PRE-INTERSTATE ROAD RACING, Pt. I
© 2014 Chuck Klein
Preface: This is part one of at least six parts about racing on public streets and highways – narrow roads that were void of white edge lines and reflective warning signs - the days just prior to the Interstate expressway system. The cars, during this era (1958-1961), were sans radial tires, disk brakes or power steering.
110 MILES IN 110 MINUTES - 1958
The hands on the suburban Cincinnati clock tower showed seven-ten as we, Hard riding shotgun and Jimmy in the back to watch for cops, headed north. Hard, whose real name was Howard, was so nick-named because that’s the way the country boys he worked with at the gas station pronounced Howard. These are the same guys that used a ‘ranch’ to work on cars in the ‘gruge’. Hard was invaluable in knowing when to pass on the right in the little towns that we roared through. He seemed to sense the power of the little V8 in relation to the allotted passing space. Jimmy was the kind of guy that could charm anything from anyone – we were a skilled team.
Traffic was moderate as we sped out State Route three, weaving in and out of the cars that got in our space. Hitting the first stretch of two lane highway just outside the city limits a long line of cars greeted us. But, good fortune was in our favor as nothing was coming the other way. I pulled over the center line floored the gas pedal, locking the Ford-O-Matic in passing gear, and shouted, "Pick a number from one to ten."
Jimmy yelled back, "Nine."
"Count 'em," I said, as we started to pass them all.
We got to eight before we had to duck back in behind the lead car, an ‘51 Studebaker. When the path was once again clear we shot around the Studebaker and leveled off at ninety. The Ford was running like a charm.
Our luck was still holding. We had only caught a few stop lights so far and hadn't even seen a cop. It was just getting dark when we came out of Washington Court House and hit the long straight, flat stretches; this was the easy leg. Traffic was still fairly light by today’s standards and, at times, I could hold the car at ninety for the four to five miles between towns and villages while passing everything that was moving and some that were not. All except one.
For the longest time there was a set of tail lights that we were barely gaining on. Maybe it was a State Cop, trying to clock us from the front. Too late now. We pressed on. A few miles south of Grove City we caught him. It was a '58 Plymouth Fury that had slowed down, we guessed, to see if we were the law. When I tried to pass, he picked up the pace and within a mile we were nose to tail at a hundred and fifteen! The most the '57 had ever done before was about one-oh-seven, but riding the slipstream of the Fury we could go as fast as he could - without even having to hold the gas pedal to the floor. But every time we tried to pass and hit the full force of the wind, even at full throttle, the little Ford would slow down and then we'd have to fight to get back in the slipstream. It was like this all the way to Grove City, where the Plymouth turned off with a wave of the hand. Now it was the home stretch. We hit High Street and Hard noted the time at eight fifty-two, but we still had a few miles to Broad Street, the center of town. Traffic increased and we caught a few lights. It seemed agonizingly slow after the high speed we had been used to. Finally, downtown Columbus was in sight: Time: nine o'clock sharp! One hundred and ten miles 110 minutes!! Let 'em try an beat that! We were all ecstatic and a little relieved, too. Being part of history is always worth every risk and cold sweat.
The ’57 Ford with other family cars: My Sister’s ’56 Vette,
my Mother’s ’58 Cadillac convertible and the almost finished
Almquist-bodied Crosley I built during my 16th year.
Photo date was early spring, 1958.
THE 270 COP CAR - 1958
That was on a Friday night. By Monday, another kid in a ’58 Dodge cut school to try to best my time (he couldn’t do it). Meanwhile Jimmy, Hard and I skipped school in an attempt to establish a Cincinnati to Lexington, KY record. South bound we made a few wrong turns, filled up with gas - cheaper in KY - and seemed to see a cop every mile or so. Well, we’ll set the record coming home.
We were in Jimmy’s ’58 Impala convertible with the 348 big block and 4-barrel, but a glider for a transmission. Taking U.S. 27 North, which was better road than U.S. 25, and with Hard driving we were making excellent time roaring through one little burg after another. We had to be averaging at least seventy coming out of Lexington as we hadn’t had a stop until we hit Paris – Kentucky, not France.
Come on baby let the good times roll
Come on baby let me thrill your soul...
Come on baby let the good times roll...
Roll all night long...
On the far side of Cynthiana we hit a stretch of three lane road. Hard decided it was time to see what the big Impala would do, pushing the needle to over a hundred, the canvas top ballooning high over their struts. No sooner had we pulled to a stop in the next town than a cop pulled next to us. No one had seen him. He leaned over, rolled down his passenger window, motioning for Hard to do the same. The cop car was a 1957 Chev with red lights in the grille and the unmistakable sound of a two-seventy engine loping under the hood. "Say boys," the cop began in a slow southern drawl. "Ya'll goin'a bit fast back there weren't ya?"
Hard didn't know what to say. Nobody did. The cop continued, "Now I'll tell ya what I want 'chew to do. Ya'll just turn that there machine around and follor me back to the Court House. I rightly believe the Judge jest might want to have a talk with ya'll. Ya hear?"
Hard acknowledged the command as politely as possible, and we began the trip back to Cynthiana. Following the cop, we ran through our options. We could try to out run him by turning off at the next intersection, claim one of us was sick and we were trying to get to a hospital, or that the gas pedal stuck. As the miles rolled by, we realized that anything we tried would be just plain dumb.
Continued on next page...
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