Preface: This is part six 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 (1958-1962), were sans radial tires, disk brakes or power steering.
Seeing her at her Mother’s funeral forced memories
forever melded to the sentimental portions of my mind.
In my 13th year, the summer of 1954, the Miller's moved next door. I was just starting to notice girls and Barbara – Barbie - got my attention when she beat me at a game of mumbly-peg. And, even though she was a tom-boy, she was a very good looking tom-boy. Nothing was ever said, but my best friend, Carl, knew that the looks between her cyan and my hazel eyes meant a destiny that didn’t include him. Our families became close in many ways. Barbie and I were the same age, her brother and I swam on the school team together and our mothers became the very best of friends.
Throughout high school, I was on the wild side - a hot rodder - and only dated "chicks." I was embarrassed to call Barbie until I'd sowed my oats. I re-noticed her when she came over to swim late in the summer of ‘61. Now, I was enrolled in college and more mature - and she was so pretty. Somehow I talked her into a date for that Saturday night. I then spent an entire day cleaning and polishing my 1960 Corvette. The Vette was rigged for road racing with the quick-steering adapter, HD shocks, metallic brake linings and 3” x 6” galvanized pipe welded to the exhaust header pipes. The only external change to the car was the addition of Marchal head lamps to replace the outboard standard sealed beam lights.
Temperature wise, it was a perfect Cincinnati evening and I had the top down and soft music playing on the RCA 45 record player I had installed on the “chicken bar” ('cuz the radio was all static due to the solid spark plug wires). She wore something white and was so pretty – wait, I already said that. Slowly, so as to enjoy the music and not disturb her with the loud exhaust, we motored to Sorrento's restaurant, turning every head we passed. Though Corvettes weren't common and car aficionados would always look, everyone noticed a beautiful blonde.
We spent a lot of time together that late summer – swimming, dancing, movies and other fun stuff. One warm night, while watching an Elvis Presley movie at the drive-in, The King sang "Can't Help Falling In Love." At the line, "Take my hand, take my whole life too . . . ." we instinctively reached to hold hands. I don't remember the song being "our song," but whenever I've heard it, I've thought of Barbie. The end of September found her returning to the University of Colorado at Boulder and our courtship continued via mail.
In mid January, exams over and during a conversation with my friend and fellow hot rod club member, Kookie, I suggested we run out to Boulder. He didn't have anything else going on and was game, especially after I promised Barbie would fix him up with a real honey.
We picked up U.S. 36 in downtown Indianapolis, a reprieve, after following mostly state highways with their inherent undulations, stream-chasing routes and long, wild grasses growing over the edge of the pavement (expressways yet to open). West of the city the traffic thinned out and we were able to return to our cruising speed of 90 MPH. The Corvette had three Rochester 2-barrel carburetors on straight linkage and at that speed the engine was running 4000 RPM which was well into the power curve of the Duntov cam. In other words, it was a comfortable clip that produced over 14 miles per gallon.
Somewhere around 5:00 a.m., in a dense fog, a wheel came off. Kookie was driving and did a great job of keeping the Vette on the road. There was no damage to the car, but, due to the thick fog we never found the tire and wheel. We took a lug nut from each of the other wheels and used those three nuts to hold the spare tire on. Limping into the next town we found a Chevrolet dealer and after a two hour wait for them to open, we were on our way again.
Deep into western Kansas, running the usual 90 per, a semi-truck emerged about a half mile ahead. It appeared we would pass the truck, maintaining the present rate, in the middle of an intersection. The land was flat and the cross road was clear, so I just held her steady at 4000 RPM. Halfway around the semi and over the double yellow line, I was startled to see a state trooper on the truck's front bumper! The noise from the muffler by-pass reverberating off the truck was deafening and produced a look of surprised outrage on the trooper's face as we roared past. Not for an instant did I think I could talk my way out of speeding, excessive noise, driving left of center and passing in an intersection.
I went to full throttle while Kookie scanned the map. One Hundred . . . a hundred and ten . . . two-miles-per-minute. We were a lightning bolt on wheels. My co-pilot leaned over and shouted that there was only one little town and then about ten miles to Colorado. We had to chance that there weren't any other cops between us and the border. Now my attention was riveted to controlling this 300 horse-powered, plastic-bodied roadster – a land-rocket that was sans power brakes, power steering or steel-belted-radial-tires. At these speeds even glancing at the gauges was forsaken. I had to rely on engine sounds, the feel of the wheel, gut instincts and luck. Billboards and highway signs such as Burma-Shave and Mail Pouch became mere peripheral splashes of color.
Coming into the small burg, a pandemonium of smoke and danger - fire shooting from the open lake-pipes - people stopped and stared, mouths agape. I forced the Vette to just under 60 in second gear to negotiate a hard left turn then got a piece of third before having to shut down for a tight chicane in the heart of town. Once through the business district, I red-lined in third gear before leveling off again at 90. The state trooper was nowhere in sight.