PRE-INTERSTATE ROAD RACING, Pt. IV
© 2014 Chuck Klein
Preface: This is part four 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.
Author’s 1960 Corvette with custom grill and collection of trophies
The sun has riz,
and the sun has set,
and we ain't outta Texas yet
The big square trademark radiator filled my outside rearview mirror. He looked like he was going to run over the top of me - and I was running 90 miles per hour! The dark blob in my mirror had been gaining on me for at least the past fifteen minutes. At first I thought it was a cop, but the rate he was closing was steady and not increasing as if it were the police. Besides, 90 was not really considered speeding west of San Antonio. Speed limit signs were seldom encountered and actual "speed limits” in many parts of the west were whatever was "reasonable and proper."
I had left Houston early that morning with limited funds advanced by the Show Winds Theatrical Company. It was early summer, 1961, I was nineteen and had started a dream job as the front man for a live stage show company that produced one-night stands in small towns across the southwest. My first stop-over was Pecos.
I edged closer to the berm and again checked my instruments: Tach, 4000, engine temperature 185°F, oil pressure. . . . It was a huge silver and black Rolls Royce and it was now abreast of me. The mustachioed chauffeur, black cap atop his head, didn't even extend a glance or nod of acknowledge while the passenger, in the rear seat, couldn't be seen from behind the newspaper he was reading.
This is not happening. This is Texas, USA, and I'm driving the most powerful American made car - the 1960 Corvette! I can't let this go down. For the honor of America, I fed a little more fuel to my three Rochester, two-barrel carburetors and matched the interlopers speed - 110. After a few minutes in his slipstream, I moved over into the east bound lanes and shoved my foot in it. The little roadster responded with push-you-back-in-the-seat acceleration while the twin straight-thru mufflers resonated off the side of the Rolls. I topped out at a little over 125 and then settled back to 120 - a nice easy two-mile-per-minute clip. I gleefully watched the Rolls growing smaller in my mirrors.
It was hot, maybe 90 or so, and even the rush of air at such a high speed didn't help much. My cheerfulness quickly faded upon glancing at my gauges. The engine temperature was approaching 220 degrees! I had removed the thermostat prior to beginning the trip knowing the little 283 engine would need all the advantages it could get in the hot south-west summer. The engine was basically the 270 horsepower version to which I had exchanged the two-four barrel carbs for three-duces on straight linkage. The reason was for better response during high speed cornering and improved fuel economy - it got 14.5 MPG at a cruising speed of 90 per. Other attributes included metallic brake linings, quick steering, 4-speed transmission, heavy duty shocks and a 3.70 rear axle.
I had been running all day at 90 without straining the engine, but the extra 30 MPH had been too much. I cut back down to 90. Sure enough, 15 minutes later here came the Rolls with the haughty chauffeur and oblivious passenger - 110, steady as she goes. Well, we don't have to tell anyone - obviously they won't - they didn't even know they had slighted an American icon.
Hot, dirty, tired and coming down with a cold, I stopped at a Pecos hospital where I conned the resident into giving me a shot of penicillin. Then twelve hours in an air conditioned cabin at Jim Bob & Mary Beth's Tourist Haven and I was ready to begin work. The agreement was, I was to deliver and post bills in common places of the city. I was also to visit any and all local radio stations and newspapers with publicity releases and offer interviews. Posting the flyers was without incident. However, the radio stations and the only local newspaper were reluctant to give me an interview or a promise to plug the upcoming show – seems they had heard my company’s song before.
I was allowed two days to complete my work before moving on to the next municipality. At each town the Company was to have waiting for me a money order, care of general delivery. On the morning of the third day there was still no letter at the post office. I called Houston and was told some long tale that I should not worry they'll make it up to me in Farmington, New Mexico, the next scheduled stop. Boy was I naive. They didn't send me out completely without support. They gave me $30.00 for gas money, which, at .20/gallon was good for about 800 miles.
Continued on next page...
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