return lane for safety reasons, but on the strip I floored the old truck to reach the wild speed of at least 50 MPH!
Pony tails and fender skirts and
BABY LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL.
Ricky Nelson and Jackie Wilson, Little Richard and Jerry Lee,
Hootenannies and SHORT FAT FANNIE
and OH, OH TRAGEDY.
In those early days my stature among schoolmates was greatly enhanced as I was acknowledged by some of the upper classmen, who had come to race their daddy's car. They'd just say, "Like how's it goin' Chuck?" as I painted the number and class on their window with Bon-ami shoe polish. It was really neat. Here I was, a fifteen-year-old with an official S.O.T.A . armband, a Knights T-shirt and rubbing shoulders with the gods of the local car world. It never occurred to me that perhaps it was these older classmates' stature that was increased; to them, maybe I was one of the gods. This lofty position was responsible for an introduction to Kathy, my first real true love.
She was in the spectator section with a friend of a friend who introduced us. Actually, he was in last year's English class. He called to me as I was performing the task of patrolling the bystander barricade. I stopped and went over to where he and two girls were standing. I don't remember much of what was said after hearing the name Kathy. She was beautiful.
I'm not sure what came out of my mouth other than I had to finish walking the fence line to keep the fans from climbing on it, but she asked if she could walk with me. The race day was almost over, so we didn't get much of a chance to know each other while I completed my task. Mostly, we talked about what music we liked; yes, I liked Elvis, but thought Little Richard was the most. Kathy loved Elvis and Buddy Holly. We both agreed that Buddy Knox's rendition of "Party Doll" was better than Steve Lawrence's and anybody who didn't like Fats Domino was gone. Somewhere, man, a merry-go-round was spinning . . . and I was on it. I was cool enough to get her phone number, which she had to write on a dollar bill because neither one of us had any paper. Using lipstick she wrote her name on one side and her number on the other.
James Dean and YAKETY-YAK
and a screamin' tenor sax.
Three-twos and spinner caps,
drive-ins and glass packs.
CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE HERE